Friday, February 24, 2006

Committees Aim To Hone In On Problems

Last year, the City Council formed a Finance Committee to put a sharp focus on the 2005-06 budget and bring back its findings to the entire governing body. The committee did a line-by-line review of the budget and the council was able to keep the municipal tax increase to about 3 percent.

This year, the council has established five more committees, to look at road construction, code enforcement, technology, public safety and economic growth and the state of bridges between the city and the neighboring borough of North Plainfield.

Many Central Jersey municipal councils use a committee structure to study various aspects of government, but Plainfield has not done so in past years, possibly due to factionalism and mistrust among council members. New City Council President Ray Blanco said he will build on a new tone set last year by past president Linda Carter to emphasize working together on city issues.

“This institution, the City Council, is only in my hands for a period of time,” he said. “I am trying to de-politicize this institution.”

Blanco said he is the first-ever council member to complete a course in government for elected officials and he said several other council members are also taking the courses offered at Rutgers. (See for more information.) The goal is to emphasize public service and effective delivery of city services.

Among the new committees to enhance that goal:
The Roads Construction Oversight Committee will monitor a 15-year, $75 million plan to repair or reconstruct all city roads. The committee’s goal will be to keep the plan on track to prevent a backlog of repairs.

The Code Enforcement Oversight Committee will look at operations in Inspections, the city division that former Mayor Albert T. McWilliams portrayed as generating the most complaints from citizens. Many residents said when they complained about violations in their neighborhoods, they themselves were targeted for summonses for code violations.

Last year, the division expanded its ranks of inspectors to address concerns of overcrowding and unsafe conditions as well as basic property upkeep.

The Technology Infrastructure Oversight Committee would examine all aspects of technology use and ways to link existing networks to make the most of shared services not only among city agencies, but with the Board of Education and Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority.

The Public Safety and Economic Growth Subcommittee would explore ways to improve perceptions of the city.

“There is a direct connection between public safety and economic development,” Blanco said.

The city has more than a dozen redevelopment schemes, but the city’s image of being crime-ridden has been an obstacle to success for many years.

The Bridges Subcommittee would work on questions regarding the bridges over the Green Brook between Plainfield and North Plainfield. There are currently 18 bridges, not all of which are in good repair. One has been closed for several years. In the past, Union and Somerset county officials have met to discuss which bridges are most important to preserve, but no agreement has been reached.

"The committees will allow the council to fulfill its Charter obligation of oversight as well as tackle difficult issues. The committees are also allowing for the council members to engage in meaningful dialogue about the issues that confront us," Blanco said.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: committees


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