Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Council Faults Late, Incomplete Submissions

More late or flawed submissions from the administration raised City Council anger Monday (Sept. 18, 2006) and once again, City Administrator Carlton McGee promised to do better.

At Monday’s agenda session, the council was asked to approve a flood damage ordinance without which residents would not be able to get FEMA insurance. But the vote at Wednesday’s regular meeting would be based only on a promise of needed Planning Board approval.

Planning Director Bill Nierstedt said he only found out Sept. 7 from a resident about the ordinance, which is under land use law a “development regulation” that needs Planning Board review. He was able to alert other officials and secure Planning Board review that same night, but the board will not grant approval until Sept. 21 or Oct. 4.

Officials said they called FEMA to seek an extension, but were told the Sept. 20 deadline was final.

Before considering the matter, the council held an unusual caucus for more than half an hour. Upon reopening the meeting, council members expressed shock and dismay at the dilemma and discussed it at length. But after Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson asked the council to rely on his opinion that they could go forward, the council agreed to put the matter up for a vote Wednesday.

Another last-minute issue was the sale of $12.6 million in bond anticipation notes. The public’s first clue was a posting on the city’s web site dated Sept. 7 about electronic proposals being received on Sept. 14. City political observers wondered how the sale could be posted without council action.

McGee said Monday he did not realize the notes were due in September. He said the city was lucky enough to secure the services of TKG & Associates on short notice to prepare the sale. Asked how TKG was selected, McGee said he knew them from previous ties to Jersey City.

Williamson said it would have been catastrophic if the city had defaulted on the $15 million past debt.

TKG was working without a contract, officials said.

Councilman Rashid Burney said he wanted McGee to give a “one-page plan” on how to avoid such situations in the future and Councilman Cory Storch called for better communication so the council would not be asked to “do a rush job.”

The council agreed to vote Wednesday on a resolution that would award $25,000 to TKG for services commencing Sept. 20.

The third issue of timeliness had to do with a redevelopment study and plan for the Richmond/East Third site. At the Sept. 7 Planning Board meeting, members heard an “in need of redevelopment” study by Remington & Vernick Engineers of Haddonfield. The redevelopment process calls for the board to recommend such a study to the governing body for review. If accepted, the council may then ask the Planning Board to prepare and submit a redevelopment plan.

However, on Sept. 7, the Planning Board members already had a redevelopment plan on the table. Although the plan was not on the Sept. 7 agenda, Planning Board attorney Michele Donato said the members would vote on the plan Sept. 21.

At Monday’s council meeting, Storch, the council's Planning Board liaison, said only one of the Planning Board’s three recommendations were included in the resolution before the council. Besides accepting the study, the other two recommendations were to expand the study area and to engage in talks with the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority, which has major plans for offices and equipment facilities on the proposed redevelopment site.

Then it came out that some council members had incomplete information.

Based on the discrepancies, the council decided to pull both the resolution to accept the study and the ordinance to give initial approval to the redevelopment plan.

The lapses left council members demanding answers about the apparent lack of communication within the administration that took charge Jan. 1.

“Did you know all this was going on?” Councilman Don Davis asked McGee regarding the flood insurance issue.

“No, I did not,” McGee answered.

Over and over, administration and council cited a “lack of communication.”

Davis said to McGee, “You definitely need more communication with each department head.”

Noting there is a cabinet meeting every week, Davis asked, “And every week they’re not telling you certain things? You should be madder than us.”

--Bernice Paglia


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