Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Gibson Wins Council Presidency

Harold Gibson became City Council president for 2008 and council members Linda Carter and Cory Storch were sworn in for second four-year terms at Tuesday’s annual reorganization.
Gibson recounted the tale of how he and his brother stood as children in a segregated waiting room in Enterprise, Ala., in 1940 before departing for Newark. His brother, Kenneth, later became mayor of Newark and Gibson rose from police ranks to a political career that included serving Plainfield as city administrator and public safety director. He most recently served as Union County’s public safety director for 10 years, but as of today will head the newly-created Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Gang Reduction in Sheriff Ralph Froelich’s department.

Thanking family and friends for their support, Gibson promised to do his best for the city.

“We were elected,” he said. “None of us was anointed.”

Carter, who was also named chairwoman of the whole for 2008, said one of her priorities is budget stabilization.

Storch said, “I look forward to serving the people above all else – the people of Plainfield.”

On Gibson’s presidency, Storch and Councilman Elliott Simmons voted “no,” while Carter, Rashid Burney, William Reid and Gibson voted “yes.”

Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs gave special thanks to Assemblyman Jerry Green for his help in securing extraordinary state aid for the city. Green, also chairman of the Democratic City Committee, helped the city get $800,000 for tax relief.

Starting with her theme of “Growth by Unity,” Robinson-Briggs gave a detailed overview of each city department’s accomplishments in 2007. Among innovations for 2008, the Recreation Division will have a new program to combat childhood obesity. The Inspections Division will continue team-building staff meetings as they are “putting themselves back together,” she said.

Robinson-Briggs said economic development effort will focus on three projects in 2008. They are the senior center/63-condo project that is now underway at 400 East Front Street, an expanded Historic North Avenue redevelopment plan and the Teppers II project that calls for 12 condos on West Front Street.

The city is still trying to sort out who should receive about $700,000 in tax overpayments, the mayor said. The money has been placed in surplus while possible claims are being investigated. First announced in 2006, the issue remains contentious, but Robinson-Briggs said the city must determine whether past or present owners or mortgage companies should properly receive the overpayments.

The council will meet again on Jan. 22 for an agenda session, with the regular meeting to follow on Jan. 24. A plan to switch back to the traditional Mondays-only meeting schedule will require legislation that must be passed on two readings, taking effect 20 days later. Realistically, a calendar change cannot come about until March, Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson said.

Among comments from the public, Maria Pellum offered congratulations to Gibson on behalf of the Crescent Area Neighborhood Association, which began the historic preservation movement 30 years ago. Noting approvals of several public defenders Tuesday, Pellum also asked the council to seek a Latino public defender next year.

Resident John Campbell praised Gibson, his longtime friend, as someone with “a good mind and a good heart” and “a stand-up brother who will do the right thing.”

Green, who will be speaker pro tem in the Assembly for 2008, said he was very pleased with all the ceremony Tuesday. But he also cautioned the council, "I watched how you voted - I watched the body language."

Among other remarks, he noted Plainfield only had “single-digit murders,” compared to high numbers in other cities. He said many Hispanics had been taken advantage of in the recent mortgage crisis, resulting in houses on the market rising from 300 to 400. Green also touched on the problem of day workers congregating on city streets and inequities in school aid.

“Let’s stop playing politics. Let’s sit down and get down to business,” he said to the council.

Former Union County Freeholder Adrian Mapp raised several questions about investigations of past employees, but Gibson said council members would not be allowed to comment on any investigations by the prosecutor’s office.

The Rev. Shirley Cathie expressed love and hope for the city, and said the elected officials can count on the Concerned Urban Clergy for prayer.

--Bernice Paglia


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