Friday, February 27, 2009

Pinpoint Needs, Identify Funding

Wednesday's session on public safety revealed a number of needs: More police. More firefighters. New police vehicles. Furnishings for offices in the Tepper's basement.

It was not clear whether the all the personnel needs are due to retirements. Police Director Martin Hellwig said the Police Division will have a large number of retirements and of three recent recruits, two washed out of the police academy. He said there is difficulty in replacing the retiring officers, but also mentioned a 20-officer gap from when there were 168 officers.

Retirement schedules for police and fire are usually well-known ahead of time. If that is the main problem, aggressive recruitment is needed. If the force must be expanded, funding must be identified. Some will come from the difference between the loss of officers at top salary levels and hiring entry-level recruits. It wouldn't hurt to look into why people don't want to join. Are entry-level salaries too low? Are other municipalities just too preferable?

As for vehicles, here too it would seem that barring accidents, the longevity of a given patrol car should be known and the overall condition of the fleet should be documented in order to plan ahead for replacement of patrol cars. Ideally, the time to pitch for new vehicles would be at a capital improvement budget meeting in advance of the need. Or are these requests already in the pipeline? It was a bit chilling to hear of these needs at a meeting meant to develop policy. When the cupboard is bare at home, do families have a policy meeting or do they look to their budgets?

As for the Tepper's basement, nearly half a million dollars was quickly expended in 2007 to make what Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs described as a "shell" for an undetermined use. The exact use is still nebulous, but a layout for the space is being prepared. And where will the funding come from to fill it up? Have the cameras been purchased? Are leases for the Narcotics Bureau and Community Policing Unit up in their other locations? Does the city owe condo fees since acquiring the space, and if so, how much?

Council President Rashid Burney revived the 2006 "working meeting" concept, with the public safety session being the first of four on a single topic. Burney has also called for early budget meetings throughout March and April, where presumably some of the questions above will be addressed.

Meanwhile, there is still no director of Administration & Finance to replace Douglas Peck, who left in December. Hellwig's one-year acting appointment as police director expires March 20. City Administrator Marc Dashield has been stuck with wrapping up the city budget for the second time in two years. This is Year 4 of the mayor's four-year term. It's a little worrying to have so much up in the air. The 2010 budget for the year that begins July 1 may not kick in until sometime in 2011, if this year and past ones are any example.

The City Council needs a lot more information than what was tossed out at the special meeting this week. Because municipal government serves the citizens, public safety needs must be addressed in a pro-active way, with as much analysis and planning ahead as possible. Perhaps the early budget meetings will help. They are all at 8 p.m. on Tuesdays in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave., and the proposed dates are March 10, 17, 24, 31 and April 7 and 14.

--Bernice Paglia


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The economic troubles facing Plainfield lie at the feet of the politicians. However, our troubles did not begin with Mayor Briggs; the seeds for our self-destruction began in previous administrations; like the Briggs administration, they were self-serving instead of community serving. Since no solution will be found in whipping previous mayors or for that matter Assemblyman Jerry Green, what should be done? We need to acknowledge that Plainfield must get by on less and that includes the police department. Martin Helwig is a "good cop", but he has displayed little originality in what he says or in what he has done since arriving in Plainfield. His biggest fault now lie in his failure or inability to devise, in a failing economy, a proactive response to an increasing and alarming number of criminals in our midst. For Martin Helwig to say he needs to replace cops or needs more cops, etc. is not a viable solution. Even when Plainfield politicians threw $$$$ at the issue, there was no substantive retreat in crime. Crime has been a problem for decades. Why? The answer lie in the cultural acceptance, by the majority, of minimal expectations and standards for appropriate behavior. It is no wonder cops don't choose Plainfield as a place to live. We have no body to blame but ourselves for the social & economic situation Plainfield is in.

11:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I want to know how other cities make their administration accountable. That is the real crux of the issue here. There is no accountablility of this administration, and it appears no appetite for anyone to make them accountable.

3:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To 3:02 PM anonymous,

Your answers lie within the community of Plainfield. And for anyone to say that there is no appetite to make this, or any, administration accountable, let me ask you, and all, this:

What do you call the unpaid work that bloggers do on behalf of the community?

It's now up to the rest of the community to start making some sound decisions about who should be trusted with the leadership and representation of our city, Plainfield.

Maria Pellum

4:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Maria - point taken. The comment at accountability by the administration was directed to the council who, in my opinion, are continually dismissed when information is ased by them of the administration.

In my opinion, it is the bloggers who have brought issues to the surface and pulled the curtain back from the Wizard. Real change will happen in this city because of them. Thank you to all of those bloggers who care enough to keep the citizens informed.

9:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We need to elect people who are as pissed off as we are but also bring to the table a vision & a plan! Is Adrian Mapp a potential change agent? History says no, but maybe he's "born again"; he could surprise us. But don't count on it. Then there is Annie McWilliams. So far she has displayed little enthusiasm. Who knows where she stands on issues plaguing Plainfield. Oh where is the next Ray Blanco?? We are in bad shape folks.

4:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In these five posts I can see the entire problems in Plainfield. A lot of people are spewing negativity. No concrete solutions have been offered. I wonder how many of these five "concerned" citizens actually attended the forum?

Pissed of is not the answer. Competency and committed is more what I would look for. Mapp is old news - a re-hash of same tried politics.

It's not that he does not believe everything he says. But then again, so did Don Davis and George Bush.

9:46 AM  

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