Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Council Update

Several major items were deferred Monday to future dates, including the nomination of former Councilman Don Davis to the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority and the allocation of 24-hour cars to two top officials.

Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs withdrew the names of Davis and Eugene Dudley from consideration for PMUA terms, but will bring them back next month. The names had only been offered by the mayor for advice and consent, but there was no proposed council resolution to take action on the nominations.

On Jan. 1, the council approved 24-hour use of city cars for the mayor and fire chief, but held back on similar approvals for the city administrator, superintendent of Public Works and Public Safety director. On Monday, the council member agreed to approve Thursday the assignment of a 24-hour vehicle for Public Works Superintendent John Louise, but decided to extend discussion on the other two approvals until more information is received on how the perk fits in with the officials’ compensation packages. Use of city cars for City Administrator Marc Dashield and Public Safety Director/Police Director Martin Hellwig will be allowed through February.

Councilman Adrian Mapp said he wanted to see comparative data on how other Union County municipalities permit 24-hour use of cars and Councilwoman Linda Carter requested mileage reports on Plainfield usage. Both Hellwig and Dashield received waivers from city residency rules and live out of town.

Dashield pointed out that a deputy fire chief makes more than the city administrator’s salary and a battalion chief makes more than that of the Public Safety director. Out of 134 city-owned vehicles, he said, only five were assigned for 24-hour use and the cost per vehicle is only $1,200 annually.

Mapp pressed to know how often Dashield actually had had to respond to an emergency.

“Thank God I have not had to do that!” Dashield replied.

But he said the issue boiled down to the two issues of compensation and emergencies.

The council will vote Thursday on extending the two officials’ use of city cars through February while the research continues.

The council also deferred approval of plans for a restroom and field house at Bryant Park, based on objections of neighbors concerned about public safety. The proposed location of the structure would not allow police to scan the park for illicit behavior, neighbors told council members at a recent meeting. Rather than push the project to meet grant deadlines, the council called for a redesign.

A proposed layoff plan was also deferred to February. Although no details were discussed, sources said it only involves a single individual.

Councilman Cory Storch challenged a $731,475 professional services contract for engineering consultant services by Remington & Vernick Engineers of East Orange, saying the “fair and open process” cited in the resolution was not the same as competitive bidding. Storch said he thought Dashield had said the contract would be subject to competitive bidding, but Dashield said Remington & Vernick knew the city well and that putting it out to bid would mean needing “16 different engineers” to watch each other’s work.

Council members were also concerned about how streets damaged by a recent New Jersey American Water project would be repaired. Dashield assured them that the work would be done in the spring and the company would be held to higher than usual repair standards.

Thursday’s meeting is 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, moved from Jan. 20 to accommodate council members who plan to attend the presidential inauguration. The council is expected to vote on numerous appointments and council liaison assignments to boards and commissions, as well as assignments to seven council committees.

--Bernice Paglia


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