Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Plainfield gas prices race sky high

Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast on Monday and the gas panic hit home today. Between yesterday (Tues. Aug 30) and this afternoon prices jumped approximately 50-cents across all grades of fuel.

On a tour of Plainfield between 3p.m. and 6p.m., three stations on West Front Street had nearly "competitive" prices with signs showed the increase with regular unleaded gas from $2.89 to $2.99 a gallon.

On Park Avenue in South Plainfield, three additional stations seemed to take a more independent approach to what they were charging gas guzzlers and gas misers alike.

Regular was within a 10-cent per gallon range, but Plus was selling between $2.99 and $3.19, and Super ranged from $3.09 to $3.31.

The situation at Clinton and West Seventh Street seemed more like the Twilight Zone. The Raceway sign lured the Plaintaker into the station. The decade old sedan has one weakness, to run well it prefers Plus.

Under the circumstances the posted price looked tolerable. But when the SUV ahead pulled away, the station attendant began pointing to the little price window on the pump.

In the instant the nozzle had been replaced in it's holder, the gas pump responded to a computer in the office by resetting the price. The cost per gallon lept to $3.31.

The clock was ticking, the price so volitile that the cost could zoom up at any moment.

Let's hope these rapid run ups are not signs of the times.

Plainfield singers in solidarity for Labor Day

The perfect sound track for your Labor Day picnic might be a chorus of union songs featuring two Plainfielders. Or better yet, sing along.

Solidarity Singers, a group more accustomed to singing on picket lines than in concert halls, has a CD that is available at the Plainfield Music Store on North Avenue. Locals Dottie Gutenkauf and Patty Bender are among singers listed in its credits.

Members sing old-time protest songs such as Solidarity Forever as well as modern lyrics for new union fights against the likes of Wal-Mart and Disney. The group's last live performance was Sunday (Aug. 28, 2005) at the Let's Stop Wal-Mart Family Picnic in Lawrenceville.

Gutenkauf, a union organizer since 1966 for the American Teachers Federation, said the need for labor rights awareness is "greater than ever" these days.

Early on, she helped organize State University of New York professors who didn't even think of themselves as employees, she said. Now they are represented by United University Professions, ATF Local 2190.

"My name is on the charter," she said.

Bender, the former Senior Center director, was a member of the Plainfield Municipal Managers Association, a city bargaining unit. Since retiring, she and her husband, Bob, have devoted themselves to union and peace causes.

Bob Bender said the Solidarity Singers had a short-lived local predecessor, the Queen City Labor Chorus. He was among founders in 1995 of the current group, whose full title is Solidarity Singers of the New Jersey Industrial Council - a bit much to squeeze onto a marquee, but then again many of the group's performances are outdoors.

"We are a street chorus, not a concert choir," director Bennet D. Zurofsky says in liner notes. "Our preferred venue is a picket line. We try to lift the spirits of people engaged in struggle and help them to carry on. Only a few of us know how to read music, but we all know which side we're on."

The group started with a Solidarity Bus Trip to Decatur, Ill. near Christmas 1995. The city had several major labor strikes going on and the Labor Heritage Foundation had issued a booklet of Christmas carol parodies, Zurofsky said. The group spent all day singing at the various strike locations and got so much attention for the struggles that members decided to form "a singing cadre of activists."

Zurofsky is an attorney who represents labor unions and individuals in labor disputes. He said the group does about 18 performances a year. On Monday, the group will take part in the 14th Annual Labor Day Parade at Botto House, a labor landmark in Haledon.

--Bernice Paglia

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

GOP mayoral candidate reluctant to withdraw?

Despite July headlines announcing her withdrawal, Republican mayoral candidate Cheryl Arana is still on the ballot, election officials said.

Arana said in early July she was dropping out due to her father's severe illness in Indiana. But a call to the County Clerk's Election Division Monday (Aug. 29, 2005) revealed she had never submitted the required letter of withdrawal and so is still the GOP candidate.

Republican Party Chairwoman Sandy Spector declined comment on the situation Tuesday and Arana did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

Under election rules, the party has until Sept. 21 to fill a vacancy, if one exists.

Meanwhile, Arana hit the headlines this month with a petition drive to get new downtown benches removed, saying they would attract homeless people and "the mentally impaired."

She circulated the petition on behalf of Merchants of Plainfield United for Progress, or MOPUP, and said all Front Street merchants downtown signed it. The petition sparked a debate over both its intent and its language. Although some merchants said MOPUP was defunct, Arana said it was "still in effect," but didn't hold meetings often. MOPUP President Sue Brown could not be reached.

City officials had some of the benches repositioned, but so far all 60 of the $1,099 custom-made seats are still downtown, with 20 more to be installed in the second phase of a downtown streetscape project.

While Arana's election situation is murky, another candidate seems destined for smooth sailing in the November 8 general election.

City businessman Elliot Simmons is running unopposed for the 4th Ward City Council seat, having defeated incumbent Joanne Hollis by 21 votes in the June Democratic primary.

It's a change from 1997, when Simmons ran as an independent candidate for the same seat. In that race, Simmons came in dead last in a field of four.

Simmons did not reply to a call for comment on his campaign.

In the weeks before the June primary, voters received flyers reflecting a bitter fight between the Regular Democratic Organization and Mayor Al McWilliams' New Democrats. McWilliams lost the primary to RDO candidate Sharon Robinson-Briggs.

After a quiet summer, voters can expect campaigns to heat up as Robinson-Briggs faces independent candidate Bob Ferraro and whoever emerges from the GOP situation. There is also a contest for the 2nd & 3rd Ward at-large seat, between incumbent Democrat Rashid Burney and Republican Al Coleman.

Assemblyman Jerry Green said Tuesday the RDO has met with various council members and also established a community group of about 60 to 70 residents to identify city issues and generate solutions. Now that the primary is over, he said, all Democrats should be united to support the entire Democratic slate, from gubernatorial candidate Jon Corzine through Assembly, Union County Freeholder and local candidates.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: politics, Election 2005

Monday, August 29, 2005

Council frets over road plans

City Council jitters over long-delayed road repair costs collided Monday (Aug. 29, 2005) with residents’ hopes to have their streets fixed.

About 40 people crowded City Hall Library to hear a report from Engineer Carl Turner and representatives of consultants Schoor DePalma on a schedule of road repairs. After what Mayor Albert T. McWilliams called 20 years of neglect, the city was poised to allot $5 million annually over 15 years to fix streets.

But Councilman Rashid Burney said earlier this month that his analysis showed the initial funding would come up short.

After Monday’s two-hour discussion of road repair issues, Burney said he was satisfied that costs were not out of line, but he volunteered to head a committee to monitor road projects to make sure they stayed on track.

The discussion did nothing to satisfy Pine Street resident Agness McLean, who read a fiery prepared speech when citizens were allowed to respond to the report.

Speaking of her street that lacks paving after five years of complaints, she said, “Pine Street is a pariah that no one wants to touch.”

Growing more emotional, she said, “Why not just fix the streets for once and for all?”

Councilman Ray Blanco responded, saying it would cost $5 million just to fix Pine Street and that the city had sought federal funding to help out, but got no response.

The City Council is expected to vote next week on bond ordinances that would cover $1 million in repairs for three streets and $7 million for 21 or more other streets. The 2004 repairs, to Laramie Road, Crescent Avenue and East Fourth Street, are complete except for “punch list” items, Turner said. Most of the 2005 overlay projects, which do not involve complete road reconstruction, are also well underway, he said.

Councilman Don Davis questioned the process and called for a halt to new projects for 2006.

But Turner and the consultants explained that the city needs to keep to a schedule that permits engineering studies and then bids on a timetable to have construction work done in the prime season of early spring.

Corporation Counsel Jacqueline Drakeford tried to reassure the council that no extra charges could be incurred without City Council approval of change orders. Davis said he wanted to get through the 2005 schedule and then wait a year before undertaking the 2006 plan. Councilman Cory Storch said he felt the council had to live with some uncertainty and not let the process slow down.

“I really urge the council to get comfortable with this,” he said.

Road repair should not be as problematic in the future.

Another bond ordinance includes funds to purchase equipment that would allow Public Works to repair road surfaces on a regular basis, warding off the current conditions. Deferred maintenance has resulted in 70 miles of the city's 94 miles of streets being rated in poor or very poor condition, Public Works Director Priscilla Castles said, but the new program should prevent streets in fair conditions from becoming worse.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: city council, road construction, budget

Detectives Need Your Help

County and city detectives are asking the public’s help as they investigate the shooting Saturday (Aug. 28, 2005) of city resident Quantrey Gordon.

Gordon, 26, is a rap musician who recorded a 2004 CD under the name Kuantre, investigators said. He was shot early Saturday in an attack near his home in Watchung Gardens on East Front Street. Police are looking for a black or dark-colored Pontiac Grand Am with tinted windows.

Gordon remains in critical condition at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick with multiple gunshot wounds, county authorities said.

“People with information have to call the detectives, Plainfield Detective Leslie Hudson at (732) 522-0453 or Prosecutor’s Detective Bridget Lawrence at (908) 527-4618 and help bring the responsible parties to justice,” Union County Prosecutor Theodore Romankow said Monday (Aug. 29, 2005).

--Bernice Paglia

Saturday, August 27, 2005

One man dies, a second is seriously wounded in two separate incidents

A city man died after a fight early Saturday (Aug. 27, 2005) and another suffered serious gunshot wounds in mid-day.

The fatality comes on the heels of 11 homicides in the city this year. Although overall crime is down, eight men and three women have died in shootings, beatings and other violent crimes in 2005. In response, the city received help from a special Union County Task Force and has just deployed a new crime-fighting program that places police captains in charge of each of the city's four wards.

Early Saturday, Juan A. Sanchez, 35, died shortly after being taken to Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center. Pedro Espinosa, 32, of Plainfield was arrested and charged with aggravated manslaughter.

Police arrived at 1:30 a.m. to a city parking lot between Watchung Avenue and Somerset Street on reports of a fight. They found Sanchez lying on the ground, incapacitated from a blow to the head. The Plainfield Rescue Squad treated him and took him to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead a short time later.

The fight broke out between two groups of Hispanic men, police said, and words turned into a physical confrontation. The location, north of stores in the 100 block of East Front Street, was a kind of alley strewn with loose bricks next to the Plainfield Farmers Market.

The fatality came on the eve of the 5th Annual Hispanic Heritage Festival. Organizer Flor Gonzalez of the Latin American Coalition said the group had already been contacted to help raise funds for a funeral for Sanchez. Police declined to give his country of origin or to say whether the fight involved various nationalities.

Espinosa was in Plainfield's municipal jail Saturday with no bail set.

Anyone with information on the Sanchez fatality was asked to call Plainfield Detective Ivelisse Garcia at (908) 753-3061 or Detective Richard Gregory of the Union County Prosecutor's Office at (908) 527-4509.

The second incident, a shooting, occurred at 12:45 p.m. at Watchung Gardens, 802 E. Front St., police said.

Police found Quantrey W. Gordon, 26, in a courtyard with gunshot wounds to the upper body. He was treated at the scene by the Plainfield Rescue Squad and Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center's Mercy 6 Unit, but was later taken to a Central Jersey trauma unit that police did not want identify.

Anyone with information on the shooting may call Plainfield Detective Leslie Hudson at (732) 522-0453 or Detective Bridget Lawrence of the Union County Prosecutor's Office at (908) 527-4618.

Anyone wishing to give anonymous information on either case may call (908) 654-TIPS.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Saturday and Sunday - Three events for the family

There are three great events families for this weekend in Plainfield.

SATURDAY, August 27

More than 100,000 school items including pens, pencils, rulers, erasers, binders and filler paper will be given away:

Roger K Cassett School Supply Giveaway
ERA Reed Realty
Park and Evergreen Avenues
(across from Plainfield High School)
10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
(They also need more people to help set up. Show up any time after 7 a.m.)

And after you pick up the school materials head up Park Avenue to downtown Plainfield for food, entertainment, music, crafts, kids' activities and more at the:

Hispanic Heritage Festival
PNC Bank parking lot
209 W. Second Street
10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
(next to Appliance Arama)
Information: Latin American Coalition, (908) 753-7155

SUNDAY, August 28

Nationally known carilloneur Helen Hawley will present a recital. Bring lawn chair or blanket. Concert preceded by a Peach Festival at 6 p.m.

Carillon Concert & Peach Festival
Grace Episcopal Church
East 7th at Cleveland Avenue
Peach Festival at 6 p.m.
Concert at 7 p.m.
(between Park and Watchung Avenues)
Information: (908) 756-1520

Thursday, August 25, 2005

A list of Plainfield's agencies, boards and commissions

The City of Plainfield has established many agencies, boards and commissions that provide public oversight and guidance for the complex operations of the city. The Plaintalker has compiled a list of these entities, however readers should keep in mind that this is a condensed overview extracted from the 32-pages of documents we received from the City Clerk's office last week


Auxiliary Police Officers : There are 27 individuals currently listed, terms expire 12/31/05

Beautification Committee, can have up to 40 members concurrent with term of mayor. Six members, all terms expired. Having the most potential members, this committee currently has the highest number of vacant seats.

Citizens Advisory Committee: Can have 14 citizen members out of 31, only two listed.

Board of Adjustment: Seven residents, two terms expire Jan. 1.

Cultural & Heritage Commission: Can have 20 members, has 14 members, six terms expire Jan. 1.

Emergency Management Council: City staff only.

Green Brook Flood Control Commission: Two council designees, both terms expire Jan. 1.

Health Advisory Council: Seven vacancies, no new names since 1996.

Historic Preservation Commission: Nine regular members, two alternates, direct mayoral appointments. List is unclear, duplicate names; one vacancy .

Housing Authority: Seven members, five appointed by council, one by mayor, one by state. Mayoral appointment and one council appointment expire in July 2006.

Human Relations Commission: Nine citizens, all terms expired.

Independence Day Committee: Nine members, all terms expired.

Insurance Fund Commission: Staff only.

Local Emergency Management Council: All 19 terms expired 1/1/93. Replaced by Emergency Management Council.

Local Assistance Board: Ordinance must be repealed, Welfare transferred to Union County in 1998.

Plainfield Area Regional Sewerage Authority: Two terms, both expired.

Plainfield Action Services Community Action Board: Fifteen seats listed, 12 expired, three vacant.

Plainfield Cable Television Advisory Committee: Sixteen residents in six classes, including seven citizens. All citizen terms expired.

Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority: Five members, two alternates, one City Council representative. Two terms end in February 2006.

Planning Board: Nine members in four classes, including six citizens. Two terms up Jan. 1.

Plainfield Redevelopment Agency: Disbanded.

Project Alert Advisory Board: Eleven members, all terms expired 1/1/95.

Property Improvement Awards Committee: Inactive.

Public Library Trustees: Seven members, including five citizens. One term expires Sept. 1.

Recreation Advisory Committee: Nine members, six terms expired, three vacancies.

Youth Guidance Council: Seven members. Inactive.

NOTE: The Hispanic Affairs Commission that was newly approved by City Council earlier this year did not appear in the documents we received.

In addition to these official groups, there are a number of ad hoc committees such as the Ten Cities Tree Committee, popularly known as the "Tree Committee. " Such groups may or may not meet on a regular basis, and they do not have official standing at the present time.

The Plaintalker welcomes corrections and additions to this list.

--Bernice Paglia and Barbara Todd Kerr

KEYWORDS: boards, commissions

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Budget Meeting: 'Be prudent' auditors urge council

Auditors urged the City Council Tuesday (Aug. 23, 2005) to temper unexpected budget costs by passing an ordinance to increase the cap from 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent.

Robert Cagnassola of Suplee, Clooney & Co. explained that the state mandated caps during the 1970s to limit the growth of expenditures. Since then, the rules have at times tightened or loosened, he said, but still municipalities must honor the cap law.

The reason for making an increase now is that the 2006 fiscal year budget has changed significantly.

Since budget talks began several weeks ago with a projected 2.1 percent increase in municipal taxes, the city has learned that state pension costs will drive the increase up to 2.7 percent.

Recently the city was told that anticipated sales of city assets in the form of delinquent taxes would come in lower than expected, because the city’s rate of collection has improved and therefore lessened the amount of back taxes owed. So now the city can only expect to garner $300,000, half the amount realized last year.

Because of the drop in revenues, the projected tax increase has now risen to 7.34 percent.

‘The prudent thing to do is to pass the ordinance and give yourselves the latitude to use it next year if necessary,” Cagnassola said. “You don’t have any other well to go to.”

The council plans to introduce the $61 million budget on Sept. 6 and will apply for extraordinary state aid for tax relief by Sept. 16.

After introduction, the council can modify the budget, but news of state aid may not come through until October, the auditors said.

A wild card in the process is contract resolutions.

Outstanding contracts may come in at more than a 2.5 increase, Cagnassola said.

“Give yourselves the discretion,” he said in urging the higher cap.

Of several bargaining units, the major unresolved contract is with the Police Division, which accounts for about 20 percent of city costs. The police union, Local 19 of the Police Benevolent Association, has not had a contract since 2002.

The council had scheduled budget deliberations twice a week, but will take a holiday break. City Council President Linda Carter said Tuesday (Aug. 23, 2005) the budget talks will not resume until after the Labor Day weekend.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: city council, budget, taxes

Boards and Commissions: A bustle of inactivity

Residents who want to serve on city boards and commissions may find it difficult to find an open seat on one that remains active.

A 32-page list released Monday (Aug. 22, 2005) by the City Clerk’s office turned up 141 current or upcoming vacancies, but many were on boards and commissions that are no longer active.

The list was supposed to be made available 30 days after the April passage of the Civic Responsibility Act of 2005, meant to encourage citizen participation in government. Within one year, under terms of the act, all vacancies are to be posted on, the city’s web site.

City activist Rasheed Abdul-Haqq said Tuesday (Aug. 23, 2005) he feels the list of vacancies should be posted as soon as possible.

“It’s just a matter of putting it online and advertising it,” he said. “They should shorten that,” he said of the year’s timeline.

Abdul-Haqq said residents may favor the most important boards, such as Planning and Zoning. “Other committees are just vacant because nobody’s interested in the little ones,” he said.

Mayor Albert T. McWilliams said Wednesday (Aug. 24, 2005) his staff has been working for about six weeks to fill boards such as the Plainfield Television Advisory Committee, which oversees the city’s local Channel 74, and the Citizens Advisory Committee, which reviews and ranks applications for federal housing and social services funding.

Some other boards and commissions are more problematic. The Beautification Committee can have up to 40 members but presently has none.

“There’s just not that much interest in it,“ McWilliams said.

The Human Relations Commission is inactive and McWilliams said without a community issue at hand, “There’s not that much for them to do.“

Sometimes volunteer boards just lose their energy.

“It comes down to the individuals involved,“ McWilliams said. ” Where they are active, we do try to provide administrative support.”

The busiest boards and commissions - Planning, Zoning, Historic Preservation and Cultural & Heritage - tend to retain members for repeat terms, which narrows the chances for new applicants.

The Civic Responsibility Act calls for posting of vacancies with a description of the duties involved in each position, any special credentials required, the term of office, name of the person currently in office and when their term expires, number of vacancies on a given board and the number of meetings the board holds.

Anyone interested in serving on a city board or commission may submit an application to City Clerk Laddie Wyatt. The application must include the person’s name, address, phone number, e-mail address, position sought, qualifications and signature. The clerk’s office is in City Hall, 515 Watchung Ave.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: Boards, commissions

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Did you take the time to look up today?

Did you pay attention?

I did.

The sky was marvelous.

The clouds stopped me in the midst of my errands.

Spectacular. Ethereal.

I've been missing the sky and clouds and the way they used to look.

Today we were treated to a skyscape so special that, nowadays, you expect to only find it in the theatre or on canvas,

But no, the day was definitly not digital, nor was it the work of a mad Impressionist painter.

It just was. And it was stunning.

--Barbara Todd Kerr

KEYWORDS: feature

Monday, August 22, 2005

LAW SUIT FILED: Police chief claims rights violations, sues city

Police Chief Edward G. Santiago is suing the City of Plainfield, Mayor Albert T. McWilliams and other officials, alleging defamation as well as violation of his rights to free speech and due process.

The chief is also claiming a "whistleblower" violation under the state's Conscientious Employee Protection Act, saying he was "subjected to adverse employment actions" for speaking out.

Santiago, a 30-year veteran of the Plainfield Police Division, was named chief in April 1999. The Plaintalker obtained a copy of the lawsuit Monday (Aug. 22, 2005) at the Union County Courthouse in Elizabeth.

Santiago declined comment Friday (Aug. 19, 2005) and Corporation Counsel Jacqueline Drakeford did not return a call. McWilliams declined comment Monday.

The lawsuit, filed last week, details a tortuous sequence of events beginning in June 2002 when Santiago alleges former Public Safety Director Michael Lattimore, also named in the suit, "falsely and unreasonably" accused him of violating city policies and "otherwise acting contrary to law."

After four other such accusations, Santiago alleges, he answered Lattimore in October 2003 by saying some city policies violated state law and further that Lattimore was interfering with the Police Division's day-to-day operations. His six-point response also said the city had ignored its own residency rules in filling the post. Lattimore had just moved to North Plainfield when he was named public safety director in 1995.

The lawsuit says Lattimore retaliated by ordering disciplinary action and that City Administrator Norton Bonaparte delivered a suspension notice on Oct. 17, 2003. Bonaparte and Personnel Director Karen Dabney are also named in the suit. Bonaparte said Monday he had just received the lawsuit in mid-afternoon. I'm not finished going through it," he said, declining comment.

One day into the suspension, which was allegedly leaked to the media, McWilliams ended it, Santiago said in the lawsuit.

Months passed with no resolution of the charges until a December 10, 2004 meeting at which a settlement was reached, the chief alleges. But starting 10 days later, Santiago's attorney sent 13 letters attempting to finalize the matter. The last one, dated July 22, 2005, included a warning that the chief was about to file a complaint.

Santiago is now seeking payment of legal fees as well as settlement of the December 2004 agreement and an order to expunge the disciplinary charges, called "false, defamatory and libelous" in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit adds another note of discord to the city's law enforcement picture.

Lattimore is suing the city for wrongful termination after McWilliams announced at a City Council meeting on Aug. 16, 2004 that Jiles Ship would be the public safety director as of the next day. The city's special charter calls for a mayor to file notice of a removal with the city clerk to become effective in 10 days unless a two-thirds majority of the council disapproves. The council also must confirm mayoral appointments. Ship was not confirmed until September 2004.

Lattimore filed his suit just before the contentious June 2005 primary, in which McWilliams was defeated by Sharon Robinson-Briggs, who was endorsed by Plainfield PBA President Andre Crawford and Plainfield Area Ebony Police Association President Kenneth Reid.

In her campaign, Robinson-Briggs pointed to police layoffs made by McWilliams in 2004 and a high homicide rate in the first half of 2005.

Among other police woes, the union has been without a contract since December 31, 2002, Finance Director Ron West said at City Council budget talks Tuesday (Aug. 16, 2005).

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: police, lawsuit

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Citizen involvement waits ...

A move to get citizens more involved in government may take more patience and persistence than first thought.

Testing a “citizen power” initiative to seat grassroots residents on the city’s boards and commissions, Plaintalker went to City Hall Friday (Aug. 19, 2005) armed with an old list of members to get an updated list of vacancies. Following the April passage of “The Civic Responsibility Act of the City of Plainfield,” the list of vacancies, with terms and qualifications, was to be available within 30 days after the ordinance took effect.

A 90-minute wait Friday produced no results and by the end of the day, the list was still not available.

Today (Aug. 20, 2005) the Plainfield Citizens’ Campaign launched a four-part series on civic involvement. The meeting is from 9 a.m. to noon at the PNC Bank Community Education Center, 209 W. Second St., hosted by the Elmwood Residents Association in partnership with the bank, Common Cause New Jersey and the Center for Civic Responsibility.

Topics include Paths to Political Power for Regular Citizens, How to be an Effective Citizen Legislator, Techniques to Working with the Media and Learn about the Citizen Responsibility Act.

Coordinator Robert Edwards could not be reached Friday, but staff at the Metuchen-based Citizens‘ Campaign said residents wishing to take part in government will have to quietly exert their right to information about opportunities to serve.

The Civic Responsibility Act states that the City Clerk must post the title of each appointed municipal position along with a brief description of the position‘s powers and duties, any qualifications necessary, the name and term of the present office-holder and number of vacancies on each board or commission and the meeting schedule.

Applicants for city boards and commissions are to submit their names, qualifications and contact information, to be kept on file in the clerk‘s office. The full text of the ordinance is click here (PDF).

One example of a board needing more citizen input is the Citizens‘ Advisory Committee.

Empowered to have 31 members including 14 citizens, the board in recent years has had mainly city administrative staff making decisions on which local housing and social service groups deserve federal Community Development Block Grants (CDBG). The committee reviews and ranks requests for final approval by Union County.

Citizens also largely make up the Planning Board and Board of Adjustment, which cover land use; the Historic Preservation Commission, which upholds the city‘s ordinance protecting its nine historic districts; and the Cultural and Heritage Commission.

For more information on the Plainfield Citizens’ Campaign, contact Edwards at (908) 222-8716, or click here for general information.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: community involvement

Friday, August 19, 2005

Chase moves in downtown

Two big red trucks rolled into Plainfield this morning and pulled up at the newly constructed office building on Park between Front and Second. Workers began unloading office furniture; the sign in the window says "coming soon."

The Plaintalker hasn't been able to learn just when Plainfield's first branch of Chase Bank will open, but this looks like progress.

We wonder what the come-on will be to get new business: toasters, gym bags with logos, umbrellas?

We have plenty of those "incentives," but do we hear free checking?

--Barbara Todd Kerr

KEYWORDS: business

Thursday, August 18, 2005

One down, two to go ... so go shopping

We're right in the midst of Plainfield's annual Sale Days, so what are you waiting for?

Get down to Front Street, check out those infamous benches for yourself, and support our Plainfield merchants.

--Barbara Todd Kerr

Police volunteers are sworn in

Imagine doing something that requires weeks of training, being on call 24 hours a day, and for which you get no compensation.

Police Chief Edward Santiago said Monday (Aug. 15, 2005) it's something that Auxiliary Police Officer Robert Gilliom has been doing for 26 years.

Gilliom was among 13 auxiliary police officers who were sworn in before Monday's City Council meeting as family and friends looked on. In all, the city has 26 auxiliary police officers who help out in emergencies such as the 1999 microburst that sent dozens of mature trees crashing in all directions in the city's southwest section. The unusual weather condition resulted in numerous street closings that required extra traffic control.

The auxiliary officers also work at more predictable events, such as the annual July 4th celebration, Santiago said.

"They are invaluable. We are certainly glad to have them on board," Santiago said.

The officers receive police academy training based on a curriculum from the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management. They are in uniform and carry arms only while on duty. Each officer takes an annual oath of office. While on duty, they have full police powers, Santiago said.

Three new officers - Adriana Arias, Christian Pastuna and Mildres Raquel Hartmann - joined 10 veteran officers for the swearing-in ceremony. Officers formed a chain with their right hands raised and left hands on the shoulder of the next person, the last one's hand on the Bible, as City Clerk Laddie Wyatt administered their oaths simultaneously.

Michael Canavan was promoted to sergeant. Others present Monday were Gilliom, William Hauver, George Brown, Christopher R. Donovan, Michael Glowacki, Eric R. Johansen, Mauricio Mendez, Antonio Melendez and Joseph Valente.

Other officers not present were Wally Torian, Eugene Granata, Steven Carlucci, Harry Cohen, Daniel Turner, Ladana Clark, Mohamed Hussein, Vincent Sagesse, Julio Samayoa, Kelvin Brooks, George Mortensen, Cortez Murray and Pasquale Russo.

Santiago said Granata will be promoted to lieutenant and Sagesse will be promoted to sergeant. Plainfield Police Officer Russell Gottlick works with the volunteer group.

The public ceremony was put off from January due to communication and scheduling problems, Santiago said.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: police

Downtown walkabout finds support for benches

A petition signed by some 75 downtown merchants was given to the City Council at Monday's (Aug. 15, 2005) meeting. Spearheaded by resident Cheryl Arana, it asked that all of the new benches installed along Front Street between Madison and Roosevelt Avenues be removed.

Council President Linda Carter called for an immediate site inspection to take place the next day. At 10 a.m. Tuesday morning Carter, City Administrator Norton Bonaparte, City Engineer Carl Turner, and Pat Ballard Fox from the Planning Department set out to see firsthand where benches were placed and what merchants had to say.

Along the way the group quickly agreed on several points: the benches were too wide for the sidewalk ...

... most were too close to the curb, making it difficult to open a car door without hitting the wrought iron bench leg ... would have to be moved away from a fire hydrant ... and several others placed under trees in a shady nook and covered with bird droppings would be moved, though not removed.

The group struck up conversations with several shop owners they met during their walking tour.

Choong Y. Hwang of Ped Eze Sports and Vice President of Plainfield's Special Improvement District (SID), said that when it comes to attitudes about the benches, "it depends on who you speak to."

They dropped into to talk with longtime merchant, Lisa Cohen of Suburban Jewelers. Her view, "I kind of like the idea of benches--as long as they're not a nuisance."

Elliot Simmons of Simmons Pest Management liked the street furniture without reservation.

"They help," Simmons said, referring to how the benches could help attract business to the downtown.

"I don't have anything negative to say," he added.

While it is too soon for a final evaluation of the benches and the streetscape plan, one point was clear to Carter, "We need to have better communication between the city and the merchants."

--Barbara Todd Kerr

KEYWORDS: streetscape, benches

Hit-and-run teddy bear?

Cutting from Woodland to Park across upper Prospect Avenue, I braked for bear. Oh dear, what could have happened to Teddy? Was he a victim of a hit-and-run?

No. No marks were visible. I guess Teddy didn't experience any violent encounters, just neglect or disinterest -- neither of which I understand.

Where I come from a teddy bear is a dear and lifelong family member, always loved no matter how worn or frail. And so it was a sad moment to see this sweet one casually cast aside.

--Barbara Todd Kerr

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Council president wants “fiscally fit” city

The cost of a proposed senior citizens’ center went from $2.75 million to $4.3 million in just a couple of years. Money allocated for road projects is not covering the costs.

City Council President Linda Carter wants to know why.

Carter is calling for a line-item review of all costs associated with the senior center and on Aug. 29 wants a complete explanation of the status of $8 million in road projects.

“We are at a crucial point,” Carter said Monday (Aug. 15, 2005) as the council gave preliminary approval for more than $14 million in bond ordinances to fund the center, the roadwork and other long-delayed projects.

Carter said the council needs information so the governing body can be sure it is making “fiscally fit” decisions.

Five of the seven council members must agree on Sept. 6 to give final approval to the bond ordinances or they will fail.

The road projects represent just a fraction of work needed after what Mayor Albert T. McWilliams called 20 years of neglect. McWilliams put the tab at $75 million over 15 years.

The poorest roads require total reconstruction, while others can be milled and resurfaced. The council did spare a $404,000 request from Public Works to buy equipment so city workers can keep roads in better repair.

Some of the bonding is for road work already done or in progress. Carter said the council needs to know exactly how much more work can be done with the remaining funds.

Resident Robert Wilson echoed Carter’s call for fiscal prudence.

“I sit in the council meetings and I get really floored,“ he said.

Wilson recalled how the city used a one-time windfall - $8 million in proceeds from the sale of its sewer system - for tax relief over several years, “which automatically raised taxes,” he said. He pointed out that police laid off last year now have to be replaced. Construction costs per square foot are escalating and will nearly double soon, he predicted.

“We are penny-wise and pound-foolish,“ Wilson said.

--Bernice Paglia

--Drawing of Senior Citizen's Center provided by City Finance Director Ron West

KEYWORDS: budget