Saturday, April 18, 2009

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


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe you should rename your blog to the Plain-Whiner.

6:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

6:30 - Maybe you shouldn't read it if you don't like it. And maybe you shouldn't comment unless you have something useful to say. But maybe you are a dolt.

6:45 PM  

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