Saturday, May 31, 2008

Belated Pix from the Space Needle

The Space Needle is a Seattle icon and has a revolving restaurant that is a major tourist destination for its views of the city's landmark and waterways. Audrey and Peter took me there to celebrate my birthday.
The waterway traffic includes ferries to outlying islands as well as ships bringing goods to and from all over.

The stadium (rear) is home to the Seattle Seahawks.

Downtown buildings have great views.

The joke about the large black building is that it is the box the Space Needle came in.

This was a twilight shot, but in better light the mountain ranges around Seattle can be seen in the background.
The Northwest cities are relatively new and still evolving.
This is South Union, where Paul Allen envisions major development. The new South Lake Union Trolley has an unfortunate acronym.

Gas Works Park is one of my favorite sites on the shores of Lake Union.
Here's a top-down view of Paul Allen's Experience Music Project, designed by Frank Gehry.

The green space in the center is Gas Works Park, a favorite site for kite flying and enjoying the view of Lake Union, which was featured in "Sleepless in Seattle."
Besides ocean-going vessels, Seattle has a lot of houseboats and pleasure craft.
I recommend a visit to Seattle if you get the chance. It was my vacation in the early 1990s that led my daughter and son-in-law, Audrey and Peter, to take their own out there. They fell in love with the city and instead of living on Second Place in Plainfield as before, they have lived in the Emerald City now for 15 years.
--Bernice Paglia

Contract to be Discussed June 30

The Plainfield Board of Education
has set a public meeting for
6:30 p.m. June 30
in the Plainfield High School
conference room
"to discuss proposed contract
with new superintendent."
So says a legal notice in today's Courier News. The first question that comes to mind is why do this the day before Dr. Gallon's starting date and the second is, why hold it in the conference room? I forget what the capacity of that room is, but I think there might be an overflow crowd to hear the details. Plaintalker will be on the alert for any updates.

Gallon Reaffirms Commitment

Dr. Steve Gallon III wrote Plaintalker to say he remains "extremely excited" about taking the reins as superintendent on July 1 and that he is confident contract issues will be resolved.

Gallon was hired Feb. 19 with a four-year contract. Following the recent probe of a Keansburg superintendent's retirement package, state officials took a closer look at other Abbott district contracts and determined that Gallon's contract had not received a required review by Union County Executive Superintendent Carmen Centuolo.

Gallon said he was looking forward to making Plainfield his new home and that his "enthusiasm, optimism and focus toward the critical work of educating the children in Plainfield remain intact."

"As for the issues pertaining to my contract, legal representation on my behalf and that of the Board, negotiated in good faith and in full and total deference to the intent and spirit of the A-5 legislation, all applicable laws, and the interest of the students and citizens of Plainfield. As for any issues that arose from a review of my contractual terms, I am confident that the Board and I, through our attorneys, will ensure full compliance with state statute and applicable laws," he said.

Even before he was hired, Gallon had been reading the Plaintalker to get to know Plainfield, he said on Feb. 19. While blogs have no particular standing, it's nice to be regarded as a helpful resource.

The school board's June schedule includes a 6:30 p.m. Policy Committee meeting on June 3 and an executive session at 6:30 p.m. June 10, followed by an 8 p.m. work and study meeting, all in the Plainfield High School conference room. On June 17, there will be a 6:30 p.m. executive session in the conference room, followed by a 7 p.m. business meeting in the high school library.

--Bernice Paglia

Friday, May 30, 2008

Commentary on Contract Misstep

Thursday’s school district news, well-covered by the print media, was important but disheartening. The person selected after a long search for a new superintendent now faces questions over terms of his contract. School district officials claim there is no problem and adjustments will be made to the satisfaction of all.

The selection process was air-tight, supposedly to avoid the problem of political interference. Even when the candidate pool went from around 30 to 5, then 3 and one finalist selected by the board, the public did not learn of the outcome until the last moment. As I recall, one board member protested the hiring of Dr. Steve Gallon III in February before all contract details were finalized.

The many shifts in leadership roles since last June could provide the current leaders with an alibi, but not an excuse if the contract terms contravene state guidelines or challenge the judgment of Union County’s executive superintendent.

My observation over the past 25 years is that top school administrators expect the best in salary and perks and each time there is a transition, districts have to top their own acts. The benefits are bad enough, but the perks beat all. The culture of top school administrators is one of up-staging the last person, in my opinion.

“Upward and onward” seems to be the motto of school superintendent contract talks. But in these times, can taxpayers support this model?

Plainfield’s situation will no doubt be resolved and Dr. Gallon will be able to begin his four-year stint as chief school administrator on July 1. The contract glitch most likely will serve as a reminder of the importance of fiscal accountability in Abbott districts, as well as the need to work closely with the county executive superintendent. It may also an indication that legal counsel for the district, already under a cloud over circumstances around the hiring of former Interim Superintendent Peter Carter, has some explaining to do to the board.

The board meets June 10 for work and study, with a business meeting June 17. Times and locations are not yet posted on the district web site, but for many reasons besides this latest headline grabber, Plainfielders need to attend and keep watch as the 2007-08 school year ends and early decisions are made for the 2008-09 school year.

--Bernice Paglia

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Seen While Walking Around the City

Ooops! First up in Lot 7, shattered car window fragments included this curiosity: A "Support North Plainfield Police" decal.

I forget the name of this former department store - Steinbach's? All the lion heads have fallen or been taken off the facade. The building has seen many transitions, including a flea market that signed up a lot of vendors but ultimately failed. Any Steinbach stories out there?

There are actually two guys on this scaffold, filling in cracks and painting. It's the first facelift for the building in many a decade.
Trees are leafing out on the plaza, but have a long way to go to produce shade for the chess players. Remember them? The tables are still there.

More green and new mulch make a neat visual greeting at the Park and Front gateway to the city.

The famous clock still hasn't been moved to the plaza in front of the new office building across the way. So far the building hasn't been named for anybody. Suggestions?
--Bernice Paglia

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Citywide at-large Candidates Debate

On Tuesday (May 27, 2008), the Netherwood Heights Neighbors presented a candidates' forum with incumbent City Council President Harold Gibson and challenger Annie McWilliams, daughter of the late Mayor Albert T. McWilliams, both seeking the citywide at-large seat in the June 3 primary.

The forum took place at the Plainfield Public Library, with attorney and city resident Joan Van Pelt as moderator.

Van Pelt received numerous questions from the audience, but specified that each would have to be answered by both candidates. Topics included redevelopment, crime, public safety, taxes, inclusion of Latinos, education, bridging political gaps and plans for the city's future.

Throughout the evening, Gibson pushed his decades of experience in municipal and county government, while McWilliams based her appeal on a need for change and new energy.

The audience of about 70 people appeared to be split between supporters of the late mayor's New Democrats and backers of Democratic City Committee Chairman Jerry Green's Regular Democratic Organization.

Among the pitches:

In his opening statement, Gibson cited his former service as Plainfield Public Safety Director and City Administrator as well as his service in Newark and Union County. He also took credit for introducing a generic prayer at City Council meetings.

Annie McWilliams, a graduate of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and now employed by Citigroup, said in her estimation, Plainfield is not headed in the right direction and she would bring her business skills to the task of righting the "failed leadership" that she now sees in place.

In terms of what each has done personally to impact the issue of the Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center closing, Gibson said he took part in rallies and has done "everything in his power."

"I still stand for a full-service hospital," he said.

McWilliams called the proposed closing of the acute-care facility "more of a symptom than a problem" and said it came about over time because the city doesn't have "pro-active leadership."

On economic development, Gibson said he intends to do just what he was doing in the past, working with developers to do what is profitable for the citizens, not just for business itself. But he also cited the present economic situation that "does not lend itself to a whole lot of development."

McWilliams said she hasn't seen much movement downtown and again questioned city leadership.

On a question of whether South Avenue buildings should exceed two stories, both candidates continued to spar over development issues until Van Pelt re-stated the question and asked for a yes or no answer. Gibson said yes, but McWilliams said she would have to see the plans.

On public safety, Gibson cited a 15 percent decrease in crime as evidenced by Uniform Crime Reports, while McWilliams retorted, "I don't know that I feel 15 percent safer."

On outreach to Latinos, McWilliams said city needs to "include all in a meaningful way." Gibson said African Americans were once not invited, but got involved and "became part of the solution rather than part of the problem."

The two wrangled over the question of what city government can do to help education, with McWilliams mentioning her mentoring program for middle schoolers and Gibson citing his new post in the Union County Sheriff's Office, where he addresses issues including juvenile delinquency. McWilliams said the city needs to "make a statement about where it stands with kids" and Gibson pointed out liaisons already exist with the Board of Education.

Other topics included the condition of city streets, with McWilliams charging that a road repair plan developed during her father's administration is now stalled and Gibson saying there is a plan that is being followed. A question on mayoral bodyguards brought Gibson's emphatic insistence that they are "an absolute necessity," but McWilliams asked why "two particular officers" got the assignment.

McWilliams called for ethics training to avoid corruption in public office and said her campaign was financed by grassroots contributions "from citizens sick of the status quo." Gibson refuted her guess that "a lot of out-of-town vendors" may have contributed to his campaign, saying, "I don't owe anyone anything, except the citizens of Plainfield that have been so kind as to fund my campaign."

Asked what special qualities each would bring to office, McWilliams named her family's devotion to Plainfield and said, "I think experience is great, but energy is even better."

Citing an "infamous jail break" that took place under Gibson's watch as Union County public safety director, McWilliams said, "How about giving the new generation a chance - we need leaders in Plainfield, not followers."

"First and foremost, I am not a follower, I am a leader," Gibson replied, citing community service such as playing Santa Claus for Delta Sigma Theta's annual Christmas event and supporting the New Horizons College Club.

His comment, "I don't believe that government should be a location for on-the-job training," drew both boos and applause from audience factions.

On the divide between New Democrats and the Regular Democratic Organization, Gibson said, "Democrats are not in a fierce fight as far as I'm concerned."

McWilliams said unity will come when Plainfielders are "on the same page on what we want" for the city, but Gibson said, "No one is ever going to show me a city or a county where everybody is on the same page."

Besides their contrasting views, the candidates are separated by a half-century age difference. Gibson has the Democratic party line, while McWilliams represents the New Democrats. The winner on June 3 will face Republican Deborah Dowe in the November general election. Independents may also file June 3 to run in the general election.

There is also a primary contest in the Third Ward, pitting incumbent Councilman Don Davis against former freeholder and New Democrat Adrian Mapp and political newcomer Olive Lynch. All three were present Tuesday, but were not part of the forum.

First Ward Councilman William Reid, an appointee, is running unopposed for the unexpired term of Rayland Van Blake, who replaced Mapp as freeholder on Jan. 1.

Polls will be open June 3 from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

--Bernice Paglia

Memorial Day Message: Veterans, Unite

Naming myriad veterans’ organizations, Frank E. Coit said Monday the time has come for all to unite.

Coit, a past commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, spoke at Memorial Day services held on the steps of City Hall and at the monument on its grounds.

He thanked World War II and Korean veterans “for carrying the banner this far” and called on Vietnam veterans and others to “step up to the plate” in a unified effort for veterans’ causes. Coit thanked Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs for including space for the Plainfield Veterans Alliance in the new senior center building.

At the state and national levels, Coit said commanders of veterans’ organizations must work for unity. He said former Governor James E. McGreevey had called a meeting of all state commanders during his term, but he said nothing has been done since. Under the Bush administration, he said, veterans’ benefits have decreased.

“Where is the voice of our national veteran organizations commanders?” he asked.

In her remarks, Robinson-Briggs endorsed the call for unity, noting her motto for the city is “Growth by Unity.” She thanked the veterans for protecting a nation that has not always been supportive of them and said of those serving in the Middle East now, “It’s time to bring them home.”

The program began with a color guard from Plainfield High School’s Junior ROTC and Lisa S. Dixon, Commander of American Legion Post 219, was mistress of ceremonies. Her father, Rev. Robert Dixon, chaplain of Post 219, gave the invocation. A wreath was placed at the monument on City Hall grounds and veterans from American Legion Post 219 and VFW Post 7474 fired a salute.

After the program, Robinson-Briggs gave out flags for cars and flag lapel pins to those who attended.

--Bernice Paglia

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day Thoughts

Plaintalker was unable to find information on Memorial Day observances in Plainfield, but most likely there will be a ceremony at the War Memorial.

The sacrifices of military men and women are marked by plaques in City Hall and a monument on the grounds of City Hall, in addition to the War Memorial. A gathering place for veterans is promised in the new building going up at 400 East Front Street. In November and May, we gather to honor all who have served their country.

It would have been nice to have some notice of local ceremonies on the city web site, but nothing appeared to be posted for today except an erroneous listing for a City Council meeting.

So wherever you are today, give some thought to those, past and present, who made the ultimate sacrifice and to the many new survivors who face long years of care for war injuries. Each war is terrible in its own way. The present conflict has produced a generation of veterans with unforeseen needs, both mental and physical, that society must address, because despite the prophecy on the War Memorial, swords have yet to be beaten into plowshares and our leaders continue to "study war."

--Bernice Paglia

Sunday, May 25, 2008

More on Public Intoxication

On Saturday, groups of men were once again drinking in Municipal Lot 7. We did not want to call the police, in part because of the Muhlenberg situation. By day's end, one person had passed out on the curb that is the favorite gathering spot. Another man could be seen staggering down the driveway toward Park Avenue.
When that person passed out right in the driveway, we had to call the police. A car started to pull in, then backed out when the driver saw the body blocking the road.

Soon the police and the Rescue Squad arrived to deal with the situation. Both men were placed in the ambulance.
Most likely neither the Rescue Squad nor the hospital will receive any compensation for their services. Just as we all are becoming acutely aware of increases in fuel and food costs, we also know there is not enough health care to go around. Might there be some way to reduce this particular public health issue?
A woman who worked at Muhlenberg was observing the incident and recalled the numerous, almost daily calls to pick up one person who habitually drank himself into a stupor in the Park & Seventh neighborhood. He eventually died in a hit-and-run accident at Park & Seventh. The guy in the driveway is well-known to residents of Block 832 as having a similar problem and may also come to a bad end, but not before running up a large tab for emergency health care. There must be a better way to help both the individuals and the services burdened by their behavior.
--Bernice Paglia

Friday, May 23, 2008

A New Look for the Annex

What a nice surprise to walk down Watchung Avenue and come upon this makeover of the front of the City Hall Annex!

The large pots hold one of my fave plants, Wave petunias, that should bubble up into cascades of flowers (unless folks sit on them, as people do on the pots at Park & Seventh). The intent is very good and let's hope people honor it. This beautification effort fits in with the "pride of place" concept that at least one Plaintalker reader would like to revive.

As time and shoeleather allow, Plaintalker hopes to document more pretty sights created by public and private property owners around the city. Suggestions are welcome.

--Bernice Paglia

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Shooting "The Messenger"

Woody Harrelson, seen here on Crescent Avenue, is starring in "The Messenger," an independent film that tells the story of one American soldier. Shooting took place Thursday (May 22, 2008) at Viola's Place and Columbia Apartments.

Harrelson takes a lunch break on the front stoop of Viola's Place. The City Council granted permission for a cast and crew of about 85 people to use the East Seventh Street and Crescent locations.

This car, with a camera in the back and two soldiers in the front seat, made numerous passes in the driveway next to my building. The weather changed practically minute by minute from rain to clouds to bright sun, making me wonder how the scenes would be put together.

The normally tidy Connolly property was deliberately strewn with papers, presumably for that untidy "urban" effect.

The crew pitched a tent and gathered behind one Connolly garage, seen here with my rather overgrown iris garden in the foreground.
A friendly crew member smiles at this blogger/gawker while awaiting the cast.
The War Memorial makes a fitting landmark for the film location. The soldier's tale also stars Ben Foster and Samantha Morton and marks the directorial debut of Oren Moverman, who co-wrote "I'm Not There," the Bob Dylan biopic.

Block 832 was jammed with special equipment for the filming. Tents, trucks, cables and carts of stuff were all over the place. There was an impressive stand with big jars of candy and snacks behind Viola's Place and a food truck nearby at Crescent Avenue Presbyterian Church. City police kept everything calm and orderly. Now we can't wait to see the movie!

--Bernice Paglia

Tennis Program Questioned

United States Tennis Association Hall of Famer Donald Van Blake speaks of tennis as the great equalizer, but on Tuesday his longtime friend and fellow tennis advocate Curtiss Brown told the school board pricey lessons at a district-owned court are depriving city youth of opportunities to learn the game.

At the Randolph Road courts named in honor of Van Blake, the Plainfield Tennis Council conducts tournaments and lessons, according to online information. Click here to see the hourly rates for lessons, which run as high as $85 for junior players.Young said “outside kids” who can pay for lessons are using the courts, while not enough Plainfield youths are involved.

Board attorney Raymond Hamlin told the board a contract with the Tennis Council had expired and he is in talks with the group’s attorney to develop a new contract.

Board member Wilma Campbell asked whether private entities were “capitalizing” on use of the facility and called for a moratorium at the courts “until such time as Plainfield children can benefit.”

Board member Patricia Barksdale questioned who made the contract with private entities. Campbell said the arrangement dated back to 2001.

The board unanimously agreed that the program should be suspended until the issues are resolved.

--Bernice Paglia

More Twists in Muhlenberg Saga

When it comes to the very emotional topic of Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center’s future, recent news stories have only added to the confusion.

This writer cringed at the “sub-hed” on a front page story Tuesday in the Courier News. The headline was, “Muhlenberg to stay open?” and below that, “Solaris offers proposal to keep hospital running.”

This was a perfect example of a process that has plagued both writers and readers over the years. A reporter submits a story to an editor, who reviews it and then passes it along to the copy desk for further review and headlines. Having been a reporter for 16 years, I have seen many a faulty headline. The one cited above was not supported by the story and gave a very incorrect impression. It may have been based on the lead paragraph, which said Solaris Health System “might” be willing to negotiate a price for keeping Muhlenberg’s acute-care facility open. But the writer was not even quoting anybody from Solaris, merely alluding to remarks by Assemblyman Jerry Green.

The story first appeared online early Monday evening, with a longer print version Tuesday that included a disclaimer from Solaris that no suitable buyer has bee identified and that the hospital’s closure was still planned. That information was left off the online version until later on Tuesday.

The newsgathering process is not perfect and any sharp-eyed reader could have concluded that there was a mismatch between the story and the headlines, but the possible confusion is very unfortunate in the current climate of hopes and fears over Muhlenberg.

Solaris took out an advertisement covering two full pages Wednesday, reiterating its stand as explained at an April 21 City Council meeting.

Meanwhile, City Council candidate Olive Lynch had another letter to the editor that, among other things, described the possibility of a “multi-town hospital authority” to take charge of Muhlenberg. Backers of Lynch’s campaign to save Muhlenberg are hoping to stave off a June closing of the hospital while arranging to buy the hospital.

The thought of establishing a multi-town authority brought to mind the process by which another authority came into being. It wasn’t for health care, but for a vital sewer service serving about a dozen towns. The conversion of the Plainfield Joint Meeting to the Plainfield Area Regional Sewerage Authority involved getting all governing bodies to sign off on the plan. It took eight years and 17 lawyers to make the change.

Many of the surrounding municipalities have passed resolutions in favor of saving Muhlenberg, but that is the easy part. The implementation is likely to require a similar number of years and lawyers.

Reporter Brandon Lausch has a Courier News story today on Wednesday’s introduction of a developer who has yet another plan for Muhlenberg. Meanwhile, I’m told state officials have been visiting the hospital, and protesters are calling for a probe of Solaris fiscal policies.

The next thing on the horizon is a second hearing to be conducted June 5 by the State Health Planning Board. The two-hour session will begin at 6 p.m. in the Plainfield High School auditorium. At the first one on May 6, more than 1,000 people attended. About 30 people spoke. Written comments were also taken.

Even if each person sticks strictly to the three-minute limit and there are no interruptions for outbursts by the audience, only another 40 people will be able to speak. Central Jersey residents are also urged to contact elected officials to seek support for keeping the hospital’s acute care facility open. The certificate of need for the closing may be approved next month and hospital employees report that the change is already well underway.

Plaintalker’s view is that the problem lies with the larger issue of health care delivery statewide. Click here to see a file of previous Plaintalker posts on the proposed closing of Muhlenberg.

--Bernice Paglia

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Add Squatters to Park & 7th Woes

Police and public safety officials have confirmed that a vacant office building at Park & Seventh has squatters living inside. My neighbor and I suspected as much when we learned that people were seen going down a stairwell to an unsecured door.

But this is a two-part problem. The other issue is for Code Enforcement to get the owner, a Hillsborough resident, to secure the building. Given this owner's conduct at a North Avenue building he owns, compliance will not come easy.

Why are we so worried about squatters? Granted, homeless people need a place to stay out of the weather, but their neediness raises questions about how they meet their daily needs for food, sanitation, clothing, money and more.

I am especially concerned because the building is next to my church. Might these needy ones see nearby buildings as places to exploit for computers and other items to exchange for money?

I hope Code Enforcement will check this situation and get the owner to make the building secure. And I hope that those who may have been staying in that basement will seek alternatives to such precarious living arrangements.

As with the Muhlenberg situation of not having any provisions for the profoundly poor needing medical care, this case points up the homeless situation that we do not want to recognize in the "Queen City."

In walking my block daily, I see my neighbors who lack even my meager resources as a retiree. I wonder, how do they get along?

Can we take care of our own?

Give it your best thoughts and ideas, because in coming days, it may just get worse.

--Bernice Paglia

Some Color on a Gray Day

This flamboyant columbine is the only one that came back from last year, but what a sight! The blue irises always remind us of our former neighbor Edna, who planted them many years ago.

Sunshine is promised for the Memorial Day weekend, but after a week of rain, gardeners will have to split their time between holiday activities and backed-up yard chores. Don't forget, school's out Tuesday due to a leftover snow day. Go get a snow cone if the Italian ice places are open!

--Bernice Paglia

Monday, May 19, 2008

Plainfield: Ready for Closeup

Plainfield still has no movie theaters, but on Thursday one neighborhood will become a movie set.

The City Council granted permission Monday (May 19, 2008) for a film company to use Crescent Avenue and East Seventh Street locations for segments of an independent feature film, “The Messenger,” starring Woody Harrelson, Ben Foster and Samantha Morton. As described in The Hollywood Reporter, the film marks the directing debut of Oren Moverman, who wrote the Bob Dylan biopic “I’m Not There.”

Click here for the full report.

A letter asking permission to film on the sites describes the film as “the story of an American soldier, Will, who is assigned to casualty notification duty and the people and places he experiences along the way.”

Other sources say it focuses on the ethical dilemma posed when an American soldier falls in love with a war widow.

The item was not on the May 12 agenda, but even though the request came in late, apparently all necessary arrangements have been made for 85 people, both staff and performers, to be on site from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. along with four semi-trucks and three campers. Two Connolly Properties sites, Viola’s Place and Columbia Apartments, are locations for both interior and exterior shots for the film.

Although no representatives were present Monday, the film company assured city officials in writing that all insurance obligations were met. The company is working in conjunction with the New Jersey Film Commission and the U.S. Army, according to their letter to City Clerk Laddie Wyatt, and has put up the required $1 million bond for use of city premises.

The net results on city traffic and such will not be known until the filming actually takes place, but it is very exciting to have this event take place. Over the years, I have been assigned to film shoots in Plainfield and Westfield and they are most interesting.

So if you have business that may inconvenience you at the site Thursday, please excuse the film artists. In past situations, the city got a film credit and the recognition was pretty much worth a few hours’ nuisance.

--Bernice Paglia

Clerks Garner Honors

Monday's City Council meeting included a mention of Municipal Clerks Week and Freeholder Chairman Angel Estrada's resolution honoring the clerks of Union County. But Municipal Clerk Laddie Wyatt was away in Atlanta, giving honor to one of her own who is achieving an international honor.

The International Institute of Municipal Clerks is holding its annual conference in Atlanta this year and Savannah, Ga. Municipal Clerk Dyanne Reese will become the organization's first African-American president.

As Wyatt has often explained, the office of clerk predates Biblical times and is a key part of any civilization, as the clerk is the link between a government and its citizens. Click here for an informative history of the clerk.

And click here and scroll down for a photo of Wyatt recently being honored as a Woman of Excellence for Lifetime Achievement in Municipal Government. Congratulations to Wyatt, Reese and all the clerks!

--Bernice Paglia

Kaufman, Lost and Found

I have looked all over the new MyCentralJersey web site for Herb Kaufman's blog and now I know why I can't find it.

After Googling his name, I found out he is still blogging and is supposed to be doing so on the new site, but he says no one has told him how.

Click here to catch up with Herb Kaufman's Plainfield blog.

--Bernice Paglia

More Job Title Changes Tuesday

Tuesday's school board meeting agenda includes abolishment of one more administrative job title and addition of five new ones, continuing the shifts that began earlier this month. The total abolishments now number 47 and there are 38 new titles.

The meeting is 7 p.m. in the Plainfield High School library.

The title of fiscal officer is slated to be abolished. Proposed new titles are director, Student Intervention and Family Support Services; vice principal, Student Athletics, Activities and Support Services; coordinator, Special Projects & District Affairs; coordinator, Student Health and Related Services; and Grants Administrator.

Plaintalker broke the story May 3 on the massive job title changes. Click here to see the story with the original list. At the May 5 board meeting, some further changes brought the tally to 46 titles to be abolished and 33 new ones to be created. Those whose titles were to be abolished had until May 12 to apply for new titles. Interviews were to have taken place last week, with most jobs expected to be filled internally.

The agenda for Tuesday (May 20, 2008) did not include any summary of hirings, so it remains to be seen who will be left after all the changes. Besides the shifts at the supervisory level, numerous teachers and other staff were slated to receive notices this month of non-renewal for the 2008-09 school year due to budget cuts.

This writer will not be able to attend the school board meeting, due to another obligation at the Plainfield Public Library. I'm hoping one of the regular board watchers will keep an eye out for any walk-in items pertaining to the job changes.

Click here to read Plaintalker's story on the school board's May 5 vote to make the changes.

--Bernice Paglia

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Plant Exchange: A Great Idea

Thanks to Doug Keating for inviting me to the second annual plant exchange at his home on Hillside Avenue. It was exactly the kind of useful and fun gathering that I wish every neighborhood could have. I walked over with some purple oxalis, but others came with truckloads of plants. Above is a big bunch of last year's lunaria, with loads of seeds in their papery pods. When the outer casings are stripped, the "silver dollars" appear. This looked like enough silver dollars to retire the national debt.

The plants up for trading ran the gamut from pachysandra and ivy groundcovers to these eye-catching pots of ribbon grass and heuchera.

The host with the most hostas even dug one up on the spot for one lucky person.

Neighbor Jan Massey prepares to load this handsome specimen into her car.
Jan and friends stopped by my yard later to pick up more plants. I love to propagate plants and had more oxalis, purple coneflowers, impatiens, spider plants and Purple Queen tradescantia to give away. Too much for me to carry on foot! If I don't get another car by next year, you may see me heading for the plant exchange with a wheelbarrow!
Thanks again to Doug for letting me take part.
--Bernice Paglia

Council Hiatus Coming Up

On Monday (May 19, 2008), the City Council will conduct its business meeting at 8 p.m. in Municipal Court. The next one won't take place until June 16, due to the primary election hiatus.

The agenda for the May 12 meeting, which I viewed online from Seattle, had only six items. It seemed kind of thin. I will be checking tomorrow to see whether items have been added.

It has been my experience that the once-a-month summer sessions end up having huge agendas. For June, there are usually numerous items related to closing out one fiscal year and starting the next. Sometime soon the governing body must also consider liquor license renewals, which may involve hearings on controversial ones. An overcrowded agenda means short shrift for some stories that would get more exposure otherwise. Plaintalker will try to keep up.

The June 3 primary is the reason for the hiatus. Glossy mailers have begun to land in mailboxes. One touting the incumbents arrived from a Carlstadt address with a South Hackensack postal permit. It also lacked the name of a campaign treasurer and referred to Harold Gibson as a past "city manager." Didn't know we had one of those.

Another flier took a cue from a past mailer issued by Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs and offered Mother's Day greetings.

The primary contests pit incumbent City Council President Harold Gibson against political newcomer Annie McWilliams for the citywide at-large seat, and incumbent Councilman Don Davis against former councilman and freeholder Adrian Mapp and challenger Olive Lynch for the Third Ward seat.

Gibson and Davis both received the party line from the Regular Democratic Organization. Mapp and McWilliams, daughter of the late two-term Mayor Albert T. McWilliams, are running as New Democrats. Lynch, who is leading a campaign to save Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center from closure, is running under the slogan, "Democrat for Change."

--Bernice Paglia

Friday, May 16, 2008

Lack of Snow Yields Extra Day Off

The long Memorial Day weekend will be even longer for Plainfield students.

The district needed only one snow day in the 2007-08 school year, so the Board of Education has approved closing schools on Tuesday, May 27, in addition to the Monday holiday.

According to the resolution passed at the May 5 meeting, the district had to remove one day from the calendar "in order not to affect the end of the year testing and graduation activities."

--Bernice Paglia

Playground Parking - For Whom?

About a year ago, plans to increase parking at the Madison Avenue playground provoked suspicion at the Planning Board. Click here for Plaintalker's post on the discussion.

The idea of allowing a developer to lease parking spaces at a city playground perturbed planners, as it should have. A study was made and a redevelopment plan was adopted for a vacant lot across the street from the playground. The plan envisioned 12 condos on the site, but there was no room for parking. According to a Redevelopment Status report issued in February, no developer had yet been named. Now that the new parking lot is completed, let's see whether a developer comes along.

--Bernice Paglia

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Whither Redevelopment?

Before my trip, I went downtown to take pictures, specifically to catch up with the Heartstone proposal on West Front Street. A vacant lot was all there was to be seen so far, the city having paid for demolition of an old building on the site. Oliver Brown's company, Oveter's Construction, had equipment on the site.

Clay Bonny of Heartstone Development proposed 12 market-rate condos for the site. Click here for an earlier post on Heartstone. Bonny, like many other developers who have come to Plainfield since Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs took office, has a project in Rahway. That one, according to the blog Rahway Rising, is now shifting to rentals rather than owner occupancy, due to market conditions.

This is the bug-a-boo that land use boards and the governing body here have hoped to avoid as they grant approvals.

But while my original red redevelopment folder spawned a bunch of separate folders for developers, there hasn't been much to add to any of them lately. Dornoch received permission to lease a city-owned lot for a sales office, but when I looked a couple of weeks ago, the lot was still vacant, with no trailer office in sight. Construction is proceeding on Dornoch's 63 market-rate condos on three floors over a new senior center at 400 East Front Street.

There hasn't been much news on North Avenue, Netherwood, Richmond & Third, Marino's, Downtown Station South or other proposals. Rahway has a redevelopment agency, as Plainfield once had, so Rahway Rising can do one-stop scouting for news. Those following redevelopment here must keep an eye on the Planning and Zoning boards as well as the City Council to ferret out progress. A recent summary from Planning on the myriad proposals was not much changed from a previous one, hinting at a slowdown due to market conditions. Recently the administration announced a closer focus on a few of the dozen or more proposals, perhaps those most likely to succeed.

It would be good to have an in-depth update on those projects, especially Landmark's North Avenue proposal for blocks around the main train station. That one has been expanded and is supposed to be done in phases. The Historic Preservation Commission had concerns about the project's impact on the North Avenue Commercial Historic District, the city's original business district across from the main station. Were they resolved?

Besides all the city entities involved in redevelopment, there is the Union County Improvement Authority, to which the overall responsibility for redevelopment was entrusted in 2006. The administration holds weekly meetings with attorneys and staff on redevelopment and the City Council gets updates in closed session. Even if there is nothing major to report, it would be good to have a rundown soon for the public on how things are going.

--Bernice Paglia

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Vacation's Over

Thanks to all who made my first vacation in three years extremely enjoyable. Audrey and Peter freed me of all cares and responsibilities for my Mother's Day-birthday weekend and many people wished me well. The contrast between a carefree time and the normal quotidien duties offers a lot to think about. (Like how not to have to do as much work when I'm not on vacation.)

I will not be shedding the blog as one of my responsibilities, but may file less often. I am heartened to see so many bloggers now focusing on aspects of life in the Queen City, raising questions and getting answers. I think the city will ultimately be better for the increased scrutiny. Readers who comment also have added a lot to the conversation about how we can improve our civic life and hold our elected representatives more accountable. Let's keep talking!

Sorry to say, but the new web site format of the Courier News unfortunately exposes the thin news and feature content on Plainfield. We need more, and some bloggers have taken up the challenge to bring out information as well as opinions and insights on city doings. From what I hear, physical participation at public meetings has not increased (except on Muhlenberg issues), but residents appreciate what the newsgatherers bring back to put on the blogs.

Bloggers can add images and links at will to enhance narratives and can do hyperlocal journalism just by walking around. Not all news happens at press conferences!

So now that I am back, I appreciate both my vacation experience and my Queen City blogger colleagues all the more. Plaintalker will be three years old in mid-June, but you can be sure I will not wait another three years to take a break.

--Bernice Paglia

Monday, May 12, 2008

Scenes from the International District

The banner says Chinatown at the top, but "International District" at the bottom is more apt, as many Asian cultures are represented here.
This gate welcomes visitors.
Dragons on telephone poles mark the district.
This simple gate is the entry to one of Seattle's many community gardens.
Rustic benches and lecterns are near the entrance.
Small individual plots are tended by the gardeners. This garden is mostly vegetables and herbs. Others around the city include lots of flowers.
The terraces rise up the hill. Note the improvised fences made of wood, old refrigerator shelves or whatever comes to hand.
Community gardeners grow crops for themselves and some to share.
At the top, a view of Safeco Field and Elliot Bay to enjoy between garden chores.

Seattle has many distinctive neighborhoods. Since moving to Seattle, Audrey and Peter have lived in the University District, Capitol Hill, Mount Baker and now the Seward Park neighborhood. Others include my beloved Fremont, Ballard, Queen Anne, Medina (where Bill Gates lives), Green Lake, Wallingford and many more. It's fun to explore each one, and I hope each reader gets the chance sometime to enjoy this very exciting place!

I expect to be back in the Queen City tomorrow. I hope the wind and rain will be gone at your end by then. Our weather has been lovely - maybe we swapped!

--Bernice Paglia