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


Anonymous Anonymous said...

We could all go to the North Plainfield Parade this year. A bigger crowd would probably be welcome.

10:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Councilman Burney is showing leadership and is not cowtowing to politics as usual. How refreshing. There are reasons why Plainfield's parades, etc. are not well received. They are boring. Too many fire engines, marching bands, etc. This insane holiday expenditure is not cost effective.

3:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Councilman Burney is very busy battling hordes of deer herds. I am curious as to what sort of "leadership" he is exhibiting?

7:17 PM  

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