Saturday, December 31, 2005

The Bird's The Word

What’s with those cardinals in the e-mail?

It’s too late for the Christmas Bird Count.

Must be the Inaugural Ball Head Count.

The Mayor’s Unity Ball will be held Feb. 4, 2006 in East Brunswick, according to the electronic missive. A donation of $150 will get you in.

“Unity” is a fine theme after the fractious events of 2005. May we also suggest invoking the cardinal virtues as themes for the new administration: Justice, Prudence, Fortitude and Temperance.

Sharon Robinson-Briggs, or "sharonmayorofplainfield" as she is known electronically, will be the city’s first woman mayor, definitely a cardinal event. Let’s hope she will take the example of feisty females in halls of government everywhere and stand up to bossy males!

She will be sworn in at 3 p.m. on New Year’s Day in the City Hall Rotunda, 515 Watchung Ave., and will give her first State of the City address at the Annual Reorganization, 5 p.m. in City Council Chambers/Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

The City Council will select a new president for 2006 and Councilmen Rashid Burney and Elliott Simmons will also be sworn in. Appointees for city administrator, department heads and corporation counsel will also be named at the reorganization.

--The Editors

Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Year in Review

Possible ties for top Plainfield story in 2005: the bitter political fight among city Democrats and an extraordinary string of homicides.

Two-term incumbent Mayor Albert T. McWilliams found himself ousted from party power just before the June Democratic primary and had to scramble to put together an alternate slate. He lost by a little over 300 votes to Assemblyman Jerry Green’s candidate, Sharon Robinson-Briggs, and Green also won back the party chairmanship that McWilliams wrested from him in 2003.

By the June primary, the city had suffered nine homicides, which became political ammunition against the incumbent.

After a quiet summer, political warfare re-emerged with a vengeance in September, when McWilliams tried to run as a Republican. That bid failed, and McWilliams’ supporters then mounted a write-in campaign.

The number of homicides had grown to 14 in September, and the Regular Democrats cast more blame on McWilliams. He was not on the ballot, but came in second with 2,299 write-ins to Robinson-Briggs’ 4,357 votes. Robert Ferraro, who was on the ballot, received 1,119 votes.

Since the election, there has been one more homicide, for a total of 15. By contrast, the city only had one homicide in 2002 and five in 2003.

Other top stories:

Unrest in Law Enforcement: Leadership changes, litigation, no contract, no confidence
The year ended with no Public Safety director in place. Giles Ship, appointed after McWilliams fired longtime director Michael Lattimore in late 2004, left in December. Both Lattimore and Police Chief Edward Santiago sued the mayor and other city officials over a disciplinary matter. Police rank-and-file and superior officers waited three years for a new contract, which was settled at the end of 2005. Police leaders expressed a lack of confidence in the leadership of both Ship and Santiago.

SCC Money Woes Sink New Middle School
A large tract of land on South SecondStreet in the West End was slated to be the site of a badly-needed new middle school, but the New Jersey School Construction Corp. ran out of money with dozens of projects uncompleted statewide. Unless the state gives the troubled agency more money, the land may now be placed on a list of sites for economic redevelopment.

New Charter School Opens at Shiloh but BOE forgets to budget for it
Plaintalker was the first to hail the opening of the Union County TEAMS Charter School in the new Shiloh Baptist Church community complex. Midway through the 2005-06 school year, the Board of Education had to take $1 million in surplus funds to make up for leaving the school out of the budget. Another $865,000 must be made up through budget adjustments.

Downtown streetscape upsets residents with tree cutting and an excess of benches
Residents reacted angrily when a shady grove of trees on Financial Plaza was cut down. Then a proliferation of 80 benches installed downtown caused merchant worries and citizen concerns about loitering. Many new trees did not survive the summer's blistering heat. The streetscape plan also included new streetlamps, sidewalks, brickwork and trash receptacles.

Council votes money for senior center, mayor holds faux groundbreaking
Plans for a new senior center changed after former basketball star Jayson Williams pulled out as developer. Williams still showed up for a May "groundbreaking" at the East Front Street site, where numerous dignitaries stuck shovels in a pile of imported dirt for photo ops. More recently, the City Council approved a $4 million bond ordinance for the center and new plans are in the works.

New office building opens on Park-Madison
The Union County Improvement Authority's office building opened in 2005 with tenants including state and county agencies. Victorian-style benches and street lamps offset the modern blue-glass look and tie the building to the downtown's late 1800s architecture.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: year in review, politics

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

To-Do List: Appoint Television Board

Among the many decisions pushed off until after the New Year, the City Council recently declined to act on mayoral nominations for the Plainfield Cable Television Board.

The list was offered very late in the final year of Mayor Albert T. McWilliams’ tenure and contained at least one resume that dated back to 2003. Regardless of the past nominees and the dilatory nature of the submission, this board deserves early consideration by the new administration.

Some history: When Comcast‘s franchise was up for renewal in 1999, the city held numerous meetings to ensure the best terms. One of the city‘s demands was more local coverage and the final agreement allowed for two local origination channels.

So far, only one is up and running - Channel 74 - and even though it has a director, there is no board in place to set policy, oversee programming and report on usage of the local channel(s).

The ordinance that establishes the board also stipulates that all of the franchise fees owed to the city shall be dedicated to operation of the local channel. In the 2006 fiscal year, that amount is listed in the budget as $119,660.

Comcast spokesman Patrick MacElroy said Comcast pays 2 percent of the cable fees to the municipality and does not restrict its use. But in light of the city ordinance that dedicates its use, Councilman Ray Blanco recently questioned where the money has gone in the past four years.

Besides the issue of how best to use the franchise fees, another question is whether the city will exercise its right to hold hearings on the cable operation in 2006. MacElroy said the city has a 10-year franchise with an automatic five-year renewal, but the state Board of Public Utilities (BPU) says the city has the right to begin “ascertainment” hearings in August 2006, with comments from residents on cable performance and related issues, in advance of the 2009 interim renewal.

Despite MacElroy’s assertion that the renewal is only a matter of paperwork, the BPU schedule makes it clear that citizens can have their say on the cable operation if the city wishes to hold hearings.

Another issue is the matter of payment of a $50,000 grant that was due prior to a five-year review of the cable television operation. It is unclear whether any such review took place.

The bottom line is that the city wanted all the above concessions and may or may not have failed to follow through. It is up to the new administration to exert the rights the city fought so hard for.

The cable television board is supposed to have 11 members. The mayor, a city official and three council members, a Board of Education member, a Plainfield Public Library representative and four appointed citizens are to serve on the board. Three alternates may also be appointed.

According to BPU figures, 12,056, or 68 percent, of city households have cable television. That’s a lot of stakeholders in the city’s agreement with Comcast. There must be at least four citizens willing to serve on the cable television board.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: cable, television

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Extreme Fuel Efficiency

As the City Council recently reviewed a list of proposed leases through the Union County Improvement Authority (UCIA), Councilman Cory Storch asked whether the city could request that five Inspections vehicles on the list be fuel-efficient hybrid models.

Finance Director Ron West reminded him that the council had eliminated all five vehicles from the list in a prior discussion. The council also decided to reduce a proposed lease of 15 new police cars to 10, he said.

Eliminating the 10 vehicles surely had the unintended effect of improving fuel efficiency, but the larger question at the Dec. 19, 2005 special meeting soon became why the figures were mixed up.

West had the revised list that reflected the council’s cuts. Items requested included the remaining 10 police cars, renovations at the city jail, portable radios and an emergency generator, among other things, for a total cost of $1,184,000.

The UCIA offers county municipalities savings on such expenditures by using its ability to issue bonds.

It turned out the council packet prepared by the City Clerk’s office still had the original list of requests, totaling $2,137,000. Corporation Counsel Jacqueline Drakeford said the wrong figure was also attached to the lease agreement document.

The discrepancy led to tabling the ordinance. It will be taken up, along with numerous other matters including passage of the 2005-06 municipal budget, in the New Year.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: budget, inspections

Friday, December 23, 2005

All's quiet in City Hall on the Eve of Christmas

Thursday, December 22, 2005

District Moves To Fix Charter Lapse, New Charter School Coming

As a new charter school prepares for a September 2006 opening, the Plainfield school district is trying to make up for leaving another one out of the 2005-06 budget.

The Central Jersey Arts Charter School is accepting applications for a lottery to enroll students for the coming school year. Applications may be obtained weekdays from 1 to 4 p.m. at the school’s office at 203 Park Avenue, or at the En Pointe School of Dance, 114 E. Second St., Monday through Thursday between 4 and 8 p.m. The deadline is Jan. 14, 2006.

Meanwhile, the Board of Education must find a way to make up $1.9 million in funding for the Union County TEAMS Charter School. The school opened in September 2005 with 177 students in the new Shiloh Baptist Church edifice on West Fourth Street, but the district did not budget for its opening. The agenda for the Dec. 20, 2005 board meeting included a resolution authorizing use of $1 million from $2.2 million in surplus funds and realignment of the 2005-06 budget to come up with the $865,613 balance.

Despite the error, Union County TEAMS founder Sheila Thorpe said the district has not skipped any payments to the charter school. All charter schools are publicly funded, receiving 90 percent tuition per pupil, with the district retaining the balance.

“They’ve not missed a beat with us,“ Thorpe said Thursday (Dec. 22, 2005). “It’s never really been a problem.”

Union County TEAMS received its charter in January 2005 and has students in grades 1 through 8. Its theme is “Technology, Engineering, Architecture, Math & Science,” yielding its acronym.

Longtime School Secretary/Business Administrator Gary Ottmann left the district a year ago and the district had an interim business administrator, Edward Kent, in early 2005. The 2005-06 budget was approved in April 2005.

Central Jersey Arts Charter School will open next year with 248 students in grades K through 5, said its board president, Shamida D. Coney. The school will be hiring a director and 16 teachers, as well as support staff, Coney said. Negotiations are underway for a site, she said.

Coney is in her sixth year of operating En Pointe School of Dance and has also been a teaching artist at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center for six years, she said. Besides meeting required state Department of Education standards, the school’s curriculum will emphasize the arts, including movement, music and theater techniques.

“Teachers will undergo professional development in order to incorporate creativity into lessons,” Coney said.
Another Plainfield charter school, Queen City Academy, received its five-year charter renewal and is now operating in the former Temple Sholom building at West Seventh Street and Grant Avenue.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: charter school

Monday, December 19, 2005

The Last City Council Hurrah

In a special meeting Monday (Dec. 19, 2005) the City Council gave final approval to contracts giving raises to police rank-and-file and superior officers.

The vote caps three years of negotiations, but the contract’s expiration in 2006 means the new administration must soon begin new contract talks. Former Mayor Rick Taylor reminded the council of that obligation among other comments on the governing body’s responsibilities.

The raises will also mean that the police chief’s salary and that of the Public Safety Director will have to be adjusted accordingly, officials confirmed. The contract will give captains top pay of $111,000 in 2006 and the chief must make more by state law. The Public Safety Director, one of three department heads mandated in the City Charter, will have to draw more than the chief.

The issue is under consideration by Personnel Director Karen Dabney, City Administrator Norton Bonaparte said.

The City Council also approved a plan for King’s Temple Community Development Corp. to take over 10 city-owned properties in order to build new homes. The sites were formerly committed to development by a Westfield-based developer who built on about half the 67 properties before the redevelopment plan fell through.

The Rev. Gary Kirkwood of Kings Temple Ministries said the plan still needs a judge’s approval before the parcels can be released for redevelopment.

The city and the former developer went into litigation over the disposal of the remaining sites. Kings Temple member William Wheeler thanked the council for their decision and said, “I’m sure you will be satisfied with what we are about to do.“

The evening had been scheduled to include a 6 p.m. closed session to discuss personnel, but that meeting did not take place. The incoming administration of Mayor-elect Sharon Robinson-Briggs takes over in January and the closed meeting was understood to be a meeting of proposed cabinet members with the council.

Robinson-Briggs said after Monday’s meeting that she was “still interviewing” candidates and that she expected a vote at the annual reorganization meeting in January.

The date and time of the reorganization have not yet been confirmed. Robinson-Briggs asked Monday whether it was at 3 p.m. Jan. 1, but she received no answer on the question.

In public comment, Taylor questioned whether the council had interviewed people coming into the administration and City Council President Linda Carter answered, “No, we have not interviewed anyone.“

Taylor counseled all the members to study the City Charter and spoke against party bossism.

“Make sure you understand your responsibilities under the charter,” Taylor said.

The meeting was characterized by thanks all around for police and council members in a rough year that saw 14 homicides and bitter political divisions.

“This city has been polarized as never before,“ Councilman Ray Blanco said as he gave effusive thanks to colleagues.

Blanco, Carter and others called on residents and officials to pull together and move the city forward in 2006.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: city council

Thursday, December 15, 2005

One man down, helped by many

Tuesday (Dec. 13, 2005) was cold and clear and bright with the sun reflecting off the snow. I didn't mind 27-degree temperature as long as I kept moving, but that wasn't the situation for one man down the street.

Hours earlier when I left the house I noticed two men talking, sitting on a low stone wall at the end of the driveway of the house next door. When I returned I saw an unusual gathering at the same spot. Two women and one PMUA worker in his yellow and orange striped reflective vest were tugging at someone lying on the ground. The big PMUA garbage truck was stopped nearby and a school bus from PHS had just pulled up.

The two women had been driving down the street and spotted a man, sitting alone and slumped in the snow. They drove around the block and came back to investigate. They called 911 a short time before I got there but no one had arrived. I called the emergency number and found the operator had understood the man was on different street. I clarified the address and by the time I got back outside two patrol cars had arrived.

Officer Mary Chosney was trying to get the man's attention but, like the efforts of the PMUA worker, the man remained unresponsive. His hat had fallen off and he had no gloves. His hands were rough from hard work and swollen and blue from the cold. Officer Rick Perillo managed to pull him away from the snow and onto the cleared driveway.

While we waited for the rescue squad I went home and grabbed an old heavy white bedspread to cover and help protect the man.

The two women, the PMUA workers and the school bus driver quit their vigil as three members of the Plainfield rescue squad arrived in a jeep. Their rig was out on another call. It took several minutes for the medic to check the man by cutting his coat open with medical scissors--his head was tucked far down in his parka and the zipper wouldn't budge.

Finally a North Plainfield rescue vehicle arrived. The team put the man on a stretcher and took him to Muhlenberg hospital.

"He'll need a new coat," Officer Chosney said. "That one is all cut up."

She said she's contact Sgt. Jeffery Plum to see if he knew of a coat and gloves that could be given to the man.

If not, "My husband and I have a old black one we can give him." Chosney said, "I'll take it over to the hospital and make sure its put with the guy's personal effects so that he has it when he's released."

--Barbara Todd Kerr

KEYWORDS: police, community

Monday, December 12, 2005

YWCA Reopens Historic Theatre

A small troup of singing reindeer were seen on East Front Street Monday (Dec. 12, 2005) night.

The occasion was the annual YWCA Hanging of the Greens in conjunction with the grand re-opening of the restored Theatre on the second floor of the Y.

The YWCA of Central Jersey has been providing services to women, children and families for 98 years. The restoration of the historic theatre means Plainfield will regain a performance space that the city has been without for many years.

Monday's open house was a way to show off the room and a way to kickoff a drive for financial support to help purchase needed equipment, props, costumes, a curtain for the stage, chairs and more.

YWCA Central New Jersey
232 East Front Street
Plainfield, NJ 07060
Tel 908-756-3500, x 125
Fax 908-756-0005

--Barbara Todd Kerr


Frosty, the snow people

Several of Plainfield's newest residents were out in their front yards enjoying the weather over the past few days.

It seems that the first snow was of a perfect consistency for shaping the giant snowballs so necessary to make healthy snow people. The second snowfall, along with a no school day, helped fortify them.

Hats on and off to our new neighbors who are rather stylish too, sporting the latest winter fashions that they proudly wear.

--Barbara Todd Kerr

KEYWORDS: winter sights

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Cabinet Making 2006

The new administration will need City Council advice and consent for its leaders, including the city administrator and heads of the three departments outlined in the city's special charter: Administration and Finance, Public Affairs and Safety and Public Works and Urban Development.

The selections will show up sooner or later on an agenda, but The Plaintalker decided to go to Predictions 'R' Us and get a crystal ball just to see what could be discerned early.

Well, we know the top spot on the organizational chart will be Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs. Next is the city administrator, and gazing into the ball we saw the image of a former Jersey City business administrator. The name "Carlton McGee" floated into view. Consulting that other mysterious source, Google, we learned that a Carlton McGee resigned in June 2004 shortly after the untimely death of Jersey City Mayor Glenn Cunningham.

Soon after, McGee emerged as chief financial officer of CorpHQ, a business consulting organization based in Redondo Beach, Calif.

It was a little too icy to keep an ear to the ground Saturday, but it may be that McGee was introduced to local politicians and others at a gathering in the city.

A top political figure chortled when The Plaintalker asked about McGee (how did we peep that?) but refused to confirm the choice. An announcement is expected soon, but we just couldn't wait.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: administration 2006

Friday, December 09, 2005

Superior Officers Due For Raises, Too

A vote is due this month on a contract for police officers who have been working at 2002 rates pending settlement. A parallel ordinance will also give captains, lieutenants and sergeants back pay and a raise in 2006.

The City Council will vote on the contracts at a special meeting 8 p.m. Dec. 19 in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave.

In the 2002 budget, top salaries were $98,926 for captains, $80,556 for lieutenants and $70,003 for sergeants. Maximums will rise in 2006 to $111,981 for captains, $97,074 for lieutenants and $84,358 for sergeants.

The four-year contracts will expire at the end of 2006, meaning union leaders for Police Benevolent Association Local 19 will soon have to seek negotiations with the new administration of Mayor-elect Sharon Robinson-Briggs for the next contract.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: police contract

One More Aria from the Fat Lady

After each election, Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi certifies the results, usually by the Monday following the election. This year was unusual because it was the first time voters could apply to cast ballots by mail, without stating a reason to do so. The new law coincided with an unprecedented write-in campaign by incumbent Mayor Albert T. McWilliams, who lost the June primary and then lost a bid to run in the general election as a Republican.

McWilliams supporters could write in his name at the polls or send in an absentee ballot with a write-in for mayor. Because his name was not on the ballot, there was no line on the certified results giving a tally of votes for McWilliams.

The County Clerk's office initially released a 48-page list of write-ins for McWilliams that only indicated totals by voting machine, not by ward and district. The intense mayoral race results therefore could only be partially analyzed to see how the candidates did in each ward and district.

Plaintalker despaired of getting ward and district results on the write-in votes to further our analysis, but the County Clerk's office kindly gave us the breakdown this week

Of 2,299 votes for incumbent Mayor Albert McWilliams, 1,670, or 73 percent, came from write-ins at the polls in the city's 34 voting districts. While a breakdown of wards and districts on the mail-in ballots is not available, the machine results indicate some trends.

The County Clerk's office broadly allowed for write-ins that ran the gamut from "Albert McWilliams" to "McWilliaws" but did not accept "Al," "Albert" or "Williams."

As expected, the mayor's heaviest support came from the Second Ward, with 818 or 49 percent of the write-ins. Next was the Third Ward, with 530 votes for 32 percent of the write-in vote.

The First Ward accounted for 12 percent of the vote with 193 write-ins and the Fourth Ward trailed with 129 votes representing 8 percent of the write-ins.

The hotly contested mayoral race in Plainfield resulted in the city being responsible for nearly half of the total county-wide "personal choice" write-in votes in the general election. In Plainfield alone, 2,339 voters made a personal choice for mayor, no doubt including the perennial protest votes for "Mickey Mouse" and other characters.

Mayor-Elect Sharon Robinson-Briggs won the election with 4,357 votes and former Councilman Robert Ferraro received 1,119 votes.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: election

Morning snow makes it slow going

I was the first person on the block to shovel out this morning, much to the disappointment of a young man who came down the street looking for work. I was nearly finished when he offered help for a resonable price. Not today, thanks.

Before the sun came out the roads were sloppy and slow going.

I knew better than to go driving in this weather even as I headed out for the pharmacy. My excuse was that I had to pick up a prescription that had run out and I had already skipped one day's dose.

I took a circuitous route home and was just in time to see a tow truck take away a van that didn't quite make the turn at West Fifth Street and Central Avenue.

From what I could glimpse of the vehicle as it was carted off, it fared better than the fence just across the street from the Seventh Day Baptist church.

--Barbara Todd Kerr


Thursday, December 08, 2005

The plumber cometh

Leaky pipes are annoying, but when they're in a busy intersection the runoff can be dangerous. The water mixes with fallen leaves and the cold weather can turn it to ice--not a safe combo.

That's why, after many weeks and a series of phone calls by residents, it's good to see this problem has finally been fixed. The Plaintalker heard the delay was due to a part that was backordered. Now drivers on Park Avenue, library patrons and high school students can pass without further concern.

--Barbara Todd Kerr

KEYWORDS: road repair

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

New Police Plan Dissolves Narcotics Bureau

In the final 24 days of the current administration, Public Affairs and Safety Director Jiles Ship is launching a new police deployment plan that eliminates the Narcotics Bureau and assigns officers by city wards.

The plan begins today (Dec. 7, 2005).

Police Benevolent Association Local 19 President Andre Crawford criticized both the timing and scope of the plan.

"It makes no sense," he said. "This plan is really unsafe."

The Police Division has traditionally had five bureaus, covering functions of management, staff support, drug and vice investigation, solving crimes and citywide patrol. See the Plainfield Police Division’s web site at for descriptions of each bureau’s work.

The new plan includes numerous transfers of officers and superiors out of the Narcotics Bureau and calls for three captains to supervise officers assigned to districts that approximate the city’s four wards. It also does away with the downtown Community Oriented Police (COP) unit, although stating officers will still carry out COP duties from their new assignments.

Capt. Anthony Celentano will be assigned to District 1, with 22 officers and five sergeants.

Capt. Mark Edwards will be in charge of Districts 2 and 3, with six sergeants and 12 officers covering District 2 and four sergeants and 10 officers assigned to District 3.

District 4 will be led by Capt. Keith Lattimore and will have four sergeants and 18 officers.

Any previously-scheduled days off or vacation will stay in effect, according to the plan.

Every day, the district captains are to meet at 10 a.m. to go over crime patterns. They will have the power to redeploy officers as necessary. The captains are mandated to ensure unequivocal enforcement of all police-related ordinances. Police will refer other violations to the appropriate city agencies.

The former Narcotics Bureau staff will be reassigned to Criminal Investigation and the Uniform Bureau, with other transfers among the two latter bureaus.

Crawford said the plan will disrupt his members’ lives, especially those being transferred, and may not last past the end of the year, when Ship’s term expires. Meanwhile, with officers out on vacations or sick leave, he said, coverage will be more difficult and response time could suffer.

The director of Public Affairs and Safety is one of three department heads whose terms are concurrent with the mayor’s term. Incumbent Mayor Albert T. McWilliams will leave office Dec. 31 and Mayor-elect Sharon Robinson-Briggs can appoint a new cabinet, with City Council approval.

The question of whether the city even needs a director of Public Affairs and Safety has been raised many times, most recently at Monday’s City Council meeting. The civilian director is the department head over the Police and Fire Divisions, each of which has a chief.

Ship was hired in acting capacity in 2004 after Mayor Albert McWilliams abruptly fired former Public Affairs and Safety Director Michael Lattimore. At intervals since then, Ship has announced new deployment plans, but they have never been implemented.

Councilman Ray Blanco, who represents all four wards, said in a phone interview Monday the new scheme is “too little, too late.“

The plan did not require City Council approval.

Since Robinson-Briggs emerged as mayor-elect in the Nov. 8 general election, a City Council majority has held up many decisions, in deference to the new administration that will take hold Jan. 1. The budget for the fiscal year that began July 1 is among the delayed items, which also include various appointments and contracts.

In proposed budget amendments, a council finance committee recommended deletion of funding for the Public Affairs and Safety director‘s position, but then agreed to allow the new administration to decide what to do about the controversial job.

Ship did not return a call for comment on the new plan Tuesday.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: police

Library Asks 'Food for Fines'

It's time to dust off those library books you kept meaning to take back. Return them now for a good cause.

The Plainfield Public Library is offering patrons who owe overdue fines to pay them with food. Any non-perishble food item will be accepted.

The prevailing exchange rate is one (1) canned item = $1.00.

The "food for fines" offer is good until until Friday, December 16th. All canned food collected by the library will be donated to Plainfield service organizations.

--Barbara Todd Kerr

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Glitches Cause Delays for Police Contract Settlements

A final vote on settlement of police contracts will not take place Monday (Dec. 5, 2005) due to a mix-up on publication of the enabling ordinances.

The City Council regular meeting is 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

At last week's agenda session, city officials said seven ordinances were submitted to the Courier News to allow for public hearings and final passage, but all ran afoul of the newspaper's Thanksgiving holiday schedule. Now final passage will be put off until Dec. 19, extending the City Council's year that was expected to end Dec. 12.

The ordinances included settlements for both rank-and-file officers and superior officers.

Police have been waiting three years for settlement of the contract that expired Dec. 31, 2002. More than 100 officers are at the top of the pay scale and are due to receive back pay of $7,272 in the settlement. As of Jan. 1, 2006, these officers will see their pay increase from the 2002 level of $62,277 to $72,505.

Police Benevolent Association Local 19 President Andre Crawford said Sunday (Dec. 4, 2005) some members had hoped to have the lump sum back pay in time for the holidays, but realistically it will come in the first paycheck in January.

Crawford said the police union sought early talks with the city administration in 2002, but did not receive any attention until four days before the contract expired.

"The bottom line is, it' all about respect," Crawford said. "They blew us off."

The union ended up having to hire lawyers and a forensic accountant before achieving settlement, he said.

"We spent a fortune on attorneys' fees," Crawford said.

The new contract expires at the end of 2006, meaning the union will soon have to begin negotiations again. Crawford expressed hopes that the next settlement will not be so contentious.

Another delayed ordinance would convey 13 city properties to Kings Temple Community Development Corp. for erection of 1- and 2-family homes. The sites were formerly part of the failed New Century Homes plan to build homes on 67 city parcels.

Budget amendments for the fiscal year that began July 1 , 2005 were also put off.

The agenda session (Nov. 28, 2005) became tumultuous with Councilman Ray Blanco's effort to introduce several new ordinances that were not on the agenda. Blanco also questioned the allocation of funds for the city's local cable origination channel, saying several years' worth of franchise fees were not properly allocated.

The city receives 2 percent of the franchise fees annually for support of the local origination channel. In this year's budget, the amount is &119,600. Blanco alleged that $481,00 in franchise fees over several years was in question.

In one of the budget recommendations, the position of the main cable television staffer was reduced to part-time, raising the issue of how the franchise fees were allocated.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: city council, budget, police

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Happy Holidays

City residents young and old turned out in force to mark the opening of Plainfield's holiday season Friday (Dec. 2, 2005), despite a bone-chilling wind.

The annual tree-lighting ceremony kicks off more than a month of events that celebrate the city's diversity and unique cultural assets. The full roster of events is available at City Hall and the Plainfield Public Library in the "Get Into the Spirit of Downtown" flier highlighting the Urban Enterprise Zone's 3 percent sales tax savings at registered UEZ retailers.

On Friday, young singers and dancers performed on the steps of City Hall and Mayor-Elect Sharon Robinson-Briggs and City Administrator Norton Bonaparte jointly lit the city's holiday tree before youngsters swarmed inside to meet Santa and receive gifts.

Santa had a bit of a wardrobe malfunction before the children arrived, as his padded "belly" kept slipping out of his red-and-white costume. Then his cell phone rang somewhere under the layers, resulting in some poking and prodding to locate the device.

Mrs. Santa, portrayed by Laurel Edwards of the Recreation Division, looked on bemusedly.

On a very serious note, city officials recognized two detectives who spent two weeks assisting in Katrina Hurricane relief. Detectives Tindaro Caminiti and Jerry Plum each received copies of a proclamation by Mayor Albert T. McWilliams recognizing their service in what has been deemed the nation's worst natural disaster. They served with the Union County Emergency Response Team, Caminiti said.

Robinson-Briggs, who takes office on Jan. 1, urged residents to work for "unity in the city."

Upcoming events include several concerts, downtown horse and wagon rides and a Kwanzaa celebration Dec. 31 at Washington School.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: holiday

Friday, December 02, 2005


Contrary to a press release issued by Public Information Officer Dan Damon, incumbent Mayor Albert McWilliams and Mayor-Elect Sharon Robinson-Briggs will not jointly light the city's holiday tree tonight (Dec. 2, 2005).

McWilliams said he was not consulted on the program, which was arranged through the Recreation Division. He had a prior commitment to attend a football game at Giants Stadium, where his son was playing for St. Peter's Prep. After learning he was expected to be present at the tree lighting, McWilliams said, he considered changing his plans but finally decided to let Robinson-Briggs enjoy the limelight.

"It's probably a good opportunity for her to have her first official duty," McWilliams said. "I'm happy to let her handle it alone."

Recreation Director Dave Wynn was on vacation Friday and could not be reached tfor comment.

Damon recently began a blog called Plainfield Today where he publishes city press releases under "PIO," short for public information officer. Damon said Friday several city staffers assumed the mayor had been consulted about the program and had confirmed his availability.

McWilliams lost a bitter June primary to Robinson-Briggs by a 6 percent margin. He later mounted a write-in campaign after losing a bid to run as a Republican in the general election. Robinson-Briggs won with 49 percent of the vote and the write-in effort garnered 26 percent. Robinson-Briggs will begin her four-year term Jan. 1, 2006.

McWilliams said of the traditional holiday kick-off, "It's a good opportunity for her to just step out."

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: holiday