Tuesday, April 07, 2009

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


Anonymous Anonymous said...


I drove by and saw that banner of the mayor. I see the need for the scaffolding but the banner is also unsightly. I think it's way over the line and I can't believe the mayor has the nerve to want to hang it. Oh well this is the same mayor who has 3 assistants and who had 2 bodyguards for 3 and a half years. I'm surprised she hasn't required city workers to wear her campaign buttons. And Jerry Green wonders why people don't like this mayor??

9:28 PM  

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