Monday, September 29, 2008

Hellwig Cites Crime Responses

In an impromptu presentation to the City Council Monday, Public Safety Director/Police Director Martin Hellwig offered explanations of police response to recent shootings.

Hellwig said the fatal shooting that took place last Wednesday (even as the council was in session) and two subsequent shootings were believed to be related. The homicide is being investigated by the Union County Prosecutor's Office's new Homicide Task Force, which includes two Plainfield officers. The other two shootings are being investigated by Operation Ceasefire, an initiative that treats all shootings as potential homicides.

The Police Division set up its Mobile Command Center at Fourth Street and Plainfield Avenue after the three shootings to reassure residents of the effort to restore public safety.

A fourth new shooting is believed to be gang-related, Hellwig said, and may be the work of the Latin Kings.

Hellwig stressed that all the shootings were targeted to individuals and did not represent a threat to the public at large.

"We're doing everything within our power," he said .

Hellwig said all available police were being assigned to street duty at this time.

The Police Division is working with school officials to ensure safety, he said.

Hellwig said he is confident that through Operation Ceasefire, the most recent shooting will soon be solved.

--Bernice Paglia

Tax Collector Boasts Top Collection Rate

In a presentation Monday, Tax Collector Marie Glavan told the City Council the tax collection rate for 2008 would top out at 96.08 percent, in contrast to last year's 93.32 rate, blamed on failed tax lien sales.

"Plainfield has made history," Glavan said.

The tax collection rate has varied over the past seven years from a recent previous high of 95.82 percent in 2005 to last year's low. The better rate means the city will have to keep less money in the reserve for uncollected taxes, City Administrator Marc Dashield said.

Councilman Don Davis questioned whether the rate would remain high in light of the recent foreclosure rate, but Glavan said those who are taking over the properties are making sure taxes are paid. She said since she took office in April 2007, no liens have been struck off to the city, which means all have to keep current with taxes.

The next tax lien sale is scheduled for November, she said.

--Bernice Paglia

Developer Unveils New Plan

In a surprise item Monday, the City Council heard a presentation by developer Frank Cretella for a promising office project on the Tepper's block.

Cretella, whose previous focus has been on the North Avenue Historic District and an extension to the west, is now promoting development on the Tepper's block to the north. The site includes a warehouse for Appliance-Arama and two city-owned lots that Cretella intends to transform into a project that will employ 90 people, including 75 new jobs. He told the council that the appliance store now on West Second Street will be a tenant, as well as an optical store, an architect, a training school and physical therapists.

A main feature of the proposed new structure will be an opening that will connect the city parking lot at the rear to West Front Street. Cretella said it will be an attractive, well-lit passage from the rear lot.

Financing will come from the New Markets Tax Credit program of Chase Manhattan Bank, he said.

The council had already heard from Cretella in closed session, and in the agenda-fixing portion agreed to consider his firm for conditional designation as the developer of the site at the Oct. 6 meeting. The next step would be to have a redeveloper's agreement negotiated and approved by the December deadline to apply for the funding.

The unexpected and quick presentation did not allow for Plaintalker to ask how the North Avenue redevelopment project was going, but we plan to follow up. To see more blog posts on Cretella, put his name in the "Search" box at the top of the blog.

--Bernice Paglia

Tax Collector to Address Council

At tonight's City Council meeting, Tax Collector Marie Glavan will discuss the city's tax collection rate and also, according to the agenda, "accomplishments and improvements realized in her office since commencement of her tenure."

The agenda-setting session is 7:30 p.m. in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave. The agenda is posted on Councilman Rashid Burney's web site (click here) or may be picked up at City Hall. Copies will also be available at the meeting.

Glavan was named to the post in April 2007, filling the unexpired term of Constance Ludden, who left March 1, 2006. In the interim, the city had a part-time tax collector who was full-time in another city. The unexpired term is up Dec. 31, 2008. A resolution to give Glavan a full term to 2012 was withdrawn at the Sept. 15 council meeting.

During budget talks last year, Glavan said the tax collection rate had dropped from 95 percent to 93.5 percent after a tax lien sale fell through. The tax lien sale was eventually held, but revenues could not be applied to the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2007.

The tax collection rate affects the amount the city must hold in reserve for uncollected taxes the following fiscal year, as Plaintalker understands it. The rate had been chronically low through several administrations until the city began holding tax lien sales to recoup the revenues. In a tax lien sale, a buyer pays the city the money owed and then can charge up to 18 percent interest on the debt that the property owner now owes the lienholder. The tax collector is in charge of the tax lien sale.

After several such sales to collect taxes owed, the backlog was reduced to the point where a tax lien sale could no longer produce millions in revenue.

Council members have called for a higher tax rate and Glavan will report on the current situation. Last year, Burney urged Glavan to aim for a 97 percent collection rate.

--Bernice Paglia

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Plainfield LWV Seeks Write-In Candidates

The press release below was submitted to the Courier News, but the newspaper published my church publicity article twice and didn't do this one.

Please be aware that after I retired, I joined the League of Women Voters of Plainfield and they immediately named me publicity chair. My church also nabbed me for publicity duties. I have tried without success to retire from these duties. So now, since the CN has apparently failed the League, I am giving them a shot on the blog.

Press release

The League of Women Voters of Plainfield is preparing for its annual Candidates’ Forum and is calling for any write-in candidates to come forward.

There are three City Council seats on the Nov. 4 ballot. Due to the withdrawal of Republican Deborah Dowe for the Citywide At-large seat, all the candidates on the ballot are Democrats. They are Annie McWilliams, running for the Citywide At-large seat; Adrian Mapp, seeking the Third Ward seat; and Councilman William Reid, a January appointee who is running for the balance of an unexpired First Ward term through Dec. 31, 2010. Mapp and McWilliams are seeking full four-year terms.

One city resident has publicly announced a write-in campaign for the Third Ward seat and has agreed to take part in the forum. If there are any other candidates conducting organized write-in campaigns who wish to be included in the forum, please notify the League at (908) 561-1448 by Sept. 30. (UPDATE: ANSWERS MAY BE FILED BY OCT. 3)

The forum will take place from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Oct. 22 in the Anne Louise Davis Room of the Plainfield Public Library, 800 Park Ave., Plainfield.

Candidates’ statements will be included in an advertisement paid for by the League, and the forum will follow the LWV format of an opening statement, responses to written questions from the audience and a closing statement. As required by LWV rules, an outside moderator will conduct the forum.

The League of Women Voters of Plainfield was formed in 1920 with the goal of registering and educating voters. A membership drive led by new President Herb Green is underway and all are welcome to join. Call (908) 756-9682 for more information.

--Bernice Paglia

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Ads on PPS?

What's with the Somerset Savings Bank ad on the PPS web site? Is it a leftover from the copied article from the Courier News or what?

The boundaries of all media are blurring, but surely a school district web site should not have advertisements.

Or am I just being picky?

--Bernice Paglia

Book Sale Today

The books are sorted and ready for browsing on the lower level of the Plainfield Public Library. The annual book sale offers a great way to build up a home library at low cost, to reacquaint oneself with favorite authors or to open up a new interest (there's a whole batch of books on writing).

A volunteer who helped sort the books tells Plaintalker that tomes on or by Virginia Woolf are in abundance, and a trove of science fiction can be found at the sale.

Former Plainfielders Greg and Martine Millman have a great post on used book sales on their family homeschooling blog. Click here to read it.

Just think! No due date, no fines with a secondhand book. And when you're done, you can donate it for the next book sale. More money for the library!

Hours are 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Volunteers will ring up your choices and bag them or you can bring your own cloth bag. See you there!

--Bernice Paglia

Friday, September 26, 2008

Chairman JG Proclaims!!

"It is time for every duck to fall in line with the premise of order!!!"

Make your own interpretation.

--Bernice Paglia

A Walk in the Park

When my neighbor proposed a mini-escape from the cares of living at Park & Seventh, I quickly agreed to the plan. Off we went to Cedar Brook Park to check on the Union County project to improve the lake.

The new aerator was spouting mightily. The gazebo is still awaiting a new roof. We saw a lot of new shrubs and flowers planted around parts of the lakeshore. A well-informed gentleman pointed out booms in the water that were reserving space for aquatic plants to be brought in soon.

A lot of sparkly streamers marked off the new plantings. Ducks and geese made their way around the fenced-in portions of the lake edge.

A handsome egret stood on a concrete ledge and surveyed the scene. Trees, water, birds and quiet peace fortified us for a return to the crossroads where people, trucks, jackhammers and urban hustle abound.
--Bernice Paglia

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Arithmetic Indeed

From Jerry Green's Page, September 2008: "Last election made it clear to me that the vast majority of the voters are in AGREEMENT with me. Of the 48,000 residents in the city of Plainfield, 18,000 of them are eligible to vote. Of that number, only FIVE HUNDRED voted against me. So what does that say about how the community feels about my leadership proficiency? You do the math."

From Plaintalker, November 2007 : "Despite the mailing and Election Day handouts to vote Column A, Democrats appeared to pick and choose candidates on the slate. Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Green got 2,597 votes for another term in the state Assembly, but his running mate, incumbent Assemblywoman Linda Stender, got 2,798 and incumbent state Senator Nicholas Scutari got 2,820 in the city."

May we point out that voters only vote for somebody, not for or against. Also, only one-fifth of the eligible voters went to the Plainfield polls in November 2007.

--Bernice Paglia

Some Budget Numbers

Last night I had to attend the Shade Tree Commission meeting upstairs in City Hall while the budget presentation took place in the library. I look forward to reading reports from Mark and Alexi.

However, in the afternoon I did take a fast spin through the budget statement (a summary document required by the state, not the big budget book) and found a few interesting numbers.

Police salaries, which totaled $12,766,420 in FY 2008, show a 7 percent increase to $13,720,950.72 for FY 2009. There probably isn't much that can be done about that figure, as most of the force is at the top of the salary scale. Fire salaries are up 3.9 percent. The council and budget committee can ask Fire Chief Cecil Allen and Public Affairs & Safety/Police Director Martin Hellwig about what is contributing to these increases.

Recreation shows a 6 percent salary increase, from $704,564 to 4748,298. Recreation Director Dave Wynn will be called on the explain the difference.

The mayor's office has a 5 percent increase, from $137,572 to $144,331.

If the figures in the statement are correct, Public Information salaries will increase 67 percent, from $77,728 to $130,391. Other expenses will increase 51 percent, from $72,676 to $110,000. The mayor has said recently that the two-person division really needs three people. The city also advertised for a media consultant to help out. But given the poor results over the past three years, pouring money on the problem is something the council and committee will have to justify if they agree with the administration's allotments.

Municipal Court shows a 14 percent decrease in salaries, from $910,181 to $779,765. Last year, the court had a decrease in revenue from fines and penalties as crime also decreased. Maybe that is a factor.

The salary amount for Community Relations and Social Services doubles, from $56,567.96 to $108,402 and other expenses increase 74 percent from $2,500 to $4,351. These are small amounts in the overall budget, but will still require explanation.

The part of the meeting that I did hear was encouraging, as new Finance Director Douglas Peck described a focus on better management. Too bad Peck is the fifth person in that seat since the administration took office in 2006. Thirty-three months are up this month and only 15 are left to do better.

--Bernice Paglia

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Action at Last

Sixteen days after a tree crashed and took down a utility pole, a police official somehow managed to alert the operative company, Verizon, and get a response.

It seems because the tree crash and related collapses did not break service, the incident went unresolved.

Now we are promised a work crew in our back yard someday to fix the fractured pole and reconnect the wires.

--Bernice Paglia

Snapshot

"If music be the food of love, play on," said Shakespeare.

Well, this recent transformation of a record shop goes the other way. It is now a food emporium serving Central and South American appetites. The transformation was so quick that a pan of yellow paint and a roller were still on the sidewalk when I passed by today.

--Bernice Paglia

Update from Councilman Burney

According to Councilman Rashid Burney, his only role was to forward calls from inspections to the lessee, Jerry Green, and to his knowledge the building owner saw to it that everything was cleared for occupancy at Obama headquarters.

Councilman Burney also says due to his insistence on having tonight's budget meeting televised, it will happen and it will be shown on Channel 74. The budget meeting is 8 p.m. tonight (Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2008) in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave.

--Bernice Paglia

City Inspector or Construction Official?

It may well be, as evidenced by his latest blog post, that despite being chair of the Housing and Local Government Committee, Assemblyman Jerry Green doesn't know the difference between a city inspector and a Construction Official whose job it is to uphold state codes. The Construction Official is the one who puts the permit stickers on windows of buildings and verifies that plumbing, electrical and other systems comply with a 13-page, fine print checklist.

The Construction Official is subject to a strict Code of Ethics that is posted on the web page of the state Division of Codes and Standards of the Department of Community Affairs. See it at http://www.state.nj.us/dca/codes/misc/pdf/code_of_ethics.pdf

If it is in fact the Construction Official that the Assemblyman is accusing of double standards, favoritism, badgering, harassment and other malfeasances, it is a very serious allegation indeed. How exactly "the bullying that this city inspector (sic) does" will come to an end may be the business of the DCA, not the Assemblyman, if there is any weight to the allegations.

--Bernice Paglia

JG Attacks Inspector

The blog post, "The Card-Carrying Republican/New Democrat," deserves a careful reading and interpretation in order to understand the workings of the Assemblyman's mind.

Since the blog recently took a turn for the verbose, it does require more effort to figure what he is talking about, but here it seems that a city inspector's failure to approve occupancy of the new Obama headquarters is being taken as a vendetta against Gerald B. Green himself. The malefactor will therefore face the wrath not only of the prosecutor and the administration, but even of the governing body itself.

Do we really want our prosecutor to be investigating a city inspector for allegedly overstepping his authority, when the latest major effort from that office is forming a Homicide Task Force? The administration is within its rights to discipline any employee, but employees who feel targeted for political reasons certainly have the recourse of grievances to their unions. As for the City Council, the governing body is strictly forbidden from interfering in the day-to-day operations of the city.

By letting this dispute all hang out in public and invoking the notion of a conspiracy of inspectors against building owners, the legislator pits City Hall against citizens in a disquieting way while on the other hand acknowledging that inspectors have a valuable job to do. The rhetoric meets itself coming and going and does a disservice to the public. Whom to trust?

Before launching his own blog, the Assemblyman often condemned blogs for dealing in bombast, misinformation and personal attacks. A close look at the last three posts on Jerry Green's Page reveals a departure from simply offering views and information. Take a look and decide for yourself how this reflects on the Obama campaign.

--Bernice Paglia

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Piles of Stuff

A big pile of downed wisteria wines is still in a corner of Municipal Lot 7, although the tree limbs have been removed. Apparently the phone lines or whatever they are still work, though laying on the ground, because no workers have appeared since a tree at the rear of a Park Avenue apartment building fell, pulling everything down with it.

Here is pile of bricks, one of many awaiting re-installation around various sidewalk openings for water main repairs.
A big pile of ropes signifies some sort of unfinished business with the water company, but we don't know what.
And here is a pile of ... what? Sort of reminiscent of coprolites. Click here for a coprolite link.
--Bernice Paglia

Monday, September 22, 2008

Tree Disease Hits Plainfield

This graceful birch tree is a centerpiece of the grounds of First Unitarian Society of Plainfield. But after reading an article by agriculture expert Nicholas Polanin last week, I realized the dying branches on the right in this picture were most likely due to the disease he detailed, Bacterial Leaf Scorch.

The church may likely lose this tree, as there is currently no known treatment for BLS, which is spreading throughout New Jersey and threatens to decimate the urban forest.

These leaves are not turning color for fall, they are suffering from the loss of ability to deliver moisture to the foliage due to a bacterial pathogen named "Xylella fastidiosa."

On a walk around Block 832 where I live, I found maple trees with the same disease.

Here is a young, recently-planted oak on Crescent Avenue that appears to have the disease. The cost of removing damaged trees is probably not on any municipality's radar at this time, but maybe it should be and perhaps there should be early lobbying for state funds to bear these emergency costs.
Can you imagine Library Park without its great oaks? Or any of our neighborhoods without the majestic canopies we love?
To learn more about BLS, click here. This is a very serious threat to a city that was once renowned for its trees. I am a member of the Shade Tree Commission, but because this may affect every neighborhood, all of us need to know more about BLS. If you have seen evidence of this disease on your block, please comment. If you need to contact Public Works, the number is (908) 753-3427.
--Bernice Paglia

Ottmann Scrutinized in Former District

Someone made an anonymous comment to Plaintalker early Sunday that included a sensational allegation against a school official.

Never mind that I saw it around 5 a.m. and then had to Google around to see what it was all about, the fact is that it was the first comment that I will most likely reject (Blogger.com allows its users to publish or reject comments on any particular blog).

The comment included links to three news articles from July. Checking around, I discovered the July report of the state Department of Education Office of Fiscal Accountability and Compliance on the issues. Click here to read the eight-page report that led to the news articles.

It seems that after a former schools superintendent and former business administrator/board secretary Gary Ottmann left the Wayne Township school district, the new interim BA/BS raised questions about certain past expenditures and tax matters. The OFAC checked, made findings, and called for a corrective action plan.

The Wayne Township district also commissioned an audit that resulted in a 31-page analysis of petty cash expenses over a four-year period.

The corrective action plan on the last page of the OFAC report basically called for remediation without the drama implied by the person who sent the potentially libelous comment to Plaintalker. The "potential tax liability" was referred to the state Division of Taxation, while the Wayne district was to correct wage reporting documents and seek recovery of any unauthorized expenditures by the two former administrators.

In response to Plaintalker’s query, Board of Education president Bridget Rivers said she was traveling and was unaware of the report. Plaintalker sent a link to Schools Superintendent Steve Gallon III, who noted the report contained OFAC findings regarding the Wayne Township school district and replied, “It would not be prudent for me to speak on another district's findings. However, the information in the report does provide additional information upon which Plainfield Public Schools can address, assess, and monitor its own internal controls and processes.”

Ottmann did not respond as of Sunday evening, somewhat understandably on the weekend.

For the record, Ottmann served 13 years as BA/BS in Plainfield before going to Wayne, where he served in the same role from January 18, 2005 to Dec. 31, 2007. He was hired back in Plainfield under the administration of Interim Superintendent Garnell Bailey in December 2007 at a salary of $155,000 and began work here in January 2008. Most recently, he received a salary increase to $161,588 following a contract settlement with the Plainfield Administrators and Supervisors.

The Plainfield district has had its own go-round with the OFAC, regarding circumstances around the hiring of former Interim Superintendent Peter E. Carter.The office investigated and determined that board attorney Raymond Hamlin failed to disclose that Carter, whom he recommended for the post, was his client in another matter. Also the meeting at which Carter was hired did not meet requirements of the Open Public Meetings Act, the agency found, but because no one questioned it within the required time frame, the issue was moot. The district appealed findings of the October 2007 OFAC report and then appealed a state rejection of the first appeal. Plaintalker does not know the current status of the matter. Click here to view that report.

--Bernice Paglia

Saturday, September 20, 2008

"State of the District"

Schools Superintendent Steve Gallon III will deliver a "State of the District" address on Oct. 9 in yet another innovation since he took over on July 1.

Gallon and the Board of Education are inviting the public to hear the address and attend a community reception from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Oct. 9 at the new Emerson School, 305 Emerson Ave. Tours of the new school will precede the event, starting at 6 p.m. Newly-named Coordinator of Community Involvement and Support Services Rose Davis can be reached at (908) 731-4424 or rdavis "at" plainfield.nj.k12.us for more information.

Not only has Gallon restructured the administration with new titles such as Davis holds, he has made the district web site into a major resource for parents and the community, along with a new blog and newsletter. He has merged all administrative functions at one site, the former Jefferson School at 1200 Myrtle Avenue. At board meetings, he gives detailed answers to questions from the public. He has set a tone of engagement without rancor (or "noise," as he calls naysaying) which surely must frustrate the more combative members of the community. There are many more innovations, including his multi-year strategic plan that is posted on the district web site.

In 100 days, that's quite a bit. Those who have yet to meet him, as well as those who want to see the new Emerson School, should pencil in the date on their analog refrigerator calendars or use a stylus on whatever those new gizmos are in their pockets.

--Bernice Paglia

Polyglot Eats

This Watchung Avenue restaurant will serve you a "pescado entero" or a seafood dinner in (I think) Arabic. You could get good old American eggs for breakfast or Italian ice for dessert.
Plainfield is known for its diversity and this front window offers a great example.

--Bernice Paglia

Municipal Elections will Be All-Dem

The Republican Municipal Committee named no replacement for Deborah Dowe by the Sept. 17 deadline to fill a vacancy of Primary Election nominees, so it looks like all the candidates will be Democrats. Dowe was running for the Citywide At-Large seat until she dropped out last month.

The roster is now Annie McWilliams for the Citywide At-Large seat, Adrian Mapp for the Third Ward seat and Councilman William Reid for an unexpired First Ward seat. City resident Brenda Gilbert said she is mounting a write-in campaign against Mapp, who formerly served as a Union County freeholder and a city councilman.

McWilliams, daughter of the late Mayor Albert T. McWilliams, is making her first run for elective office.

Mapp and McWilliams, seeking full four-year terms, defeated two incumbents in the June primary, Citywide At-Large Councilman Harold Gibson and Third Ward Councilman Don Davis. Gibson is also the City Council President.

Reid ran unopposed in the primary. He was appointed in January to fill the vacancy created when former First Ward Councilman Rayland Van Blake became a Union County freeholder. The unexpired term runs to Dec. 31, 2010.

The general election is Nov. 4. Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. The last day to register to vote in the election is Oct. 14. The last day to apply by mail for an absentee ballot is Oct. 28.

Registered voters can apply in person for absentee ballots during a special opening of the County Clerk's office in Elizabeth on Saturday, Nov. 1. Absentee ballots may be applied for in person up until 3 p.m. Monday, Nov. 3 at the County Clerk's office.

While Plaintalker is focusing on the hyperlocal part of the election, Nov. 4 will of course see a history-making presidential election. Make sure you vote and be part of it!

--Bernice Paglia

Special Meeting Wednesday

The City Council will hold a special meeting Wednesday (Sept. 24, 2008) to introduce the FY 2009 budget.

The meeting is 8 p.m. in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave.

Another item on the agenda are a resolution stating the council has reviewed a corrective action plan arising from FY 2007 audit recommendations, to be submitted to the state Division of local Government Services.

The city is also applying for extraordinary state aid for the FY 2009 budget year that began July 1 and ends June 30, 2009. The council must approve the application that will be sent to the state Department of Community Affairs.

This year's budget process will be aided by a 16-member advisory committee, with two members each named by the seven council members and the mayor. The committee will attend all council budget deliberations and make recommendations on modifications.

For those unfamiliar with the budget process, the city's special charter calls for the mayor and city administrator to prepare a budget document that includes a budget message, a current operating expense budget, a capital budget, a budget summary and any explanatory charts or other exhibits deemed necessary. Each city department head makes requests for appropriations for the budget year and may be called on to explain them to the city administrator, who may make modifications.

The budget for day-to-day running of the city may then be further modified by the council after hearing from department heads. Anyone who wants to know what's in the initial budget may file an OPRA request to look at the big binder that contains a rationale for expenses of each department and division. In the front is a summary of the original requests and the administration's recommendations. The last column is for the council's final decisions after deliberations are complete.

No schedule for budget talks has been set, but usually it includes twice-weekly sessions over several weeks. Very few people attend these talks, but they can be very revealing. Councilman Rashid Burney has lamented the lack of public interest in how the taxpayers' money is spent on city operations. Now that he has a blog, he will most likely keep people informed on how they can follow the process.

The city has three departments under which all divisions operate. Public Affairs & Safety, which includes the Police and Fire Divisions, commands the lion's share of spending, mostly for salaries. The other departments are Public Works & Urban Development and Administration, Finance, Health and Social Services. The last is a hodge-podge of divisions that came about in a reorganization under former Mayor Mark Fury to suit his nominee for department director. In the charter, the three departments are Administration and Finance; Public Works; and Public Affairs and Safety.

The big budget book also includes names and salaries of employees, which is public information, along with staff and expenses of the prior year. A lot of this information helps give a clearer picture of budget needs and trends.

Over the more than 20 years that this writer has observed the budget process, the city has tried various ways to get a grip on it. At one point, there was a 21-member budget advisory committee. For several years, the council hired its own outside budget advisor, John Surmay of Elizabeth. Most recently, a three-member council Finance Committee reviewed the budget and made recommendations to the governing body.

Anyone who is thinking of running for elected office would be well-advised to take a look at the budget process. The same goes for anyone who is really curious about how municipal government spends millions of their tax dollars. Plaintalker will post the budget deliberations schedule as soon as it is available.

--Bernice Paglia

Friday, September 19, 2008

Gang Awareness Must Increase

In the past two weeks I have heard of one gang-related incident and actually was involved in helping three young teens get police assistance in another incident. Also somebody reliable mentioned an incident at the high school where an adult needed help.

Click here for a link to one source of information on a major gang. Parents and everyone else will have to gain awareness of these gangs. If children are afraid to go to school, they won't learn.

Several years ago, Plainfield's former police expert on gangs unhappily proved to be breaking the law himself, a very disappointing turn of events.

Union County Prosecutor Theodore J. Romankow has formed a homicide task force to deal with increasing homicides that authorities attribute to a rise in gang activity. Task force members will receive specialized training that will benefit their departments after their one-year assignment ends. The task force will be available around the clock and will also investigate a backlog of unsolved cases. Plainfield officers will take part.

According to press reports, officials in the county's largest city, Elizabeth, are not welcoming the new plan. Because Plainfield is said to have even more gang members than Elizabeth, we hope local authorities will be more amenable to cooperation with the county task force.

Click here to view a very large file on the 2007 Gang Survey conducted by the New Jersey State Police. It is the third such survey and is yielding a better understanding of what is happening in our counties and municipalities.

Plainfield authorities have broken up two major gangs in the past year and homicides have dropped dramatically. Still, more general awareness of gangs and how they behave can help prevent future problems.

--Bernice Paglia

Sights and Thoughts on a Walk

This writer set out on a walk to Fabricland Wednesday and passed by the magnificent Seventh Day Baptist Church. It's worth a trip with binoculars to see all the interesting details on the exterior of this church. Here's just one corner sculpture.

I didn't see how NJ Transit could raise train tracks, but here's the proof. The old tracks in front are about a foot lower than the new ones.
Central turns into Grove Street, where many houses have nice gardens. I spotted a plant that I once had in my garden and then began racking my brain for the name of it. Seniors will understand the challenge of dredging through one's memory for this or that bit of knowledge. "Peruvian" floated up from the depths, and later "impatiens." But could those narrow, serrated leaves occur on any relative of the double pink impatiens in my yard? Turns out it's an Indian cousin. Click here to see more about this plant. I was tempted to swipe a seed pod, recalling the profusion of small, round seeds that each fuzzy capsule contained.
Anyway, there was a lot to see on the way. I passed the CVS that replaced the Acme market on Route 22. The CVS used to be the one we had at Park & Seventh, but it closed and relocated out of Plainfield as soon as the North Plainfield site was available. I was so upset to lose it that it took me more than a year to set foot in the Family Dollar that replaced the CVS.
I was a bit apprehensive about trying to cross Route 22 on foot, but school was just letting out and a very kind and courtly gentleman was crossing the children. I joined the crowd and got one of his friendly greetings as well.
I admired the lovely plantings at Fabricland and wondered whether Deanna of Plainfield was still doing them. It was much nicer to see them up close than through a windshield. After I bought my little treasures from Fabricland, the same crossing guard saw me safely across the highway and wished me a pleasant evening. What a nice ambassador for the borough!
I would have collected more images, but my new camera flashed the "low battery" signal way back at the railroad bridge, so I had to keep the other sights just in my memory.
It was a long walk, but after sitting in a meeting so long on Tuesday, I needed the exercise.
And now I have the wherewithal for small projects that are very good for taking one's mind off the daily cares of urban living. Younger people have embraced crafts wholeheartedly in the past decade or so, discovering the joys of do-it-yourself, handmade items. Just check ReadyMade, Make or Etsy for proof. Click here to learn more about Handmade Nation. My projects are much simpler for the time being, but just as rewarding in their own way.
--Bernice Paglia

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Bookmark Favorite Blogs

Dan summarized blog posts today but neglected to put links to the blogs. Let me remind all that you do not have to go through an aggregator to read Plainfield blogs. You can bookmark your favorites. Contrary to the impression some have that we work for Dan, each of us does our own information gathering and blogging and none of us receive compensation.

--Bernice Paglia

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Work Resumes, Company Claims Resolution

Workers resumed restoration of the exterior of Plainfield City Hall Wednesday after a picket demonstration halted work Tuesday. A call to Watertrol, the company accused of using non-union labor for the project, resulted in a response that work had been resumed, the issue had been resolved, but the company had no comment.

--Bernice Paglia

School Visits Aim for Improvement

Starting tomorrow, schools will receive unscheduled visits by a district team checking the quality of instruction in classrooms.

Schools Superintendent Steve Gallon III said the Instructional Program review is not about "I gotcha" visits, but is intended to establish a standard "not for one school, but for all schools."

Each of the district's 13 schools will receive a review in the first quarter for five research-based elements: School improvement, data collection and benchmarks, professional development, instructional program management and student services. Subsequent reviews will build on the initial findings.

The so-called "Opportunity for Improvement" recalled the state's monitoring process last February, a one-shot check that resulted in a determination that the district was deficient in four of five performance areas. Gallon said he is not waiting for the state to rank the district, but will implement the site visitation program with the goal of ongoing improvement.

Gallon gave a lengthy presentation of metrics for each area of improvement, as well as rubrics that will pinpoint the level of performance in each school. In answer to questions after his presentation, Gallon said parents and community members will not be invited to join in the site visits and the school board will not get details, but will be informed of trends uncovered in the reviews.

Gallon gave his presentation at Tuesday's first business meeting in the newly-dubbed Administration Building at 1200 Myrtle Avenue. As promised after he took over July 1, Gallon showcased student talent at the beginning of the meeting. On Tuesday, (Correction: Four students, one male and three female, identified only by first names) five dance students of teacher M.A. Taylor performed. Noting the state's designation of Plainfield High School as a "persistently dangerous school," Gallon turned the PDS acronym around to PTS, for "persistently talented students." An enthusiastic audience applauded the performance and Gallon's upbeat view.

The meeting also included the first "Superintendent's Circle of Excellence" recognition of longtime staffers. Each received a certificate, congratulations from board members and hearty applause from the audience. Click here to see the names of those honored.

--Bernice Paglia

Union Pickets City Hall

A group of union members demonstrated outside City Hall Tuesday in protest of what they said was the use of non-union labor on a preservation project.

Watertrol of Cranford won City Council approval in May for a $652,180 contract for exterior restoration of the building. Pickets represented the Bricklayers and Allied Craftsmen/Administration District Council, Local 4.


Workers stopped the project after the pickets showed up.
"They were embarrassed," a picketer said.
Picketers alleged there had been a promise of hiring some union workers for the project, but that did not happen, they said. One bricklayer said hundreds of union members are out of work.
"There's no work in New Jersey because of the economy," he said.
If hired, union members would have to be paid union wages.
Public Works Director Jennifer Wenson Maier confers with pickets. The line was halted while authorities tried to determine whether the demonstrators had a permit.
No one was available late Tuesday afternoon at Watertrol to comment. Plaintalker will attempt to follow up today.
One union member said masonry workers are facing the worst job market in decades.
"This is the worst, even when Carter was in," he said.
--Bernice Paglia

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

"Persistently Dangerous"

One of the frustrations reporters face with state reports on schools is that the statistics are usually more than a year old. Consider the fact that due to situations in the 2005-06 and 2006-07 school years, Plainfield High School is now branded the state's only "persistently dangerous" school for 2008-09.

We don't know what happened in 2007-08. That will come out in the wash next year from the state. If Plainfield school authorities have relevant statistics for 2007-08, they can certainly bring them forth. It has happened in the past that the state report contained bad news, but the more current local statistics were better.

The designation of the high school certainly makes the task of marketing the district more challenging. Dr. Steve Gallon III has introduced the K-8 grade system in two schools, reconfigured the former Alpha Academy and plans to have a new, free-standing high school of the arts for the 2009 school year. Communications with the public have improved and by now almost everyone knows that Dr. Gallon expects "tangible, measurable" results for his strategic plan. But meanwhile, the sensational label has tongues wagging.

Luckily for the community, this Department of Education declaration, based on the increasingly questioned "No Child Left Behind Act," will soon be buried under the avalanche of information the DOE puts out. Last year, no schools got that label, so the flash of notoriety suffered by those in previous years was extinguished. With any luck, Dr. Brian Bilal will be able to prove the designation is little more than old news.

If there are any updates at the local level, they should be made public. And as Dr. Gallon has proposed for other aspects of district scrutiny, progess should be checked quarterly and appropriate action taken if needed.

Newspapers are duty-bound to report on state DOE findings, even if they are behind the times due to the lag of bureaucracy. With its new communications upgrade, the district is in a good position to talk about what is actually going on now.

--Bernice Paglia

Monday, September 15, 2008

Crossing Guards, Auxiliary Police Plead Causes

As the City Council prepares for budget deliberations for FY 2009, school crossing guards came out in force Monday to ask for higher pay and other demands.

The crossing guards currently make $10 t0 $13 per hour, but need to make $15 per hour in order to qualify for unemployment when school is out, a spokesman said.

In addition, jackets assigned to guards are designed for men and do not fit full-figured female guards, representative Melvin Cody said.

The city currently has 43 designated spots requiring school crossing guards, but only 34 guards, Cody said. Sworn officers must then cover the crossings at a much higher pay rate.

In another assertion, the city has not named auxiliary police for some time.

In previous years, a roster of auxiliary police was presented at the annual reorganization meeting and usually all got approved. At present, the group claims 40 years of service. But membership is down from 54 to 17, Sgt. Robert Gilliom said.

The group presented informational packets to the council to bolster their request for more consideration.

The auxiliary police are all volunteers and have many police responsibilities, but receive no compensation for their contribution to the community.

The City Council will hold a special meeting Sept. 24 to introduce the Fiscal Year 2009 budget, after which the newly-formed Citizens Budget Advisory Committee will weigh in on budget decisions. Ultimately it is up to the City Council, according the city's special charter, to finalize the budget.

Members of the budget committee are: Carolyn Ruffin, Jeanette Criscione, Cecil Vincent, Kevin Turner, Ada Melendez, Rick Smiley, Dawn Armstrong, Donald Anderson, Cassandra Davis-Blanks. Bill Amirault, Robyn Clayton-Reid, Harvey Judkins, Lee Gallman, Analyn Acosta, Nancy Piwowar and Carrie Faraone.

--Bernice Paglia

Second Story Man(tis)

One of our mantises in residence somehow got up to my second story window this morning. It reminded me of the phrase "second story man" that police use to describe burglars who like to enter through upstairs windows. Some of you may remember the Lollipop Burglar who did just that several years ago. He liked to break in while sucking on a lollipop.

So here is the praying mantis coming from the window frame onto the screen. The play of light then creates a whole new image.

Now he looks like a 20-foot monster in Connolly's driveway next door! Eeek!
--Bernice Paglia

Ottmann Raise, IT Reorg on BOE Agenda

School Business Administrator Gary Ottmann, who returned to the district in January, may see a 4.3 percent increase in his salary for the 2008-09 school year.

Ottmann, who formerly served 13 years in the district before a stint in Wayne, was hired in December at a salary of $155,000. His proposed new contract sets his salary at $161,588. The resolution that will be up for a board vote Tuesday states that the contract is "subject to the review and approval" of County Superintendent Carmen Centuolo.

Newly finalized contracts for two assistant superintendents have been approved by Centuolo, according to the agenda. Former Interim Superintendent Garnell Bailey is the assistant superintendent for Administrative Services and Angela Kemp is assistant superintendent for Educational Services. Both positions were created after the hiring of new Schools Superintendent Steve Gallon III. Bailey's salary was set at $149,550 and Kemp's at $142,750 in July.

Details of the three contracts were not spelled out.

The school board will also be asked Tuesday to approve a dozen new titles in Information Technology. A restructuring of the department has resulted in a decrease of eight positions at a savings of $250,000. To see all the titles, salaries and individuals assigned to the new positions, click here and scroll down to page 14.

The business meeting is 7 p.m. at the administration building at 1200 Myrtle Avenue.

--Bernice Paglia

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Raises on Tuesday's BOE Agenda

More than 50 members of the school district's administrators' and supervisors' union will be up for raises Tuesday and former Homeland Security Director Donald Moye will return as a consultant.

The Board of Education business meeting is 7 p.m. Tuesday (Sept. 16, 2008) at the Educational Support Complex, 1200 Myrtle Avenue.

The full list of salary changes is in the agenda on the district web site. The increases will push a few more staffers over the $100,000 mark. The raises are for the 2008-09 school year.

Moye will receive $40 per hour for help in "providing a safe learning environment, complying with state requirements for safe schools, and in the area of crisis management," according to the resolution. He will also be responsible for coordination with local police and emergency management agencies. Click here for a blog post on his previous district role in 2005, after he retired from the Plainfield Police Division.

Former school board member Inez Durham is up for an interim appointment as director of Special Education, Gifted and Psychological Services at a prorated salary of $135,000. Two vice principal appointments will also be up for a vote. They are Sophia L. Van Ess as vice principal, Content Area - Literacy at a pro-rated salary of $106,800 plus $1,000 longevity and Deitria V. Smith as vice principal, Content Area - Social Studies.

Congratulations to all the longtime educators who are honored on the district web site for their many years of service!

--Bernice Paglia

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Plainfield Book a Big Hit

Authors John Grady and Dorothe Pollard found more fans in attendance Saturday than books to be autographed at Borders at the Watchung Square Mall. Plainfielders eager to obtain books scooped up copies by the half-dozen for themselves and for gifts.

The demand left the throng of admirers without recourse, although Grady mentioned a future signing visit in March.

Here is our favorite advocate for preservation and celebration of the community, Maria Pellum, getting an autographed copy.
This book is exemplary in its celebration of the city.
Please learn more about Plainfield from such works!
The book is titled "Plainfield, New Jersey's History & Architecture" from Schiffer Publishing Ltd.
See www.schifferbooks.com for more details.
Even unsigned, the book is a great holiday gift for lovers of Plainfield history.
And how nice to see John even though he has relocated out of the Queen City! John probably knows more about our homes than anyone.
Regrettably, the Joseph Yates house, now my humble abode as a six-family, built by one of the first members of our governing body, was not included. But a perusal of the Schiffer roster seems to indicate more Plainfield historical investigations might be welcome.
Kudos to John and Dorothe and best wishes for more such expositions!
--Bernice Paglia

Taking Off

Plaintalker is taking a break today. Maybe I'll see you at the Environmental Fair or the library!
The Autumn Equinox is Sept. 22 - enjoy these last few days of summer.

--Bernice Paglia

Friday, September 12, 2008

W. Deen Mohammed Passes

Muslims in Plainfield and across the nation will no doubt be remembering W. Deen Mohammed in prayers today. According to the Muslim Journal, the leader of the largest constituency of Muslims in America died Tuesday.

A son of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, W. Deen Mohammed succeeded his father as leader of the Nation of Islam and opened the movement to all races.

"He was a public servant who stood up against racial oppression and worked continuously for peace, unity and reconciliation. He maintained his father's legacy of economic and political empowerment for the Muslim community," a press release from the Muslim Journal stated.

Click here to read an obituary from The New York Times and here for one from The Washington Post.

As a reporter, I came to know about the American Muslim movement and the work of W. Deen Mohammed through Masjid-ullah on Grant Avenue. Former Councilwoman Faheemah El-Amin was involved in providing food to the needy at the masjid and at a city homeless shelter. I learned that people of all nationalities gathered at the masjid for Friday prayers. One year, members saw to it that a banner was raised over Park Avenue declaring "Ramadan Mubarak!" meaning Blessed Ramadan.

Nowadays, understanding of Muslims in America has increased. For the first time, the Plainfield school district will observe Eid al-Fitr, a celebration marking the end of the month-long fasting of Ramadan, as an official holiday. Still, as much as Plainfielders value diversity, there is more to learn about the movement and the interfaith leadership of W. Deen Mohammed. Please take a moment to read about his life and work and give a thought to our many neighbors who are observing Ramadan this month.

--Bernice Paglia

"Nobody Cares" Update

The tagger who did the "Nobody Cares" graffiti on a South Avenue building posted a comment on the August Plaintalker item about it. Click here for the original blog post and comments.

Turns out he has a blog and also sells his work on eBay (click here).

TMNK, or The Me Nobody Knows, says he challenges others to help young people as he has done.

Plaintalker leaves it up to the readers to comment.

--Bernice Paglia

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Remembering the Responders

My son and I watched in horror as planes crashed and buildings collapsed, all caught in real time on television.

Some Plainfield firefighters went to The Pile, as it was called, in the aftermath. They defied Chief Rieck for a while, then Union County imposed strict rules saying no one could go there unless authorized. Our thoughts are with all who responded, as well as with families of the victims.

Now we know that bravery had its price and many responders are ill today from the contaminated air they breathed in their exertions. Our hope is that any of our own who suffered health problems are receiving proper care.

And we also hope all our military personnel who return home with grievous injuries and conditions will get the care and support they need now and in decades to come.

Peace.

--Bernice Paglia

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Perspective

While we are pondering human follies, this small butterfly is perfectly happy gathering nectar from the many flowers of an Autumn Sedum acquired at a summer plant swap.

--Bernice Paglia

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Button, Button, Who's Got the Button

Well! (As Jack Benny used to say.)

It's more than six months to the April filing date for the June primary, but what did seniors see Tuesday? One person passing out mayoral birthday treats - fruit, snacks, candy, cereal - while flaunting a campaign button.

The evidence at the senior center merely corroborated rumors of an early campaign.

Of course, the incumbent has the advantage of holding center stage. Conversely, the incumbent must wear all the lapses of the present regime (fill in your own blanks).

Will there be anybody to challenge the campaign?

Technically, challengers need not present themselves until the filing date, but with an incumbent running full blast, does it not behoove opponents to fulminate early and often?

Are there any challengers out there?

--Bernice Paglia

No BOE

Plaintalker is taking a pass on the first school board meeting at the new administration building.

We're hoping the many other bloggers will have a go at it.

The decision was difficult, but events of the day tipped the balance in favor of staying home.

Looking forward to whatever reports/news may emerge from the meeting.

--Bernice Paglia

Block 832 Takes a Hit

What happened to this utility pole in a corner of our yard? The pole and its wires had been covered by a mass of wisteria, making a hangout for birds and squirrels.

Checking Lot 7 next door - the wisteria was on the ground along with the wires.

In a rear yard of a Park Avenue apartment building, fallen tree limbs could be seen.

Here's the rest of the pole in a corner of Lot 7. But whose pole is it? PSE&G? The phone company?

A walk to the rear of the Park Avenue apartment building reveals a tree's canopy occupying a large part of the parking lot.

And here's the cause of it all. As pieced together by people who saw and heard the crash, the tree fell, bringing down the wires, and the pressure snapped the pole. A mighty clean-up job remains for the city in Lot 7 and for Connolly Properties at the rear of the Park Avenue apartment building. Thanks to the Police Division and Fire Division who responded very quickly to a call for help in determining what utilities had to be notified.
We'll probably see a new pole in our yard soon and the rampant wisteria will most likely slither back up by spring to make a new sanctuary for the sparrows, goldfinches, cardinals and others who like to hide in its shady bower.
Not even my neighbor's efforts with a wicked double-toothed saw have deterred the wisteria. It has been cut down every season and it just comes back. A nearby maple tree on Block 832 turns purple each spring with festoons of wisteria that reach to its top. But for now, the green curtain over our garages has been removed, by the hand of Mother Nature.
--Bernice Paglia

Monday, September 08, 2008

City Files Notice of Appeal

In public comment at Monday's City Council meeting, speaker after speaker thanked city officials for filing a notice to appeal the closing of Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center.

Curiously, no mention was made of the issue during the council meeting itself.

Courier News reporter Mark Spivey already had an online article filed before the meeting and Plaintalker is happy to leave the coverage up to him.

The notice of appeal meets Wednesday's deadline to challenge state Health Commissioner Heather Howard's approval of the certificate of need for closing the hospital.

City Council candidate Adrian Mapp said Monday, "From whispers, I'm hearing that the city has decided to do the right thing and the citizens will be behind you 100 percent."

Activist Steven Hatcher, president of the Plainfield chapter of People's Organization for Progress, said he only learned that night from fellow activist Dottie Gutenkauf that the appeal had been filed.

"Tonight I want to applaud you," said Jesus Delvi, a frequent speaker on the Muhlenberg issue. "Thank you for the courageous step you have taken."

Other speakers urgd the council to seek support from surrounding communities that also relied on Muhlenberg for acute health care.

"Please work with the coalition," activist Brenda Gilbert pleaded.

Activists are still calling for an examination of financial operations of the hospital's parent group, Solaris, as well as the import of a proposed $170 million bond issue to pay off debt and improve other Solaris facilities.

The hospital has already surrendered its license to the state and despite talk of buyers, no sale of Muhlenberg has yet been confirmed.

--Bernice Paglia

Old Faceful

A driver in a convertible with the top down gunned his way through the intersection of Watchung and Fourth Monday night, attempting to avoid a geyser of water from a temporary pipeline.

City residents have become used to water spurts and sprinkles from the maze of hoses in place while water mains are cleaned and re-lined, but this waterworks display was exceptional.

Plaintalker spotted it while exiting City Hall after the council meeting and just had to check it out. Given that the night was fair and mild, the monsoon effect was disconcerting, especially to those drivers with open windows or tops down.


Pedestrians in front of Municipal Court also got a shower, as the cascade reached across the sidewalk.

The water main repairs will continue through November, but we hope with not so many spectacular displays.

--Bernice Paglia

Council Will Discuss Liquor Rules

The governing body will hold a discussion tonight on how to get a better grip on the status of the city's bars and clubs when they come up for annual license renewal.

For the 2008 renewals, council members expressed frustration with police reports on incidents at the bars and clubs, in part because everything from alarms to fights was listed on the same response form. The volume of incidents alone did not indicate what the council wanted to know, which was the number of crime- or drug-related events that might impact license renewal.

Tonight's discussion will seek to find ways to keep track of disciplinary proceedings against license holders as well as recommendations leading to "critical objective review" of license holders at renewal time. The goal is to eliminate chronic violators and "unscrupulous licensees."

In addition, the council will seek uniform closing times "to eliminate bar-hopping."

Each licensed establishment is subject to a police inspection before the June renewal season. License holders must also be free of state tax violations. The council is the local Alcoholic Beverage Control board and is empowered to hold hearings on violations such as service to minors, drug activity, prostitution and other crimes on the premises. License holders in the past have suffered suspensions imposed by the council, but offenses must be carefully investigated and proven. Licenses have also been renewed with conditions, such as security and anti-drug training for employees.

Flor Gonzalez, president of the Latin American Coalition, recently complained about violent crimes related to alcohol consumption, but off-premise crimes have been hard to pin on bar owners.

As listed in the Municipal Code, bar and club hours are from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday and from 1 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Sunday. Hours on New Year's Eve are from 1 p.m. to 5 a.m. Clubs are supposed to serve members and guests only and must maintain a log.

The 2 a.m. closing on Saturdays were often followed by large gatherings at Park Avenue restaurants, requiring police to respond to disperse the crowds. Gunfire was common and several shootings and homicides took place at or near Park & Fifth. At other locations, patrons have been mugged or killed as they made their way home.

The council has sought to reduce the number of places where alcohol can be purchased or consumed and even has the power to buy out an establishment, but the city still has more per capita than allowed by state guidelines because existing places were "grandfathered" in when the state limits were passed.

--Bernice Paglia

Council Gets Columbus Invite

The governing body is invited to take part in the 200th annual Columbus Day parade in Elizabeth on Oct. 12, which will probably spark a renewal of the local controversy over the city-owned Albert Bierstadt painting depicting indigenous people bowing down to the European navigator and his crew.

The Columbus Parade Association of New Jersey may be unaware of the decades-long argument that the 1492 landing is no cause for celebration by minorities and that the painting should be sold or at least removed from Municipal Court. It formerly hung behind the judge's bench, but is now on a side wall. The late Kay Cotignola annually voiced Italian pride at the historic 1492 voyage, but activist Rasheed Abdul-Haqq, now a school board member, argued that Columbus brought harm to the people he "discovered."

Click here for a National Geographic video on the controversy.

The Elizabeth event marks the 516th anniversary of the landing of Columbus and will be held from 1 to 6 p.m. Oct. 12 in the Peterstown section of Elizabeth.

--Bernice Paglia

Council Resumes Schedule

UPDATE: Checking back at 1 a.m., the agenda is posted. Click here to view. However, it appears that individual resolutions and ordinances have not yet been updated. Thanks to Rashid for looking into this matter despite heavy election duties!!

The City Council will hold an agenda session tonight at 7:30 p.m. in City Hall library, 515 Watchung Ave., but no advance information was available Sunday.

The listing on Councilman Rashid Burney's blog was labeled Sept. 8, but somehow it turned out to be the Aug. 11 agenda. The city web site did not have the Sept. 8 agenda either.

Between the Aug. 18 regular meeting and now, the council somewhat inexplicably skipped an agenda-fixing session scheduled for Aug. 25 and a regular meeting on Sept. 2, by order of Council President Harold Gibson.

If Monday's agenda is available at City Hall during business hours, Plaintalker will try to give a heads-up on major items.

Most likely the Save Muhlenberg/Restore Muhlenberg activists will be out in force, as Wednesday is the deadline to file an appeal of state Health Commissioner Heather Howard's approval of the hospital's certificate of need for closure. The Aug. 26 community forum at which many of the activists spoke happened to be on Channel 74 Sunday, although it was not on the schedule posted on the city web site. So far, city officials have not agreed to file an appeal. Meanwhile, the hospital has surrendered its license to the state.

--Bernice Paglia

Saturday, September 06, 2008

BOE Meets Tuesday in New Digs

The Board of Education will hold its work-and-study session 8 p.m. Tuesday (Sept. 9, 2008) in the new administration headquarters at 1200 Myrtle Avenue. All board meetings through June 2009 will take place there, instead of at various schools as in the past.

The agenda is up on the web site. Click here to see it and note that items are linked to specific goals that new Schools Superintendent Steve Gallon III has set for the district. For example, two items reflect the goal of improving learning outcomes. One is a recommendation for three district schools and a private school to take part in an after-school enrichment program operated by Plainfield Community Outreach and funded by a 21st Century grant through the state Department of Education. Full details are on the agenda. Here is a link to a freelance article I wrote on the program last year.

As Gallon previously announced, the district will also seek to hold pre-school classes. The board will be asked to consider applying for $2.2 million in various funding to serve 272 pre-schoolers in the 2009-10 school year. Currently, most pre-school classes are managed by outside agencies in their own facilities. In announcing the plan at a Town Hall meeting last month, Gallon cited the inconvenience of parents who must drop pre-schoolers at such agencies while getting older children to district schools.

Other recommendations on the agenda support the goal of improving recruitment, retention and development of school staff. The board will be asked to approve travel expenses to several professional development programs for administrators and teachers.

The board will vote on the approved agenda at the Sept.16 business meeting, 7 p.m. at 1200 Myrtle Ave.

As regular attendees at school board meetings know, the work-and-study sessions are especially interesting for what comes out in the remarks by the board president, superintendent and other top staff. Sometimes big news breaks in those remarks. Presentations also precede the agenda discussion, and on Tuesday the board will hear one on the "Continuous Improvement Model." Click here for an explanation of CIM from the Florida Department of Education.

All in all, this year there are many more ways for parents and community members to follow the action in the school district, whether by viewing the district web site, the newsletter or the new blog or by attending the increasingly informative board meetings. Both Maria Pellum and Renata Hernandez are providing additional insight into Plainfield school matters on their respective blogs.

Citizens can help out by volunteering at neighborhood schools or even by running to serve on the school board. Three seats will be up next year for April school board election. Plaintalker will provide requirements and relevant dates for filing as soon as the 2009 information is available.

Better schools mean improved real estate values as well as a brighter future for city youngsters and their families. With so many ways to keep track and participate, the responsibility is now on all Plainfielders to see where they can help.

--Bernice Paglia

Friday, September 05, 2008

Dowe Drops Out

Deborah Dowe, the Republican candidate for the four-year Citywide at-large City Council seat, has dropped out, the Union County Clerk's office confirmed today.

Dowe declined comment Friday when reached at home Friday. To see her past civic involvement, click here.

Her withdrawal on Aug. 26 leaves all three council candidates officially unopposed in the November general election, although at least one unofficial opponent has confirmed a write-in campaign. The candidates are Democratic primary winners Annie McWilliams for the city-wide at-large seat and Adrian Mapp for the Third Ward seat. Democratic Councilman William Reid, a January appointee for the unexpired term of former First Ward Councilman and now Freeholder Rayland Van Blake, is also running unopposed.

Republicans have until Sept. 17 to name a replacement for Dowe to be placed on the ballot.

In the June primary, McWilliams bested City Council President Harold Gibson for the line and Mapp defeated Councilman Don Davis to be on the November 4 ballot.

McWilliams is the daughter of the late two-term Mayor Albert T. McWilliams and Mapp is a former city councilman and Union County freeholder who also supported the late mayor. Mapp posted a tribute to him on his new blog. Click here to view the blog.

Longtime activist Brenda Gilbert has confirmed that she is mounting a write-in campaign to oppose Mapp.

There are unconfirmed reports that other people are planning write-in campaigns.

Among the hazards of write-in campaigns, voters must print the exact name of the candidate. A precedent was sent when the former Mayor McWilliams launched a write-in campaign in 2005 after losing a third-term bid in the primary. Voters wrote in a number of variations on the spelling, subject to interpretation.

The write-in results were not posted on the county web site. It was left to election observers to flesh out the results. The write-in votes were not enough for McWilliams to win the general election.

Write-in results on Nov. 4 will not be revealed for several days after the election, according to the County Clerk's office.

--Bernice Paglia

LWV Adds Members

In direct mail campaigns, a 2 percent response is considered good. Herb Green, new president of the League of Women Voters of Plainfield, got about a 25 percent return on his recent letter campaign to increase membership of the group.

Green and his wife, Marjorie, wrote to people they know to urge them to "take steps to strengthen the foundations of our democracy through civic education and engagement." The call to action comes from League of Women Voters of the United States, he said in announcing his presidency of the local chapter. Soon people were sending in their membership checks to answer Green's hope that they would join "to serve as nonpartisan and informed advocates to help us resolve the most pressing problems facing our community."

Thouse who did not feel ready to join were nonetheless urged to come out to meetings and attend LWV meetings.

Green, 83, was the first male president of the Plainfield group 30 years ago. In taking on the role again, he said, "I remain hopeful that I will live to see the day when representatives of our entire diverse community will come together in friendship and mutual respect."

At Thursday's meeting, Green proposed three programs, on quality of life issues, immigration and education. A committee will be formed to plan the programs. The League is also making plans for a candidates' forum before the November general election. Updates will be posted on the Plainfield LWV web site (click here). The web site also has information on the history, mission and membership guidelines of the league. The next meeting will be at 7 p.m. Oct. 2 in the Plainfield Public Library. Call (908) 756-9682 for more information.

(Disclaimer: I joined the LWV after I retired.)

--Bernice Paglia

Thursday, September 04, 2008

School is In!

A cool, misty morning marked the return of about 6,600 students to city schools. At Evergreen School, balloons in the school colors lent a festive note to the welcome back.

Crossing guard Leroy Pershay was ready with his "STOP" sign, his safety vest, badge and ID. The 11-year veteran of crossing guard service was on the job at 7:30 a.m. to help both Evergreen students and high school students who cut through Evergreen's campus to Park Avenue.

New wood chips make the play area attractive and safe.

Many Evergreen students were wearing white shirts or blouses and black pants or skirts, the school uniform. Principal Wilson Aponte could be seen on the front steps with a broom and dustpan, giving that final, personal touch of readiness for the welcome to students and parents or guardians. Students assembled at the side of the building to be greeted and gathered in by their teachers.
Best wishes to all students and their families for a succcessful and happy school year!
--Bernice Paglia