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