Monday, April 30, 2007

Happy May Day!

My neighbor and I wish you a Happy May Day! Here's a May Basket for you to admire!
Regards from East Seventh Street!

BOE Reorganizes

The Plainfield Board of Education will pick a new president and vice president at its annual reorganization Tuesday.

The meeting is 7 p.m. in the Plainfield High School Library, 950 Park Ave.

This is usually a brief meeting, but it is important in that the new president will set the style of leadership for the year. Recent presidents have made it a point to adhere to principles of leadership that exclude politics and hew to ideals set by the New Jersey School Board Association.

Plaintalker will be listening for clues as to how the new leadership plans to set the tone for the 2007-08 school year.

Plainfield Tree Blog

In the spirit of cross-pollinating, I direct your attention to a new Plainfield blog.

Read and learn.

We hope there is much more to come from this blog.

--Bernice Paglia

Another Look at Cedar Brook Park

Here's the image Blogger wouldn't let me add to my earlier post. The yellow flowers are low-growing buttercups and the small blue ones are speedwell.

Stop and Smell the Viburnum

Freelancing is taking up a lot of my time lately and sometimes involves topics I would have otherwise written up for the blog.

Here’s one thing I would like to share with Plaintalkers readers: May baskets.

When my daughter was little, we made May baskets to hang on neighbors’ doorknobs. Usually they were small containers for spring wild flowers, maybe a paper doily folded into a cone with a ribbon handle. Spring Beauty, purple and white violets, grape hyacinths, pinks and small sprigs from flowering shrubs made up the tiny bouquets that were meant to be a pleasant surprise on the first morning in May.

Here is more information on May baskets. And here is a truly spectacular set of May baskets.

My daughter lives in Seattle, so I will have to send her a virtual May basket.

If you’re not into such nostalgia, a stroll through Cedar Brook Park is a good way to enjoy the season. Small drifts of blue speedwell, white and pink Spring Beauty and patches of glossy yellow buttercups are in bloom.

Outside 606 Crescent, there are some viburnums that waft a heavenly scent at this time of year. And all over the city, flowering pear, almond and cherry trees are sending drifts of petals into the air. Take time to enjoy spring!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

My Take on School Forum and Play

Tuesday’s forum was billed as a chance for the community to offer solutions to school problems. It was supposed to run from 6 to 8 p.m.

At the risk of quibbling, I wish it had started on time and I really wish community members could have begun speaking earlier than 7:20 p.m., an hour after the late start.

The hour included introductory remarks, then a Power Point presentation recapping issues raised at a previous, state-run forum that was related to the NJQSAC monitoring, then more remarks from panelists and a rousing speech by the well-known motivational speaker Lenworth Gunther.

Gunther was engaging and entertaining, starting with a proverb he recited in French Creole, then translated: “Together we can make a difference, for every vein affects the heart.” Among many thought-provoking comments, he delivered a stinging put-down of rappers using their own stage names (Ludacris, for example). He also recited a long list of rappers with names that suggest infantilization or childishness: Arrested Development, Lil Bow Wow, Young Jeezy. In another jab at rappers, he said, “They took the “neighbor” out of the ‘hood.”

He also asked board members and dignitaries on the dais to come down into the audience and join residents in an exercise. Participants had to find two people they didn’t know, greet them and talk for a couple of minutes.

When it was finally time for the community input, each person got three minutes to speak and Gunther engaged in a dialogue with each speaker. First up was Larry Peterman, star of the high school production of “Zooman and the Sign,” who made a pitch for people to come out Wednesday morning and see the last performance. He said the experience increased his self-esteem and made him want to be an actor.

Five people got to speak before 8 p.m. and then the meeting ran an extra half hour, with about a dozen speakers in all.

Of about 100 people in the high school auditorium, more than half were staff members. Still, there were enough residents present to fill up another hour if they had chosen to speak.

Many speakers cited a need for mentoring, especially of young males. Others said there was not enough for young people to do, although Gunther reminded them that Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs had given a long list of youth activities in her remarks. Schools Superintendent Paula Howard said the high school has many clubs, but student interest is not there.

Howard also held up David Graves and Debbie Myers as examples of parents who turned around a low level of parental involvement at Hubbard School with a creative roster of events such as game night and study date night.

Alma Cruz recommended phone calls and home visits to get parents involved.

Despite the frustrating pace, the evening was interesting.

Today I attended the play, which had attracted a lot of comment on the NJ Forum over its use of the N-word. I was more upset with the portrayal of violence, even if there is supposed to be a lesson in it. Having had rocks thrown at me by four teenagers on my way home from the April 16 council meeting, in fact in front of my own home, I recoiled at the sight of a disaffected young man with a knife in one hand and a gun in the other. I could just imagine those young people wishing they had something better than rocks with which to vent their hostility.

The film version of the play is R-Rated for strong language and violence. Middle school students were bused to the high school Wednesday to see the play. I was perplexed, but that’s just me.

--Bernice Paglia

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Bring Ideas to Forum

School Board President Lenny Cathcart urges residents to bring ideas about how to improve the schools to tonight's community education forum.

The forum is from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Plainfield High School auditorium, 950 Park Ave. I will be there with my PRESS hat on.

School safety, student performance, staff turnover and accountability for spending were all issues in the school board election April 17. Anyone with ideas on these or other school topics should come prepared to deliver them to the board.

Rail Group Hears City Plans

Intrigued by a news item that Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs and Public Works and Urban Development Director Jennifer Wenson Maier would talk about the transit village plans, three city bloggers made plans to go to Westfield early Monday.

The event was the bi-monthly meeting of the Raritan Valley Rail Coalition, which is made up of officials and residents of Middlesex, Somerset, Union and Hunterdon counties. Transit villages are a hot topic along the Raritan Valley Line and Plainfield wants to have four of them.

About an hour before the 8:15 a.m. meeting, Plaintalker was told it was canceled. Just to make sure, fellow blogger Maria Pellum and I went to Westfield anyway. Blogger Dan Damon was also told it was canceled, but he also showed up.

Jacques Howard gave the presentation and I ended up writing a news story on it for the Courier, earning a few dollars to finance my next shopping foray to Westfield.

Check The Crescent Times and Dan’s blog to see their takes on the event.

I enjoyed seeing an egret in Mindowaskin Park and browsing in some new stores after the meeting.


Monday, April 23, 2007

Don't Play With Fire

According to a National Weather Service map, half of New Jersey and large nearby portions of New York and Pennsylvania are under a Red Flag Warning. That means hot, dry, windy weather is setting the scene for brush fires. Any outdoor use of fire is problematic when this weather condition exists, so don’t use the barbecue even if it feels like mid-summer.

Click here for the scary map. (Update: The map changed when the weather conditions changed - no longer bright red.)

There was a news item in the past few days about a Frankford Township man who decided to set fire to a Christmas tree. The flames spread to nearby trees and firefighters had to respond. Why he was igniting the troublesome Tannenbaum after Easter is anybody’s guess.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Mayor, Wenson Maier to Speak on Transit Villages

On Monday, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs and Public Works & Urban Development Director Jennifer Wenson Maier are scheduled to speak at a meeting of the Raritan Valley Rail Coalition. The meeting is 8:15 a.m. in the Westfield Municipal Council Chambers, 425 Broad St.

The topic is transit villages and Plainfield's desire to build them around city rail stations.

For your edification, Plaintalker presents what they said last year at the mayor's 100-day presentation. Click on April 2006 on the right side of the blog and scroll down to read the article. (For some reason, Blogger won't let me make a direct link.)

The late Phyllis Mason was very much interested in transit issues. Here is an article she wrote for the Friends of Sleepy Hollow. Though undated, it is probably 10 years old but still relevant.

And here is one more from about 10 years ago. As you can see, these issues take decades to resolve. The currrent City Council recently pledged to work for a one-seat ride to Manhattan.

Meanwhile, the city has included transit-oriented language in its master plan revisions and has taken steps to increase permitted density around the main train station. It may even have the necessary project in hand to bolster its chances of getting official transit village designation.

Plaintalker expects to be on hand to hear the presentation Monday and will share with those of you who must be somewhere else at that hour.

And after the meeting, it's off to Starbucks and Trader Joe's and maybe the Gap and Papyrus for a little spending before taking mass transit back to the Queen City.

--Bernice Paglia

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Mayor Explains Unsigned Draft

Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs said Monday (April 16, 2007) she submitted a proclamation to be read at the funeral of the late Mayor Albert T. McWilliams, but she said, “unbeknownst to me, they printed a draft.”

The unsigned draft appeared in the program for the service at Shiloh Baptist Church on April 12.

Earlier Monday, Assemblyman Jerry Green explained to Plaintalker that all dignitaries were asked to submit draft memorial resolutions or proclamations, but he sent one that was signed. In the end, it was not printed nor was Green asked to speak at the funeral.

The City Council’s resolution was not used either and the Rev. Gerald Lamont Thomas said numerous church resolutions were received, but not included in the service.

The program included a letter of sympathy from Gov. Jon Corzine, a resolution from the Union County Board of Freeholders and a resolution from the board of directors of Plainfield Neighborhood Health Services. A church resolution from Shiloh was also read.

Meanwhile, barely a week after the funeral, a vicious attack on former McWilliams spokesman Dan Damon turned up. Damon said he learned about it from someone who saw it at City Hall. He printed a forwarded copy on his blog but could not find any copies at City Hall later. The flyer included numerous allegations about Damon’s professional life at City Hall as well as a personal insult.

While it is not the first time City Hall has been used as a venue for political venom, it is disheartening to hear that bias and hate speech may have been disseminated there. Plaintalker does not share Dan’s gusto for “turning things over with a pointy stick,” but pointed inquiry into the doings of elected officials is a long-standing tradition that columnists such as Bob Ingle still honor.

--Bernice Paglia

Committee to Ponder McWilliams Memorial

A committee will be formed to gather and consider ideas on a fitting memorial for the late former Mayor Albert T. McWilliams, who served the city for eight years.

McWilliams died April 6 of renal cancer at age 53, leaving his wife, Darlene, and five children. He was credited with bringing a progressive approach to city government and supporting the initial election of most of the present council members. He sought but did not attain a third term.

Former public relations officer Dan Damon recently suggested naming the downtown Park-Madison building for McWilliams, a somewhat unlikely proposition because it was constructed under direction of the Union County Improvement Authority, whose executive director is Charlotte DeFilippo. She is also the Union County Democratic Committee chairman who dumped McWilliams just before the April 2005 filing date, leaving him to find his own resources for the June 2005 primary.

No City Council members will serve on the proposed ad hoc committee to come up with ideas for a memorial, but it will report back to the council. Members will be “people who had some sort of relationship with the former mayor and knew him well,” Councilman Cory Storch said.

McWilliams’ family will also be asked for their ideas on the best way to remember the mayor.

--Bernice Paglia

Thursday, April 19, 2007

New Tax Collector Named

After more than a year without a permanent tax collector, the City Council agreed Wednesday to the appointment of Marie Glavan to fill an unexpired term.

Glavan succeeds Constance Ludden, who vacated the office on March 1, 2006. Glavan will serve the balance of Ludden’s term, to Dec. 31, 2008.

Glavan’s candidacy was discussed in closed session Monday and no other details were given Wednesday.

In the absence of a permanent tax collector, Orange Tax Collector David Marshall served part-time on Wednesdays in the tax office.

Besides supervising tax collection, the tax collector is in charge of the annual tax lien sale in which the city sells off debt. The city receives payment from successful bidders, who are then owed the tax amount plus up to 18 percent interest.

The office has had its ups and downs. In the administration of former Mayor Harold Mitchell, former tax collector Katherine Knox left the office under a cloud. Former Mayor Mark Fury appointed a boyhood friend as acting tax collector, but state officials said only a certified tax collector could hold the job.

One of Ludden’s last acts was to get City Council permission to put more than $800,000 in overpayments back into surplus. The council insisted on giving affected taxpayers additional notice of the overpayments in a last-ditch effort to let them claim the funds, but as of last month only about $30,000 had been claimed.

See Plaintalker’s past stories on the tax collector here.

--Bernice Paglia

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Ready for Our Close-Up

City Council President Rayland Van Blake said the city may be showcased as a prime film location as he sought council permission Monday for a film shoot here endorsed by renowned filmmaker Spike Lee.

Sometime this spring, New York University students may be filming “US: A Love Story” for which Van Blake is associate producer.

The project will also benefit from a $10,000 grant from Spike Lee, Van Blake said.

Another filmmaker has asked permission for a two-day shoot on Evergreen Avenue.

The film requests and more will be up for a vote Wednesday (April 18) at 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.


Readers Help Get Pole Fixed

A Big Thank-You!
Thanks to all who responded with advice, phone numbers and direct action to alert PSE&G to a damaged pole on East Seventh Street near City Hall. It is not fixed yet, but I think PSE&G has checked it and repairs will be made. It was a group effort and all deserve credit for taking time to help.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Sign of Spring

The flowers of Birdseye Speedwell look like little pansies and are one of my favorite signs of spring. Walking to Muhlenberg a couple of weeks ago, I was pleased to see patches of this charming plant near the sidewalk in someone's front yard. They also grow in profusion in Cedar Book Park at this time of year. They grow in low clumps, so you have to take a very close look (as in the picture above) to see how pretty they are.

Vote Your Choice

Plaintalker is not making any endorsements in the school board race.
Each voter must decide for him or herself based on their assessment of campaign information, forums, personal knowledge of the candidates, etc.

-- Bernice Paglia

City Restaurant Investigated

News reports of cigarette trafficking at Chinese restaurants gave this writer a hunch.

Looking at the full report on the U.S. Attorney’s web site, sure enough, one of the illegal sale points was a Chinese restaurant in Plainfield. It wasn’t named, but at the neighborhood restaurant it’s easy to see illicit sales of “loosies” while waiting for an order. Other local places sell these loose cigarettes in what may look like just an accommodation to street people, whose personal economy doesn’t allow buying packs or cartons of cigarettes. But estimated losses in state sales tax run into the millions when loosies are sold.

Click here for the full report.

Another common sight around Park & Seventh is young people fiddling around with small cigars. Whether or not they are replacing the tobacco with marijuana, smoking cigars is just as much of a health hazard as smoking cigarettes. And if they are using marijuana before or during school hours, is it any wonder that student performance is poor?

Underage or illicit tobacco sales may not seem reason enough to call the cops. But U.S, Attorney Christopher Christie is looking at the big picture on such issues. The investigation is ongoing and there is more to come.

Meetings, School Board Election Coming Up

The governing body is "on" this week with an agenda session 7:30 p.m. Monday in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave. and a regular meeting 8 p.m. Wednesday in Municipal Court.

After a seeming impasse on changing its calendar, the council is still operating with the week on, week off plan that members said they don't like. Members of the public can pick up the agenda tomorrow at City Hall or at the meeting itself.

In between those meetings is the annual school board election Tuesday. Voters must choose three people out of a filed of five for three-year terms. Incumbents Wilma Campbell and Martin Cox are seeking re-election. Former appointee David Graves is making his third try for a win at the polls.Newcomers Christian Estevez and Jeanette Criscione are running for the first time.

Campbell and Criscione are running together, as are Cox and Estevez. All candidates came across at the League of Women Voters forum as sincere and qualified. Polls are open from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. and each registered voter should have received a sample ballot that lists the candidates and the proper polling place. Voters are asked to vote "yes" or "no" on the budget question, whether $17,683,906 should be raised in local taxes for the 2007-08 school year. This local school tax levy has remained unchanged for many years, but officials are warning that Plainfield may have to contribute more in future local taxes if other funding stays flat.

On Thursday, the Planning Board meets at 8 p.m. in City Hall Library. There may be some action taken regarding two sites that have been under consideration for addition to the North Avenue redevelopment tract by the main train station. One site is the south half of the block behind Bill's Luncheonette and Suburban Jewelers, which includes Municipal Parking Lot 6. The other includes PNC Bank property across Park Avenue from the North Avenue tract.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Watch Out for Tree Hazards

This big limb fell off a dead tree on the grounds of City Hall Friday. There are quite a few other dead trees around the city, some due to the drought two summers ago. This limb apparently fell on the sidewalk and was then dragged to the grass. The Nor'easter may bring a few more limbs or trees down. Please be careful and stay inside if possible.

WP Representin'

Early Sunday I clicked on the Seattle Times web site to view the results of the annual Peeps contest, in which the famed marshmallow icons are arranged in tableaux.

Alas, only a couple made me laugh out loud. The rest were clever but in my opinion lacked the je ne sais quoi of past Peeps entries.

Imagine my chagrin and surprise at seeing my beloved Northwest Peeps array vanquished in creativity by a first-time challenge in the Washington Post.

Now maybe the WP was not overtly trying to start up an East Coast – West Coast Peeps beef, but you got to admit they had they marshmallow on.

I was torn – I aspire to live out there someday, but this is still my home.

East Coast, West Coast – it’s heavy when it comes to Peeps.



Friday, April 13, 2007

Disrespect or Disarray?

The program for the funeral service of former Mayor Albert T. McWilliams contained several acknowledgements from various officials. It did not go unnoticed that the memorial message from Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs was an unsigned draft proclamation. However this came about, surely the mayor's office knew it was unsuitable or worse.
Many months have now elapsed since the mayor took office and people are still waiting to see the level of competence owed to the public. In this case, it marred what was otherwise a sincere outpouring of love and sympathy for a man and a family that has given much to Plainfield.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

News Update

I covered the funeral of Mayor Albert T. McWilliams today for the Courier News. The story will run tomorrow.

Just before news of the mayor's death became public, I had looked up former City Administrator Norton Bonaparte Jr. on the Topeka Capital-Journal's web site. I found out that Mr. Bonaparte had passed his first review as city manager with high marks. Read the story here.

I e-mailed my congratulations, but then hearing of the mayor's passing, I did not feel it was appropriate to mention it on the blog at the time. Today I saw Mr. Bonaparte at the funeral, or should I say he spotted me and came over to speak. He thanked me again for my interest.

I know many of the people at the funeral would like to read about Mr. Bonaparte's success, as he was the mayor's appointee and a key part of his administration.

Former Schools Superintendent Larry Leverett and former Gov. James McGreevey were among those who gave tributes at the funeral. The church was filled with many people who shared the mayor's vision and appreciated his service to Plainfield.

Once again, our condolences to the family and the mayor's extended political family.

--Bernice Paglia


A reader suggests that an entry on those who filed for council seats should read: "Republicans put up Deborah Dowe to challenge the eventual winner of the Democratic Primary between Incumbent Cory Storch and Candidate Tony Rucker. "

Sorry for the lapse. No offense intended to any of the candidates.

--Bernice Paglia

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Every time I walked past this pole in recent weeks, I felt the need to tell PSE&G about it. For a while, a yard-long chunk was lying on the grass nearby. Landscapers got rid of it, but the damage to the pole remains untouched.
The location is East Seventh Street, just south of 606 Crescent Avenue. Finally, I scribbled the pole numbers on the back of the April 1 Order of Service from church and called PSE&G when I got home. Alas, the telephone tree did not allow for such information to be conveyed.

But looking up, I saw a lot of equipment serving both sides of the block. I called Public Works to ask if they knew how to alert PSE&G, but they didn't know. So the next step was the PSE&G web site. It has many options, but reporting damaged poles isn't on the list. My last resort was a message to the web master pointing out the lack of a way to communicate this problem so it could be fixed. For all I know, it's on somebody's to-do list already. I hope so, because to my eye it looks like a disaster waiting to happen. If anybody knows how to report it, please do so. Thanks!
--Bernice Paglia

Political Change Demands Strength

Regardless of political rhetoric, filing deadlines result in cold, hard facts.

Monday was the deadline to file for the June primary. As expected, incumbents Cory Storch and Linda Carter filed to run for re-election to the City Council. Republicans put up Deborah Dowe to challenge Storch in the November general election and Sean T. Alfred to run against Carter. The only primary contest is from Tony Rucker, a Democrat who is running against Storch.

Others who talked about going up against the Regular Democratic Organization at local and county levels missed the 4 p.m. deadline to file petitions.

Even if they succeed in getting a judge to rule that their petitions must be accepted, those who showed up late already have demonstrated weakness in their organization.

Challenges to the RDO have succeeded in the past. New Democrats won in recent years and Harold Mitchell ran a slate of City Committee members a while back that won enough seats to topple party chairman Jerry Green if they had wanted to. In each case, the insurgent campaigns were backed by people with both passion and strategic skills.

Of course, in the party system, winning a primary contest means you then go on to the general election under the banner of the organization you set out to challenge. That does not mean you have to park your ideals at the door, it just makes it a lot trickier to effect change and can lead to factionalism.

Entrenched power yields to only one thing – organized power of a different kind. It will be interesting to see whether those who speak of reform can actually do the hard work to bring it about.

--Bernice Paglia

Monday, April 09, 2007

Redevelopment Needs Public Scrutiny

Every time I feel like abandoning the blog, I am reminded why it even began. The key element in 2005 was a lack of reporting in the mainstream media on redevelopment that could transform the city, for better or worse.

At the time, an ambitious concept called “Downtown Station South” was under discussion. It involved a large area between the main train station and East Seventh Street, but was attracting little public notice. I was paying attention because the needs study included the building where I have lived since 1992. In the end, my building was not declared in need of redevelopment, but most of the target area was and still is considered in need of redevelopment based on certain criteria which open it to taking by eminent domain.

After the June 2005 primary, redevelopment plans went into abeyance until the new administration took over in January 2006. By mid-2006, redevelopment activity was entrusted to the Union County Improvement Authority, whose executive director is Union County Democratic Party Chairman Charlotte DeFilippo. Several new proposals soon joined the dozen or so left over from the previous administration, most involving condo development near train stations.

Certainly the blog had other topics of interest to Plainfielders over the months since June 2005, but redevelopment in all its phases has remained a centerpiece.

A private proposal to build a senior center topped by three floors of condos has advanced through site plan approval. Other proposals are following the state redevelopment process with steps that can lead to use of eminent domain to clear a tract for an approved project.

In these days of hard decisions for newspapers, Plaintalker has an advantage in being able to commit the time necessary to follow redevelopment closely and report on it in detail. Of course, it is all voluntary and is still driven by this writer’s feeling that the public needs to know what is going on. Public hearings are part of the redevelopment process, but can become an empty formality if residents are uninformed on the proposals.

So how does anyone find out what is going on with redevelopment? City Council and Planning Board agendas offer clues. Legal notices alert citizens that they may examine applications on file at City Hall. Documents available under the Open Public Records Act give more details. Once a developer is known, his track record can be looked up. Residents can attend meetings to hear what the developer has to say. Eventually, larger concepts such as smart growth or transit-oriented development emerge as themes.

Only a few citizens have the time or inclination to do all that. But these proposals to add hundreds of new condos – and cars – to the city could drastically alter daily life as we know it.

Since June 2005, Plaintalker has posted more than 550 entries on various aspects of life in the Queen City. Currently, it is a solo operation. Right now, this writer needs a break.

But then along comes another legal notice. It's about a hearing on a possible expansion of the North Avenue redevelopment tract to include most of the PNC Bank block and the south half of the block bordered by East Front and East Second streets and Park and Watchung avenues. I’m interested because both of my downtown banks may be affected. I’ve also seen a reference to a 500-car parking garage in an expanded North Avenue tract. The company that has conditional designation to redevelop the blocks by the main train station has proposed hundreds of new condos as well as an entertainment center to draw visitors from all over the metropolitan area.

The hearing is 8 p.m. April 19 in City Hall Library "at which time any interested person or any person who would be affected by a determination that the delineated area is a redevelopment area may be heard."

Hmmm. Guess I better check it out for the blog.

--Bernice Paglia

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Happy Easter

This cheery collage is part of the spring decor at the senior center.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Mayor Albert T. McWilliams Passes

Plainfield lost a friend Friday when former Mayor Albert T. McWilliams died of renal cancer.

People who believed in Mayor McWilliams respected him as a man, not a power broker or party operative. His supporters included old-time Plainfielders who refused to be part of the “white flight” of the late 1960s; gay newcomers who saw the city as a special place to live; young people with intelligence and an ambition for positive change; and people of all ethnicities who valued the city’s diversity.

It was this hopeful mix that granted him an unprecedented second mayoral term in 2001. Plainfield’s economy, which McWilliams had likened to a rusty engine, was beginning to turn over. Plans evolved for the long-vacant Park-Madison tract. Enough “New Democrats” won seats on the Democratic City Committee to allow McWilliams to become party chairman in 2003.

As the 2005 primary filing date approached, McWilliams planned to seek a third term. But days before the filing deadline, he was stripped of his ability to choose a party slate. His supporters were still able to form their own slate to vie with the Regular Democratic Organization, but now lacked the campaign funding and organizational backing that the party line would have conferred. Still, starting from scratch, McWilliams lost the primary by 325 votes, or 6.3 percent. Ironically, of those who went to the polls, 345 voters made no mayoral choice in the primary. See Plaintalker’s story here.

When it came out that the Republican line for mayor would be vacant, McWilliams changed parties to run as a “fusion” candidate. But having lost the primary, he could not run in the general election, a judge ruled.

His last day in office was December 31, 2005.

Ray Blanco, who won the citywide at-large council seat in 2004 with McWilliams’ backing, displayed a great passion to improve the city but died in office in August 2006.

Of the seven current council members, a majority came to office initially with the backing of McWilliams supporters. Two ran unopposed for re-election last year and two are up for re-election this year. By and large, they have retained the ideals and enthusiasm that brought them to public office. Their service can be viewed as part of McWilliams’ legacy.

Politics can be cruel in Union County. But the twist of political fate that took place in April 2005 ultimately gave more people a chance to know and appreciate Al McWilliams as a person. This message from Union County Republican Committee Chairman Philip J. Morin III turned up in Plaintalker’s mailbox:

“Former Plainfield Mayor Al McWilliams was a man who cared much more about the people of Plainfield than about politics. He was a man with vision and hope for the City of Plainfield, and he worked tirelessly to make that vision a reality. Plainfield's renaissance is due in large part to his efforts.

On behalf of myself and the Union County Republican Committee, we offer our prayers and condolences to the McWilliams family.”

Plaintalker also offers condolences to the family and to all the people who joined Al McWilliams in seeking the best for Plainfield.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Fast Count Again

City Council business was over quickly Wednesday with no public comment on the matters Plaintalker listed earlier, including establishment of a public information officer post with a maximum salary of $72,000 during a time of layoffs.

Resident Ed Mendez came out to complain that parking terms for a Jehovah’s Witnesses Kingdom Hall in his neighborhood are not being followed. Neighbors spent $17,000 to fight the construction of the church in the southeast section of the city, but it was approved with numerous conditions some time ago. Mendez said a judge’s rulings are not being followed.

City officials said they will check with Planning Director Bill Nierstedt on the original terms. Councilman Rashid Burney said an ordinance regulating parking might be a solution, but Councilman Harold Gibson said if parking is banned, it would apply to all, even people who might be visiting Mendez.

City Administrator Marc Dashield promised an analysis of the issue with options for the governing body.

Gibson raised the only objection to issues up for a council vote when he demurred on the Firemen’s Benevolent Protection Association contract that would make a trial 24-hour on, 72-hour off schedule permanent.

Gibson said he would not want a firefighter responding to a fire at his house after 15 to 18 hours on duty. He also questioned what would happen if a major fire required personnel to stay overtime after 24 hours’ duty.

Gibson said it was “totally inappropriate” to ask any uniformed services to work 24 hours straight.

In general public comment, a Municipal Court employee questioned the manner in which she was laid off, but officials said the city followed state guidelines. Due to personnel guidelines, the issue could not be discussed further in public.

The aggrieved speakers stayed on after the meeting to talk further to city officials.

After the meeting, city resident Tony Rucker was wondering how his cell phone image of a wild turkey on his block could be made public.

Wild turkeys have increased in Central Jersey in recent years. It’s a good thing or a bad thing, depending whether you are an ornithologist or a letter carrier. Angry turkeys can definitely subvert the “Neither rain nor snow” policy of mail delivery. But the presence of wild turkeys can also mean the environment is regressing to a better time.

No mention was made of other city issues, such as the disarray Wednesday at the high school which resulted in multiple arrests of students. Those reports will be in the MSM or mainstream media, as the saying goes.

--Bernice Paglia

Police Chief Issue Needs Thought

City Council members need a clear understanding of the differences between a police chief and a civilian public safety director before taking any action to change the current situation.

The city’s special charter mandates a director of public safety as one of three department heads. Currently, the department includes only the police and fire divisions. Assemblyman Jerry Green is floating a plan to do away with the title of police chief and have captains carry out the functions of the office.

Green says the idea is still in the planning stages, which should mean there is time to mull the ramifications of such a significant change.

The New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police has a position paper on the subject that is well worth a look. Click here. It details the legal role of a chief versus that of a civilian police director, who has no police powers. Even if a civilian director comes out of a police background, accepting the title means he or she can’t make traffic stops, conduct patrols, answer service calls or detain individuals. The director can’t wear a badge or carry a gun, according to the paper, nor can they drive police vehicles. The paper states that directors generally can’t have access to criminal investigation reports or get involved in internal affairs without a court order.

By statute, a chief is responsible for day-to-day operations of the police and is responsible to the county prosecutor and the state attorney general. The law allows for an “authority” in the municipality, such as a mayor, director or other entity, to set policy and receive monthly reports on police matters.

There’s a lot more, including the issue of compensation for sworn officers who are asked to perform law enforcement functions that a civilian director cannot legally do.

Police chiefs have tenure, while civilian directors do not and may be subject to political pressures, the paper notes.

In Plainfield, if captains somehow assumed the duties of a chief without the title, there would be the issue of compensation as well as the captains’ knowledge that none could ever rise to be chief. Municipalities cannot grant police powers to a civilian director, so one of the five captains would have to assume top-rank responsibilities within the Police Division, such as evaluations of his or her peers.

Another question is how would the “chief” captain be chosen? Candidates for police chief take a state test and then the mayor gets to pick one of the top three scorers.

Plaintalker hopes citizens will weigh in on this issue. The city has a lot of unfinished business right now. Creating a possibly confusing chain of command in the Police Division might not be a good step.

Some might ask, if the title of police chief needs to be removed, why not also eliminate the fire chief and let the battalion chiefs run the Fire Division under the same civilian director? What is the difference in these two major aspects of public safety? Could the police chief claim to be targeted? Could more litigation ensue?

Monday, April 02, 2007

Council Questions for Wednesday

Plaintalker’s perusal of the City Council agenda Monday raised several questions about pending City Council decisions.

Among them:

--Despite layoffs of Inspections personnel, the city is hiring a public information officer at a possible $72,000 or more, which would account for a couple of Inspections salaries.

--The city plans to agree to an extension of a “payment in lieu of taxes” agreement with a church-affiliated housing company, Plainfield Tower West, that would ward off full tax payments for many more years. The organization wants to use the difference to help fund a $4.6 million physical upgrade of its facilities.

--The city will apply for $129,252 in administrative funds through the Urban Enterprise Zone, even though the current annual revenues seems to have dropped from $82,620 to $67,268.

--There will be a hearing Wednesday on proposed Special Improvement District assessments, even though the $1,300 March 11 ad that was supposed to list the assessed amounts was wrong. No corrected ad has been published, to this writer’s knowledge.

The City Council will vote Wednesday on these and more, including a 60-day extension for the Capodagli group as redevelopers of the East Third/Richmond site.

Also up for a vote will be a settlement with the Firemen’s Mutual Benevolent Association for a contract through the end of this year. The FMBA received increases of 3.25 percent in 2003, 3.85 percent in 2004, 3.95 percent in 2005 and will now receive 4 percent for 2006 and 4.425 percent this year. The contract expires Dec. 31.

The council members agreed to vote Wednesday on buying a bus for $$92,890 to take children to summer jobs and camp activities. In response to council inquiries, Recreation Director Dave Wynn said the city does have a driver for the bus.

Wednesday’s regular City Council meeting is 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

--Bernice Paglia

A Meeting a Night - or Two

The coming week bears the imprint of April Fool’s Day in that it gives the concerned citizen an almost impossible schedule to follow.

Monday’s City Council agenda session may be moved from City Hall Library to a larger venue in case there is a large turnout in support of embattled Police Chief Edward Santiago.

On Tuesday, there is a Board of Education meeting.

Wednesday has both a City Council meeting and Board of Adjustment meeting scheduled.

Thursday is the Planning Board meeting.

Of course, due to the faulty city web site, no details are available on the municipal meetings.

To backtrack, Monday will be the first meeting where a City Council member under a cloud will appear. There is some talk of police chiefs coming out to support Santiago. The meeting is 7:30 p.m. either at City Hall Library or Municipal Court.

The school board work and study session will be the first since the news that Plainfield High School Principal Frank Ingargiola has taken another post in Morris County. It is 8 p.m. in the Plainfield High School Conference Room.

The City Council regular meeting is 8 p.m. Wednesday in Municipal Court. The Board of Adjustment meeting should be at 7 p.m. in City Hall Library.

The Planning Board meeting should be at 8 p.m. in City Hall Library.
As soon as Plaintalker knows what is on any of these agendas, it will be posted.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

All Must Heed DUI Penalties

The reported arrest of a City Council member on drunk driving charges should serve all as a reminder of the consequences of a conviction on such charges.

Unaware of the current penalties, this writer looked them up and saw that a conviction is a life-changing event. Penalties include mandatory loss of driving privileges, heavy fines, possibly jail time and community service. Look here for the full list.

Some of the fines go toward driver education and an evaluation of each individual to determine whether the person has an alcohol problem that needs treatment.

Obviously, not all who are arrested are convicted. It remains to be seen what the outcome will be for the councilman.

But for anyone who is convicted, the burden goes on for years in the form of surcharges and the threat of even heavier penalties for any future infractions. And while the excesses of celebrities seem to be a news genre unto itself, a lapse by an elected official is seldom laughed off by the public.

Until the matter is settled in court, we don’t know what it will mean for the councilman. But every driver who socializes at bars and parties can benefit from a review of the consequences of overindulging and getting behind the wheel.

--Bernice Paglia