PLAINFIELD TODAY

Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Monday, December 10, 2018

Mayor Mapp honors FUSP, Griswold and Waters at Tuesday's Council meeting


Vicky Griswold of the Plainfield Music Store
is to be honored...


...the North Avenue store closed recently.


Judy Waters and her husband Steven operated the French
School of Music, founded in 1927...


... and based in this gracious West 8th Street home.


Mayor Adrian O. Mapp is slated to offer three proclamations at Tuesday evening's Plainfield City Council business meeting. (Note the day: Tuesday.)

The first (really, this time) is to honor the First Unitarian Society of Plainfield (FUSP) and the gift of its building to the City of Plainfield. You can read my earlier tribute to FUSP on their history and generous gift here.

The second is to honor Victoria (Vicky) Griswold for her years of service to the community and the wider music world through the Plainfield Music Store, which she operated on North Avenue for many years before closing at the end of October.

On a personal note, I have worked with Vicky on various cultural and civic projects beginning about twenty years ago. She is a sharp thinker and has a droll wit that I very much enjoy.

While it is sad to see a landmark business close up shop, the internet has made retail difficult for many businesses. It is just a fact of life.

Vicky, however, is a sought after classical keyboardist -- piano and harpsichord -- and will now be able to devote more time to her professional career. Thank you Vicky, and best of luck!

Judy Waters of the former French School of Music on West 8th Street will also be honored with a proclamation.

Judy and her husband took over the school that was founded in 1927 by concert pianists Yvonne Combe, Heléne Pfeiffer, and Michelle S
éguin, and continued its fine tradition of decades of excellent musical training in Plainfield.

I particularly remember a glorious evening years ago -- when I worked for the Library -- and Judy pulled off a marvelous Black History month coup by bringing her friend Judith Anne Still -- daughter of the famed African American composer William Grant Still -- from Los Angeles to Plainfield for a special program.

What a glorious evening of music and reminiscence about this great -- and neglected -- American composer and cultural treasure.

More recently, Judy was instrumental in the founding of the Plainfield Arts Council, which intends to act as an umbrella for Plainfield artists and arts organizations.

Thank you Judy for all that you have done for the community and the arts.

City Council meets at 8:00 PM in the Council Chambers / Courthouse at Watchung Avenue and East 4th Street. Parking available on the street and in the lot across from Police Headquarters.

(Carolyn -- I see your hand in some of this. Thank you!)





 -- Dan Damon [ follow ]


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Sunday, December 9, 2018

Having a little fun at Individual #1's expense


Someone used Jaws catching a Trump plane as a background
image. (Sorry, I lost the source of this one.)




WARNING: Salty language ahead.


While the focus of Plainfield Today has always been Plainfield, I too find myself often incensed and sometimes mystified by Donald Trump's behavior and always hopeful that we will survive this national nightmare.

To vent and discuss, I find Twitter to be a great national conversation (even international as some Canadians, Brits and French chime in -- least on my feed).

Folks from every walk of life and every nook and cranny of the country are keeping The Donald under a magnifying glass -- sometimes with guffaw-inducing humor.

I wanted to share a few of the laughs I got in the last couple of days at the expense of "Individual #1" -- as Robert Mueller's filing in the Cohen case at the end of this week identified Cohen's unindicted co-conspirator.

Here goes --


An answer we all wish we had gotten away with. (California)



Here's one inspired by the season. (Arizona)

How about Individual #1's New York residence? (French)

A reminder the Mueller clock is ticking. (Maine)

If you're on Twitter, check out the #resist hashtag. It's where all the action is.




 -- Dan Damon [ follow ]


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Friday, December 7, 2018

Plainfield Mayor Mapp's REAL ranking among high-earning mayors


Even George seems curious.


Americans are always curious about how much money other people make.

Companies go to great lengths to keep the differentials in pay from being too well known (though there are websites where folks share the information).

Public service though, is another ball of wax as they say. Salaries of public employees -- municipal, county, state, or school district -- are public information.

In addition, public officials (including volunteer appointees to local boards and commissions) must fill out an annual financial disclosure form.

So, when the Asbury Park Press did its recent story on 43 New Jersey mayors whose income is over $100,000/year (see here), folks eagerly checked out the list (just like I used to have real estate customers who would look in the seller's closets and then talk about what they saw after we got in the car).

And of course, Plainfield Mayor Adrian O. Mapp is on the list.

The problem though, as several readers pointed out to me is that the story fails to take into account his third public source of income -- the NJ Local Finance Board, which pays him $12,000 a year as noted in a TAPinto story by Bernice Paglia from March 2018 (see here).

Mapp  was a "lame duck" appointment by former Gov. Chris Christie on his way out the door.

With that third "job" in mind, Mayor Mapp's total income from public service is $202,020, making him the #2 top-income mayor -- behind only North Bergen Mayor Nick Sacco, who tops out at $269,428.

This puts him well ahead of such other mayors of note as --

  • Steve Fulop of Jersey City (#37 - $114,000)
  • Ravi Bhalla of Hoboken (#33 - $117,000)
  • Ras Baraka of Newark (#23 - $130,722)
  • Jim Cahill of New Brunswick (#16 - $139,736)
  • Ted Green of East Orange (#15 - $141,552)
  • Reed Gusciora of Trenton (#13 - $146,061)
  • Chris Bollwege of Elizabeth (#7 - $169, 262)
  • Jimmy Davis of Bayonne (#4 - $191,880)

It must be noted that the actual mayoral remuneration of most of the mayors on the total list is much smaller than Plainfield's ($75,000).

The other thing to keep in mind is that Mayor Mapp -- like many other of these mayors -- has legitimate professional employment in government (a few are retired teachers or public servants drawing pensions). He makes the bulk of his income as Finance Director for the City of Orange, an essential government position.

Those that want to think these incomes from public jobs are somehow undeserved need to go sit in the corner. It may be arguable what is acceptable pay for part-time mayors -- which most of them are -- but that is another matter.

Much more questionable is legislative hanky-panky with public employee pensions -- as with a law tailored just for former Camden Mayor Dana Redd which boosted her pension significantly.

The one thing you can say is that if government pay ever was measly (and it was at one time), that word no longer is a fit description.





 -- Dan Damon [ follow ]


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Thursday, December 6, 2018

Sale of YWCA building raises more questions than answers


The YWCA shortly after its opening in 1924.
(Postcard image courtesy of Nellie Dixon.)


The sale of the YWCA building at East Front and Church Streets was announced in a press release on the NJBIZ website Wednesday afternoon (see story here).

According to NJBIZ, the sale was for $1.335 million.

Like other downtown YMCAs and YWCAs, the Plainfield YWCA struggled over the last twenty years to keep its head above water. (Full disclosure: I worked as a volunteer on the YWCA's capital campaign in the early 2000s -- which was successful in getting a new early childhood center built, but ultimately led to throwing in the towel.)

The demise of both the YWCA and the YMCA had much to do with factors beyond their control.

These old-line organizations found it challenging to maintain the physical facilities they have inherited from past glory days and at the same time to provide relevant programming for new membership populations in the face of commercial competitors who have cherry-picked the traditional income and program mainstays.

The mobility brought about by automobiles since World War II has led many to seek newer, grander facilities that are far away from downtown locations with their parking hassles and other issues.

Commercial gyms (Plainfield now has two -- the 24/7 Acero on Park Avenue and the new Blink Fitness across from the YWCA) have made it impossible for YWCA and YMCA fitness programs to compete, whether on equipment, hours or cost -- thus undercutting the traditional mainstays of not just programming, but organizational stability.

For it was from the ranks of those deeply involved in the organization's programs that Board members were drawn, giving both fundraising clout and endowment potential.

Scrappy organizations like both Plainfield's YWCA and YMCA countered by reorganizing themselves, refreshing their board structures, re-imagining their target audiences, re-inventing their programs and reaching out to the community in new and exciting ways.

However, all the effort just was not enough.

The YWCA Board resigned en masse in 2012, allowing a new board organized by the Rev. Gary Kirkwood of King's Temple Ministries to take over the building and the operation of the organization.

There was some buzz at the time as Kirkwood decided to keep the YWCA affiliation -- one condition of which was that the executive director's salary needed to stay within the national YWCA's guidelines.

With Kirkwood as the executive director and a salary base rumored at $135,000, the financial future of the YWCA was troubled indeed.

Once Kirkwood took over, there was a publicity push announcing vigorous programming efforts but by July 2013 the YWCA had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy (see Ledger story here).

At the time, the YWCA had liabilities of $4.6 million -- the largest chunk of which ($1.2 million) was owed to the NJ Economic Development Authority for three separate loans. Its assets at the time were primarily the building, which was valued at a little more than $2 million.

There has been little sign of activity in the building in recent years; there are never lights on after 5:00 PM. And snow removal during the winter has been spotty at best, with a pathway cleared through the spacious plaza as opposed to the complete snow removal when the legendary "Mr. Bill" was the facilities manager.

So, you can see that the sale price represents a true distressed sale.

The commercial real estate broker in the transaction, Marcus & Millichap (see their website here) is famous in the industry for having developed the "exclusive listing" strategy meaning it handles (and profits from) both sides in a transaction; this practice has now become the industry standard.

What caught my eye was the mention in the story that both the seller and the buyer are private investors.

If that is so, it would be interesting to know how the now-defunct YWCA got from being in Chapter 11 bankruptcy (and having to answer to a creditor committee) to being owned by a private investor able and willing to make the sale.

There's always more to what's going on in Plainfield than meets the eye. It would also be interesting to know if any person profited from the YWCA's distress.

And of course we wait to hear what use the historically landmarked building will be put to.

(As an aside, I am also waiting to hear more about the sale of the YMCA, which has seen a lot of activity in recent days with the windows being boarded up and workers cleaning out the building, clear signs of a new owner in possession.)





 -- Dan Damon [ follow ]


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Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Pleasant surprise at Council's agenda-setting session


PSEG will be remediating the area outlined in white.
(Image courtesy PSEG.)


The Lord knows I am not a particular fan of "discussion items" at Council sessions (they are often hastily prepared and poorly delivered), nor am I fond of Microsoft PowerPoint presentations, so it was a pleasant surprise on Tuesday to witness two excellent presentations -- where PowerPoint was properly used.

PowerPoint, which I consider the most-abused software ever devised, is often used by unimaginative people who simply recite the contents of every slide (as you are scanning it to yourself). Boring!

Both presenters on Tuesday used the tool the way it is meant to be used -- to provide a visual hook for other information which the presenter is going to give you in a conversational manner.

Representatives of Union County and of PSEG presented to the Council (and the handful of members of the public present) two projects of interest to all Plainfielders that will be unfolding over the next year or so.

UNION COUNTY INTERSECTION IMPROVEMENTS

Union County will be making safety and other improvements to four East Front Street intersections -- Watchung Avenue, Roosevelt Avenue, Sandford Avenue and Richmond Street/Norwood Avenue.

The project is in the design phase now, with actual work expected to begin in Fall 2019 and continue through the summer of 2020.

The most interesting elements of the plan are to move the New Jersey Transit bus stop on the southeast corner of Watchung Avenue at East Front Street to the northeast corner, alongside the Payless Shoe Store.

This will free up Watchung Avenue to allow unimpeded flow of traffic northbound at this intersection -- particularly easing the way for those making right turns onto East Front Street.

The other improvement of note will be an ADA-compliant crossing in front of the Plainfield Senior Center at the tee with Sandford Avenue. A new pedestrian-activated crossing mechanism will cause a red light and full traffic stop so that pedestrians may cross.

PSEG 4TH STREET REMEDIATION

PSEG made a presentation on the remediation that is to be done on the public/police parking lots behind Police Headquarters and across 4th Street against the NJ Transit tracks.

Once upon a time (from the 1860s to the 1950s) this had been the site of the Plainfield Manufactured Gas Plant. Decommissioned in 1926, it was the site of PSEG's regional offices until the City of Plainfield acquired the property in the 1950s.

Beginning in January 2019 and continuing for 12 to 16 months, PSEG will be removing contaminated soil -- to a depth of approximately 14 feet -- and replacing it with clean fill.

Folks may recall that about 15 years ago, New Jersey Transit asphalted the lot between the tracks and 4th Street as part of its renovation of the main train station. Though the lot was supposed to be entirely set aside for commuter parking, the eastern half or so was soon taken over for police vehicles, some of them "retired".

This project is being required by the NJ Department of Environmental Protection and will follow strict guidelines so as to avoid air, odor or particulate contamination during the entire process.

Not only this, PSEG has set up a website where (they say) they will post weekly updates on the work's progress. You can see the website -- which has been up for a while -- here.

The website is already loaded with background information and FAQs so most questions are probably already answered. But in the event there are more questions, PSEG has a Project Information Line at (888) 970-1006 and you can email them at comments@plainfieldmgp.com.

TAKING UP A GOOD IDEA?

The idea of a project website is really so good, that I wonder whether the Council may not make such a move a requirement of other projects in the future.

Council meets for its business session next Tuesday, December 11, at 8:00 PM in the Council Chambers / Courthouse, Watchung Avenue and East 4th Street. Parking available on the street or in the lot across from Police Headquarters.

Mayor Mapp will present the FUSP proclamation at next week's meeting.





 -- Dan Damon [ follow ]


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Sunday, December 2, 2018

Mayor Mapp to honor gift of FUSP building at Council Tuesday


The exterior of the First Unitarian Society of Plainfield.



The Robinson Window bathes the sanctuary in light.



CORRECTION TWO: Mayor Mapp will present the proclamation to FUSP at the Council's business meeting, Tuesday, December 12.

CORRECTION
: The last service has already been held in the Park Avenue building; the congregation now meets in the Fanwood Presbyterian Church.


Plainfield Mayor Adrian O. Mapp is slated to present a proclamation to the First Unitarian Society of Plainfield (FUSP) at the City Council agenda-setting session set for Tuesday, December 4. (Note the day.)

The Unitarians are donating their building and grounds on Park Avenue, just off 7th Street, to the city, which intends to use the property as a cultural center.

The congregation has worshiped in Plainfield for more than 120  years. The church was built on land donated by Job Male, the principal driver behind Plainfield's incorporation as a city in 1869.

The congregation's president, Melissa Logan, gave a moving presentation to the City Council in November, officially recognizing the offer of the property by the congregation to the City.

As she said, the congregation came to the realization as its membership grew smaller that its mission was not the building, which had become more than the congregation could care for.

So, the congregation will be gathering for worship at the Fanwood Presbyterian Church. The last service in this building will be on Christmas Eve.

As to Job Male's role in the growth of Plainfield, the city was formed out of Plainfield Township, leaving behind the Township of Scotch Plains, from which Fanwood was later created.

A Unitarian himself, Job Male was Plainfield's first real real estate developer, acquiring the land between Watchung Avenue and Park Avenue, bounded on the north by Crescent Avenue and on the south by East 9th Street.

Shrewdly, he donated the choice land on which Crescent Avenue Presbyterian Church sits in order to entice the congregation to build near his planned development. He then constructed the "mansionettes" in the Crescent Avenue Historic District (the world's first "McMansions" -- though the term did not exist at the time).

Male also donated the property on which the Plainfield Public Library stands, completing his vision of a self-contained neighborhood, which influenced the development of the city for decades and signaled the turn away from the large mansions that originally lined East Front Street as his development became more fashionable and desirable.

City Council meets on Tuesday, December 4, at 7:30 PM in the Council Chambers / Courthouse at Watchung Avenue and East 4th Street. Parking available on the street and in the lot across from Police Headquarters.





 -- Dan Damon [ follow ]


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