Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Plainfield Mayor's Race: Rivers counting on "alternate facts" approach

Mayoral candidate Bridget Rivers adopts Kellyanne
Conway's "alternative facts" strategy.

Plainfield mayoral candidate Bridget Rivers is borrowing a page from the Trump playbook: relying on "alternate facts" to bamboozle voters.

(You will recall that the first brouhaha of the Trump administration was his assertion more people attended -- later changed to "saw" -- his inauguration than ever before. In the blink of an eye, the media produced photos from the same perspective that showed Obama's crowds were much larger. Trump spokesperson Kellyanne Conway went on TV to defend Trump, saying he had access to "alternative facts", consciously misrepresenting the facts and exposing herself and the president to derision.)

Saying that "this is the last time that I will respond [to Mayor Mapp], because I need to get focused on this election," Rivers ran down a list of her complaints in speaking with New Jersey's newest political website InsiderNJ (see the story here).

Rivers claims that Mayor Mapp cut the basketball program when he came into office (in 2013). In the first place, that is not true, in the second place the matter came to a head much later, in 2015.

Here is some background
on Recreation and the basketball program, from a much longer blog post of Monday, November 9, 2015 (full post here) --

THE REC DIVISION AND BASKETBALL As you will recall, the Recreation Division was found to be a mess when it was taken over by Veronica Taylor as Superintendent in April 2014, which was after the 2013-14 basketball season. The Rec Division had basically operated without adult supervision ever since its former director resigned in disgrace after being faced with the possibility of having his alleged misconduct referred to the Union County Prosecutor's office. Taylor found records were missing or not kept at all, programs were favored or punished at the former Superintendent's whim (including a fake ordinance used to justify some policies), facilities had fallen into disrepair, and fiscal affairs in the Division were in complete disarray. The popular basketball program was not exempt from the mess. Taylor's first order of business was to bring some order and accountability into the Division's affairs -- including the basketball program. Coordinators of various programs -- including basketball -- are seasonal employees, as are the coaches. Seasonal employees are not full-time or permanent employees of the city and do not have the status that such employment would give. They are hired on an as-needed basis and the length of employment may not exceed six months. Taylor found abuse of these personnel parameters upon assuming her responsibilities and took steps to put an end to them. Among issues Taylor discovered in the basketball program were these --

  • Lax supervision. The coordinator is expected to put in 15 hours per week with hands-on supervision of the program at the various sites when in session. Out-of-town trips prevented Mr. Cathcart from fulfilling this obligation completely.

  • Failure to file coaching plans as required. The justification for spending taxpayer dollars on the program is predicated on helping youngster progress in their skills at the sport. Coaching plans are an essential component of program accountability to the taxpayers. Throughout the 2014-15 season, Taylor pressed for these. Only two coaches complied.

  • Failure to keep complete attendance records as required. This is really a no-brainer. The city is liable for the safety and well-being of program participants. Accurate and complete records are part of the city's risk management strategy. Nevertheless, Taylor found it impossible to achieve complete compliance by the program in her first season.

  • Fundraising issues. When fundraising is done in support of Recreation Division programs, those doing so are required to provide proof to the Rec Division of their IRS certification as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and that their annual reporting requirements are met and kept current. Taylor was never able to get the necessary certifications from Mr. Cathcart during the 2014-15 season.
At the end of the 2014-15 basketball season, Mr. Cathcart publicly stated to employees in the Rec Division that this was his "last season" and that he would not be returning to the program in the 2015-16 season. I am told he even posted that sentiment to his Facebook page, though such a post seems to have been withdrawn if it was made. In accordance with Mr. Cathcart's statements, Taylor laid out other plans for the 2015-16 season. Her hiring decisions in the program are based on the individual's experience, interest, performance and her professional evaluation. As a consequence of Mr. Cathcart's stated decision not to continue with the program, Taylor interviewed replacements. The two coaches who had submitted coaching plans were considered. Both had been recruited by Mr. Cathcart and had served in the program for many years. Taylor felt both were qualified, experienced and familiar with the program and its participating families -- and hired them for the 2015-16 season. Mr. Cathcart now changed his tune. He was interested, after all. Taylor met with Cathcart on Thursday, November 5, and explained that a hiring decision had already been made for the current season. She did, however, suggest an alternative. Mr. Cathcart had previously expressed an interest in setting up and coaching a "traveling" basketball team. This would broaden the scope of the program, include more children and allow participation by families that could not afford the expense of an AAU program. Taylor offered Mr. Cathcart the Recreation Division's support for two years to set up the program, with the proviso that he would provide proof of a 501(c)(3) nonprofit to which it could then be spun off. The city's support for the two years would include stipend support, uniforms, partial underwriting of facility costs, and payment for referees. Mr. Cathcart asked to think about it overnight, to which Taylor agreed. In a text message to Taylor sent after hours to her city cellphone, Cathcart declined the offer.
In the meantime, the Rec Division's offerings for young people have grown and prospered under Ms. Taylor's leadership, with more offerings than ever before.

It would be nice -- in this campaign season -- if candidate Rivers held herself to a higher standard.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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