Monday, June 30, 2008

Dr. Gallon is Welcomed

After the school board meeting Monday where his revised contract was approved by the Board of Education, Dr. Steve Gallon III addressed about 100 people who attended a "meet and greet" event in the Plainfield High School cafeteria.

Gallon takes office today (July 1, 2008) for a four-year term.

Plaintalker had to zip out to attend a City Council meeting a few blocks away and missed the "meet and greet," but terms of the superintendent contract were available online earlier on the blog.

Attorney Raymond Hamlin explained aspects of the deal, which was revised slightly to gain approval of Executive County Superintendent Carmen Centuolo. One refinement was to limit annual raises to no more than 4 percent. Hamlin detailed several other small points, such as limitations on travel expenses as required by the 2007 School District Accountability Act. He said that he hoped the state would come up with a "boilerplate" contract for school superintendents.

Hamlin said Gallon's contract was made public "in the spirit of transparency" in the wake of a controversy over a $750,000 buyout proposed for a Keansburg superintendent. The proposal led to a statewide probe of superintendents' salaries and benefits.

The only other item on Monday's school board agenda, approval of a contract with the Plainfield Association of School Administrators, was pulled without explanation.

The brief meeting and the "meet-and-greet" session were videotaped for display on the city's local cable Channel 74, but no timetable was available Monday.

--Bernice Paglia

The Case of the Hidden Agendas

The school board agendas and those desperately seeking them were both under the same roof Saturday.

I'm told the agendas were delivered late Friday and were put away. The next day, their presence was not made known to staff at the Reference Desk, so the agenda seekers were turned away.

After all the suspense, it turns out there were just two items, as Maria reports. One is Dr. Steve Gallon III's contract and the other is board approval of a contract with the Plainfield Association of School Administrators.

The unfinished story of personnel changes in the top ranks will have to wait until the July business meeting.

By the way, while waiting to see whether the agendas would be available to the public, Maria and I enjoyed looking over the carts of books assigned for high school students' summer reading. Quite a few intriguing titles!

Older folks can get a lot out of summer reading, too. Maria and I both recommend "The Soprano State: New Jersey's Culture of Corruption" by reporters Bob Ingle and Sandy McClure.

--Bernice Paglia

Contract Discussion Tonight

On the eve of incoming Superintendent Steve Gallon III’s four-year term, details of his contract will be up for public discussion.

The meeting is 7 p.m. tonight (Monday, June 30, 2008) in the Plainfield High School library.

But for an outcry over another superintendent’s retirement package, Gallon might have taken over without public scrutiny of his contract. Generally, the public has not been privy to contract details nor how one contract compares to the range in other districts. The pact also attracted notice after it was held up because the board had not submitted it for review by County Superintendent Carmen Centuolo.

Maria Pellum obtained the contract and posted it on her blog, The Crescent Times.

Among the details:

Gallon will receive a salary of $198,000 for the year beginning July 1, with raises of not less than 1 percent or not more than 4 percent annually. (If he receives the maximum each year, his salary for the 2011-12 school year would be $222,723.)

In addition, Gallon will receive a car allowance of $350 per month, a cell phone paid for by the district, $10,000 for moving expenses and $6,000 for professional growth.

He will be entitled to 23 vacation days, 12 sick days and all district holidays. Up to five vacation days and all sick days may be carried over, but there is a $15,000 limit on accumulated sick days.

He will receive the same health, dental and life insurance, prescription plan and pension benefits as members of the “Plainfield Administrators Association.” (Maybe PASA?)The district will pay his membership fees in state and national administrators’ associations.

For his part, Gallon must take physical exams and drug tests annually. He can terminate his employment on 60 days’ notice to the district. He will receive an annual evaluation.

The school board may terminate his employment for only three reasons, inefficiency, incapacity or conduct unbecoming a superintendent. Any other reason may leave the board liable for payment. However, the board may terminate employment by written notice if he is absent for 30 consecutive days or more than 45 days out of a 75-day consecutive period, but he can seek board permission for such absences. There are other provisions for death or disability.

Anyone who wants to look at the full contract can view it on Maria’s blog. As far as discussing the contract, the details are already agreed on by both parties, so no changes are likely to be made based on the opinions of members of the public.

According to the Courier News, a “meet and greet” session with Gallon will follow the board meeting..

--Bernice Paglia

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Herb Green Becomes President

No, the national election didn't come early and Herb Green didn't beat Obama and McCain.

But he is the new president of the Plainfield League of Women Voters. His first term as president was 30 years ago, after the league began to accept male members. He was 53 then: now he is 83.

I submitted a brief to the Courier News and it has been online at for three days, but has yet to show up in print. (Disclaimer: After retiring from the Courier News, I joined the league and was asked to do publicity at times.)

Click here to see the article.

--Bernice Paglia

Saturday, June 28, 2008

No BOE Agendas Saturday

Those of us eager to know details of Monday's special Board of Education meeting were disappointed to find no agendas available at the Plainfield Public Library Saturday.

Some of us made a couple of trips and even waited until the 1 p.m. closing, but no luck.

The high interest is both on the topic of the incoming superintendent's contract, but also the second item, decisions on jobs and assignments as per the notice on the district web site.

The recent abolishment of job titles, issuance of new titles and assignments for just one month have triggered a bit of uncertainty that needs to be resolved.

Our new superintendent is beginning a four-year stint in what is arguably a difficult and challenged district. The long and secret search process may not guarantee immunity from Plainfield politics now that the superintendent is here.

We hope the learning curve will include both acquiring knowledge of the district as well as how to resist political pressures to fit external agendas.

Plainfield has a history of setting people up and then knocking them down when they don't produce results in a short time frame. This time around, the baggage is huge. Transparency is needed more than ever as the district confronts unprecedented pressures to do more with less.

To our new superintendent, we say, trust your instincts and believe that there are many who wish you the best. Please keep an open mind and open policy as you take your first steps on the path of leadership in Plainfield.

--Bernice Paglia

Friday, June 27, 2008

BOE, Council Meet Monday

As luck would have it, two special meetings will take place Monday.

One is the Board of Education meeting at 7 p.m. in the Plainfield High School Library, originally scheduled to discuss the contract of incoming Superintendent Steve Gallon III. As described on the district web site, other business now includes taking action on "recommendations of theSupt., C&I, Finance, Human Resources, Policy, and Bldgs & Grnds."

The other was supposed to be a City Council special meeting to deal with liquor license renewals. About a dozen license holders failed to receive state clearance on tax obligations by the last regular council meeting on June 16. Those who have since been cleared by the state will most likely be approved Monday and all others will have to take out day-to-day licenses at extra expense and trouble until they are cleared.

But the June 20 legal notice tacks on another matter, the approval of a contract agreement between the Kings Temple Community Development Corp., the New Jersey Redevelopment Authority and the city. Details were not available from City Hall Friday, so Plaintalker can't say for sure whether the agreement involves a long-pending deal for Kings Temple to redevelop a bunch of formerly city-owned properties. Plaintalker will check Monday on which properties are involved.

The City Council meeting is 8 p.m. in City Hall Library.

Now that Plainfield has a cadre of bloggers, maybe we can cover and report on both meetings.

As always, the public is invited and encouraged to come out to see your elected officials in action.

--Bernice Paglia

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Police, No Fire

Click on the department listing for Public Affairs & Safety on the city web site and you will discover that Director Martin Hellwig is only the boss of the police.

Whoever is overhauling the web site should be provided with an organizational chart, so that they might understand that the Fire Division is also under Public Affairs & Safety.

There used to be more under that department, but at least the two existing divisions should be recognized.

The shared services agreement between the school district and city only went to the end of this month, as I understand it. Who's next to sort out the details?

--Bernice Paglia

Hoping for the Best on Muhlenberg

Plainfield hasn't had much luck in reversing the tides of fortune.

I have only been here 25 years, but in that time I have seen the loss of the city's downtown retail anchor to a bankruptcy court judge's decision. I remember the feeling of bitterness over the expense of Macy's holiday events, still possible even though our Macy's had to close.

When the glitzy new A&P opened in South Plainfield, its charms only pointed up the fact that Plainfield had no such array of goods and groceries within its borders.

Doctors' Row became Realty Row. No longer could we walk to Park Avenue medical providers.

Now, the city's biggest employer and its prime health care resource is threatened by forces that have caused the closing of numerous hospitals statewide. A crescendo of protest will culminate today with one last chance to plead for Muhlenberg to stay open.

Plaintalker has not tried to replicate the coverage given by the Courier News and the Save Muhlenberg blog. Suffice it to say we agree that the loss of Muhlenberg would be a stunning blow to the Central Jersey community. We hope the state officials who have the say over this situation will hear every voice and even consider those not yet born who will need this irreplaceable resource.

History alone will tell the extent to which flawed state and federal health care policy failed the citizenry at the beginning of the 21st century. For today, our best wishes are with the group that will make its last-ditch appeal to save Muhlenberg. Fortune favors the bold!

--Bernice Paglia

Park & Seventh Update

The northeast corner of Park & Seventh is now under construction in a Union County project to upgrade traffic signals at the intersection.

With all four corners now blocked off, pedestrians and drivers must use extreme caution at the crossroads. The work may take as long as two months, according to an advisory on the Union County web site.

--Bernice Paglia

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Deputy Redux?

The post of deputy city administrator has been a sort of administrative catch-all over the years.

Intended originally to be a kind of ombudsman for the citizens, the title was re-cast during the McWilliams administration as the person in charge of economic development. In one budget document, the Planning Division was placed under the new Office of Economic Development, creating a de facto fourth department in violation of the City Charter.

But that is all water over the dam. In 2006, the Green team chose not to fill the post and economic development matters were placed, with council consent, in the hands of the Union County Improvement Authority, whose executive director happens to be the head of the Union County Democratic Committee.

Now Plaintalker is hearing that the post of deputy city administrator may be filled again.

Can it be that the person brought in from Ohio at public expense to be the new head of Administration & Finance, Health and Social Services may need a different title instead?

Just to backtrack, the hodge-podge of divisions under A&FHSS was the creation of another former mayor, who decided to take health and social services divisions out from under Public Affairs & Safety and put them under Administration & Finance, because the person he had in mind as finance director had a background in social service. The appointee didn’t last long in the post, but the restructuring remained.

If in fact the current administration now sees fit to revive the deputy city administrator job 30 months into a 48-month term, what will the job description be? Will the city fire the UCIA and let the new person manage economic development? Will there be yet another transmogrification of the title’s duties?

Any attempt to back a favored person into a high-paying post that has been vacant for two and a half years must be viewed with alarm by the taxpayers. Keep an eye out for this one.

--Bernice Paglia

Monday, June 23, 2008

Union County Improving Park & Seventh

One of the city's busiest crossroads will receive new signalization and sidewalks in a two-month project that began June 18.

As of today (June 23, 2008), three of the four corners have been blocked off for the project.

Pedestrians must cross the street not at the crosswalks, but further in past the traffic cones.

The immediate neighborhood includes many elderly and disabled residents, who will have to use extra caution while the project is ongoing.

Drivers will also be challenged by the narrowing of the roadway and the distraction of the work itself. Be street-smart! Look both ways and observe caution while driving or walking through this intersection.
--Bernice Paglia


The jackhammer at Park & Seventh started at 7:30 a.m. today. It apparently set off a car alarm a few minutes later. Then workers at Connolly's property next door resumed the hammering, sawing and drilling on a garage door replacement project. Along came a PMUA truck with its preternatural moans and screeches to add to the cacophony. Around noon the landlord's landscapers arrived with mowers, blowers and trimmers. About the same time, the DPW began blowing all the trash from the perimeter of Lot 7 to the inside, where a rumbling street sweeper swept it up.

And people wonder why I like to write at 3 a.m.!

The Connolly crew fired up its equipment a week ago Sunday at 7:30 a.m., drawing the wrath of a rather imposing tenant with a choice vocabulary. Fearing a repeat performance this past Sunday, I tried last week to find out what the city allows. Inspections sent me to Building. Building sent me to the City Clerk. Maybe it was under Morals and Conduct, a staffer mused. Thanks to Rashid Burney, I was able to look at the Municipal Code online and locate the rule. But the language was ambiguous.

"No person shall on Sunday and upon any other day of the week between the hours of 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 A.M. operate and use tools or equipment in conducting any excavation, demolition, erection, alteration, repair or other construction within one thousand (1000) feet of any dwelling or business property which shall make any loud or disturbing noise, except in case of urgent necessity in the interest of public safety and then only upon obtaining a permit from the Department of Public Works."

Was this a definitive prohibition against noisy work on Sunday? And if so, who do you call at that hour to make them stop?

It's hard to type with your fingers in your ears.

--Bernice Paglia

Where's Ralph Waldo?

A few years ago, I bought a used copy of "Emerson's Essays." The one titled "Self-Reliance" was especially intriguing to me. For some reason, I did not sit down and study the essays. The book became more of a talisman than a tool for thought.

The issue of changing the name of Emerson School made me take the book off its shelf again. Was there something in Emerson's work for the modern student or not?

"Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string."

Good advice for any age.

Among other quotes from his works:

"Make the most of yourself, for that is all there is of you."

"The world belongs to the energetic."

"Hitch your wagon to a star."

"Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."

If in fact the students of today can't relate to the old 19th century Transcendentalist, maybe they should try again. Most of his works can be found online.

Meanwhile, the $40 million new Emerson School is scheduled to open in September. Click here for a previous Plaintalker post on the new school. It is the second "community school" in Plainfield. Like the first, Washington Community School, it is designed to become a focus for all sorts of activities and events.

Besides the question of what to name the school, there is the question of what will take the place of Emerson at the so-called "swing" school. The former National Starch building was purchased for $6 million by the now-defunct Schools Construction Corp., which was replaced by the Schools Development Authority. Jefferson School is housed there and Clinton School was there until consturction was completed at the new Clinton School. The swing school was eventually to be returned to the tax rolls as a ratable once it was no longer needed for temporary occupancy by students whose new schools were under construction.

With no new projects on the horizon, how will the swing school be phased out? Or will the new proposed infusion of school construction funding result in a new middle school or other building? It's yet another thing for incoming Superintendent Steve Gallon III to look into.

--Bernice Paglia

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Lilies and Hollyhocks

Every time these lilies bloom, I want to create a multi-hued lily garden. The catalogues are so enticing. But then I think, maybe this is the year that I will finally move, and so I don't buy bulbs for fall planting for fear I won't be here to see them in summer. Anyway, for those who know where they will be in a year and who have garden space, I say, lilies are the best!

These pale yellow hollyhocks came up where we used to have pink ones. They contrast nicely with the wall. The building received a "cosmetic" scraping and painting, not a total makeover, resulting in a sort of camouflage effect. Gerard Manley Hopkins would have loved its "Pied Beauty." Let's see whether Inspections loves it.
--Bernice Paglia

On Taxes and Budgets

City property owners will be paying $3.58 per $100 of assessed valuation for the next two quarters.

The City Council set the preliminary municipal tax levy this month for the third and fourth quarters of the calendar year, which are the first and second quarters of the fiscal year that begins July 1. All fiscal year municipalities are mandated to set a preliminary tax levy. When the budget passes and the actual tax rate for FY2009 is set, property owners will have already paid in a portion of any increase through the preliminary rate.

The council approved temporary appropriations of $18,060,632 to pay city bills in July, August and September. The temporary appropriations are allowed while the budget process starts. After September, the governing body must each month approve emergency appropriations equal to 1/12 of the prior year’s budget until the new budget is passed. Many times, the budget is not passed until January. This year, it was passed in February.

Meanwhile, the new fiscal year kicks off July 1 with a new finance director in place, but only an acting chief financial officer. Plaintalker asked when the city might get a permanent CFO, but City Administrator Marc Dashield said the title is a tenured position and there are not many CFOs out there to be hired. Former CFO Peter Sepelya, who did most of the groundwork for the budget, retired at the end of 2007.

New Finance Director Douglas Peck is the fifth person in charge of the department since January 2006.

The budget process calls for each division within the city’s three departments to submit their budget requests, which are then subject to the administration’s approval before the proposed budget is given to the governing body. The council’s finance committee makes recommendations and the full council holds budget hearings.

Things that have held up the process in the past have included impending changes in the administration and the need to wait for word on municipal aid from the state. The former happens only every four years, but the latter creates a delay each year.

Plaintalker hopes there are some newcomers or young people who will take an interest in the budget process and join the few old-timers who show up for budget talks. Times are getting tougher and city officials need to hear from the public on fiscal matters. With few revenue sources other than taxes on its housing stock, the city will be facing hard choices on how to spend its limited income.

--Bernice Paglia

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Downtown Experience

In the 1980s, members of a city agency charged with downtown revitalization envisioned a return to Plainfield's days as a shopping mecca with quality merchandise. Alas, no fine leather goods shops ever appeared and the logo of Louis Vuitton is nowhere to be seen. Business is good, but shopping is still decidedly low-end. Above, a display of party goods.

A Front Street newsstand that also sold cell phones and gifts has recently been replaced by a new 99-cent store.

Oversized earrings and chains are popular items.

Clothing tends to be urban street wear and shoe stores feature the same.

Oprah may tout shapewear, but must we see examples in the front window?
While many people enjoy shopping downtown, the range of goods drives some of us out of town. Another issue is tripled rents that have driven longtime merchants out of the central business district. The shift to stores with broader appeal has not taken place. Multiple cell phone stores and outlets for electronic goods dominate the downtown.
Some great entrepreneurial minds have studied how Plainfield's downtown can be revitalized. So far, the offerings are not even close to the glorious retail days of yore. Is what we have realistically the best we can do? Comments are welcome.
--Bernice Paglia

Friday, June 20, 2008

Summer Blooms

These Prickly Pear flowers are the last ones in our garden. A low evergreen shrub has spread over all the others. As gardeners know, each year brings surprises, no matter what came up last year.

The Bergamot came back in full force this year after threatening to disappear. Maybe we will see some hummingbirds again!

A profusion of hollyhocks appeared this year. Most are rose-pink, but we have some pale yellow ones and a few that haven't revealed their colors yet. The ones near the building withstood a scraping-and-painting session. In other spots, ladder placement was not kind to the garden.
Next up are various lilies , daylilies and Black-Eyed Susans. I planted saved portulaca seeds in a windowbox, just to keep track of them, and now I have plenty to transplant to borders.
Among the missing: Blue-eyed Grass and several kinds of Columbines. Why they disappear or flourish, only Mother Nature knows.
--Bernice Paglia

Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Travel Tale

Court authorities said the Don Davis trial was to start at 4 p.m. Wednesday, so I planned to take the 3:20 p.m. No. 59 bus to Scotch Plains. My errand at City Hall went quicker than I thought, so I arrived at the bus stop early. A good thing too, because the bus was nine minutes early!

So I got to Scotch Plains a little before 3:30 p.m., with time to spare for admiring the new landscaping around the Municipal Building.

At 4 p.m., we were told the trial would start at 5 p.m. For some reason, I had hopes of a speedy session and thought maybe I could catch the 5:29 p.m. bus back to Plainfield. But as we sat and waited, the 5:59 bus passed. Things were just starting when the 6:31 bus went by.

Periodically I checked the schedule. Oops, the 7:07, 7:22, 8:02 and 9:02 passed through Scotch Plains and the trial was still going on. There was just one bus left, at 10:02. Instead of a quick 10-minute ride home, I was envisioning either a very long walk or camping out on the newly-landscaped grounds.

Maria, who had stopped in earlier and left after the trial dragged on and on, magically reappeared as the session ended around 9:15 and whisked me back to the Queen City in her truck. Liberte, egalite, sororite! The sisterhood of bloggers saved the day!

--Bernice Paglia

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

July Finale for Davis Trial

Closing arguments in the DWI trial of Councilman Don Davis will take place in July, a Scotch Plains municipal judge declared Wednesday after about three hours of testimony.

“I am approaching the state of being fried,” Judge Antonio Inacio said Tuesday after 10 hours on the bench that concluded with 15 pages of notes on the Davis case.

“This case is a quagmire to me,” he said, citing conflicting evidence on the March 28, 2007 incident in which Davis was stopped, tested and arrested.

Issues include whether Davis was legally intoxicated as well as whether it could be proved he was he was driving while intoxicated.

Plainfield Detective Edwin Maldonado said he was in the process of writing out a ticket for illegal parking of the councilman’s van near a Front Street pizzeria on that day when Davis exited the restaurant, waved at the officer and drove about 100 feet west when he stopped due to being pulled over by Maldonado’s unmarked police car.

Maldonado said he called Sgt. Jeffrey Plum once he detected an odor of alcohol from Davis. Within 10 minutes, Plum conducted a field sobriety test, parts of which Davis failed. A second test was conducted at Plainfield Police headquarters and because city alcohol testing equipment failed, Davis was transported to Fanwood for a breath test.

Plum attested to signs that Davis was intoxicated, but Davis attorney James Trabilsy and expert witness Herbert Leckie poked numerous holes in the testimony by citing standards for making DWI assessments that they allege were not followed in the tests. Issues included instructions to the accused before the tests and scores resulting from them, as well as qualifications of officers making the tests.

Leckie described standards developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that he said were not followed in the tests described in testimony Wednesday. For example, a “walk-and-turn” test required nine steps, not the five steps described by Plainfield police. While Plum described a test involving picking up a quarter in which Davis nearly fell to the ground, Leckie discounted the test as not valid, in part due to Davis being about 50 pounds overweight and thus disqualified for the test. Further, the test itself was not recognized by the national agency, Leckie said.

Davis was repeatedly described as both professional and apologetic in his dealings with authorities in the incident. A police station video played at the trial showed him wiping away tears and repeatedly apologizing for the incident.

Davis, who lost a primary bid June 3 for a second four-year term, was joined Wednesday by his parents, wife and daughter at the trial. After the lengthy session, one family member wished out loud that the case would have been resolved Tuesday.

--Bernice Paglia

Bailey Tribute Leads Busy BOE Meeting

Tuesday’s school board meeting included a tribute to Interim Superintendent Garnell Bailey, an outpouring of support for restoring jobs of six Evergreen School teachers, changes in food service payment methods, a new student information service based wholly on New Jersey rules, a proposal to change the name of Emerson School and a multitude of staff assignments, including a new interim high school principal.

Bailey, named interim superintendent in December, was hailed for taking the district through a very difficult time caused by state budget mandates and other upheavals. Bailey was the district's Human Resources director when tapped for the higher post and has served in both capacities since January. School Board President Bridget Rivers led a presentation that included a slide show highlighting Bailey’s leadership. Rivers gave Bailey a plaque in appreciation for her service. A new superintendent, Dr. Steve Gallon III, will take office July 1.

The non-renewal of six untenured Evergreen School teachers provoked a petition campaign with 244 signatures and lots of testimony Tuesday on why they should somehow be retained. Evergreen student Jarrett Brown, 11, was perhaps the most eloquent, telling the board, “These are some of the most hard-working teachers ever.”

Rivers countered by repeatedly saying the tenure law should be abolished. Teachers who have achieved tenure can “bump” untenured teachers to save their jobs. Rivers also challenged supporters of the teachers by asking where they were when only three representatives of Plainfield went to Trenton to challenge the school funding formula that resulted in cuts to urban districts.

As speakers praised the teachers in question, the six women rose from their seats in silent witness. But others noted non-tenured teachers across the district lost their jobs, indicating the Evergreen teachers were not alone.

School board member Rasheed Abdul-Haqq suggested using surplus funds to hire back the non-renewed teachers. Rivers said possible resignations might also provide job openings for them.

The meeting, slated for 7 p.m., did not get started until after 8 p.m., and then did not get around to the published agenda until 10 p.m.

In one vote, the board approved a multitude of personnel appointments, including that of Plainfield native Brian Bilal to be interim high school principal. Bilal took the microphone to say thanks for the opportunity.

“It’s been a long time coming,” he said. Adding there was something he wanted to “nip in the bud,” he said, “If you want to talk about what you want to do in Plainfield, then please bring some solutions.”

Bilal said he will work collaboratively with the community and called out to former Councilwoman Joanne Hollis, saying, “Mrs. Hollis, I’ll be looking for you.”

There was no discussion of the 25 administrators who are being hired for one-month terms or why 14 principals are being reappointed without specific school assignments.

On the re-naming of Emerson School, Yvonne Taylor presented a slide show that included photos of the 1916 school being demolished and the new school that has now been completed but not yet occupied. Students had classes at the so-called “swing school” at Rock Avenue and West Front Street while the demolition and new construction took place.

Taylor said the school was named for Ralph Waldo Emerson, but added, “Our children cannot relate to this person in the current date.”

She said surveys of parents yielded a wish to re-name the school the Rosa Parks Academy of Excellence. The name, she said, would set a higher expectation of achievement for the school’s mostly African-American and Hispanic children.

Rivers asked whether the surrounding community had been consulted and Taylor said, “As far as door-knocking, we did not.”

Objectors said they wanted to keep the name of their childhood elementary school and that any change should be a community decision. But board member Martin Cox said he first suggested the new name and hoped the board would vote “yes.” However, it was not up for a vote Tuesday. The school is slated to open in September.

The board approved a new method of paying for student lunches and activities that allows parents to pay in advance with credit or debit cards. In addition, the present system of tracking students’ grades and other data will be changed, but staff must be trained to use it, company representatives said. Presenters Rich Smith and Rich Dilts said the company, Genesis Educational Services of Jamesburg, serves New Jersey districts exclusively and its programs are aligned with state Department of Education requirements. Updates of new state rules for student reporting are made at no cost to the district.

“We only do New Jersey,” Dilts emphasized in a demonstration of the program.

The hardest part of rolling out the system will be setting up a schedule to train staff, he said.

The school board will meet again at 6:30 p.m. June 30 in the Plainfield High School conference room, to discuss the contract of incoming Superintendent Steve Gallon III. Gallon was hired in February for four years at an annual salary of $198,000, but meanwhile all New Jersey superintendents’ salaries and benefits came under scrutiny in the wake of a proposed $740,000 retirement package for a Keansburg superintendent. Union County Superintendent Carmen Centuolo said Gallon’s contract had not been submitted to her for review as required. Gallon is scheduled to begin working in the district July 1.

--Bernice Paglia

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Jobs Top BOE Agenda Tonight

Job approvals dominate tonight’s 96-page school board agenda. Hundreds of teachers and other staff will be hired for the 2008-09 school, but about two dozen new titles will only be filled for one month.

In May, the school board voted to abolish 43 job titles and approved 33 new ones. Now, some of the jobs are being filled, but only for the month of July. The time frame coincides with the advent of new schools superintendent Steve Gallon III, who was hired in February with a starting date of July 1.

Gallon himself is facing scrutiny of his four-year contract, which the board approved at a salary of $198,000 annually. The full details of the contract were not worked out in February when Gallon was hired, and earlier this month it was revealed that the contract had not been reviewed by Union County Executive Superintendent Carmen Centuolo. The school board has set a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. June 30 to discuss the contract.

Tonight’s meeting is 7 p.m. in the Plainfield High School library. Not all the new job titles were filled and school board observers expect several “walk-in” items tonight. Among other questions raised by the job listings is why none of the 14 principals hired for the 2008-09 school year have been assigned to specific schools.

--Bernice Paglia

Monday, June 16, 2008

Many Liquor Licenses Still Unresolved

A recurring theme in Plaintalker posts is the struggle to deal with city liquor licenses. Many agree there are too many for the size of the city and the volume produces more problems than neighborhoods can contend with.

Click here for a very early Plaintalker post on the main issues.

While the weight of liquor license decisions tends to favor those who own the very pricey licenses, City Council members said Monday they want more evidence that license holders are living up to requirements.

After resident and business owner Flor Gonzalez raised issues Monday (June 16, 2008) about the responsibilities of bar owners to clients, council members asked for greater proof of enforcement.

Gonzalez cited the case of a 19-year-old accident victim for whom she is now seeking contributions for funeral expenses. Gonzalez said he had been incarcerated for being in a bar fight. She called for a study on underage sales and other infractions, saying she wanted to make liquor license holders "100 percent responsible" for consequences to victims.

City Administrator Marc Dashield said every license renewal is subject to scrutiny both by police and health officials. He also noted that a new city police initiative is directed to enforcement of liquor establishment rules.

Several council members said they feel more must be done to step up liquor license enforcement, especially because the city has more than its fair share of venues.

Due to the number of unresolved cases, the council will have to set a special meeting before June 30, but no date was announced Monday.

--Bernice Paglia

Annual Liquor License Decisions Up Tonight

City liquor licenses number 33, down from 38, but City Council President Harold Gibson would like to see even fewer places to buy or consume alcohol.

Licenses are up for an annual review this month and action will be taken at tonight’s City Council meeting. At last week’s agenda session, 18 licenses were up for renewal and others were in dispute over tax matters, lack of fee payments or issues of ownership or location. Those whose problems cannot be resolved by June 30 will have to shut down, although the state allows owners to get day-to-day “ad interim” licenses while seeking resolution.

Gibson and others say the city has too many licenses for its size. But the excess places are “grandfathered” in because they were in existence before the state set a ratio for licenses based on population. Council members have asked for more frequent police reports on liquor establishments so they can better decide on renewals. Click here for a story on last year's process.

Tonight’s meeting is 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

As of last week, three social clubs, seven bars or restaurants and eight liquor stores were up for renewal. More may since have resolved their problems and received clearance from the state Division of Taxation and director of Alcoholic Beverage Control. City Clerk Laddie Wyatt said a special meeting may be necessary between now and June 30 if further action is needed from the governing body to grant or deny renewals.

--Bernice Paglia

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Staff to Get New Titles - For a Month

At first glance, a list of prospective appointees to new administrative titles makes it look as if the school district is set to accomplish major changes. But a second glance shows that 25 of the recommendations are just for the month of July.

At the May 5 business meeting, the Board of Education took action to abolish 45 job titles and adopted 33 new ones. The agenda for Tuesday’s business meeting includes names for appointment to many of the new titles, but only from July 1 through 31.

Plaintalker picked up the agenda Saturday at the Plainfield Public Library and answers are not available over the weekend on why assignments were proposed just for one month.

One of the nominees happened to be in the library Saturday and expressed concern about the limited proposals.

In addition, while 14 principals are up for appointment at salaries ranging from $98,420 to $136,560, their assigned schools are “TBD” – to be determined.

The school board meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday (June 17, 2008) in the Plainfield High School library.

The agenda includes numerous other job approvals, but there are no names listed for two new assistant superintendent posts that were approved May 5.

Agendas should be available Monday at the Plainfield Public Library for those interested in further details on the personnel recommendations. Reminder: There will be a special meeting on Monday, June 30 to discuss the contract of Dr. Steve Gallon III, who begins a four-year term as superintendent on July1. The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. in the Plainfield High School conference room.

--Bernice Paglia

No Independents Filed

No one filed June 3 as an independent for any Plainfield City Council seats, so it appears the choices will be Democrat Annie McWilliams against Republican Deborah Dowe for the citywide at-large seat, Democrat Adrian Mapp running unopposed for the Third Ward seat and Democrat William Reid running unopposed for the unexpired balance of the First Ward term.

Given that New Democrats McWilliams and Mapp won the party line in a primary campaign against Democratic incumbents Harold Gibson and Don Davis, the Regular Democratic Organization leadership cannot be very happy. Plaintalker heard some mutterings about a ploy in September to replace one or another of the New Democrats with an RDO candidate, but here’s why it won’t work: The September dates on the 2008 election schedule from Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi refer to withdrawals of independent candidates or those nominated in the primary.

There are no independent candidates to withdraw and make room for a person more palatable to the RDO leadership. And it is highly unlikely that either Mapp or McWilliams can be persuaded or forced to vacate the ballot slot won in the primary, yielding a vacancy to be filled by the RDO. Click here to see the full 2008 Election Dates schedule.

Maybe some of our more wily politicians know of a strategy to upset the apple cart, but at this point the public is likely to perceive any September surprise as antithetical to the desire for change registered by voters on June 3.

Meanwhile, the primary winners themselves must be on the alert for any attempts to pressure them into somebody else’s political agenda. Separately and together, they must affirm what they stand for and constantly demonstrate it to the public. Cultivating a bit of cynicism and growing a tough hide in coming months will also be helpful in navigating the city’s often murky political waters.

--Bernice Paglia

Friday, June 13, 2008

Valor Awardees to be Recognized

Firefighters who recently received honors will be recognized in a special gathering at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs announced Tuesday.

The recognition ceremony will precede the 8 p.m. City Council meeting in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

In communications to the council, the mayor identified the awardees as follows:

--Recipients of the Silver Medal of Valor from the New Jersey State Fireman's Mutual Benevolent Association for acts of bravery and life-saving efforts on April 16, 2007: Acting Lt. Richard Campanelli, Firefighter Pietro Martino and Firefighter Glenn Robinson.

--Recipients of Medal of Valor from the NJ FMBA for acts of bravery and life-saving efforts on Jan. 24, 2007: Battalion Chief Henry Robinson, Captain Broderick Fleming, Lt. Ronnie Belin, Lt. David Jackson, Acting Lt. Edward Arriaga and Firefighters Eddie Currie, Gregory Fleming, Douglas Germinder, Michael Gillette, Herbert Green, Craig Johnson, Peter Landis, John Pellegrino, Hilton Whitaker and Rodney Williams.

--Recipients of Medal of Valor from the Union County 200 Club for going above and beyond the call of duty on April 16, 2007: Acting Lt. Richard Campanelli and Firefighter Pietro Martino.

--Recipients of Medal of Valor from the Union County 200 Club for going above and beyond the call of duty on Jan. 24, 2007: Lt. David W. Jackson and Firefighter John Pellegrino.

The event was announced at the mayor's monthly visit to the Senior Center. So far, nothing on the city web site.

--Bernice Paglia

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Condos, Senior Center Well Underway

Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs reported to seniors Tuesday that the new senior center/condo project at 400 East Front Street is progressing, with just 25 percent of the second floor trusses remaining to be installed. Framing for the third floor has begun, she said.

The $15 million project includes a new senior center and veterans' meeting place on the ground floor and 63 two-bedroom condos on three upper floors. The condos will be sold at market rates.

The new anticipated time frame for completion of the project is late September/early October. As of last week, there was no sales trailer on a nearby city lot that the company leased, but information maybe seen here on The Monarch and other Dornoch housing developments.
--Bernice Paglia

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

End of an Era

A longtime presence in the downtown business district is gone.
Albert Pittis, who managed the Pittis Estate, has retired.
The Pittis family developed many of the storefronts downtown. Paramount Property Management acquired the Pittis Estate a year or so ago and Albert Pittis continued to manage property until his retirement this year.
Paramount, now known as Paramount Assets, has renovated many of the stores but quite a few are still vacant. Rent increases have driven out a number of business owners or caused them to relocate. The promise of more high-end merchandise and clothing downtown remains unfulfilled.
Meanwhile, store owners fondly recall Albert Pittis as a fair, honest and good-hearted member of the Plainfield business community.
--Bernice Paglia

Prom Royalty at the Senior Center

Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs applauds Prom King John Cherry and Prom Queen Helen Rodriguez Tuesday at the Plainfield Senior Center. The two were chosen at the recent Senior Prom. Here they re-enact the pose captured in a prom photo that was posted at the center.

--Bernice Paglia

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Taking a Pass

After much consideration, I decided to take a pass on attending the Board of Education meeting tonight.

First of all, I have some muscle aches due to yard work. And then there's the heat.

So I hope either someone will report on any major issues that arise or that any big news can be caught up with at the business meeting next week.

There's something about turning 70 that just makes a person more picky about self-assignments. Should I do this or that? Or none of the above?

I guarantee that when y'all hit 70, you will do the same assessment. And feel free to trust your judgment.

--Bernice Paglia

Smile, You're On ...

Monday's agenda-fixing session was recorded, presumably for viewing on Channel 74.

Ray Blanco would have plotzed.

The late City Council president was in the film industry and knew all too well the need for proper lighting and sound to make a video recording tolerable to watch. Alas, the lighting was execrable and the set-up was such that the camera was pointed at the back of Police Director Martin Hellwig's head as he made an important report on the reorganization of the Police Division. A noisy air conditioner and less-than-stentorian delivery by speakers added to the poor sound quality.

But at least it happened. There has been a lot of talk about why council meetings aren't televised. The last thing I heard was that the city's Communications staff was ready to do it, warts and all, as soon as the council agreed. Since City Hall Library is not likely to resemble a sound stage anytime soon, the product is what it is.

I look forward to seeing it on the screen. I'll be the one squinting from the glare of the extra light fixture that was set up.

--Bernice Paglia

No, Speed Racer!

Traffic tickets are up 85 percent in 2008 over 2007 under a new initiative to destroy the impression that Plainfield is soft on speeders and other violators of motor vehicle regulations.

Police Director Martin Hellwig told the City Council Monday he wants the public to know about the new enforcement, highlighted by creation of a Traffic Unit within the Police Division. He said police issued 1,809 tickets from January through April in 2007 and 3,338 in the same time frame this year for both moving and non-moving violations.

The new direction is in response to citizen concerns about speeding and other infractions that residents say are not allowed in neighboring municipalities. The Traffic Unit will address all aspects of traffic safety, Hellwig said, noting last year there were more deaths from traffic fatalities in Plainfield than from homicides. The incidents involved car accidents as well as pedestrian deaths, he said.

In his 60-day report on his reorganization of the Police Division, Hellwig described the Traffic Unit within the new Community Relations Bureau that aims to address “quality of life” issues. In all, the reorganization has resulted in seven bureaus, including a new Information Technology Bureau.

Assignments are as follows:
--Captain Ruth Selzam, Patrol Bureau.
--Captain Keith Lattimore, Administrative Bureau.
--Captain Anthony Celentano, Criminal Investigation Bureau.
--Captain Edward Santiago, Narcotics Bureau.
--Captain Steven Soltys, Information Technology Unit.
--Captain Michael Gilliam, Community Relations Bureau.
--Captain Siddeeq El-Amin, Service Bureau.

Hellwig said under his new management model, both captains and lieutenants will be expected to develop executive skills to enhance the professionalism of the Police Division. He will also seek accreditation of the division, a 110-point measure of national and international standards so far attained by only 90 police divisions in the state. Hellwig said it could take up to 18 months to achieve the “lofty goal” that would place Plainfield among the police elite.

Patrol officers will also be asked to improve their performance, with training on dealing with the public, greeting people at the front desk and sensitivity training.

“We want it to stand out,” Hellwig said of the Patrol Bureau.

The wide-ranging report covered aspects of police work ranging from keeping order when the high school lets out to increased safety in Municipal Court and other city buildings. Liquor establishments will receive closer scrutiny for their effect on neighborhood quality of life and the Mobile Command Unit will be deployed across the city for higher police visibility. Hellwig said the innovations will come at a cost and will put some stress on the Police Division, but he intends to see them through.

Councilman Don Davis asked about the status of a plan to place surveillance cameras in problem areas. City Administrator Marc Dashield said funding for the cameras is included in the 2008 capital improvement plan. Hellwig said the city is also talking with the Housing Authority about downloading images from their cameras.

Councilman William Reid told Hellwig he hoped the public would “get the word that you are cracking down” on traffic violations.

Hellwig said he had begun talking to the press about it.

“It’s a new day,” he said. “We will be enforcing traffic laws quite strictly.”

--Bernice Paglia

Monday, June 09, 2008

Hellwig to Report on Police Reorganization

Police Director Martin Hellwig is slated to give a progress report tonight (Monday, June 9, 2008) on the reorganization of the Police Division and its new management plan.

The meeting is 7:30 p.m. in City Hall Library.

Hellwig, the city's director of Public Affairs & Safety, also became its first civilian police director in April after the City Council agreed to lay off former Police Chief Edward Santiago. Santiago is now serving in the rank of captain while he pursues legal action to restore his former title.

Hellwig was named police director after passage of an ordinance establishing the title and permitting the public safety director also to hold the the police director post for up to one year. Anyone who may be named permanently to the post will serve concurrently with the term of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, which ends Dec. 31, 2009.

Click here to see the Plainfield Police Division web site, where the current bureau structure is described. (The site has not yet been updated to reflect the new police director title.)

--Bernice Paglia

Capodagli Proposal to be Dropped

A major project that was fast-tracked in 2006 may now be defunct, according to a proposed City Council resolution.

The East Third/Richmond tract was the subject of an emergency Saturday morning Planning Board meeting on Sept. 23, 2006 to adopt an “in need of redevelopment” study, followed by adoption on Oct. 18, 2006 of a redevelopment plan. On Dec. 6, 2006, the City Council named Capodagli Property Company LLC as the redeveloper.

Since then, not much has happened and the resolution up for discussion tonight (Monday, June 9) would withdraw and terminate both the designation and authorization for a redeveloper’s agreement.

The ambitious plan called for 352 residential units in five buildings at East Third and Richmond streets, with 700 parking spaces at ground level. A small commercial portion was to be built at Richmond Street and Cottage Place, abutting the Raritan Valley Line train tracks. Construction was supposed to start on the site of the former Cozzoli Machinery company, but the site was later found to be contaminated.

Click here for two earlier Plaintalker posts on the project. The company's link, which has the proposal on a list of completed projects, is here.

Capodagli’s firm was also found to be on the state debarment list, meaning it could not get any public contracts until April 2007 for infractions against labor policies.

The firm’s conditional designation as redeveloper was extended in April 2007 and again in May 2007, but eventually expired. According to the resolution up for approval this month, the city and its designated redevelopment agency, the Union County Improvement Authority, failed to come up with an acceptable redevelopment agreement for the site. The resolution states that the city and the Authority "otherwise seek to provide for redevelopment" of the site.

In earlier hearings on the matter, both the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority and the owner of a longtime family business objected to the plan. PMUA representatives said they had already invested $2 million in plans to consolidate operations and headquarters on the site. Members of the Thul family questioned the plan, saying it would cause displacement of their family's 93-year-old machinery business.

The council’s agenda-fixing session is 7:30 p.m. tonight in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave.

--Bernice Paglia

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Visit the Shakespeare Garden

I'm told there will not be an open house at the Shakespeare Garden this year, but anyone can still visit and enjoy the lovely array of flowers at this peak time of year.

The garden is inside Cedar Brook Park, a Union County facility accessible from Park Avenue just before the South Plainfield border. Members of the Plainfield Garden Club have traditionally met on Wednesdays through the growing season to maintain the garden.

It's a beautiful asset to our city and worth a tour alone or with friends and visitors.

--Bernice Paglia

Cheers for Samir

Today I saw my young neighbor Samir in the Courier News.

The occasion was the presentation to his teacher, Dolores Jackson of Stillman School, as one of the winners in the Newspapers in Education awards.

The ceremony took place in the Commerce Bank Ballpark, adding to Samir’s list of interesting venues. Among others, he has previously attended the Grace Episcopal Church Peach Festival, where he got to up into the carillon’s bell tower, and he also met Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs and former Police Chief Edward Santiago at past ceremonies at the Crescent Avenue War Memorial.

I’m hoping that these memories will imprint on Samir the sense of being someone who matters to his city and someone who can have a say when he gets older on what is important to Plainfield and Central Jersey as we experience the shift of voices weighing in on what matters.

Like it or not, Samir is the harbinger of possible greater civic involvement by Latino city residents who are here and therefore have a stake in Plainfield’s direction.

Over the past few years, I have been impressed by Samir’s gains through the Plainfield public educational system. He is curious, polite, cheerful and courteous. He has at his young age all the qualities that Plainfield needs to grow a new, concerned citizenry that will take the city to new heights.

Please let us foster the Samirs of our city and all others that want the best for Plainfield.

--Bernice Paglia

A Tisket, A Tasket

My topiary basket is green, not yellow. It is made from a forsythia bush and was yellow briefly when it bloomed earlier this spring. I had hoped to get some Wave petunias to put in it, but meanwhile it has a profusion of purple oxalis with lavender flowers and a strawberry plant with pink flowers.

To "Anonymous" who wanted some purple coneflowers, e-mail me at NJplaintalker "at" and let me know when you can pick them up. I also have coral bells to give away.

--Bernice Paglia

Friday, June 06, 2008

Hundreds Jam Second Muhlenberg Hearing

Many of the more than three dozen people who testified Thursday (June 5, 2008) on the proposed closing of Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center said but for the proximity of the hospital and its excellent care, they would not be alive to talk about it.

At the second hearing conducted by members of the New Jersey State Health Planning Board, municipal officials and residents of several communities as well as physicians and activists pressed home the point that the hospital is too vital to thousands of Central Jersey residents to close. As in the previous meeting, board members took oral and written testimony to consider before making a recommendation to state Department of Health Commissioner Heather Howard on whether to grant a certificate of need to close the hospital.

Matching the crowd for the first hearing, nearly 1,200 protesters filled the Plainfield High School auditorium.

Speakers raised familiar themes from the first session, including concerns over the way Solaris Health Systems dealt with the hospital after acquiring it. The hospital has operated at a loss for many years, Solaris said in public announcements, but opponents to the closing claim Solaris depleted Muhlenberg by stripping it of lucrative health care services. The burden of uncompensated charity care then made Muhlenberg’s operation untenable, critics have said.

Among the witnesses to the need for Muhlenberg to stay open, former City Councilman Bob Ferraro said he lives a block and a half from the hospital and due to being nearby, he was able to recover from a paralyzing stroke, while Plainfield school board member Christian Estevez recounted his own and his son’s need for emergency asthma care. Another son has a life-threatening peanut allergy, he learned. Estevez said if he had to travel many minutes to get help, “I would fear for his life.”

Besides acute health care, residents are concerned about a projected shortfall in the number of births that can be handled if Muhlenberg closes. Solaris said only about 400 of 1,100 annual births could be handled at JFK Medical Center in Edison. Assemblyman Jerry Green said this week that Trinitas Hospital in Elizabeth could handle the extra several hundred births, but a Trinitas representative who spoke Thursday was booed by people who said the real solution was not to close Muhlenberg.

Among the most dramatic moments, Former Mayor Rick Taylor, now using a wheelchair due to complications of diabetes, urged supporters of the fight to save the hospital, saying, “Let’s fight together and not let anybody break our spirit.”

Residents involved in the People’s Organization for Progress led chants before and during the hearing, echoing numerous rallies and marches the group has held.

Officials speaking against the closing included South Plainfield Mayor Charles Butrico, Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr, South Plainfield Councilman Matthew Anesh and North Plainfield Council Vice President Mike Giordano. Peter Briggs, husband of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, made a statement on the mayor’s behalf, citing the economic effects if the hospital closes, including a ripple of foreclosures if its 1,100 employees find no work.

Former legislator David Schwartz came from Florida to protest the closing, saying the solution is to “right-size” acute care at the hospital to 112 beds. Asking whether Solaris did “everything that’s reasonable to do,” he answered his own question, “No.”

“The rush to misjudgment must be halted,” he said.

Schwartz is among a number of people who have come up with alternative proposals to closing the hospital. City resident Olive Lynch, who organized a campaign to buy Muhlenberg and operate it as a community hospital, said she will send a “20-page refutement” of reasons given by Solaris for the closing. Her group is in the process of putting together a consortium and a business plan, she said to loud applause.

Adrian Mapp, the Third Ward winner in Tuesday’s Democratic primary, said, “We need to get back to basics here. Charity care equals charity and care, not profit and profitability.”

He called for an end to “demonization of the poor” by demagogues and said state legislators must find the money to keep the hospital open.

“Charity care is an unfunded mandate,” he said.

Carrie Faraone, a maternity social worker at Muhlenberg, likened the closing to “racial profiling” due to its dire consequences for minority mothers and babies.

Annie McWilliams, winner of the citywide at-large Democratic line Tuesday, said Muhlenberg is an essential hospital that serves an underserved population. She called on the state health commissioner to “follow her own advice” on hospital closings and keep Muhlenberg open.

“That’s rational,” McWilliams said. “Anything else is irrational and dangerous.”

Other speakers said the extra time needed to get to other hospitals will strain local rescue squads and put victims of heart attacks, strokes and accidents at increased risk of death.

Lesli Price, who works with students at Plainfield High School, came to the microphone with members of a young men’s leadership group from the high school.

“They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” student Dontae Booth said. But he said, ”What doesn’t kill us in five minutes will kill us in half an hour.”

Members of the public will also be able to speak at the state Health Planning Board meeting where the certificate of need will be considered, and written testimony may be sent to the board up until June 12. The board will take all the testimony into account and make its recommendation to Howard, who will then make her decision on the proposed closing.

--Bernice Paglia

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

So, Can They Count to Four?

Between now and January 1, the City Council primary winners must attempt to maximize their influence by garnering support from the others on the governing body.

The winners are Annie McWilliams, besting incumbent City Council President Harold Gibson, and Adrian Mapp, defeating incumbent Councilman Don Davis for the Third Ward seat.

Plaintalker received an anguished call Wednesday from Democratic City Committee Chairman Jerry Green, protesting the blog's observance that recent appointees have been "older party stalwarts." Plaintalker was referring to septuagenerian Gibson and retired appointee William Reid, who is running unopposed for the First Ward seat.

The conversation also included Green's observation that almost all the council members, including Don Davis, came in under the New Democrat banner.

As usual, Plaintalker missed the point, because once they win, all elected Democrats come under the umbrella of the Regular Democratic Organization and therefore are no longer "New Democrats."

It is up to the council members who came in under the "New Democrat" banner and are now officially "Regular Democrats" to decide where they fall on the political spectrum in 2008.

Whatever the banner, all residents want to know is how soon the potholes will be fixed, how soon crime will decrease, what real development will take place and how the quality of life in Plainfield will get better.

This writer would give a lot to have the equivalent of former Mayor Rick Taylor's powerful political periscope. Rick could indeed see around corners and foresee political machinations that escaped the rest of us.

Some scenarios offered so far include ploys next year to secure the Fourth Ward seat now occupied by Elliott Simmons and of course alternatives to any second-term thoughts of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs.

Stayed tuned, y'all.

--Bernice Paglia

Citizen Leadership: Deja Vu

Plaintalker recently received a press release on a campaign to empower citizens wishing to become involved in the city's decision-making processes. The group will hold a forum at 7 p.m. Monday in the Plainfield Public Library meeting room.

Click here for an earlier try at involving citizens by the same group. The Civic Responsibility Act was indeed passed, but not fully implemented. Not to demean the effort, but where is the follow-through?

Unfortunately, the meeting also coincides with the only City Council agenda-fixing session for June.

Anyway, for those who missed the past forum, it is valuable information and participants can learn more on subsequent forums on July 15 and Aug. 12. For more information, call Lauren Skowronski at (732) 548-9798, ext. 6.

--Bernice Paglia

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

McWilliams, Mapp Win Big

The revelry could be heard a block away as supporters of Annie McWilliams and Adrian Mapp celebrated election wins at the Antique Castle on Park Avenue Tuesday evening.

McWilliams, daughter of the late Mayor Albert T. McWilliams, ran for the citywide at-large City Council seat on a platform of bringing new energy and change to city issues. According to preliminary figures from City Clerk Laddie Wyatt, Annie McWilliams racked up 1,838 votes to incumbent City Council President Harold Gibson's 1,093.

"I'm so happy," McWilliams said. "It means a lot for the city. It speaks for what the citizens wanted."

In the Third Ward race, former Councilman and Freeholder Adrian Mapp received 474 votes, compared to 372 for incumbent Councilman Don Davis and 159 for newcomer Olive Lynch.

"Plainfielders have spoken loud and clear and have sent a message that they need change," Mapp said. "Annie and I will work with every member of the governing body and the administration to deliver that change."

The wins represent a resurgence of the late mayor's New Democrat movement that sought to displace the machine politics of the Regular Democratic Organization controlled at the county level by Chairman Charlotte DeFilippo. In 2005, DeFilippo thwarted Mayor McWilliams' bid for a third term and the Plainfield party leadership reverted to Assemblyman Jerry Green, who backed the mayoral candidacy of Sharon Robinson-Briggs. As mayor, she is now in the third year of a four-year term, but has riled some with her removal of Police Chief Edward Santiago and her insistence on having as bodyguards two police officers who openly supported her campaign.

Green must seek re-election to the Assembly next year and will also have to fight to retain his chairmanship of the Democratic City Committee for another two-year term.

As mayor and party chairman, Albert T. McWilliams brought in new, young candidates for City Council, but since regaining the chairmanship, Green has fielded older party stalwarts for council seats. Gibson is a half-century older than his challenger and retiree William Reid, running unopposed in November for an unexpired First Ward term, served as Robinson-Briggs' campaign treasurer.

With Democrats outnumbering Republicans 10 to 1, the primary victory virtually assures success for McWilliams and Mapp in the November general election. Barring any complications, they are likely to begin four-year terms on Jan. 1, 2009.

--Bernice Paglia

Have Your Say - Vote Today

Plaintalker is not making any endorsements in today’s primary, but urges all voters with opinions to go to the polls, which are open until 8 p.m.

The local Democratic races are for the citywide at-large and Third Ward City Council seats. Incumbent City Council President Harold Gibson is the citywide at-large representative and is facing a challenge from Annie McWilliams, daughter of the late Mayor Albert T. McWilliams. Incumbent Third Ward Councilman Don Davis has two challengers, Annie McWilliams’ running mate Adrian Mapp and political newcomer Olive Lynch. Each term is for four years.

By now voters have had opportunities to hear each candidate weigh in on the proposed closing of Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center, a decision that rests outside City Council chambers but which has inspired a flood of rallies, marches and schemes to save Muhlenberg. The races have also become a referendum on which style of Democratic representation voters want, the entrenched party backed by powerful figures across the state or a progressive reform movement that has previously drawn the wrath of those same figures.

Plainfield has 11,186 registered Democrats (up about 3,000 due to the February presidential primary) who are eligible to vote for the at-large candidates. In 2004, Ray Blanco won the seat with 1,516 votes to 865 for Michael Jones. At the time, Democrats numbered about 8,000, so the primary turnout was about 30 percent. Blanco died unexpectedly in 2006 and Gibson succeeded him as an appointee, later winning the balance of his unexpired term. In the 2008 primary race, Gibson campaigned on his extensive record of public service and McWilliams said she offered new energy and change.

Today in the Third Ward, 3,320 Democrats are eligible to make a choice among the three candidates. In 2004, there was also a three-way race, between Davis, Brenda Gilbert and Thomas T. Turner III. Davis won with 484 votes, compared to 170 for Gilbert and 103 for Turner. Gilbert was a party dissident at the time and Turner was a citizen watchdog.

This time around, Davis is running with an unresolved DUI situation hanging over his head. One charge was dismissed in the much-delayed case, but three remain. The year-long case was postponed again just before Davis received the party’s endorsement and then again before the primary. It is now set for June 18. Mapp, a former councilman who served as president of the New Democrats even after winning a freeholder seat on the party line, was ousted from the party. His possible path back to the council has been complicated by the emergence of Lynch’s campaign and her parallel effort to form a coalition to buy the beleaguered hospital. Her work to save the hospital brought Lynch several front-page news stories and a high degree of visibility for a political novice.

Voters who have formed opinions on candidates should make sure to go to the polls, because results could be close. The winners will go on to the November general election, in which Democrat William Reid, unopposed in the primary, is running for an unexpired term in the First Ward and Republican Deborah Dowe is seeking the citywide at-large seat. Reid, Dowe and the primary winners may also be opposed by any independent candidates who file today.

--Bernice Paglia

Monday, June 02, 2008

Car vs. Restaurant

The sand in front of this East Seventh Street restaurant was placed there to mop up car fluids from a crash that happened shortly after 2 a.m. Sunday. It woke up quite a few of us on Block 832.

It did not appear that anyone was injured, but the storefront was clipped at the bottom near the door.

The owner had just spent several days perfecting the signage for the restaurant, which features Jamaican specialties. Luckily it was spared worse damage in the crash.

Park & Seventh has had several worse crashes in recent years. One took out a signal box on the northwest corner and another damaged the newsstand on the northeast corner. Both also happened in the wee hours.

--Bernice Paglia

Rhododendron with Bee

This rhododendron bush next to our driveway took a hit a few years ago from a very large vehicle driven by somebody who didn't know how to back up. (Hint: Its initials were PMUA.) The large bush was reduced to half by the injury, but is struggling its way back to being a highlight of the border.

As I was passing by in early evening Sunday, I saw this interesting play of light on the blossoms and a bee (center) out for an apian sundowner. Just thought I would share.

--Bernice Paglia