Thursday, February 08, 2007

Fix PMUA Terms Now

Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs offered a bunch of names this week for boards and commissions and all passed Wednesday, despite concerns that the information was not entirely accurate.

The appointees included Maria Pellum and Bill Michelson to the Historic Preservation Commission, myself and Bill Hetfield to the Shade Tree Commission, Gordon Fuller to the Planning Board and Nancy Piwowar, Francisco Ortiz and Mel Holston to the Cultural and Heritage Commission.

Blogger Dan Damon objected earlier to Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority nominations, saying one, not two, seats were vacant. The item was withdrawn Monday but passed Wednesday. Carol Ann Brokaw and Alex Toliver were approved as commissioners and Jo-Ann Sloane and Eugene Dudley were named alternates.

Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson said the city’s special charter “trumped” state law that Damon had cited in disputing the nominations. The Authority reorganizes this month, so filling the vacancies was especially important.

Williamson also said the city must rely on records as kept by the city clerk. If the appointments later prove to be wrong, he said, they will be corrected.

Having followed Plainfield city government closely for more than 20 years, this writer knows how things are supposed to work. Except for new boards and commissions, which usually start off with staggered terms, each appointee succeeds somebody for a set term. In the case of the Cultural and Heritage Commission, each person was re-appointed to a three-year term, so that one was quite clear.

The PMUA has five commissioners, two alternates and a City Council representative. A document obtained by Plaintalker in August 2005 from the clerk’s office seems to uphold Damon’s view, because it states that the first five commissioners were to have staggered terms and subsequent appointments were to be for five-year terms. The alternates have two-year terms that expire on different years, according to the clerk’s document.

However, the same document indicates that the terms of Singleton and Brokaw expire this year, in contradiction of the summary at the top of the page. So the error happened some time after the Authority was established in 1997.

This may sound like nit-picking, but in the case of the PMUA, commissioners vote on sewer and solid waste rates that affect every property owner. They make decisions involving millions of dollars. And unlike most others who serve on boards and commissions, they are compensated with public funds.

Looking at the clerk’s list, it becomes obvious that either Singleton or Brokaw was holding a seat whose term should end in 2008, because the other terms end in 2009, 2010 and 2011.

There were other anomalies in the resolutions passed Wednesday, the PMUA resolution should be easy to research and fix.

The clerk’s office did fix the resolution that erroneously set forth five-year terms for Hetfield and myself, which shows that mistakes can happen and that they can be corrected.

All boards and commissions make important decisions, but the PMUA is exceptionally powerful. As redevelopment increases in Plainfield, so does the need for accountability by elected and appointed officials. Setting the record straight now is imperative.

--Bernice Paglia


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