Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Monday, July 9, 2018

Plainfield City Charter changes: The road not taken


Robert Frost wrote a famous poem on the road not taken,
musing on what might have been if the other path had been chosen.


The discussion around the changes to Plainfield's special city charter shed some light on the process and at the same time highlighted a difficulty Mayor Mapp has set himself as the leader of the local Democratic organization.

Mary Burgwinkle, chair of the Charter Study Commission elected by the voters to examine the charter and make recommendations has written of her concerns with the changes made to the original recommendations (see here).

Mayor Mapp took the opportunity Monday to make a presentation on the proposed changes to the administration's organization chart, at the same time explaining some of the reasoning that went into them.

Corporation Counsel Dave Minchello cite the fact that this is the first time that the charter has been amended since it was adopted in 1968 -- 51 years ago.

In his remarks, Mayor Mapp suggested that the amendments to the petition submitted by the Council were made with an eye to future flexibility -- keeping in mind that there is little likelihood of going back to the Legislature for another fifty years.

The mayor's remarks seemed to take into account objections raised by Ms. Burgwinkle in the media and set out his justifications for the course of action taken.

Here is a list of the issues discussed by Mayor Mapp and residents who came to the mike during public comments --

CHANGES TO THE COUNCIL'S PETITION

In he remarks, Mayor Mapp said "the administration decided to add" the changes that were finally adopted (up to five new departments, and ten confidential aides to department heads). Now it's a fair question (though no one has asked it publicly) why the changes weren't made by calling a special (or emergency) session of City Council to amend the petition it had submitted.

It is true that the Legislature has the prerogative of amending legislation coming before it (which the charter change was), but no one has said that the amendments were made by the Legislature.

The net result is that the Mapp administration looks less than open and transparent.

And this is a shame because the changes are -- to my mind -- beneficial and no more subject to abuse than any other provision that leaves things up to individual judgment.

CONFIDENTIAL AIDES

The question of Confidential Aides seems jerry-rigged.

As Mayor Mapp explained it, the decades-old custom of having confidential aides was recently ruled impermissible by the Civil Service Commission.

Putting them directly into the charter was intended as an end run around the Civil Service Commission.

Then, according to Mayor Mapp, a new HR Director reframed the question to the Civil Service Commission and got a ruling that the city COULD have confidential aides.

Too late. The changes are written into the revised charter.

Folks are right to keep a sharp eye on this provision. While confidential aides may serve a justifiable and useful purpose, we certainly have experience with abuse of the system -- the Robinson-Briggs administration comes immediately to mind.

"REVENUE NEUTRAL"

I can swear I heard the Mayor use the phrase "revenue neutral" in describing the proposed organization chart, saying that six of the seven proposed department heads were already in place. He may have misspoken but it opened the doors for critics.
Of course the term does not accurately portray the situation, since it is expenses, not revenue, that are at issue.

At the public comments, critics Mary Burgwinkle, Jeanette Criscione and Greg Haworth pressed on the matter, asking if those who are currently not department heads but will become so will be getting raises. (The answer has to be: of course they will.)

Then there is the question of replacing a division head who moves up to be a department head. So, right off the bat there will be a fiscal impact -- though it won't necessarily be huge and scary.

PROCESS

For those wearing their cereal box X-ray glasses, it is abundantly clear that Mayor Mapp is not making any progress at healing the tear in the Democratic party fabric that resulted from the fracas over the election of the Union County Dem chair this past spring.

I don't think it needed to go this way.

The Mayor could have handled this current issue differently.

Granted, the Charter Study Commission was dissolved once it had made its recommendations to the City Council. So technically they have no "standing" in the current discussion.

But I can see the possibility of taking the commission members into one's confidence and enlisting them in the process of "selling" the proposed changes to the larger public.

But that road was not taken, and the open breach in the Plainfield Democratic organization continues.

When and how it will ever be healed remains to be seen.


 -- Dan Damon [ follow ]

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