Monday, July 31, 2006

Memorial for Ray Blanco Set for August 8

The New Jersey memorial service for Ray Blanco will be held on:

Tuesday, August 8
6PM - 8:30PM
The Queen City Academy Charter School,
815 W. 7th St. (corner of Grant Ave. & W. 7th St.) in the auditorium

The service will be officiated by Rev. Jim Colvin of the United Church of Christ, as well as other ministers from Plainfield with whom Ray had a personal relationship. There will be both state and local officials in attendance who will also be making tributes to Ray.

There is parking in the back of the building. Additional parking is available at the Rose of Sharon Community Church, next door.

The Ray Blanco Scholarship Fund has been established for both high school and college-bound students. Anyone wishing to honor Ray in this manner can make a check payable to: Ray Blanco Scholarship Fund, c/o QCA Charter School, 815 W. 7th St., Plainfield, NJ 07060.

Provided by
Julie Jerome on behalf
of Ken Edwards

Barbara Todd Kerr

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Condos: A Tough Sell?

In a July 26 Board of Adjustment meeting, planning expert Michael Jovishoff described Maxim Development Group’s proposed 64-unit building as “the first transit-oriented residential project in the city.”

“It is the pioneer,” he said later, when board attorney Richard Olive asked why Jovishoff wanted it as a “star project.“

The building would be a quarter-mile from the Netherwood train station and the developer expects to sell the units to single persons and couples without children, who want to commute to work by rail.

But if site owner Sal Carfaro gets a use variance for the project in the 800 block of South Avenue, he said he intends to seek approval for a second four-story building in the 900 block. Another developer, Dornoch Holdings, unveiled a plan July 11 to build a new senior center with 64 condos upstairs within walking distance of the main train station

While Maxim’s project may be a pioneer in transit-oriented development, several residents questioned how Carfaro would prevent the building from turning into rental units if it doesn‘t attract buyers willing to spend $350,000 for a 1- or 2-bedroom condo. In light of a city plan to increase residential density around two existing train stations and two defunct station sites, some observers seem to be anticipating a glut of similar proposals that may or may not pan out.

Carfaro said he plans to include amenities that will attract buyers, such as an onsite gym.

The residents’ worries may have been premature, since the hearing had to be carried over to Sept. 13 and no use variance approval is yet in sight. Then Maxim will have to gain site plan approval before construction can begin.

But just out of curiosity, Plaintalker examined tax records for a condo conversion that took place in the late 1980s. Meadowbrook Village in 1938 was the first garden apartment complex on the East Coast. It later deteriorated and became not just run-down, but dangerous. Police Officer Abigail Powlett was killed there in the line of duty.

It was later cleaned out and completely refurbished. The renovated units were put up for sale for under $100,000, touted as a way to gain home ownership.

According to tax records, about half of the 180 units have private owners. Eighty-two are owned by New Meadowbrook Associates, the redeveloper. Several others are now on the tax rolls as exempt, because they are owned by non-profit social service agencies.

Overall, Plainfield households break down into half renters and half owners, according to census figures.

Questioners put Carfaro on the spot July 26 over the issue of rentals, but he refused to speculate on what might happen in the future. He pointed out that once a person buys a property, it can be rented out.

“So there is no way of preventing 70 percent of the units to be rental property,” Olive said.

Resident Sandy Gurshman asked whether Carfaro had done a marketing study on prices of the condos versus freestanding 3- and 4-bedroom homes.

“I’m risking my money and my capital,“ Carfaro said, noting if he sold the units for $100, everybody would buy one.

“I recognize that it’s your money,” Gurshman said, “but we have to live with the consequences."

The next hearing will allow further questions and comments from residents. It will be at 7 p.m. Sept. 13 in City Hall Library.

--Bernice Paglia

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Remembering Ray Blanco

Ray Blanco had a global reputation as a tireless documentarian on human rights issues. On the small stage of Plainfield politics, he brought the same passion to the cause of public service.

On Friday (July 28, 2006) a great heart stopped. Ray died at home, just a year and a half into his term as councilman at large, representing all the people of Plainfield, and just seven months into serving as City Council president.

Ray arrived late at the last council meeting, having attended a glittering event at Gracie Mansion. Taking his seat as president in the mundane courtroom where council votes affect more than 47,000 residents, Blanco laced into the new administration for trying to get away with last-minute submissions to the governing body.

Knowing he was ruffling feathers by holding the mayor and her cabinet up for public criticism, Ray stood firm. It may not have been right politically, but it was the right thing to do according to his standard of public service.

Ray tells his own life story more comprehensively on his “Communicating With Plainfield” web site (click here) than anyone else could tell it. His childhood heroes were real-life crusaders for a better world and he pledged early on to give a voice to the voiceless. Ray not only portrayed the plight of the disenfranchised, he tried to bridge the gap by personally providing opportunities to diverse individuals. Aware that at least one-third of Plainfielders lack a voice in the future of the city, Ray sought and achieved establishment of the Hispanic Affairs Commission.

Fiery, sometimes mercurial, but always sincere, Ray set the city on a path to higher standards and demanded of the council and administration that they do no less than their best as stewards of the public good. Honoring Ray’s memory means finding within ourselves some measure of his passion - celebrating ourselves when we win one for the human spirit and not letting anyone diminish our lives by misuse of power.

Plainfield was lucky to have Ray for 27 years - more than half of his life, as he said in his biography. His life has now been cut short, but not his influence. He moved in many worlds, but here in Plainfield his legacy is clear. Seek, don’t settle. Fight for what is right, not expedient. If we can do that, Ray’s memory will be properly honored.

--Bernice Paglia

Sad news for Plainfield

We heard sad news overnight: City Council President Ray Blanco suffered a heart attack and passed away Friday evening. More to follow.

Barbara Todd Kerr

Thursday, July 27, 2006

South Avenue Hearing Continues

A proposal to build 64 two-bedroom units on South Avenue morphed into 20 one-bedroom and 44 two-bedroom units as the Zoning Board of Adjustment continued the case on Wednesday (July 26, 2006).

The change would solve the problem of one-third of the proposed town homes being below the minimum floor space required in the original plan. Still outstanding are parking issues and the fact that the residential project violates the “light industrial” zoning for the site.

South Avenue business owner Sal Carfaro and his experts on planning, traffic and architecture faced tough questioning from Zoning Board members in the four-hour session that was carried over from the July 5, 2006 meeting where site engineer Victor Vinegra began testimony on how the project, just a short walk from the Netherwood train station, supported state and local goals for transit-oriented development.

Because commuters could take the train or hop on a Manhattan-bound bus across the street, Vinegra said the project should not have to meet a requirement for two parking spaces per unit. Carfaro wants to have 107 parking spaces, 55 in an underground garage, based on the assumption that residents in the proposed building will not need the required 128 parking spaces.

On Wednesday, the board heard testimony from traffic expert Elizabeth Dolan, architect Lucio DiLeo and planner Michael Jovishoff that again stressed the quarter-mile proximity of the Netherwood train station and the trend toward “smart growth” and transit-oriented development.

But BOA Chairwoman Sally Hughes, board attorney Richard Olive and members questioned testimony based on estimations of traffic and other issues without any actual fact-gathering at the site. When Jovishoff responded to resident Tony Rucker by saying he drove, rather than walked, the distance between the site and the train station, a capacity crowd in City Hall Library broke into laughter.

Rucker’s point, and that of others, was that the experts had not checked the actual conditions on South Avenue but were relying on abstract formulas for discerning the project’s impact.

Jovishoff drew fire from Olive, who attempted to poke holes in the planner’s argument that the present “light industrial” zone on South Avenue would benefit from increased residential development. Jovishoff said the new project met the intent of the city’s master plan to move toward transit-oriented development, but Olive asked why the 2002 zoning ordinance then did not change the designation from light industrial to another use.

Hughes sought answers on why the project did not include a first-floor retail component or more “green” aspects such as incorporating solar energy.

Among other questions from residents, William Michelson questioned whether the developer knew that a freight line might be coming in along with the passenger line that runs behind the property. He also said the present industrial use did not evoke the kind of social service response that a dense residential use might generate, such as police calls and domestic violence incidents.

Nancy Piwowar questioned the project’s ability to meet accessibility requirements of the Federal Fair Housing Act, but the developer’s attorney, Donna Jennings, said all federal, state, county and municipal requirements would be met.

The meeting ran past 11 p.m. and Hughes announced it will be continued on Sept. 13 at 7 p.m. in City Hall Library without any further public notice.

--Bernice Paglia

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Mayor Prevails in Residency Challenge

A move to disqualify Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs on a residency issue failed Wednesday (July 26, 2006) when Superior Court Judge Thomas Lyons ruled that the challenge was too late.

A group of city residents filed a complaint in May, seeking to have the mayor removed from office and for a special election to be held for a successor. Their reason was that Robinson-Briggs did not meet a provision in the city‘s special charter that a mayoral candidate had to be a “legal voter‘ in the city for four years prior to election.

“It’s all out of time,” Lyons said after going over several junctures at which a challenge could have been properly made, going back to April 2005, when Robinson-Briggs filed to run for mayor. Objectors had four days to challenge her qualifications.

Another opportunity was within 30 days after she took office on Jan. 1. Fifteen voters could have presented a petition and a bond to contest the election. A further challenge could have taken place as late as 45 days after the election. But none of that happened, Lyons said.

In January, Republican Party Chairwoman Sandy Spector wrote to City Council President Ray Blanco, asking for the mayor’s removal. Spector questioned why Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi did not check the mayor’s qualifications, but Rajoppi’s attorney, Robert Barry, said the filing took place in Plainfield and objections should have been made within four days to City Clerk Laddie Wyatt.

Spector was one of the plaintiffs in the May lawsuit, but did not attend the meeting Wednesday.

A large group of supporters hugged and kissed the mayor, then broke into applause and exclaimed “Yay!“ before exiting the judge’s chambers. Peter Briggs told Plaintalker his wife had no comment.

Attorney Angelo Genova, who represented the city, called the decision “an absolute vindication of the mayor and the city.“

Lyons said the residency issue came up after Robinson-Briggs won in the 2003 Board of Education election and was raised in the media early this year, so protesters should have been aware of it.

Lyons even agreed with Genova and the mayor’s attorney, Stephen Edelstein, that the charter did not specify four years’ residency immediately prior to the election, so Robinson-Briggs’ cumulative eight years in Plainfield with interim residency elsewhere met the charter. Lyons agreed with another defense argument that even though Robinson-Briggs did not register to vote in Plainfield until Sept. 30, 2002, she was a “legal voter” in that she could have registered earlier.

However, he did not accept an argument that because a state statute requires only one year of residency to run for office, the city’s charter was unconstitutional. Lyons noted the rule does not apply to special charters enacted by the State Legislature.

The legal response will cost the city at least $32,000.

The mayor’s supporters included her husband and mother, her confidential aide Barbara James, several other City Hall staffers and two police officers. City Clerk Laddie Wyatt was accompanied by a City Hall employee who drove her to the hearing.

The eight residents were represented by attorney Joseph Horn, but only one, Angela Perun, attended the hearing. Perun declined comment.

Supporters of former Mayor Albert T. McWilliams talked about a recall after Robinson-Briggs defeated the two-term incumbent. But according to the special charter, a recall petition may not be filed until a year after an elected official takes office, and the petition must be signed by one third of all registered voters in the city. In November, the city had 19,288 registered voters, but only 8,823 cast votes.

--Bernice Paglia

Monday, July 24, 2006

Zoning Board Continues South Avenue Hearing

The Zoning Board of Adjustment will hold a special meeting Wednesday (July 27, 2006) to continue hearing an application to build a four-story, 64-unit structure on South Avenue.

The meeting is 7 p.m. in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave.

Sal Carfaro, applying for the variance as Maxim Development Group, plans to demolish his auto body shop at 803 South Avenue to put up the building with an eye to attracting commuters. The Netherwood train station is nearby and a Manhattan bus connection is across the street from the proposed building.

Carfaro needs approvals to put the residential building in a light industrial zone, to have less than the required amount of parking and to permit some undersized units. Maxim proposes 107 parking spaces, some in an underground garage, but zoning rules call for 128 spaces. Thirty percent of the two-bedroom units fail to meet the minimum living space requirement and there is not enough back yard or balcony space allowed in the plans.

Based on the project’s proximity to the train station, the developer is hoping the board will accept “transit village” allowances that allow greater density and less parking for residential buildings near transportation hubs.

At a July 5 meeting, site engineer Victor E. Vinegra said new studies show urban residents need fewer cars than traditional zoning formulas call for.

On its web site, Maxim Development Group cites “unprecedented support” for the Plainfield project. The group is also redeveloping the historic Capitol Theater in New London, Conn.

Since Maxim unveiled its plans for the building and possibly a similar second one on South Avenue, another developer has proposed a new senior center topped by 63 two-bedroom units. Dornoch Holdings gave a slide show at the Senior Center on July 11. However, the company has not yet filed any applications to land use boards. That building would have only 100 parking spaces, a bit short of the two-car spaces per two-bedroom rule.

Although developers are invoking the transit village rules that allow for greater density near public transportation hubs, the city at present has no state-designated transit villages. At an April meeting, city officials said they wanted to have four transit villages, two around existing train stations and two more at sites where stations were closed many years ago. The multi-agency task force that uses stringent criteria to name transit villages began in 1998. As of last year, 16 municipalities had received the designation.

--Bernice Paglia

Thursday, July 20, 2006

BOE Faces Budget Crisis

In pain since December, first-year teacher Bari Erlichson put off leg surgery until July 5 so she could stay in the classroom.

“It was a great year,” she said at Thursday’s school board meeting.

But then she knew a worse pain. On July 6, she returned from the hospital to find she was among 300 non-tenured school district staff who received termination notices.

Erlichson, who came to the microphone in a bright pink leg cast with matching toenail paint, was among many staff members who spoke out on the indignity and shock of getting termination notices Thursday after they thought their jobs were assured for the 2006-07 school year.

The district had to send out the “reduction in force” notices due to budget issues that arose after Gov. Jon Corzine demanded in May a flat budget from all 31 Abbott districts, despite voter approval of school budgets in April. For Plainfield, it meant cutting out $14.2 million to drop back to 2005-06 funding levels.

But Schools Superintendent Paula Howard said Thursday, “Zero does not really translate into zero,” because of rising fuel costs, contractual issues and a new charter school opening in September.

In talks since a May 31 deadline to submit the flat budget, the district dickered with the state Department of Education over the proposed cuts. Howard said the district requested $4.8 million back, including a request to hold off on the $2.8 million cost of starting the new charter school. But on June 26, the state said “no deal,” according to Howard, and the RIF letters were then sent out.

The charter school leader was never informed of the district’s ploy, Howard confirmed Thursday.

Plaintalker tried to reach Shamida Coney, lead person of the Central Jersey Arts Charter School, without success.

As of Thursday, 60 to 70 teachers had been called back, Howard said, with more expected to be called today.

Howard said her own chief of staff, Angie Chiaravalloti, and business administrator Victor Demming, both received termination letters.

She told the teachers, “This was not us against you, it was everyone.”

The district will meet July 26 with state officials to discuss budget issues and again in August. But Howard said, “August may be too late.”

The district is encouraging people to voice concerns to the Department of Education.

Howard and speakers including Assemblyman Jerry Green said the district must present a unified front when dealing with the state.

“We are not a collaborative district,” Howard said . “We are at odds with each other.”

Green asked for a written statement of what the district wanted him to push for in his role as Assemblyman.

“We need to get together as a community,” Green said.

Green claimed that the state said the district did not submit all the necessary paperwork. Howard disagreed, saying everything was turned in.

Another issue was the unresolved contract with the Plainfield Education Association.

“The state is telling me one thing and the district is telling me another thing,” Green said. “We have to settle the contract. It’s embarrassing.”

--Bernice Paglia

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Blanco Shoots Down Nominees

City Council President Ray Blanco used his rights Wednesday (July 19, 2006) to withdraw a set of last-minute appointments by Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs.

The mayor had proposed names Monday (July 17, 2006) for the Citizens Advisory Committee, the Human Relations Commission, the Plainfield Youth Commission, the Green Brook Flood Control Commission and the Plainfield Cable Advisory Committee, but the nominations were supposed to have been made by the prior Monday for council consideration.

Blanco arrived to the Wednesday meeting late, due to attending an event at Gracie Mansion in New York City, and so did not hear Robinson-Briggs’ addition of two more nominations that night.

Councilmen Cory Storch and Rashid Burney questioned those nominations and the administration ended up withdrawing one for the Zoning Board of Adjustment. Another, for the Cultural & Heritage Commission, was supposed to be on the agenda, but was not on the printed agenda.

Blanco blasted the process, saying, “This council will not be made fools of again by anyone.“

Addressing City Administrator Carlton McGee, Blanco said, “You are under orders to get this administration in order.“

Blanco said he had tried “everything in my power” to make the administration look good, but he said, “I will not be made a fool of again.“

Blanco said the current council is the best in many years , with the “moral and political fortitude to withstand everything.“

But he said, “We have a deadline - we have rules.“

McGee responded, “We hear you loud and clear.“

He said there was no disrespect intended.

But Storch also called for withdrawal of another resolution that would have named an appointee to the Plainfield Housing Authority.

In the end, no appointments were approved.

Robinson-Briggs responded to the comments by saying, “Your words were heard, but I think they were a little harsh.“

In public comments, residents Murray Roberts and Dottie Gutenkauf agreed that for the land use boards such as Planning and Zoning, it is most important that candidates be qualified, even to the extent of having background in land use law, planning, architecture or related fields.

Joan Hervey, who was nominated to the Human Relations Commission, said the Civic Responsibility Act of 2005 was supposed to have established the process for appointments.

However, although a process was set up for applications, the other part of the ordinance, a listing of all board and commission terms and the obligations for each, was never established.

According to a Plaintalker list of boards and commissions in 2005, most were never filled. Several new boards and commissions established since then are also lacking in members.

SEE: Boards and Commissions: A bustle of inactivity (August 24, 2005)

--Bernice Paglia

Mayor Offers Nominees

Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs did not have to go far for some of her new nominees for boards and commissions.

Two nominees turn out to be employees who sit at the information desk directly across from her City Hall office and another is her husband.

Robinson-Briggs passed out copies of the nominations to City Council members at Monday’s agenda session, but the public was not privy to the last-minute information.
A visit to City Hall today (July 19, 2006) yielded the following list of candidates:

--For the Plainfield Citizens Advisory Committee, former Councilwoman Elizabeth Urquhart. The committee reviews applications for Community Development Block Grants and makes recommendations to Union County officials who make the final cut for the federal funding.

--For the Human Relations Commission, Oliver C. Hubbard, Joan Hervey, Judawn L. Musa and the Rev. Carolyn Eklund. Hubbard works at the new information desk in the rotunda of City Hall, where visitors must now sign in and out. The commission has been defunct for several years. Its previous concerns were race relations and police brutality. It is empowered to have nine citizen members.

--For the Plainfield Youth Commission, Devon Walcott, also working at the information desk. The Youth Commission was established by ordinance in March, providing for 15 members. The mayor has two direct appointments and each council member can recommend a nominee, among other provisions.

--For the Green Brook Flood Control Commission, Eugene L. Dudley, replacing Frank D’Aversa.

--For the Plainfield Cable Advisory Board, Peter R. Briggs as the mayor’s designee; Chris Payne and Dorothy Gutenkauf. The 11-member board is supposed to oversee the workings of the city’s local cable channels, but no members were previously appointed.

While Urquhart and Dudley are nominated for active groups, the rest are new or have been inactive. It would appear that nominees for those boards and commissions will not be enough to raise quorums so that work can be done.

Anyone with questions or concerns about the appointments can speak before they are voted on tonight. The meeting is 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

--Bernice Paglia

DPW To Get Road Equipment

City employees will soon be able to make road repairs that could help stave off costly reconstruction.

Though only about six square miles in size, the city has more than 100 miles of road, some county-owned. Due to neglect, many city roads fell into disrepair and now are in poor to very poor condition. The city has begun a five-year, $75 million program of repairs for the worst roads, which may be milled and resurfaced or totally reconstructed.

The City Council approved a plan last year for the Public Works Division to acquire equipment that would allow workers to make repairs that would keep better roads in decent shape. Tonight (Wednesday, July 19, 2006), the council is expected to approve bid awards for three pieces of equipment. Public Works Supervisor John Louise said with the addition of two more pieces, the division should be ready to start repairing roads in the fall.

Louise told the council Monday that some of his staff know how to operate the specialized equipment, but that the purchases include training to ensure the machinery’s best use. The equipment up for approval tonight includes a five-ton vibratory roller at $27,900, a road paver at $69,400 and a portable asphalt stabilizer/trench machine with transport trailer at $69,950.

Previously, about the best the division could do was to patch potholes. The new equipment will give the city the power to do more preventive maintenance so that roads last longer before they need major repairs.

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

Other items up for a vote may include various appointments that Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs proposed Monday, a liquor license renewal for a Watchung Avenue nightclub, a resolution honoring Hurricane Katrina volunteers and an ordinance to prevent parking at all times on the 1100 block of Hillside Avenue.

--Bernice Paglia

Monday, July 17, 2006

Order Lacking At Council Meeting

City Council President Ray Blanco’s push for order took a hit Monday (July 17, 2006) when Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs again came up with a raft of last-minute items.

Blanco formulated his “Rules of Order” for the council in March, preceding an historic change away from Monday-only meetings. The council now holds agenda sessions on Mondays and regular meetings on Wednesdays. All matters to be considered at the agenda sessions are supposed to be presented a week ahead of time.

But Robinson-Briggs handed out a packet at Monday’s meeting that included nominations for several boards and commissions, testing Blanco’s patience with late submissions. The nominations had in fact only been forwarded to the council in an e-mail after 1 a.m. Monday, Blanco said. In council questioning, it came out that some nominations were for one board that does not exist and some reappointments were for seats never filled in the first place.

Robinson-Briggs promised to have missing information forwarded to the council by the close of business Tuesday, in time for the regular meeting Wednesday.

Among other fits and starts, the developers who built the Park-Madison office building sought an unscheduled hearing, but were gone after a confab with the mayor outside the council meeting room.

Other communication glitches emerged when representatives of the city’s Special Improvement District asked council permission to erect a 30-foot flag pole at Plainwood Square Park on South Avenue in time for an Aug. 3 event. It was not clear who had the power to grant permission for the flag pole and Blanco asked to table the matter.
The group wanted to have an American flag at the top and a SID logo flag below.

In a report on the Planning Board’s activities, Councilman Cory Storch said the board is working on the master plan, which sets general goals for the city, and the Zoning Ordinance, which sets exact land use limits.

Storch described some “transit village” plans that would focus density around current or proposed rail and bus hubs. He cited parking as a particular concern that might be met by a parking deck on a current city lot off East Second Street.

Storch said the Planning Board was working on the master plan revision as well as the Zoning Ordinance that upheld the goals of the master plan. One of its goals was to ensure more green space, he said. The city is currently developing a greenway along its northern border with the Green Brook.

Council members also vowed to proceed with the budget process for the 2006-07 fiscal year. Councilman Rashid Burney gave a brief report from the Finance Committee, which will soon bring its findings to the entire council for comment.

“My goal is to contain the budget within the rate of inflation of New Jersey,” Burney said.

Councilwoman Linda Carter asked for the Finance Committee to share its findings with the whole council.

“We’re starting from ground zero and you guys are way ahead,“ Carter said.

The council has a schedule of budgets sessions, starting in July and going through November.

Burney said he saw no point in waiting until November for state aid to settle the budget, noting the aid might only be $100,000 or so, just a fraction of the city budget.

The regular City Council meeting is Wednesday (July 19, 2006) at 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

--Bernice Paglia

Meeting Update

Here’s an update on the school board meetings:
The Board of Education will hold its work and study session at 8 p.m. Wednesday (July 19, 2006) in the Plainfield High School conference room. The high school is located at 950 Park Avenue.
The business meeting will be at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Emerson Swing School, 1700 W. Front St.

Among items on tonight’s City Council agenda:
Councilman Cory Storch, who serves on the Planning Board, will give a “status report” to the council. As part of a revamping of the council’s rules of conduct in April, each council member was assigned to several boards and committees, with the obligation to report back to the council at intervals. According to the schedule, Finance Committee and Cable Television Committee reports are also due, but were not noted on tonight’s agenda.

The Special Improvement District’s manager, David Biagini, is asking the council to approve installation of a 30-foot flagpole at Plainwood Square Park. The group wants the flagpole up by Aug. 3, when a special program of multi-ethnic music and dance will be held as part of a weeklong “National Night Out” event. The SID is also hoping to get its expanded list of members approved. Biagini also wants council permission to hold sidewalk sale days on Aug. 3 through 5.

The city has arranged to swap four city-owned lots, three on East Sixth Street and one on Prescott Place, for three properties owned by SEMA LLC. The city wants the privately-owned lots to further a plan for a greenway along the Green Brook and consolidation of land for a new middle school in the West End.

About a dozen historic properties may be designated as landmarks. They include the Seventh Day Baptist Church, Grace Episcopal Church, the du Cret School of Art, the Fitz-Randolph House and a farmhouse on Leland Avenue that is among the 25 oldest houses still standing in Plainfield. Records in the Planning Office detail the unique features and historic significance of each structure.

All the above items, except for Storch’s report, will be up for a vote at the regualr meeting,8 p.m. Wednesday in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

--Bernice Paglia

A Hot Week For Meetings

For those interested in the doings of elected officials, this will be a busy week.

The City Council will hold its only meetings for the month on Monday and Wednesday. The Board of Education, according to a legal notice, will hold meetings on Wednesday and Thursday.

As soon as Plaintalker can obtain an agenda Monday, the topics will be posted for the council meeting. The agenda session is 7:30 p.m. in City Hall Library and the regular meeting will be 8 p.m. in Municipal Court.

The BOE agenda may be available at the Plainfield Public Library.

Unfortunately, official web sites for the governing body and the school board are not much help in deciphering their schedules. The city web site still says regular meetings are on first and third Mondays, but that changed in April with adoption of a new schedule. The Board of Education web site says meetings are on the second and third Tuesdays of each month, but that is not the case this week.

The school district is still struggling with Gov. Jon Corzine’s demand for a flat budget in all Abbott districts. The board was asked to endorse budget cuts at the end of May on short notice. The state Department of Education was to review the proposed cuts and get back to the district within two weeks on which ones it would permit. But in mid-July, the district still has no definitive outcome to the review process.

Due to the uncertainty, all non-tenured teachers have received “reduction in force” notices, meaning their jobs may be at risk. Meanwhile, the Plainfield Education Association contract for teachers and other staff has not yet been settled.

More to follow.

--Bernice Paglia

Friday, July 14, 2006

Group Seeks Ouster Of Mayor

A group of residents is seeking removal of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs and a special election to name a successor.

The group claims that Robinson-Briggs did not meet the qualification of having been a “legal voter” in the city for at least four years prior to election, as required by the city’s special charter.

The matter was to have been heard today (Friday, July 14, 2006) before Judge Thomas Lyons in the Chancery Division of the Superior Court in Elizabeth, but has been postponed to July 26, 2006 at 2 p.m.

Robinson-Briggs, the city’s first female mayor, won the November 7, 2005 general election and took office Jan.1, 2006, but only registered as a Plainfield voter in September 2002.

The issue echoes a 2003 challenge to Robinson-Briggs’ viability as a school board member. Former board member Veronica Taylor-Hill questioned her ability to serve as a school board member because she did not seem to meet the Plainfield school board’s requirement of one year’s residency in the city prior to the April 2003 election.

In that case, Robinson-Briggs prevailed and took the seat, only to have to relinquish it on Jan. 1, 2006 when she became mayor after a contentious battle among Democrats for the mayoral line.

In the present challenge, attorneys for Robinson-Briggs and the city say the time to raise objections has long since elapsed and that removing the mayor six months into her administration would throw the city into chaos. They also question the expense of a special election.

Robinson-Briggs, backed by Assemblyman Jerry Green and the Regular Democratic Organization, beat two-term incumbent Mayor Albert T. McWilliams in the June 2005 primary. Nobody objected to her qualifications either when she filed to run in April or within a four-day deadline after the primary. Robinson-Briggs went on to win the November 2005 general election.

But in January 2006, Republican Party Chairwoman Sandy Spector wrote to City Council President Ray Blanco, asking for the new mayor’s removal.

Blanco replied that Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi had certified the election results and the matter was settled.

Spector was among the eight residents who filed a lawsuit in May seeking the mayor’s removal.

In documents on file in the Chancery Division, attorneys for the mayor and the city question the concept of “legal voter” in the charter. They argue that a resident may be eligible to vote, but if he or she chooses not to register, “legal voter” status prevails anyway. They also argue that the mayor has more than four years‘ residency over time, though not consecutively, and point out that the charter does not say the four years must be consecutive and immediately prior to the election.

Another argument is that the city charter is “constitutionally suspect” and violates the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause because state law requires only one year’s residency immediately prior to election.

At different times, Robinson-Briggs used addresses in Plainfield, North Plainfield and Piscataway before purchasing a home on Pemberton Avenue in 2002. She was registered to vote in Middlesex County and did not register in Union County until Sept. 30, 2002. She voted in Piscataway while living in North Plainfield and Plainfield, according to court records.

A counter-argument to the “legal voter” issue asks whether a non-resident voter, i.e. someone not living in Piscataway, can vote as a township resident, as Robinson-Briggs did.

Robinson-Briggs was able to take her school board seat in June 2003 after Superior Court Judge William L’E. Wertheimer lifted restraints imposed following Taylor-Hill’s challenge.

Objections to the new challenge include arguments that the city will be forced to operate without a mayor and that chaos will ensue. But the special charter calls for the City Council to appoint one of its members as acting mayor if the incumbent is disqualified, and for a new mayor to be elected at the next general election for the balance of the four-year term.

In February, the City Council approved payment of $7,500 to attorney Angelo Genova to research the city charter’s section on mayoral qualifications. In June, the council approved another $17,000 for Genova and $7,500 for attorney Stephen Edelstein, who defended the mayor during her school board challenge. Attorney Joseph Horn is representing the residents who are challenging the mayor’s qualifications.

--Bernice Paglia

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Seniors Hear $15 Million Center, Condo Proposal

Seniors heard a new proposal Tuesday (July 11, 2006) that would give them their long-anticipated center, along with three floors of revenue-producing condos above.

Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs used her monthly meeting with the seniors to introduce a development team headed by Glen A. Fishman of Dornoch Holdings LLC, Lakewood. Fishman said he would put up the $15 million cost of the new construction.

The proposed 63 two-bedroom units would bring in about $400,000 in taxes annually, said planner John Hatch of the Trenton architectural firm Clarke Caton Hintz. Showing a conceptual plan that included 14,670 square feet for the new center, Hatch said the company was working closely with the Senior Center’s building committee “to make sure it is configured the way you want.“

Seniors had made a wish list of facilities including rooms for art, billiards, television, computers, a library, meetings and other uses. The proposed plan has a lobby entry off East Front Street leading to a corridor lined with activity rooms. The main space, which has a stage, could accommodate a sit-down event for 200 Hatch said in answer to a senior’s question. The adjacent kitchen in the proposed facility would be larger than the present one in leased space at 305 East Front Street, he said.

Robinson-Briggs and her mentor, Assemblyman Jerry Green, took turns at the microphone to encourage seniors to support the proposal and talk it up to their elected officials. Green called on Planning Director Bill Nierstedt to agree that the new mayor had improved communication with his office and was “making stuff happen,” but then answered the question himself.

“I want to make it clear that she is in control of every project in the city,” Green said.

Despite the air of assurance on the project’s success, Green said the proposal was still in the talking stage. It will require approvals from the City Council and city land use boards on issues such as density and parking. As proposed, the building will have 100 parking spaces at the rear.

Fishman said from the time he gets building permits, he will have the building occupied within 12 months. He said he would expect to be heard by the Planning Board within 45 to 60 days and the center could then be open 14 to 15 months later. He said his firm has done projects in 22 places across the state, ranging in size from 36 to 3,000 units. Among them are projects in Rahway and Asbury Park, he said.

The past administration of Mayor Albert T. McWilliams had taken out bond notes for $4 million to build a new center, but Green said the Dornoch proposal would not require the city to pay anything.

Green, Robinson-Briggs and members of the Dornoch team had met Monday with the Senior Center building committee to go over the proposal. Green said the mayor on Tuesday was “taking it to the community.”

Several dozen seniors attended the meeting. Seniors have rejected plans to move them from their rented space into a former armory or into a lower-level public space in the former Tepper’s building, which now has 75 apartments and ground-floor commercial space. The new administration angered the seniors earlier this year by saying the new center might not be on land in the next block where the past administration held a “ground-breaking” in May 2005.

The new plan was labeled “400 Front Street,” on the seniors’ favored site.

“It sounded good to me,” center member Betty Carson said. “It gives me hope. I want to be around to walk into a senior center.”

Former City Councilman Bob Ferraro, now vice-commander of American Legion Post 219, liked the idea that space would be allocated for veterans to meet in the new building.

“This looks good,” he said. “It’s one of the most promising things I’ve seen for a long time.”

Green said he wanted “no bumps in the road,” but the new proposal may encounter some of the same questions raised about a South Avenue condo proposal that has triple the density of its neighborhood. The South Avenue project needs 128 parking spaces for 64 two-bedroom units, but proposes 107. A hearing on that proposal will continue at 7 p.m. July 26 in City Hall Library.

--Bernice Paglia

Monday, July 10, 2006

SID Expansion Up Again

The third time might still not be the charm for the proposed expansion of the city’s Special Improvement District.

The matter may be up again for a public hearing July 19 at Muncipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

The current SID includes the city’s downtown district south to Seventh Street, as well as the South Avenue business district. Industrial and commercial property owners are assessed a surtax of about 3 percent to fund improvements and attractions to invite shoppers and visitors. The proposed expansion is mainly north from the central business district to the city’s border at the Green Brook.

In May, a legal notice was published, adding 84 new properties. But as Plaintalker discovered, a number of residential apartment buildings were listed erroneously. SID officials said the properties in question were not on the list submitted to City Hall for publication prior to the required public hearing.

June’s list had 50 new properties. At the regular meeting on June 21, the expected public hearing did not take place. It seems there were more revisions to be made.

On July 8, a legal notice with 44 new properties ran in the Courier News. However, this time the additions were not indicated in bold type, as they had been in May and June.

City officials could not say Monday what effect the lapse might have on the public hearing scheduled for July 19. The SID’s manager, David Biagini of FirsTEAManagement could not be reached by phone and city liaison Jacques Howard was on vacation.

A SID copy of the June list was in order by block numbers and had the bold underlining for the new properties, but both the June and July legal notice lists skipped around out of sequence. Each publication cost $704.

The SID board gave a heartfelt presentation to the City Council in June, stressing that the organization has brought about greater communication and unity of purpose among its more than 400 original members. Biagini and board members detailed first-year improvements such as graffiti removal and extra trash pickups. The group sponsored holiday horse-and-wagon rides and sale days with strolling clowns.

The SID also donated $8,000 to the Independence Day Committee for travel expenses of a Washington, D.C. band for the annual parade.

Half the SID budget comes from the special assessment and it is matched with Urban Enterprise Zone funds. The amount for fiscal year 2004-05 was $227,200.

Until the new properties are duly added and a public hearing takes place, the surtax cannot be calculated on the expanded SID.

Besides the bureaucratic issues, the SID encountered some criticism in June from City Council President Ray Blanco, who called the SID presentation a “dog and pony show.”

He said he found out that Biagini lives in Mississippi and questioned his ability to manage the SID. Blanco called for a full-time manager based in Plainfield.

“Your consultant in Mississippi is unacceptable,” Blanco told the SID board.

But Councilmen Elliott Simmons, Cory Storch and Don Davis applauded the SID members for their commitment.

Board member Jeffery Dunn told the council, “I have never seen the business community come together like they have now,” adding, “I see synergy.”

Dunn said his message to city officials is, “Give us encouragement.”

--Bernice Paglia

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Homicide No. 7

The city's seventh homicide victim is Robert Clayborne, 28, who died of a gun shot wound to the upper body early Saturday.

Police responding to reports of shots fired at about 1:45 a.m. found Clayborne in the first floor hallway of Viola's Place, an apartment complex at 165 Crescent Avenue. Police said he was treated at the scene by Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center's Mercy 6 Unit, but was pronounced dead a short time later.

No arrests have been made and no weapon was recovered. Police offered no further information about Clayborne.

Detective Thomas Robertson of the Plainfield Police Division and Detective Michael Manochio of the Union County Prosecutor's Office are conducting the investigation. Anyone with information may contact Robertson at 908-753-3609 or Manochio at 908-966-2287. All information will be kept confidential and can be given anonymously at 908-654-TIPS.

Traffic was blocked on Crescent Avenue between First Place and East Seventh Street until about 11:30 a.m. Saturday while police investigated the fatal shooting.

--The Editors

Another Homicide

Police cordoned off an apartment building at Crescent Avenue and East Seventh Street to investigate yet another homicide in the city.

Police Chief Edward Santiago confirmed the homicide and said the victim had been identified, but no more details will be given until a press release is issued later today.

The apartment building, known as Viola's Place, is just steps from City Hall and is across the street from Crescent Avenue Presbyterian Church.

A neighbor from a building two doors down said he heard a volley of gunshots early in the morning while he was in bed.

A small group of residents sat on the East Seventh Street side of the L-shaped building, talking among themselves in Spanish and telling passersby that someone had been killed. But they had no further information.

The building is next to a house on East Seventh Street where a womnan was found dead in the back yard about a year ago.

As more information becomes available, Plaintalker will post an update.

--Bernice Paglia

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Zoning Board Begins South Avenue Development Hearings

Late Wednesday (July 5, 2006), the Zoning Board began hearing a proposal to build 64 town homes in a four-story structure on South Ave near the Netherwood train station.

Maxim Development Group plans to demolish an existing auto body shop to build the transit-friendly complex, but needs variances for parking spaces, density, residential use, minimum livable floor space and open space. If the board grants the exceptions, the developer will then submit detailed site plans for approval.

At the beginning of the meeting, the board agreed to hold a special meeting at 7 p.m. July 26 in City Hall Library to continue the case. Testimony did not begin Wednesday until after the board’s usual 10:30 p.m. deadline, but site engineer Victor E. Vinegra quickly summed up his reasons why the applicant needed only 107 parking spaces instead of the 128 required.

Holding up a red book titled “Parking Generation,” he said old formulas were based on a mix of suburban and urban needs for cars, but that new studies in the book show city dwellers really need fewer than the required two cars per two-bedroom unit.

“As a planner and engineer in Union County, I wrestle with this problem every day,” he said.

Spanned by the Raritan Valley rail line and multiple bus routes, Union County is ideal for the “transit village” concept that calls for higher density and fewer cars near mass transportation, he said. New concepts put the need for parking spaces well below the 1.67 per unit Maxim proposes, he said, coming closer to one or less per unit.

Vinegra also used projected digital images he took Wednesday to show there is also some on-street parking near the site.

He said in meetings with state “Smart Growth” advocates and rail and transportation officials, he learned that light rail cars may be coming to the Raritan Valley line with more frequent stops. Transit village supporters want to see ridership increase and all towns along the rail line are being studied for “smart growth” possibilities.

The concept was featured in Plainfield at Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs’ 100-day report. Public Works & Urban Development Director Jennifer Wenson Maier said the city could have four transit village clusters, not only at the existing Netherwood and North Avenue stations, but at two former stations on Grant and Clinton avenues.

Vinegra said he feels the site falls “well within” transit village initiatives.

At the July 26 meeting, the board will hear testimony on other issues. Thirty percent of the proposed units are smaller than the 1,000-square-foot minimum for two bedrooms. The proposal has less back yard and balcony space than required. Its density, at 47 units per acre, far exceeds the 13.3 units per acre in the neighborhood. The residential building would be higher than any others on South Avenue, according to a planning report, and it is not a permitted use in the light industrial zone.

Zoning Board Chairwoman Sally Hughes said the public will also have a chance to speak on the proposal.

Plans are on file in the Planning Division on the second floor of City Hall, 515 Watchung Ave., for any members of the public who wish to review them.

--Bernice Paglia

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

McGee Overdue As Acting Director

For more than 90 days, City Administrator Carlton McGee has been in charge of day-to-day operations while also temporarily heading the largest of three city departments, but officials said Monday (July 3, 2006) they saw no problem with the dual roles.

The city has a 90-day limit on acting terms.

Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs sought City Council confirmation for the city administrator and two department heads in March, just before they reached the limit. All top administrators had been named in acting capacity Jan. 1. Former city administrator Norton Bonaparte stayed on in the new administration as acting director of Administration & Finance. But he left the city in March to become city manager of Topeka, Kans. and McGee took over Bonaparte’s duties.

It is unclear whether the council was ever formally notified of the additional acting term for McGee. But he can’t be confirmed in the role because he is already confirmed as city administrator, so he must vacate the post under the term-limit rule.

“It‘s a technicality, but there‘s no harm done either way,” City Council President Ray Blanco said.

Assemblyman Jerry Green, the mayor‘s mentor, said he didn‘t think it was a problem, noting the arrangement was not costing the city any money. City administrators have served as acting department heads in the past and only receive the higher of the two salaries while doing so.

Green said the administration is looking for someone with “multiple talents“ in finance and administration to head the department.

“We have expanded the search outside the city,“ he said.

Green said the administration was hoping to have someone on board within 60 days.

The City Council put limits on acting terms during the administration of former Mayor Albert T. McWilliams, who let some cabinet members stay on for months without council confirmation. The issue was that indefinite acting terms took away the council’s powers of advice and consent to the mayor’s choices. The city’s special charter states, “Each department shall be headed by a director, who shall be appointed by the Mayor with advice and consent of the council.“

The council first allowed two 60-day terms, but later cut it back to one 90-day term before a confirmation vote.

Administration & Finance is one of three departments mandated by the city’s special charter. Its divisions include purchasing, personnel, comptroller, municipal court, tax assessor, tax collector, health, social services, the Project Alert substance abuse program and the Senior Citizens Center. The other departments are Public Affairs & Safety, covering police and fire operations, and Public Works & Urban Development, which includes public works, recreation, inspections, engineering and economic development.

On March 20, Robinson-Briggs won City Council confirmation of McGee as city administrator, Martin Hellwig as director of Public Affairs & Safety and Jennifer Wenson Maier as director of Public Works & Urban Development for four-year terms concurrent with her own. The council also agreed to waive residency requirements for all three.

--Bernice Paglia

Monday, July 03, 2006

Council Meetings: Be There

Six months into the new administration, the city’s web site still does not have the correct meeting schedule for City Council meetings.

In fact, the schedules posted for agenda sessions and regular meetings have them both occurring on first and third Mondays, at two different locations.

The schedules dramatically conflict with legal notices issued by City Clerk Laddie Wyatt to reflect a change that began in April. Never mind that the legal notice posted in the rotunda at City Hall does not jibe with an earlier one establishing the change, it’s a lot closer to the facts than the web site.

There’s a saying that 80 percent of success is showing up. For those who aspire to be successful at monitoring their elected officials, Plaintalker offers a concise guide to council meetings for the balance of 2006.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Hearing Wednesday On South Avenue Four-Story

A South Avenue body shop owner wants to demolish his building and put up a four-story building with 64 two-bedroom units.

In a city report on the application, staff members note that the building would be taller than any now on South Avenue and is not a permitted use in a block zoned for industrial purposes only.

"This proposal will have an extraordinary impact for the neighborhood and for the community at large," the report states.

A public hearing on the application is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday (July 5, 2006) at the Zoning Board of Adjustment meeting in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave.

Among other findings:

- Thirty percent of the units will be short of the required 1,000 square feet for two-bedroom apartments.

- The applicant, Maxim Development LLC, needs 128 parking spaces, but proposes only 102, including 52 surface spaces and 55 in an underground lot.

- The current density on South Avenue is 13.3 dwelling units per acre and the applicant proposes 47 units per acre.

- There is no allowance for back yard space at ground level, nor are any balconies or decks proposed for upper units. The city land use rules require 3,200 square feet of private rear yard space for the 16 ground-level units and 3,072 for the above-ground units.

On the other hand, the proposal does meet the city's goal of transit-friendly planning, because it is a quarter-mile from the Netherwood train station, the report said. As many as 128 people could live in the building if it is approved.

Although the report appears to be "largely negative," staff said it could be positive if the zoning board makes an effort to identify and address all the negative impacts throughout the public hearing process.

Besides the proposal for the 800 block of South Avenue, Maxim is also proposing a 40-unit building in the 900 block. , owner of the body shop, was introduced during Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs' 100-day report April 28 as the developer of the South Avenue sites. The applications first came to the Planning Board, but were then referred to the Zoning Board.

--Bernice Paglia

Onieal Chooses Harding Township

The news media had a frisson of excitement over Plainfield's most famous new resident, Gay American and former New Jersey Governor James McGreevey. The ex-gov and his partner, financier Mark O'Donnell, bought an eight-bedroom mansion on Prospect Avenue for a reported $1.4 million.

But who moved out?

Longtime economic development activist Chris Onieal and his family have moved to Harding Township in Morris County, the Hoboken restaurant owner said Friday.

The Onieals had lived at 1101 Prospect Avenue before moving to 1332 Prospect Avenue in 1998. According to tax records, the purchase price was $380,000. The 1914 home was formerly owned by the Swain family, who acquired it in 1974 for $75,000.

Onieal served as chairman of the Plainfield Redevelopment Agency and worked intensively on a downtown redevelopment deal that, like many others over more than 30 years, did not pan out. More recently, Onieal backed former Mayor Albert T. McWilliams in his failed bid for a third term.

Onieal said the family now lives in an old farmhouse closer to where his children attend school. It's now just a three-mile drive to the school instead of 27 miles from Plainfield. Onieal said.

McWilliams lost the June 2005 Democratic primary to Assemblyman Jerry Green's choice for mayor, Sharon Robinson-Briggs. He also lost the party chairmanship to Green shortly after the primary. Onieal and other McWilliams supporters then waged a fierce campaign to find another way to get him on the November ballot, resulting in one of the most bitter political seasons in many years. But Robinson-Briggs won and became mayor Jan. 1, 2006.

Political adversaries Green and McWilliams both live on Prospect Avenue.

Established in 1922, the Onieals' new home town was named for the president at the time, Warren G. Harding. The 2000 census found just 940 families living there, in contrast to Plainfield's 15,000 households, half of whom are renters. According to a real estate source, the average home in the former agricultural stronghold near the Great Swamp is priced at $3.4 million.

Trading Central Jersey's only urban center for the bucolic township, Onieal said, "We're going to take a rest for a while."

--Bernice Paglia

The Show Will Go On

Recreation Director Dave Wynn has rounded up some local talent and there will be a July 4th concert after all.

Wynn's previous concert proposals, one to use $100,000 in UEZ funds and one to use $55,000 in unused Inspections funds, were both rejected by the City Council. The latter bid would have brought headliners Floetry and Howard Hewitt to the city to round out the day's festivities that include the traditional parade and fireworks.

Now, Wynn said, he will use part of the Independence Day budget to put on a concert featuring the Spice Band, the Toys, Adrienne Sykes, J. Bounce and Mac, Force of Attack, C.P. Lacey and Viola Sykes.

The concert will begin at 4 p.m. in Cedar Brook Park.

The 83rd Annual 4th of July Celebration begins with the parade along Front Street at 10 a.m., with a Judges' Stand at the new county building between Park and Madison avenues. The concert will be followed by fireworks at 9:30 p.m.

City Council President Ray Blanco, who opposed the two other concert proposals, said Friday, "When I meet seniors and working people who are selling their homes in Plainfield because they cannot afford to pay their taxes, then I cannot in good conscience allow the expenditure of such sums for a one-time event. It is just plain wrong."

But Blanco added, "I am confident that the Recreation Department will do an extraordinary job with this year's parade."

--Bernice Paglia

Back in the Saddle Again

I'm sitting in front of my laptop, listening to WYNC, glancing out the window at the big evergreen that hosts all kinds of birds. Yes, finally I have a landline and can file at any hour of the day or night in any get-up from my WBAI Off the Hook T-shirt or my white eyelet nightgown. Thanks to the Verizon guy who was lying on the floor, sweating, as he rewired the inside line Thursday. I had just spent an hour and a half at the Internet Cafe trying to file a free-lance news story when I came home to see the Verizon truck and then the technician who solved the problem after nearly a month of conflicting theories from other telecom sorts.
Thanks to all who sent advice or good wishes!