Thursday, April 30, 2009

Happy Birthday Ichiro

Eight years ago, my daughter and son in-law adopted a kitty in Seattle.

Ichiro is now a very big cat with lots of opinions and viewpoints. By and large, his humans have adapted and made themselves available to serve his needs. The one sticking point currently is Ichiro's wish to ramble around the neighborhood in the Seward Park neighborhood where coyotes also have their own needs to be met, aka eating up housecats.

Even in Plainfield, we must be on the alert for such conflicting agendas. Coyotes have been sighted in the Queen City for about two years or more.

So if you have a beloved pussycat, please keep him/her inside so that the issue of urban predators may not affect your family pet.

And meanwhile, sing Happy Birthday to Ichiro.

--Bernice Paglia

ARRA Money for Tepper's?

Among items on a "shovel-ready" list of projects for possible funding under the American Recovery and Rehabilitation Act of 2009 is a $345,000 allocation for "rehabilitation of vacant, unfinished space" in the former Tepper's building basement. The proposal is to establish a CCTV monitoring center and Community Policing offices there.

Some may remember the initial proposal many years ago to put a senior center in the basement. Sen. Frank Lautenberg secured nearly half a million dollars in grant money for the purpose. But seniors rejected the idea and now are looking forward to a brand new senior center on the ground floor of "The Monarch," a condo project at 400 East Front Street. The grant money could not follow the seniors to the new location and was used to create what City Administrator Marc Dashield called "pretty much a vanilla box" in the basement while officials mulled possible uses. The work was done quickly just before the grant was due to expire.

Plaintalker posted several articles about the grant's use for the Tepper's basement. Click here to read the file. The cost of the cameras, their installation downtown and 24/7 monitoring is not included in the ARRA proposal. The project has a 180-day timeline if approved.

There are several other items of interest on the ARRA list, including a $1.5 tab for a youth center that appears to coincide with Jerry Green's wish to acquire the old armory on East Seventh Street. The armory had also once been touted as a possible senior center, but seniors rejected it. The state owns the armory and wants to sell it. Plaintalker will have more on the subject later.

Sidelight: The city is actually one of three condo owners in the Tepper's building and as such is liable for condo fees since it took possession of the basement several years ago. The other two portions are commercial space on the ground floor and 75 residential units on the upper floors. At The Monarch, the city will also become a condo owner when it takes possession of the senior center and will be responsible for about 13 percent of the cost of maintaining the building. Each of 63 condo owners on the top three floors will also share common costs.

--Bernice Paglia

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Landmark Offers Space

A new sign on the facade of 212-216 Park Avenue invites interested parties to call Landmark Developers about space in the building, where Certified Green Property One LLC recently received approvals. The proposal is for four residential units and 3,565 square feet of commercial space.

Landmark is the designated developer for the North Avenue Historic District and recently received approvals for several downtown projects under various corporate names. For more information on this proposal, click here.

--Bernice Paglia

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

2009 Budget Passes

After a public hearing on amendments approved on April 13, the City Council added a couple more and finally passed the budget for the fiscal year that began July 1, 2008.

There was one cliffhanger when several council members objected to voting without seeing the final budget document. City Administrator Marc Dashield held up the large white budget binder and said the council had already it, but then Bob Swisher of the auditing firm Suplee, Clooney said the state had just approved the final document Friday.

It turned out that copies were inside a brown paper package that was sitting on a table where the clerk normally sits. Assistant Municipal Clerk Abubakar Jalloh tore open the package and passed the documents to the council members, who had agreed to take a 15-minute recess to look at them.

At the end of the recess, Councilman Adrian Mapp said the chance to examine the final document revealed to him that the tax increase on the average $113,000 home had dropped from an initial $374 in the introduced budget to $87 after amendments.

"That's the benefit of me having this document," he said.

The major reason for the decrease was a somewhat controversial deferred pension plan. The state allowed the option of foregoing a $2.7 million pension payment this year, to be paid back over 15 years starting in 2012. Objectors said it would burden future taxpayers, but supporters said it was absolutely necessary to avoid a huge tax hike.

Tax bills will now go out in May. The council had agreed to allow an interim tax rate to be set for the third quarter and officials said most of the tax increase was covered by that action, so that fourth quarter bills will be lower. The FY 2009 tax year ends on June 30.

--Bernice Paglia

Sunday, April 26, 2009

End of Budget Saga?

So maybe the FY 2009 budget, with amendments, will finally be passed Monday.

The public has been hard put to pay attention to the budget process this year, what with shifts in administrative staff, flak from the citizens' advisory committee and confusion over roles in the budget process.

The traditional process calls for departmental requests that are then modified by the administration, then sent to the City Council for the final say.

So how come City Council President Rashid Burney was unaware of how the amendments got formulated? Clarification: Council President Burney explains that he was asking the question for the sake of the citizens who could not properly ask at that moment. See comment below. Was it that the state budget disarray that contributed to the city budget delay?

Plaintalker previously reported on the amendments in this post.

Very few people turn out for budget hearings. If in case you are inclined to go , the meeting is 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

The special working meeting on Information Technology, originally scheduled for 8 p.m. at another site, will now follow the budget hearing.

--Bernice Paglia

Butterfly Garden Takes Shape

Volunteers continued work on a butterfly garden Saturday at Grace Episcopal Church. Here, Church Warden Trevor King uses a staked cord and a spray can to mark a circle on the grass.

Next, volunteers use edgers and shovels to dig up the edge of the circle.

Trevor King mans the tiller to break up the ground.
A crew of all ages removes clumps of grass. Later, topsoil was spread over the circle, followed by a humus/manure mixture. The soil amendments were then tilled in. On Friday, May 1, after school, planting will take place. All those who helped will be eligible to win a butterfly kite.

In another part of the church grounds, volunteers created a garden of colorful annuals and quickly watered it as temperatures reached into the mid-80s.
--Bernice Paglia

Friday, April 24, 2009

Arbor Day 2009 Photos

Members of NJ Youth Corps hold up signs noting the five annual Arbor Day celebrations.

This year's celebration is dedicated to the memory of Charles E. Billups for his service to the East Sixth Street Block Association.
Two specimen trees were named and Bryant Park received trees and a memorial bench.

Barbara Sandford, grande doyenne of beautification in Plainfield, attended.
Rebecca Billups wipes away a tear as Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs presents a proclamation honoring her late husband.
East Sixth Street Block Association vice president Clifford Jackson delivers a commentary on the leadership of Charles Billups.

Deborah Pearyer talks about Arbor Day and the involvement of her day care center next to Bryant Park.

Children of Toddlers Learning Center learn about Arbor Day.

Seniors attend the event.
After cutting the ribbon to a bench dedicated to her late husband, Rebecca Billups claims the first seat.
East Sixth Street Block Association President Anthony Howard joins Mrs. Billups on the memorial bench.
Members of the Billups family shovel mulch on a new tree at Bryant Park.
Students at Toddlers Learning Center add mulch to the new tree.
--Bernice Paglia

Dr. Gallon's Letter on Rejected Budget

For those of you who don't visit the school district web site, Schools Superintendent Steve Gallon III has provided information on the 2009-10 school budget that voters rejected Tuesday. Click here to read his letter to the community.

Dr. Gallon has promised to be available Monday at 7 p.m. to meet with the City Council to discuss what must happen next. Update: Council President Burney says it will happen May 11.

On the same night, the council will be holding a public hearing on amendments to the city's own FY 2009 budget and may adopt the amended budget. That meeting is 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave., and will be followed by the previously scheduled meeting on Information Technology.

Update: 7 p.m. portion moved to May 11. As a Sunshine Law nut, I hope the 7 p.m. meeting will receive adequate notice and that people will realize the IT meeting is now moved from City Hall Library. None of the above, including the properly noticed special meeting and public hearing, is reflected on the city web site.

Please read Dr. Gallon's letter carefully and also the attached letter from the state Department of Education's Division of Finance. There has been some confusion about the budget rejection. Dr. Gallon also notes another issue that needed and received clarification from his office.

See you Monday!

--Bernice Paglia

Happy Arbor Day!

Image: Norway Maple flowers.
The public is welcome to attend an Arbor Day celebration today, 11 a.m. at Bryant Park on East Sixth Street.
The Shade Tree Commission is looking for new members. If you like trees and city beautification, you can apply to serve on the Commission. You will have an opportunity to expand your knowledge of the urban forest, its benefits and how to select the most suitable trees. Besides contributing beauty to neighborhoods, trees keep the city cooler in summer. There are many more reasons to get involved in keeping up the Queen City's urban forest of nearly 40,000 trees. Since the inception of the Ten Cities Tree Committee and then the Shade Tree Commission, hundreds of new trees have been planted to provide the next generation of our urban forest.
The Commission meets once a month and each fall members take part in the New Jersey Tree Federation's annual conference, earning education credits to keep up the Commission's status.
Click here for a downloadable application to serve on the Shade Tree Commission or any other city board or commission. Return your completed form to the mayor's office and to the city clerk's office, both in City Hall, 515 Watchung Avenue.
As you go about the city today, take a look at the trees. The young ones have most likely been planted with the help of the Shade Tree Commission. The stately, older trees serve as a reminder that the cycle of nature demands ongoing care, maintenance and replacement of trees as they mature and die.
Stop by Bryant Park for the festivities if you can, and help celebrate Arbor Day!
--Bernice Paglia

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Remarks on Health Care

Random image: Geranium, wintered over.

Regarding my thoughts on health care, I can remember when the interaction was a simple exchange between patient and doctor. Somewhere along the line, the insurance companies altered the relationship drastically by arbiting both what care a patient might get and what compensation a health care professional might receive.

That is the crux of my opposition to the current set-up. Now the key person is not the doctor or patient, but the investor in insurance companies, who expects a good return.

Out of this altered relationship grew the dependence of employees on health care plans and the fear of changing jobs lest benefits be lost. Employees also became aware of the hazard of so-called "pre-existing conditions" as defined by the insurer and other ploys designed to slight the policy holder and enrich the insurance provider.

The nation became so obsessed with health care plans after a while that nobody registered the extreme disconnect between the promise and the delivery of treatment.

Our new President Barack Obama seems to be willing to sort out the options and to include real people in deciding the future direction of health care policy. Click here to see his concerns.

Although a commenter called my views "socialist," I am only looking for equity for both patients and practitioners and for fewer layers of bureaucracy and added charges from insurance companies. Feel free to comment again, now that I have clarified my viewpoint.

--Bernice Paglia

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Arbor Day Observance Friday

Here is some information on Arbor Day. Disclaimer: I am a member of the Shade Tree Commission.

PLAINFIELD – An Arbor Day ceremony and tree planting Friday will be dedicated to the memory of the late Charles E. Billups, a longtime neighborhood activist.

“He was dedicated to the upkeep and betterment of East Sixth Street,” said Clifford Jackson, a resident since 1966.

Mr. Billups made the neighborhood’s needs known to city officials and was able to get several trees planted and one block made into a safer, one-way street. He organized vigils against drug activity and convinced law enforcement officials to add foot patrols and extra squad car surveillance to deter crime.

“He brought about many changes,” Jackson said.

Mr. Billups helped residents with complaints to contact the proper officials for resolution. He also brought City Council members and other authorities to speak at the group’s monthly meetings in City Hall.

The ceremony Friday will begin at 11 a.m. at Bryant Park, 419 E. Sixth St. Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, members of the City Council, Department of Public Works and the Shade Tree Commission invite all residents to attend. An American Chestnut on Madison Avenue and a Tulip Tree on Stelle Avenue will be named Specimen Trees for 2009. Five Japanese Tree Lilacs will be planted, along with eight Kwanzan Cherries at South Second Street and Muhlenberg Place.

According to the Arbor Day Foundation, Arbor Day is a nationally-celebrated observance that encourages tree planting and care.

National Arbor Day was founded by J. Sterling Morton in 1872, is celebrated on the last Friday in April. See for more information.

Notes on School Board Results

The voters have spoken.

They did not say exactly what I had hoped to hear, nor what Jerry Green may have hoped to hear. The top vote-getter was incumbent Patricia Barksdale, from the so-called “New Democrat” slate. Incumbent Lisa Logan-Leach, Green’s former aide and a frequent challenger of Schools Superintendent Steve Gallon III’s recommendations, came in third.

While Brenda Gilbert of the Green-backed slate came in second, she most likely will not be biddable to Green’s influence once in office. Gilbert was among a group of Democratic City Committee members that Green once purged from the party for their refusal to bow to the leadership. She ran for office later with the backing of dissident Johnny Walcott, who once formed a group he called the “Real Democrats” in opposition to Green’s Regular Democratic Organization.

Barksdale, Gilbert and Logan-Leach won three-year terms and will be sworn in at the May 5 reorganization, along with Katherine Peterson, who won the unexpired two-year seat. Even though she ran on a slate, Peterson came across in public forums as an experienced, sensible educator who will address issues based on her own opinion.

Rasheed Abdul-Haqq will most likely continue adding his voice to the conversation on Plainfield schools long after he must step down. It’s possible that his support for the observance of the two most important Muslim holidays upset some people, but he is a man of conviction once he makes up his mind on an issue. Putting one holiday on the calendar was supported by the board in 2007-08 and when in coming years the holidays fall on school days, expect to hear from him. But meanwhile, expect to hear from him on many other issues.

Let us hope that the other candidates – Mahogany Hendricks, Joanne Hollis, Joseph Ruffin Sr. and Terrence Williams – stay involved and follow board action through 2009-10. Board President Bridget Rivers is running for the Fourth Ward City Council seat and if she wins, an appointee will be needed. And next April, three more seats will be up.

As for the budget, the voters said “no,” but to borrow a phrase from my daughter when she was a willful two-year-old, “That’s not the right answer,” according to the state. The increase, only the second since 1992 for the local school tax levy, has been mandated by the state. Unless the new state funding formula is overturned, Abbott districts will have to pay more each year in local taxes toward the cost of operating public schools, including charter schools. Suburban taxpayers pay most of the costs in their districts, with state aid covering the rest. In Plainfield, it is the reverse. The district will still receive many millions in state aid, but the proportions will gradually shift.

I am relying on figures from the Courier News for this blog post. After visiting the endocrinologist in Summit, I walked to the Muhlenberg Campus for blood work and walked home. Later, Maria and I visited many polling places and all the fresh air and exercise did me in. I did not stay up late for results. I will confirm the unofficial results with the clerk today. The official results will be announced Monday or later by the county clerk.

Congratulations to the winners and good luck to the others in future school board races or in other public service.

--Bernice Paglia

Monday, April 20, 2009

Muhlenberg: From Plainfield to Summit

Tomorrow I join the Muhlenberg diaspora when I trek to Summit to see my endocrinologist for my annual checkup.

I am better off than most, because I do not have multiple conditions that require frequent exams. Or maybe I am living in a fool's paradise by not knowing all the problems I have, due to lack of the old-fashioned doctor-patient relationship.

When I lived in Millington, Dr. Foley was just down the road and insurance companies had not yet become the unwanted bed partner in the transaction. Even when Dr. Foley looked at a rash and declared, "Never saw that one before," or assumed the rash I contracted from my special ed students was an STD, I gladly paid my $67 or whatever and carried on.

FYI, the latter rash was Fifth Disease, not evidence of naughty behavior. It seems there are four classic rashes from childhood diseases and the next one was just called Fifth Disease.

Now, like many people and especially seniors, I feel bereft of proper health care and am just hoping my luck holds out before all my old age money gets sucked up by some diagnosis, followed by tests, followed by consultants, maybe followed by hospitalization somewhere where I have no resources to help me out.

My only hope is that President Barack Obama will somehow be able to recalibrate the health care system so that it is not skewed toward profitability, but for its original intent.

At least Dr. Chen will let me go to Muhlenberg for blood work. I will still be able to take part in what is available at the so-called Muhlenberg Campus. And I can walk there, despite most of our family medical and dental practitioners having moved away.

Not much solace.

--Bernice Paglia

Who Do You Want on BOE?

Plaintalker is taking comments on school board candidates, with one rule: You must state the qualities that have convinced you to vote for your choices. Example: "Mousie A. Cat has my vote because ..."

Keep in mind what issues board members face over the next three years and what traits and experience/background may be most useful in their role. Even understanding the role of a board member is a good start.

Signed posts (names, initials) are preferable. Negative comments will be deleted.

Candidates for three three-year seats are Rasheed Abdul-Haqq, Patricia I. Barksdale, Brenda Gilbert, Mahogany Hendricks, Joanne Hollis, Lisa Logan-Leach and Joseph M. Ruffin Sr.

Abdul-Haqq, Barksdale and Logan-Leach are incumbents.

Candidates for one unexpired two-year term are Katherine Peterson, Tammy Westbrook and Terrence Williams.

The election is Tuesday and polls will be open from 2 to 9 p.m.


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Dog Days for Blog Days

Except for Maria's pitch for rapprochement with our Asm. Green, the blogosphere has been a bit thin in recent days.

Usually the dog days are in August, not at the beginning of a hot primary race.

Besides the paucity of new posts, one reader now translates my observations into whining. Stay tuned for more random attacks.

Between now and June 2, expect a mixture of dismissive comments on blogs and a bleep-load of misinformation. The voter must activate his or her bleep-detector to sift through the claims, challenges, accusations, lies and damned lies to get at the truth of what candidates and their backers stand for.

Plaintalker will make no endorsements, but will try to remind voters of rules, options and rights in exercising one's franchise.

--Bernice Paglia

Fear of a Senior Moment

Council President Rashid Burney's bid for greater citizen involvement has resulted in establishment of three committees to help the council work on issues of information technology, economic growth and, for the second year, the city budget.

But wait! My brain recalled four committees being proposed and I couldn't remember the fourth. Thus ensued a search through past agendas and my notebooks for 2009. As much as I looked, I could not find the fourth committee. The next day (or later the same day, given my predilection for writing after midnight), I located Burney's orginal proposal - on his blog. Click here to see the blog post.

The last committee was Public Safety and as Burney himself indicated, it was problematic due to the strictures of law enforcement.

So now it seems only 42 citizens need to be recruited for committees, not 56 as I thought when the plan first came up. Each of the seven council members gets to name two members to each committee. No timetable has been set. Two of the committees, Economic Growth and Information Technology, will work with council sub-committees of the same names.

The next budget year begins July 1 and Burney had wanted to get an early start on it at a series of meetings in March and April, but some fell through and the focus shifted from a forward look to SFY 2010 to talking about the long-delayed 2009 budget. Somehow budget amendments were formulated out of sight of the public and were up for introduction at the April 13 council meeting. Burney even asked City Administrator Marc Dashield who drafted them. Now they will be up for a public hearing and possible budget passage on April 27.

There are pitfalls in engaging a large number of citizens in council work, as some of the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee budget presentations revealed last year. Participants received copies of the large white binder with all the salaries and other expenses for each department, but did not initially receive the official budget document sent to Local Government Services in Trenton. It was in this document, which states revenues as well as appropriations, where the infamous $1.7 million typo occurred.

As most council members can testify, it takes a while even for an elected official to understand the parameters of municipal government and especially Plainfield's special charter. What works and can be done in the corporate world does not always translate to what is feasible in city government, mainly because property taxes are supposed to be used to support services, not to make a profit. Slashing divisions in government means losing public services.

The council did hold orientation sessions for the budget committee and the same may be needed for other committees to focus their efforts.

Keeping track of all these proliferating sub-committees and related citizen committees made me think of fractals, or perhaps the old proverb "Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite 'em, And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum. And the great fleas themselves, in turn, have greater fleas to go on; While these again have greater still, and greater still, and so on," from the 1872 Budget of Paradoxes by A. De morgan.

These various committees and sub-committees will eventually give reports at council meetings.

Anyway, It was reassuring to find out I wasn't losing my memory in the face of all these innovations. Keeping a grip on such details and remebering all my many PINs is my informal version of a baseline test for failing brain function. Just don't ask me to remember names of everyone I have met in the past quarter-century in Plainfield.

--Bernice Paglia

Friday, April 17, 2009

Full House for LWV Forum

About 100 people came out to hear school board candidates Thursday at the annual forum arranged by the League of Women Voters of Plainfield.

The large field - seven candidates for three three-year seats and three for a two-year unexpired term - has received unprecedented exposure this year, with online information added to the usual public forums and print media. Candidates for the three-year terms are incumbent Rasheed Abdul-Haqq, incumbent Patricia I. Barksdale, Brenda Gilbert, Mahogany Hendricks, Joanne Hollis, incumbent Lisa Logan-Leach and incumbent appointee Joseph Ruffin Sr.

Katherine Peterson, Tammy Westbrook and Terrence Williams are on the ballot for the two-year unexpired term.

The LWV of Plainfield also paid for a full-page ad on candidates' views that appeared Sunday in the Courier News. In addition, Mark Spivey did an overview. Click here to read it. Parents Empowering Parents also has individual posts on each candidate. Click here and go to "older posts" to read them.

Although campaign information reflects two slates, one perceived as being backed by the Democratic Party and the other by New Democrats, candidates involved played down the role of politics in the school board race, which is supposed to be non-partisan. The slates echo a power struggle between the two factions that will be played out in the June primary and the subsequent reorganization of the Democrats. Regardless of professed school board slates, voters can choose individuals as they see fit.

Plainfield may post more later, but other things take precedence today.

LWV of Plainfield President Herb Green commended the crowd of attendees Thursday and led a round of applause for member Arlene Cossum, who arranged for the ad and forum even while very busy making plans to relocate.

The election is Tuesday, April 21. Polls will be open from 2 to 9 p.m. All eligible voters should by now have received a sample ballot listing the candidates, hours, polling place and voting instructions. Speakers Thursday hoped for a large turnout as the school district enters a new phase of renewal and purpose under the leadership of Schools Superintendent Steve Gallon III.

--Bernice Paglia

Thursday, April 16, 2009

April 27 Meetings Conflict

A budget hearing just announced for April 27 conflicts with a previously-announced special "working meeting" on Information Technology.

Budget amendments introduced Monday will be up for a public hearing at 8 p.m. April 27 in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave. Click here for Plaintalker's post on the amendments. The special meeting on Information Technology was scheduled for 8 p.m. the same night in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave., but will likely be postponed.

The Information Technology meeting is one of four in 2009 on single topics. The first one, on Public Safety, took place in February before the new calendar was approved. The topic was originally supposed to be the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority, but Councilman William Reid, a former PMUA commissioner and now the council liaison to the authority, said PMUA officials were showing "resistance" to the idea. The PMUA meeting is now scheduled for 8 p.m. July 27 at Municipal Court. The final working meeting is on Economic Growth, 8 p.m. on Oct. 19 in Municipal Court.

The topic of Information Technology was prominent in budget deliberations, as the administration proposed to establish the title of IT director and to create an IT division. Below is an excerpt from a March blog post:

In February, the administration offered an ordinance to create the title of director of data processing, but on Monday a new title, Manager I of Information Processing, was up for a vote. The salary range had also been revised, from $95,500 to $135,400 for the previous title to $70,000 to $110,000 for the new one. But Councilman Cory Storch moved to table the ordinance, saying, "I don't see any harm in taking a few months" to settle the issue. Storch wants more citizen input and a more convincing argument from the administration on the need for what will amount to an IT department.

On Monday, the council approved establishment of three citizens' advisory committees, including one on information technology. Each of the committees will have 14 members. The IT advisory committee will "support and assist" the council's own three-member IT committee.

Plaintalker will post details if and when the IT working meeting is rescheduled.

--Bernice Paglia
LWV of Plainfield
BOE Candidates' Forum
7 p.m. Plainfield Public Library

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Commentary on Concerts, Parade

The attenuated budget process for the fiscal that began July 1 has brought out some questions about how the city plans for public events.

At issue are a concert series and the annual July 4th celebration. The mayor wants a second "Music in the Plaza" event, but money and support seem to be short this year and Council President Rashid Burney and others want changes in the format and possibly the location. The parade, a community staple for over 80 years but much changed as other towns dropped out, occurs within days of the new fiscal year's inception, yet planning must begin as much as a year in advance.

So here we are with just weeks to go before these two major events and many questions remain. Approvals have not been granted and there is some feeling that neither is vital in these hard times of layoffs, wage freezes and furloughs.

City Administrator Marc Dashield could not come up with answers on the spot Monday about the exact cost of either event, including use of city personnel and equipment. But almost four months since the last finance director left, Dashield is still acting department head. In addition, there is no chief financial officer on board, except for a part-time person with a fulltime job elsewhere. Maybe it is no wonder Dashield can't rattle off numbers in response to council questions.

From an organizational standpoint, how can a concert promoter or a parade committee book bands and such when there is no guarantee of funding? Especially for July 4th parades, towns compete to sign up the best bands. And then there must be publicity. Will a banner be enough?

The event planner that arranged the first concert series has apparently had better success in other towns. Click here for information. But in Plainfield, the same vendor has faced last-minute cuts to funding. For the parade and related events, the city once had a committee with representatives from other participating municipalities that met year-round to plan the celebration. After North Plainfield split to have its own parade, the city established a Plainfield-only committee, but it seems the work is being done by volunteers outside a committee structure.

Any refinement of who is in charge may be too late for this year, but in all fairness to volunteers who give their time and energy for such events, there must be a better degree of certainty up front from the administration and governing body. If a group is acting in isolation to make plans using city money, the risk of disappointment or misunderstanding increases.

The cure for this dilemma might start with more timely reporting from both sides on planning and funding, and more transparency overall. Wanting to hold an event using public money cannot be the bottom line. Fiscal reality is the bottom line today, with little leeway for wishfulness.

The governing body and the administration need to resolve quickly whether these two events are actually feasible in these times. If not, let the planning begin for better days.

--Bernice Paglia

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Council Still Not in Tune with Plaza Music

More questions arose Monday about the "Music in the Plaza" concert series that debuted last year, and resolutions for a promotional banner and funding were withdrawn.

The afternoon concerts took place last year on the plaza in front of the new office building downtown, but did not appear to draw the anticipated lunchtime crowds. Videotapes played on Channel 74 prominently featured city officials and employees dancing in front of the bandstand and former Public Information Officer Jazz Johnson told the city's Television Advisory Board at one meeting that attendance was lacking.
When the topic of a second season came up, City Council President Rashid Burney suggested having some of the concerts in the evening, perhaps on Thursday shopping nights in conjunction with sidewalk sales. The plaza is on a block west of the city's most intensive downtown shopping district on Front Street between Park and Watchung avenues, and Burney said officials of the Special Improvement District did not see increased business on concert days.
Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs originally backed the concert series to increase business for restaurants and stores on the ground level of the office building after some merchants requested greater exposure. The building takes up the block bounded by West Front Street, Park Avenue, West Second Street and Madison Avenue, but the most foot traffic occurs on Front and Park. Office building tenants include various state and county social service agencies.
A resolution to seek Urban Enterprise Zone funding for the events drew questions from Councilwoman Annie McWilliams on spending from the fund. Sales tax receipts from certified retailers in the zone generate an account from which the city can draw for downtown promotion, cleanliness and safety, but each request must be approved by the Urban Enterprise Zone Authority. McWillliams and others have asked for a breakdown of disbursements from the fund, which has dwindled since major retail anchors left the downtown.
The concert program was also supported in part by donations from local banks and organizations, but City Administrator Marc Dashield said he expected donations to be down in the current economic climate. He said sponsors are being solicited now and he could not give an estimate of support. At any rate, the city's allotment is also down and the concert dates will have to be curtailed. With all these details lacking, Dashield withdrew the items. He asked council members to e-mail him their specific concerns.
The concerns about the concert series were echoed in part by uncertainty about the annual July 4th celebration. A $50,000 line in the FY 2009 budget was reduced by $5,000 in a proposed amendment, but officials said the amount was actually for last year's event. Details and plans for the 2009 celebration were unclear.
Resident Ralph Corniffe questioned the wording of a banner promoting the "Annual Central Jersey 4th of July Parade," when North Plainfield and other municipalities have dropped support. Although the parade still draws people from around the region, Corniffe said if Plainfield is now footing the bill, the title should reflect the same.
Checking back in Plaintalker archives, similar uncertainties about the annual July 4th celebration existed in 2006 and there were also concerns about musical events by the same promoter hired to do Music in the Plaza. Click here to read the past article.
Plaintalker will be doing a separate commentary on this issue.
--Bernice Paglia

Meeting Mish-mosh

What might have been a short City Council meeting Monday turned into another test of the citizens' staying power.

First there was yet another presentation on insurance strategies to save money. This should have been an informational discussion item at an agenda-fixing session. It turns out both this and a prior presentation came about at the behest of a resident who met with Council President Rashid Burney.

Then there was an overview of the budget amendments before their introduction, as reported in the blog post below.

The agenda started out with mostly consent items to be passed in one vote, but both residents and council members asked to have numerous resolutions removed for roll-call votes. Among the controversial items were ongoing questions about the mayor's banner in front of City Hall, the format for downtown music concerts and a resolution seeking to deny Solaris $170 million in debt relief until all city issues on the Muhlenberg closing are resolved.

Public comment took up another chunk of time, some of it being relevant to the matters at hand and some being set speeches that speakers offer at every meeting lately. Adjournment did not come until 11 p.m.

Someone called this writer at home at 11:45 p.m., delaying the one blog post I was able to squeeze out before falling asleep at the computer. The other stories will have to wait.

--Bernice Paglia

Council Introduces Budget Amendments

The City Council voted Monday to introduce budget amendments that will reduce the municipal tax levy by $3.2 million, a 6.6 percent decrease from $48 million when the budget was introduced back in September.

City Administrator Marc Dashield explained each amendment and the council voted on them as a whole, instead of a voice vote on every line, as in the past. The next step is for the amendments to be published before a hearing set for 8 p.m. on April 27 in Municipal Court. The council may then pass the amended budget.

Taxpayers should see a "dramatic decrease" in their next tax bills, Dashield said, because estimated bills had been set at "5 percent." Dashield said the city needs to "do a PR campaign" to publicize the new rate. But when Council President Rashid Burney asked whether residents had been "overbilled," Dashield said "yes."

The total budget for FY 2009, as amended, is $68 million, down from $72 million.

Among the changes, the "other expenses" category for the Corporation Counsel's office increased 65 percent, from $270,000 to $445,000, due to anticipated legal costs for several pending lawsuits, including the city's appeal of the Muhlenberg closing. Public Information costs dropped from $110,000 to zero, because the office was collapsed into Information Technology, which in turn saw an increase from $75,000 in other expenses to $210,000. Gasoline costs went up 22 percent to $414,000. and street lighting went up 9.4 percent to $635,000.

Many other categories were reduced, including a $100,000 cut to the Plainfield Public Library.

The amendments included changing a payment in lieu of taxes for the Allen-Young Apartments from $1,847,266.20 to $184,266.20, to cure a typo. But another one crept in, when a capital improvements figure went from $560,000 to $5,600,000.

The net budget change went from a proposed tax increase of 9.5 percent to just a 2.2 percent increase in the local tax levy over last year.

Besides having to wait on the state for budget information, the city also saw shifts in personnel that slowed things down. Finance Director Douglas Peck left in December and for the second time in the past three years, Dashield had to serve in that role in addition to his own. The city also had to wait for state legislation allowing pension deferral for tax relief.

--Bernice Paglia

Monday, April 13, 2009

LWV Forum Thursday

PLAINFIELD - The League of Women Voters of Plainfield invites all city residents to attend its Board of Education Candidates’ Forum.

The forum will take place from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, April16 in the Anne Louise Davis Room of the Plainfield Public Library, 800 Park Ave., Plainfield.

The field of candidates includes seven vying for three three-year seats and three seeking an unexpired two-year term. Incumbents Rasheed Abdul-Haqq, Patricia Barksdale, Lisa Logan-Leach and appointee Joseph Ruffin Sr. are running for re-election. Challengers for the three-year terms are Mahogany Hendricks, Joanne Hollis and Brenda Gilbert.

Candidates for the unexpired term are Katherine Peterson, Tammy Westbrook and Terrence Williams. Candidates’ statements were included in an advertisement paid for by the League, published Sunday in the Courier News. 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. Candidates who cannot attend may submit a one-minute typed opening statement that will be read by the moderator or a League member.

The League of Women Voters of Plainfield was formed in 1920 with the goal of registering and educating voters. All are welcome to join or to attend its meetings, 7 p.m. on first Thursdays of each month at the Plainfield Public Library. Call (908) 757-1873 for more information.

(Note: This press release was submitted nine days ago to the Courier News and other media, but has not yet appeared in print. I sent it out in my volunteer role as Publicity person for the LWV of Plainfield - Bernice)

Sunday, April 12, 2009

City Budget Nears Closure?

Over a quarter-century of reporting on city doings, I can't recall a time when passage of the city budget ran so late.

According to a legal notice last week, amendments to the SFY 2009 budget will be offered Monday (April 13, 2009) at 8 p.m. in Municipal Court. Mind you, this is the budget year that began July 1, 2008 and for which officials had hoped to see closure by Dec. 1, 2008. The budget year ends on June 30, 2009.

The introduction of amendments Monday must still be followed by a public hearing and final passage at some future date. Since the City Council has now adopted a once-a-month schedule, the governing body would have to set a special meeting to have the budget wrapped up before mid-May.

Granted, the state fiscal disarray has led to this local anomaly and we must all hope it never happens again.

City officials have agreed to accept a pension deferral plan that will result in a $2.7 million reduction in expenses, but which must be paid back with interest in future years. By agreeing to the deferral, the city will not get extraordinary state to offset property taxes.

So far, only one layoff has been proposed, for savings of $10,000 or less. A Citizens Budget Advisory Committee suggested many other possible cuts, but none were finalized. Maybe some will show up in the amendments.

People are asking, do we really need Music in the Plaza, the July 4th parade, three firehouses and many other options in this current economic climate.

Plaintalker will report on the amendments as soon as possible.

--Bernice Paglia

Plainfield Highlighted Again

A photo gallery on
showcased the Sabor Latino event Saturday, and on Easter Sunday a staff photographer took pictures of the free dinner provided by First Unitarian Society of Plainfield.

FUSP, as it is known, provides free dinners to the community on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. The church also conducts a food pantry once a month for needy residents. As a friend of FUSP, I was on hand Sunday to help in the kitchen.

Check the gallery section for these new photos.

--Bernice Paglia

Commentary on Dr. Gallon's Pledge

Random image: Hyacinth and daffodils.

Schools Superintendent Steve Gallon III says he will forego terms of his contract and not take a raise until the Plainfield Education Association contract is settled, and then his raise will be keyed to the union's settlement. He did not proclaim this from the rooftops, it is set forth in a resolution that is part of a 58-page agenda for Tuesday's school board meeting. Yet some find fault with his decision.

A reasonable person might think Gallon's proposal is in keeping with the times, that all levels of compensated individuals in a private company or public system must make sacrifices. The least he will get according to his contract is one percent and if by any remote chance the union gets more than a 4 percent increase, Gallon will still only get a maximum 4 percent raise.

Meanwhile, according to his April message to the community, Gallon is meeting with PEA leadership to work toward a timely settlement.

Just speaking anecdotally, this writer can remember the recent go-round involving each side taking out full-page ads in the Courier News to argue in public. And years ago, there was a strike that shut schools down for several days.

There was one smooth contract resolution when Larry Leverett was schools superintendent and employed a non-confrontational means of reaching a settlement. When I asked someone why it was not used again, the answer was that training people to use that method was too costly.

On the spectrum from bitter confrontation to collegial negotiations, Gallon's pledge seems to be a positive thing. It appears to convey a response to the need for adjustments to changing times.

As I was thinking about this issue, it occurred to me how soon we forget the turmoil of the 2007-08 school year. That was an internal situation, but now external forces are demanding changes based on a global status of economic uncertainty.

Gallon's pledge sets a tone that is in keeping with current conditions and deserves to be respected.

--Bernice Paglia

Pepsi Charles Honored at Sabor Latino

The late Pepsi Charles was remembered Saturday at an event that drew a diverse crowd of Plainfielders who also enjoyed Latino food and culture.

About 70 people gathered at Crescent Avenue Presbyterian Church for "Sabor Latino," a fundraiser for Latinas en Accion co-sponsored by Venture & Venture Inc. John Brinkley and Rhonda Wise offered remembrances of the late activist and community organizer who worked tirelessly to improve the lives of children and to foster awareness of African-American cultural identity. Alma Cruz, executive director of Latinas en Accion, plays a similar role in the Latino community.

Pepsi Charles made her home in Plainfield, but was well-known in many spheres of art and culture beyond the Queen City. Click here for Plaintalker's previous remembrance. On Saturday, her mother, Rose, and son, Ebon, were recognized as part of the tribute.

The event also featured a Bomba y Plena performance and samples of Latino dishes donated by local restaurants.

This isn't a full report, but I was there in part to enjoy the event and meet some old and new friends. Courier News photographer Andrew Miller took many photos which are posted in a photo gallery online at today. Take a look at the colorful dancers, some of whom are Evergreen School students.

--Bernice Paglia

Friday, April 10, 2009

Budget Amendments Monday

According to a legal notice dated April 1 but just published this week, budget amendments will be introduced at 8 p.m. Monday in Municipal Court.

There is also a regular City Council meeting at the same time and place.

The text of the amendments was not available Thursday before City Hall closed for Good Friday.

The amendments, whatever they turn out to be, will most likely represent an amalgam of proposed cuts by the Citizens' Budget Advisory Committee and cuts identified by the governing body.

Monday's agenda will be very crowded even without the new item. We hope it will not just be glossed over, because citizens have been waiting for months to know the budget numbers for the tax year that began way back on July 1, 2008.

Although the city may receive approval for a $2.7 pension plan deferral, there may still be a budget deficit for 2009. Residents need to know the fiscal impact and we hope some will come out to Municipal Court at 8 p.m. Monday to hear for themselves.

--Bernice Paglia

Button, Button

The controversial banner on the front of City Hall has been modified to cover up "for Mayor" on the button Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs has on her lapel. Now it just reads "Sharon!" which some may argue is the same as her past campaign signs.

The banner, hung last week, celebrates Robinson-Briggs' naming by the Gateway Chamber of Commerce as Mayor of the Year. On April 6, the incumbent was one of seven Democrats who filed to run for mayor in the June 2 primary. One candidate, Councilman Adrian Mapp, voiced objections to the banner at the April 6 City Council agenda-fixing meeting where the governing body was asked to approve its display from April through September. The resolution to permit display of the banner will be up for a vote at the April 13 regular meeting, 8 p.m. in Municipal Court.

At the agenda-fixing session, Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson said there was no political intention in the banner's display, but Mapp said it was "clearly a political statement." Williamson promised to take another look at it.

Councilwoman Linda Carter asked why the normal procedure for banners was not followed, which involves submission of an image of the banner along with the request for its display. In this case, the banner went up prior to the request and Carter said she did not recall seeing any images submitted. Williamson said the image "can easily be redacted" if there is a problem.

The image on the banner is identical to one on a campaign poster that was on display recently in a downtown photography studio. Click here to see Plaintalker's previous post on the issue.

Robinson-Briggs is completing a four-year term this year. Democratic primary challengers besides Mapp are Carol Ann Brokaw Boles, Martin Cox, Bob Ferraro, Rebecca Kelly and Tom Turner. The winner of the primary will face one Republican, James Pivnichny, in the November general election, along with any independents who file on June 2.

--Bernice Paglia

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Firefighters Tie the Knot

Selket Gregory, the city's first female firefighter, traded in her turnout gear for a bridal gown Thursday for her marriage to Firefighter David Damon.

A throng of well-wishers crowded City Hall Library for the ceremony, which was performed by Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs.

Robinson-Briggs, the city's first female mayor, had sworn in both firefighters when they joined the Fire Division in 2007. The couple took part in fire academy training together when the opportunity arose after four years of waiting. The new Mrs. Damon had served in the U.S. Marine Corps and her husband was a teacher before they joined the Fire Division.

Now they can mark a new first - the first married couple to serve in the Plainfield Fire Division!

Congratulations from Plaintalker!

--Bernice Paglia

Follow-up on Bottles

Right next door to the Queen City we have an excellent example of how to handle bottles, cans, paper and other recyclables. Click here to read about it.

Do We Need a Bottle Bill?

A visit to the main post office on Watchung Avenue reminded me of the current discussion on whether a deposit is needed on plastic water bottles. This array could be seen from the ramp up to the side door.

Click here to read proposed legislation that would establish a deposit system to encourage recycling of bottles and cans.

Water bottles especially seem to be an increasing component of litter all over Plainfield. Of course, the simple solution would be for people to dispose of the bottles in recycling cans rather than to drop them on the ground for someone else to deal with. Maybe the proposed 10-cent deposit would either make people more inclined to carry personal, refillable water bottles or not to buy so much bottled water.

I saw a sign once in the Plainfield High School library that listed among prohibited items "stylish water" and it struck me that indeed it had become stylish to have a bottle of water in one's bag or backpack. But many brands are not pure spring water, they are just municipal tap water from some remote town, probably no better than what comes out of our own taps.

The fad has resulted in a kind of "product placement" at meetings and forums, where it is near impossible to snap a picture of a speaker or political candidate without Poland Spring or somesuch featured prominently on the dais. Whatever happened to those pitchers of ice water that we used to see?

As kids way back in the mid-20th century, we used to collect soda bottles to turn in for deposit at the corner store, garnering money for penny candy. Plainfield has quite a few adult scavengers today who collect cans off the street to make money. Perhaps a deposit on plastic bottles would make them more desirable to street collectors.

Hydration has become almost a fetish in our society today. I see people drinking water even in church, as if being deprived of liquid for an hour or two would ruin one's health. Maybe the depressed economy will make people rethink the need for 99-cent water bottles on hand at all times. Adding 10 cents to the cost surely would raise awareness of alternatives.

Warm weather will undoubtedly bring an increase in litter, especially water and drink containers. Would a bottle bill help keep our streets and properties more clear of litter?

--Bernice Paglia

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

New Taxi Rules Coming?

Among items not available to the public at Monday's City Council meeting were two proposed ordinances related to taxis. As described by Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson, one ordinance would establish fines for taxis operating in Plainfield without city licenses. Besides the many city-based companies, taxis from nearby towns can sometimes be seen soliciting customers. Fines would range from $300 for a first offense, $500 for a second offense and $800 for a third infraction.
The second ordinance would provide for a "universal" taxi driver's license. Williamson said at present a driver whose employer goes out of business must start from scratch to obtain a license in order to work for another company. The proposed change would allow a driver, once licensed, to work for any taxi company in the city.
According to Williamson, the ordinances were not available Monday even though they had been given to the city clerk for inclusion in the council packet. Williamson said he wanted the ordinances to be up for passage on first reading April 13 and would provide them directly to the council members. Now that the council meets just once a month, second reading and final passage will then be in May.
Click here for a previous blog post on city taxis.
--Bernice Paglia

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Republican Candidate Launches Blog

James Pivnichny's to-do list for Monday apparently read, "Toss hat in ring, launch blog."

Click here to read more about the only Republican in the mayoral race.

This is going to be a long and possibly bitter campaign season now that the candidates have officially declared themselves. The mayor has been campaigning since last summer and Adrian Mapp began several weeks ago. The other five Democrats are Martin Cox, Carol Ann Brokaw Boles, Bob Ferraro, Tom Turner and Rebecca Kelly.

Only two Democrats are vying for the Fourth Ward seat, Bridget Rivers and Vera Greaves.

Let's hear what each one has to say. The only contest in the June 2 primary is among the Democrats.


Council Hears Deer Management Strategies

The City Council and public received information Monday on a program for community deer management, something the state Division of Fish and Wildlife developed in recognition of the increasing incursion of deer into residential suburban neighborhoods.

In his April 4 blog post, City Council President Rashid Burney invited people to come hear about the program and said it was not just about culling deer. But in fact killing deer is largely the bottom line in the program, though contraception methods were also discussed. Rather than try to replicate the presentation by Principal Biologist Susan Predl, I will direct your attention to this link to the information.

Burney expressed concern about Lyme Disease and was also interested in deer repellents and fencing, but the presentation was strictly on getting rid of deer using methods applicable to neighborhoods.

Because the deer population has expanded so much, in rural areas hunters can now kill as many deer as they want. The Division of Fish and Wildlife even began a program to have excess venison distributed to hungry people so hunters could kill beyond their own immediate need for venison.

If a municipality decides to undertake a Community Deer Management plan, the governing body must give approval, costs must be borne by the municipality and the plan must receive state approval before it can happen. As Burney pointed out, the presentation was informational only at this point.

--Bernice Paglia

Three Meetings Tonight

Random image: Big yawn.

There are three public meetings tonight.

The Plainfield Municipal Utility Authority is scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. at 127 Roosevelt Avenue.

The Board of Education will meet at 8 p.m. in the administration building at 1200 Myrtle Avenue.

The City Council will hold a budget session at 8 p.m. in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave.


Council Launches New Schedule

Where to start in reporting on Monday’s marathon City Council meeting?

The first agenda session under a new once-a-month schedule ran to nearly four hours. It started with a group of parents and children protesting the shutdown of a basement boxing club by city inspectors. Though there was nothing on the agenda relevant to their plight, City Council President Rashid Burney gave them time to speak. As children stood by with medals and belts they had won in competition, adults expressed their dismay at the closing and asked for help to keep the program in operation. The barber shop owner who opened his basement to the club said he had no money for repairs to bring the premises up to code, nor could the club afford fees at a nearby gym. Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs came in for some criticism for not answering the club’s inquiries about assistance and she met with them in the rotunda as the meeting continued.

Here’s the part where I am going to get in trouble: Keeping kids off the street in a wholesome activity is fine, but if it takes place in a basement with only one way out, it does not meet city fire codes. Should becoming part of Plainfield’s venerable boxing legacy trump the safety of dozens of children? Apparently the answer from City Hall was “No.”

The evening had a few more examples of skirting the rules.

Predictably, Councilman Adrian Mapp, now an official challenger to the mayor, objected to the banner that was hung on the front of City Hall last week. Vaunting the mayor’s being named Mayor of the Year by the Gateway Chamber of Commerce, it sports an image lifted from her re-election campaign material. She is also wearing a campaign button. In addition, the banner was put up before the necessary City Council approval, which may be granted at the April 13 meeting. Mapp hammered away with objections to the banner, just hours after eight people in all filed to run for mayor. The upshot was that Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson promised to examine the image to determine its appropriateness.

Perhaps one of the longest segments of the meeting was a discussion of whether concrete, Begian block or bluestone should be used for a project in one of the city’s historic districts. The issue hinged on a verbal approval given by a past chairman of the Historic Preservation Commission in a conference call with staff. The commission reviews proposals for construction or exterior changes in historic districts and then issues a certificate of appropriateness that the applicant can then take to city land use boards. The main question was whether a verbal approval for a change, with no written documentation, could stand. There were also issues of cost and contractual obligations. The matter may be on the April 13 agenda if Williamson provides a written opinion that the verbal OK was sufficient.

There were many other matters raised, not all of which were on the agenda for the public to see. Some got merely a sentence or two of discussion.

Public comment brought the ongoing concerns about the closing of Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center and calls for its restoration. In addition, resident Philip Charles, who is suing the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority over a $21 per month “shared services” fee and other issues, said his questions about the city’s interlocal services agreement with the authority have gone unanswered. Some speakers who take the microphone at every meeting ran over their allotted three minutes and Burney had to gavel at least one into silence.

In days to come, Plaintalker will pry out some of the stories from this meeting, which in retrospect was denser than concrete, Belgian block or bluestone. And by the end of the meeting, the chairs felt as hard as the same.

--Bernice Paglia

Monday, April 06, 2009

Mayor and Council Hopefuls File

It looks like there will be one Republican mayoral candidate and seven Democrats, only two of whom have Fourth Ward running mates.

According to information from City Clerk Laddie Wyatt, James Pivnichny is the lone Republican filer for a four-year mayoral term. Having no challengers, he will go on the June Primary and November general election ballots. He has no Fourth Ward running mate.

Incumbent Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, a Democrat, filed to run for re-election on the Regular Democratic Organization ticket, with running mate Vera Greaves in the Fourth Ward.

Carol Ann Brokaw Boles is running for mayor under the slogan, "Democrats for Positive Change," with Bridget Rivers as her Fourth Ward running mate. Rivers is currently president of the Plainfield Board of Education and Brokaw Boles was re-elected chairwoman of the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority in February.

Other Democrats seeking the mayoralty are former City Councilman Bob Ferraro, Board of Education member Martin Cox, past candidate Thomas Turner III, Councilman Adrian Mapp, and Rebecca Kelly.

The primary election is June 2. The Democratic winner, Republican Pivnichny and any independents who file June 2 will go on to the November 3 general election.

--Bernice Paglia

FYI on Voter Affiliation

Here's a link to the state Division of Elections. It seems a non-affiliated voter can declare a party up to and including Primary Day.

There is a form that can be downloaded, filled out and mailed to the county clerk or handed in to the municipal clerk to change from one party to another. That must be done by April 13.

The last day to register to vote in the June 2 Primary Election is Tuesday, May 12.


Filing Deadline, Council Meeting Today

Plaintalker will post the names of candidates for mayor and Fourth Ward as soon as possible after the 4 p.m. filing deadline today. Early indications are that the mayoral field will be large.

I was surprised to find out that a web crawler is picking up local blogs and putting them on AOL. Not sure how long this has been going on. I normally don't scroll all the way down the AOL Welcome Screen but did so over the weekend and discovered Plaintalker, Maria's Blog and Plainfield Today posted there. My blog posts used to show up on but now only Gannett articles seem to be posted for Plainfield.

Anyway, click here to see the agenda for tonight's City Council meeting. Dr. Harold Yood has already highlighted some of the topics on his blog, "Doc's Potpourri."

The mayor has asked for time to discuss the Plainfield Rescue Squad. City Council President Rashid Burney has already posted on his blog, "As I See It," his stance on expanding the citizen advisory committees to four. Burney also invites people to hear a talk tonight on deer management. Although his emphasis is on the health risks deer can bring to your back yard, last fall deer ran through the Park & Seventh corridor during rutting season, creating a traffic hazard. One was struck by a car on Park Avenue.

Recreation Director Dave Wynn is asking permission for several banners, including one for the July 4 celebration, although the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee suggested eliminating the parade during these harsh economic times. The mayor is also asking permission to hang the banner that was put up on the front of City Hall last week. She wants it up until September.

With all the local online resources , residents can get a pretty good feel for what is going on. If these new committees get approved, 56 citizens will be needed to serve on them. Let your councilperson know if you want to take part. Click here to get their e-mail addresses.

For those who have voiced dissatisfaction with the new schedule, please note the time allotted for public comment will be doubled to one hour if the council approves a resolution at the April 13 regular meeting. Some may still feel slighted, as their individual three minutes to speak will not increase.

Personally, I will be watching to see how long the meetings run with only one agenda session and one regular meeting per month, when council committee reports and citizen committee presentations are added in. Attending the meetings and then writing blog posts can make for a long night.

--Bernice Paglia

Sunday, April 05, 2009

What's on Your Mind?

Consider this post sort of like public comment at the City Council. I would prefer that you sign your name or at least initials, and comments will be screened for propriety. If you can express yourself on a city topic without ad hominem attacks, here's the spot.

- Bernice

Monday's Meeting is at City Hall

Random image: "Pink Diamond" blooms for the third time.

My apologies to those who accepted my little calendars for the balance of 2009.

Please note that the first meeting under the new schedule will be held at City Hall Library, not Emerson School as listed on the calendar. Click here for the full schedule as posted on the City web site.

I made up my small calendars after I presumed the air had cleared and all possible glitches had been resolved. The saga had begun when City Council President Rashid Burney proposed changing the council's schedule to one meeting a month instead of meetings on first and third Mondays, with agenda fixing sessions on preceding Mondays. But because the council had already adopted a calendar based on the existing formula, Burney's revisions had to be passed by ordinance and then the dates could be passed by resolution.

There were quite a number of errors in the first version of the calendar, but they were gradually worked out. However, because the official calendar was still in place, somehow the relocation of agenda sessions to schools in April and October got assigned to the first agenda session under the old calendar instead of the new one. Therefore, instead of April 6 at Emerson School and Oct. 5 at Hubbard Middle School, information was posted all over City Hall listing April 13 at Emerson and Oct. 13 at Hubbard. Use of the school buildings was then secured using the old calendar dates.

Well then, guess what? The inaugural agenda session under the new calendar fell on an evening reserved for parent-teacher conferences at Emerson. Therefore, the April 6 meeting must now be held at City Hall Library.

Burney had given out his new calendar far in advance of the legislative moves to make it official. So it could, and should, have been used for planning purposes to secure the schools on April 6 and Oct. 5. But it wasn't. So disregard the first date on my little calendar and really disregard all those notices that are up in City Hall with the wrong dates.

The city web site has, under Community Events, an advisory that correctly has the April 6 meeting at City Hall Library. But then it goes on to state that the other two meetings at schools in 2009 will be on Tuesdays instead of Mondays!

With various officials seemingly all humming "My Way" insteading of collaborating to get the facts right, it is no wonder that citizens can't follow the moves. The relocation to neighborhood schools was highly publicized in the media, but it will not happen April 6.

The rest of my little calendar should jibe with the one linked above. Sorry for the confusion.

--Bernice Paglia

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Seattle Peeps and Others

Entries are in for The Seattle Times Peeps contest and even though the loss of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer is a prominent theme, another one is the East Coast miracle of the safe landing of a passenger plane in the Hudson River.

I looked at every one of the 145 entries and other themes included the controversial "Octo-Mom," President Obama's victory, support for the home teams and allusions to a snowstorm that paralyzed the city and caused anger when Mayor Greg Nickels banned salt on the roads. Click here to see the entries.

Check out last year's Washington Post gallery here.

This year, the Courier News is having a "Primp Your Peeps" contest. Click here to learn how to vote on entries.

Make sure to have some marshmallow chicks and bunnies on hand to munch while judging the entries. I like my Peeps just slightly stale, for that subtle crunch when you bite their heads off. I haven't looked at the entries yet - shall we see a Peeps pileup on the Somerville Circle? SalesPeeps at Route 22 auto dealerships waiting for customers? Peeps Organization for Progress holding a rally?

Take a look and cast your vote.

--Bernice Paglia

Random Items

Random image: Miniature daffodils.

I received some of the mailings from the Satellite Emergency Department on the Muhlenberg Campus and was surprised to see they are encouraging people with colds and other minor ailments to go there. I thought that was more along the lines of what the Plainfield Health Center dealt with. Are these two entities now competing for the same medical population? Mark's article today had a quote calling the Satellite Department the "best-kept secret," the same phrase Eugene Baucum used about the Plainfield Health Center at a recent forum.

According to the BOE agenda for April 7, the school district plans to defer pension payments, something the city just did. The work-and-study session coincides with the PMUA meeting the same night. If I go to any meeting, it's more likely to be the PMUA, but maybe on Monday I can find out how much the district will save by approving a pension deferral plan. Anyone going to the PMUA meeting should take a look at Eric Watson's rebuttal of Councilman Adrian Mapp's letter about getting rid of PMUA. Click here for the PMUA's new web site.

I did not attempt to cover the Regular Democratic Organization's screening Friday. Given the party chairman's increasingly hostile and petulant attitude toward me, I decided it wasn't worth the aggravation. Anybody who went and has news or comments is welcome to submit them for posting.

It seems there will be a large field of candidates for mayor, but until 4 p.m. Monday, we can't say for sure. According to the last tally from the Union County Board of Elections, there are 12,544 registered Democrats, one Green Party member, three Libertarian Party members, 1,108 Republicans, one Conservative Party member and 8,859 unaffiliated voters. Obviously, the hot arena will be the Democratic primary in June. But any non-Democrats who want to join the fray must file party declaration forms by April 13 in order to take part. So giddy-up, all you Republicans and whatnot.

The Board of Elections will release an updated report on voter affiliations in late May. Click here to see the Plainfield report from 10/20/2008.

Be sure to check back on my post about Mark Spivey and read the comments. He sure has a lot of fans besides me. There is even a congratulatory post on Jerry Green's Page, sorting Mark out from the "maleficent" past reporters.

Excuse me, I have to go back to stirring my cauldron. Ooops! Just ran out of eye of newt. Maybe Twin City has some. Sound track: Screamin Jay Hawkins (click here.)

--Bernice Paglia

Friday, April 03, 2009

Congratulations to Mark

Hear ye, hear ye! The New Jersey Press Association has announced that our own Mark Spivey won first place for reporting and writing in the 2008 Better Newspaper Contest. Mark submitted a portfolio of his work for the Courier News in the category of daily newspapers with circulation under 60,000. Winners were announced at the NJPA's Press Night Wednesday. For the entire list, click here.

Since taking over the Plainfield beat, Mark has consistently come up with front-page stories on many aspects of life in the Queen City. He is a prolific writer with a great news sense and has made himself known to people in civic groups, enterprise, law enforcement, education, youth advocacy, religious life, cultural organizations and of course, City Hall. When there is sad news to report, he does it with tact and professionalism, focusing on the human aspect as well as the hard facts.

Maybe by now you can guess I am a fan of his. The Plainfield beat can be daunting. He is the fourth reporter to take it on since I retired in July 2003. It is the only urban center in the readership area and residents often feel misunderstood by the media. I think he is well-deserving of his award and I hope you agree.

--Bernice Paglia

Commentary on City Economy

Every day the news media tell of layoffs, furloughs, wage freezes and even closings due to economic conditions. Yet so far in Plainfield we have heard of only one proposed layoff for a possible savings of $10,000 or less.

As the council reluctantly agreed Tuesday to a pension deferral plan to offset a $3.2 million budget shortfall, resident Frank D'Aversa asked City Administrator Marc Dashield whether he had met with unions regarding givebacks. Dashield replied that he had held four meetings with union members so far and noted that almost all the city's union contracts would be up at the end of the year.

"It actually gives us a great opportunity to do a lot of things," he said.

Granted, it would be unpopular to mess with city employees before a mayoral election, but are there no measures that can be taken now? Visitors to City Hall still see greeters who sign in and out at the mayor's office. Taxpayers, some of whom may remember the days when one assistant served both the mayor and city administrator, are questioning the size of the mayor's staff. A reorganization of the Police Division expanded the number of captains from five to seven. The police chief's title was abolished and some are questioning why no consideration has been given to restructuring the Fire Division.

The city is now in the fourth quarter of the year without budget passage. Is it possible that this fiscal year will just be a bad dream from which taxpayers will not awake until after the primary election? Where to get answers? The City Council is launching its once-a-month meeting schedule Monday and the administration is hard to reach.

Monday is also the day when all hopefuls for mayor and Fourth Ward must declare themselves. The incumbent has the advantage of holding the public eye, but the disadvantage of a public record of decisions that can be scrutinized for efficacy. Contenders must make themselves known and also must offer compelling reasons why they think they can do better. The times call for a disciplined leader who will not let this little ship of state founder. If it can't be done now, tightening up the cost of government must be the number one goal for FY 2010 and onward.

--Bernice Paglia

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Council Hears Health Insurance Strategies

Representatives of an insurance brokerage gave the City Council some ideas Tuesday on how to cope with skyrocketing health care costs.

Disease management, or teaching employees how to become healthier, is the key to slowing down “medical inflation,” which now stands at 11 to 12 percent yearly, representatives of Willis HRH said. Senior Vice Presidents John Moore and Mark Lawrie, along with Vice President for Public Relations Otis Anderson, detailed strategies including identifying employees with chronic major conditions such as diabetes or heart trouble.

“We educate each person on his or her own conditions,” Lawrie said.

Healthy eating and stress reduction are also part of the wellness program.

The company also performs a risk analysis to discern patterns, such as repeat claims by individuals and workplace settings that generate more claims than others.

“Your loss history sort of becomes your DNA,” Moore said. “The more information you can give an underwriter, the better they understand the risk.”

The presenters also gave examples of their non-traditional approach, such as approaching carriers in mid-contract to negotiate better rates. Click here to read a Plaintalker post about how Willis HRH was able to save the Plainfield school district $1 million by negotiating lower rates.

Anderson said the company is the third largest in its field.

The presentation during a council budget session was preceded by a lengthy exchange on whether it was appropriate. Though it was called educational and not a sales pitch, Councilman William Reid said he didn’t understand why a private company would come in and “give us a workshop.”

After City Council President Rashid Burney said he understood it was not the council’s purview to hire a company, Reid again questioned the rationale for the presentation.

“We’ve got to start somewhere,” Burney said.

But City Administrator Marc Dashield cited executive responsibility and said, “There is some concern about overstepping these bounds.”

Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson said the city already has an insurance manager that was approved by the council and is under contract and suggested a request could have been made to Dashield. Williamson also noted there is a bidding process that must be followed.

After more dickering over whether the presentation would be crossing a line, Councilman Adrian Mapp said there was nothing to preclude the council from bringing in anyone it chooses “to present information.”

“I think we are saying the same thing in a different way,” Williamson said.

It turned out that a resident’s concerns about city health insurance costs sparked the informational session.

Resident Jay Ahlbeck said he had spoken with Burney and wanted to see a more pro-active approach.

Before the presenters left, Burney noted that Anderson was a two-time New York Giants Super Bowl winner and Anderson confirmed that his massive, diamond-encrusted rings signified his wins in 1986 and 1991.

--Bernice Paglia