Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Inspections, Crime Lead Public Concerns

A brief City Council meeting Wednesday (April 19, 2006) was followed by a litany of citizen concerns about code enforcement and public safety issues, including gun violence and alleged retribution by city inspectors to residents who file property maintenance complaints.

The first Wednesday regular council meeting drew a sparse crowd, but after the council concluded its business, the citizens had a lot to say.

Resident Ed Mendez told the council that attendees at Kingdom Hall meetings on Woodland Avenue are not using the church parking lot, but are instead parking on the street and even in neighboring driveways.

“They say they can park wherever they want,” said Mendez, who was part of a seven-year fight to block the Kingdom Hall from being built in his neighborhood. He asked for enforcement of planning conditions imposed on the hall regarding parking.

Mendez also alleged that when he makes complaints to the Inspections Division, he ends up getting cited for infractions. He said he had to install a railing costing $600 after his last complaint, and forecast a possible new citation for coming to the council with his concerns.

His remarks drew the ire of City Council President Ray Blanco, who called for punishment of any city employee who used retribution against a citizen for making a complaint.

“If any employee of the City of Plainfield is rude to a taxpayer, I want to hear about it,” he said.

Other speakers asserted the practice is both historic and ongoing.

But Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson said civil service rules on such matters could result in the employee being kept on the job. He said there must be concrete evidence of infractions.

Residents Murray and Helga Roberts also complained of irregularities in the Inspections Division, such as inspectors signing off on dubious projects. Murray Roberts asked the council to weed out cronyism and nepotism in city jobs.

“This is the kind of thing we just have to get rid of,” he said.

City Administrator Carlton McGee said a new strategic plan would be unveiled soon that would address management problems such as accountability of employees.

Former Councilwoman Joanne Hollis spoke out Wednesday on recent shootings and demanded an investigation into how guns were coming into the community. Hollis said she felt “some big person” was involved in the gun sales.

Hollis also expressed exasperation at police dispatchers who ask what color clothing and what kind of cars shooters have, instead of just sending police at once to gunshot locations.

Hollis said she missed the April 10 City Council conference on crime, but took exception to remarks about the Housing Authority projects as venues for crime.
“I’m not looking for the Housing Authority to go away,“ she said.

Hollis said people come from all over Plainfield to commit crime in the Housing Authority projects.

The first Wednesday meeting on the council’s new schedule drew a sparse initial crowd of about eight residents. Later arrivals came just in time to make public comments. Ironically, the council had just passed more new rules about public comment, which limited the time to 30 minutes in all and said residents should stick to their personal views with no back-and-forth discussion. An escape clause gave the governing body the right to extend the commentary.

Mendez was permitted to have what amounted to a dialogue with the council and Hollis received carte blanche to state all her comments and opinions.

Under the new schedule adopted Wednesday, the City Council will meet for agenda sessions on the first and third Mondays of each month, excepting June, July, August and November, with regular meetings on the following Wednesdays.

-- Bernice Paglia



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