Friday, November 10, 2006

League Conference: What For?

Next week, thousands of elected officials and municipal employees will attend the 91st New Jersey State League of Municipalities Conference in Atlantic City.

The League serves all 566 mayors in the state and about 13,000 elected and appointed municipal officials. Its goal is to “help communities do a better job of self-government” by sharing information on best practices and new laws and issues affecting municipal government. Everything from eminent domain to rising methamphetamine use is covered in the 97-page program for the 2006 conference, which takes place Nov. 14 through 17.

Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs will preside over one session on increasing the number of women in government and will take part in another on the future of affirmative action in local government, with panelists including Newark Mayor Cory Booker.

Former Plainfield councilman Jon Bramnick, now a state Assemblyman representing District 21, will be part of a session on “Lessons in Life, Laughter and Local Government.” Bramnick’s Wikipedia page documents not only his extensive governmental career, but also the fact that he is a stand-up comedian who was voted “Funniest Lawyer” four times.

Plainfield Planning Board attorney Michele Donato will be a panelist in an ongoing education session for experienced Board of Adjustment members and another session on land use questions for board members and municipal officials.

Neighboring Mayors Colleen Mahr of Fanwood and Martin Marks of Scotch Plains will lend their expertise to their peers. Mahr will speak on team building in government and Marks will address rising costs of employee benefits, pensions and healthcare.

Robert Casey, who served as interim city administrator for a while in Plainfield, will be on hand as executive director of the New Jersey Municipal Management Association for a consulting period Thursday.

A Wednesday session, “Ethics: Can We Restore the Public Trust?” may bring to mind new Plainfielder and former Gov. James E. McGreevey, who painted another picture of the League conference in his book, “The Confession.”

The best-selling book portrays the conference as a “huge frat party” where attendees pay little attention to municipal issues but instead focus on hooking up for sex. Alienated by his closeted gay identity, McGreevey felt “alone with my secret.”

He ended up in an Irish pub drinking pints of Guinness and emerged at sunrise (what, no closing hour?) to “a feeling of epiphany” about the rules he would have to follow to become politically powerful.

“I knew I would have to lie for the rest of my life – and I knew I was capable of it,” he wrote.

Plaintalker recently did a Google search on John Lynch and found a glowing account of the former senator as PoliticsNJ’s “Politician of the Year” in 2001. The article featured Lynch’s role in molding McGreevey to political success. Presently, McGreevey is enjoying personal authenticity as a gay American and Lynch is headed for jail over corruption that preceded the laudatory article but did not emerge until this year.

Let us hope that the public trust can be restored to some degree and that McGreevey’s perceived dull issues of economic development and storm-water regulations at the League conference will be the real stuff of the gathering, along with property tax reform and other major problems.

Municipal government is a curious thing in that millions of citizens just expect it will work. Few come out to council meetings and only half or less even bother to vote for members of the governing body. This writer had had a special fascination with the fact that seven people in Plainfield make decisions affecting about 47,000 of their neighbors.

The idea that thousands of elected and appointed officials would gather for a serious annual examination of municipal issues still seems legitimate. For those who only want to party and hook up, we say, please attend the Wednesday session on ethics.

--Bernice Paglia


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