Saturday, May 30, 2009

Who Advocates for Renters?

If you were a homeowner and discovered that the city had raised your taxes by $900 a year, would you be upset?

Well, learn how the other half lives. As renters, my neighbor and I were subject to such increases two years in a row, despite issues such as lack of heat, no emergency contacts, then excessive heat that caused radiators to leak and damage ceilings, insufficient snow and ice removal and other problems.

Half of Plainfield households are renters whose living conditions exist at the whim of landlords, many of whom are absentee profiteers. There has been no organized tenant organization since a property managers’ association broke up the last effort in the early 1980s and bragged about it in a trade journal.

Mobility, survival issues and even language barriers contribute to the plight of renters. In our six-family, some units have turned over four or five times since 2000. A couple of us have been here throughout, clinging to the few plusses (location, secure mailbox and garage).

This building is accessible on foot to the Raritan Valley Line, numerous bus routes, downtown banking and shopping, City Hall, the high school where public BOE meetings used to be held, the Plainfield Public Library and even what remains of Muhlenberg for tests and such. On the other hand, all of our medical and dental practitioners, formerly within walking distance, have moved out of the city. I had to get a driver to take me to Overlook Hospital to see my endocrinologist, who moved from Muhlenberg.

Despite the plusses, we might not be too willing to recommend the building to others because of the minuses. So why do we stay? It’s partly a case of the devil we know vs. the devil we don’t know, and partly the high cost and hassle of moving.

In the affordable housing debate, we wonder where we fit in as renters. Sometimes legislators who say they address affordable housing are only looking at the issue from the landlords’ view. After all, rental profiteers can contribute campaign money, but individual renters can’t.

Among all the issues raised in the primary campaign, we did not hear about this one.
Perhaps those in the November general election race will give us renters a tumble.

--Bernice Paglia

PMUA Meeting Rescheduled Again

The June 2 regular Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority meeting, previously changed to June 4, is now rescheduled to June 16. Click here to read the legal notice.

--Bernice Paglia

Friday, May 29, 2009

Two Follow-up Thoughts

Thursday night's meeting included a lot of information along with some off-hand comments by Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Green.

Among them, Green noted there is no one from Plainfield on the board of the Union County Utilities Authority, though there had been in the past.

Addressing the committee members at the meeting, Green said, "From now on, this is where people from different boards come from."

Hey, wait a minute! It has been a longstanding practice of the party to get people from its ranks on important boards and commissions. Click here to see the committee roster from two years ago and you may note that it includes three PMUA commissioners and two PMUA executives (one now sadly deceased). One PMUA executive also represents Plainfield on the Plainfield Area Regional Sewerage Authority. In addition, there are Planning Board, Zoning Board and TV Board representatives.

The point is, Green had enough PMUA people on his own committee to apprise him of issues and possible answers. He did not necessarily have to drag UCUA and PARSA people into a meeting before the very same committee.

As for the New Jersey American Water company, it's nice to ask them about water issues, but what about the issue of hundreds of street openings from last summer's work that need to be properly repaired? Try walking from the northeast corner of Park & Seventh to the northwest corner and you will see the problem. Pedestrians must pick their way over a dangerous stretch of potholes and broken asphalt to get to the Twin City plaza. When will officials question the timetable for repairs?

--Bernice Paglia

"Some Truths ..."

On page A-8 of today's Courier News, there is an advertisement on "truths" regarding possible elimination of the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority. It has 11 bullet points and was paid for by Democrats for Positive Change. If you look on your sample ballot with a magnifying glass, you will see the same slogan under the name of mayoral candidate Carol Ann Brokaw Boles (not hyphenated on the ballot).

The ad is too long even to summarize here, but the main point is the high cost of eliminating PMUA in favor of the city taking over its functions.

Regarding Democrats for Positive Change, I was told on filing day back in April that Board of Education President Bridget Rivers filed for the Fourth Ward City Council seat under the same slogan. Later, someone told me Rivers was not running with Brokaw Boles. Will some registered voter in the Fourth Ward please look at the sample ballot and verify whether Rivers has the same slogan or not? Thanks.

--Bernice Paglia

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Report on "Water Issues" Meeting

City residents can have a $2,800 separate meter installed if they want to sort out lawn watering from domestic uses, or they could seek a winter month averaging plan for water bills, attendees at Assemblyman Jerry Green's meeting found out Thursday. Another alternate to reduce water bills is to conserve, by fixing leaky faucets and such measures, a New Jersey American Water representative said.

Green foreshadowed Thursday's meeting in a May 18 blog entry in which he promised to apprise the public of the date, but there was no public notice. Plaintalker received less than 24 hours' notice by e-mail from a civic group. As stated in the e-mail, the audience was mostly members of the Democratic City Committee , Green, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs and water company representatives.

In addition, speakers Thursday included Sunil K. Garg, executive director of the Union County Utilities Authority and Commissioner Bill Populus of the Plainfield Area Regional Sewerage Authority.

The meeting was billed as a followup to a May 12 meeting arranged by the Friends of Sleepy Hollow on the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority, but except for PMUA Commissioner Alex Toliver, who is also on the Democratic City Committee and was in the audience, there was no speaker from PMUA.

Green, who managed to misstate the authority's acronym as PUMA, said the meeting was called to educate the community on their rights. PMUA manages both sewer and solid waste for the citry and the discussion covered both aspects.

Jason Gonzalez, vice president for governmental affairs for New Jersey American Water, described the options for lowering water bills. Besides separating outdoor uses from household ones with a separate meter or restructuring the billing plan, Gonzalez stressed the importance of water conservation. He said the company has an ongoing educational program on the subject for customers.

Despite some questions on getting around the $2,800 separate meter cost, company representatives said while the initial household hookup is free, adding a meter incurs costs for equipment, material and time that cannot be set aside. The one-time fee may be worth the cost for homes that have large irrigation systems or similar outside use, speakers said.

Gonzalez noted that water usage costs may also be ameliorated by a payment assistance plan aavailable to homeowners who meet income eligibility guidelines.

Populus described the work of PARSA, which conveys sewage from eight communities over 20 miles of pipes. Although he did not specify it, the waste conveyed by PMUA and then PARSA ultimately comes under the jurisdiction of a third agency, the Middlesex County Utilities Authority, for treatment before ocean disposal.

As the meeting moved on to solid waste issues, Garg described the rules that mandate disposal of all Union County municipal solid waste and bulky waste at the Rahway waste-to-energy plant that was established in 1998. Plainfield was one of 14 municipalities that signed on to an agreement then that locked in a preferential rate for disposal that is $30 less per ton than that of the seven municipalities which did not join, he said.

Green took credit for establishing the UCUA while he was a Union County freeholder chairman. He also said Plainfield had members on the UCUA board early on and he hopes to have some again.

Although Green talked about what city government needs to do, such as naming commissioners to the various authorities, it seemed he expected the action to take place within the confines of the Democratic Party.

The only governing body members present were Council President Rashid Burney and Councilwoman Linda Carter.

With some major entities lacking for the debate, it remains to be seen whether it will advance the public's awareness and understanding of the issues surrounding water use and solid waste disposal. Stay tuned for post-primary enlightenment.

--Bernice Paglia

Through A Screen Darkly

A PMUA truck picked up trash from our six-family this morning and then I thought it was going next door to Connelly's. But no, another truck was already over there.

From my screen window I could see trash and recyclables being put in the same truck, something that we used to see often and which made us wonder why we had to separate stuff.

So next an inspector comes in a pickup truck. Note the sole orange light on the cab.
The workers and the inspector conferred. Yes, the trash bin is overflowing.

Yep, on closer inspection it's trash all right.
Just to make sure what happened, another inspector (note orange light bar on cab) checks later.
Next up, two PMUA trash trucks back into our driveway, each with a refurbished, newly-painted bin on the rear. Workers unhook the bins, roll them to Connelly's and drag two old bins back to the trucks, hook them up and take off. A short time later, this process is repeated. ( I have more pictures.)
In all, six PMUA trucks and two inspectors were here today.
If I didn't spend most of my time on the driveway side of my apartment, maybe this wouldn't seem like a lot of commotion in one day. It seems to me I have seen the smaller trucks bringing trash bins. Not sure why the big trucks had to do it today.
BTW, regarding the Connelly building, I am still trying to find out when the film shot on my block will be released. It was much more fun to see Woody Harrelson and crew out in the driveway as they filmed "The Messenger" last summer.
--Bernice Paglia

Wrong Dilemma

Plaintalker stands corrected on a recent post:

Dear Bernice,
After seeing your Tuesday blog with the picture of trash with the title “A PMUA Dilemma” we would like to point out that the dumpster/location in focus is owned by Waste Management, the private hauler which is responsible for picking up the trash at this location from their dumpster.
It's unfortunate that the PMUA is automatically linked to this incident of waste overflow. While the Authority may service the majority of locations in Plainfield, there are still other haulers who collect around the city. This misplaced accountability only serves to exacorbate negativity toward the Authority.
Also, residents have been continuously informed that if they expect to have an excess amount of waste following a long weekend, they should contact the Authority to identify available options for disposing of waste and avoiding citation. ANY zone whose regular collection schedule is interrupted by a holiday is allowed up to one container's worth of additional waste to dispose of at no service charge on their following pick-up.

I hope this has clarified any questions you may have on the PMUA and their responsibility of collection at this particular site. If you'd like more information on any other matters discussed in your article about the PMUA, please feel free to contact me.


Erin Donnelly
Manager, PMUA Public Information

This morning I took this photo behind Connelly Properties on my block. I have e-mailed Erin to ask about this situation. Maybe this is a PMUA dilemma?

--Bernice Paglia

Campaign High Jinks Continue Tonight

A crowd of 100 or more citizens gathered Wednesday for what was billed as a mayoral forum, only to see Assemblyman Jerry Green front and center on the panel.

Moderator Martha Royster had candidates introduce themselves by name only. When it was Green's turn, one testy citizen yelled from the audience, asking whether Green was running for mayor. But that was not the only outburst. A seat with a name card for Assembly challenger Rick Smiley was vacant at the start. When he arrived, Royster directed him to his prepared place, but Smiley told the sudience, "I have everything but an invitation!"

Royster directed Smiley to give his opening statement as others had done, but Smiley again protested the circumstances.

"This campaign is interesting in a number of ways," he began, noting the forum had been publicized as only for mayoral candidates and it seemed to him he had been left out so as not to be able to present "cogent arguments" on his views.

"I feel very set up by this process," he said.

Green's running mate, Assemblywoman Linda Stender, was not present, adding a further dubious note to the format.

Candidates in the Democratic mayoral primary race included incumbent Sharon Robinson-Briggs, Carol Brokaw-Boles, Martin Cox, Bob Ferraro, Councilman Adrian Mapp and Thomas Turner. Republican mayoral candidate James Pivnichny was also allowed to take part. I took sketchy notes on the opening statements with one eye on the clock, as I had to attend the Shade tree Commission meeting at 7:30 p.m. What I heard was largely rehashes of old issues, fingerpointing and rhetoric, with a dollop of misinformation. The audience seemed to be divided mostly among Regular Dem and New Dem partisans, although "Piv" received polite applause for his comments.

If juggling two meetings was difficult Wednesday, imagine the thrill of learning that there is another 6:30-8:30 p.m. meeting tonight in the Plainfield Public Library, with no conflict! The subject is "Plainfield Water Issues" and it is described as an offshoot of the May 12 FOSH meeting on the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority. Guess who will be there? Assemblyman Jerry Green, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, Council President Rashid Burney, Plainfield Democratic Committee members and representatives of New Jersey American Water, according to an e-mail sent to Plaintalker at 9:40 p.m. Wednesday. I did not see any mention of it on Green's blog.

Some have wondered what the water company has to do with PMUA's rate hikes. The question has been raised on how the rate of incoming household water gets translated to higher output on sewer bills, but that would seem to be something PMUA would have to answer, not the water company. Whether this meeting will be "informational" on water issues or merely serve as the setting for more campaign posturing remains to be seen.

--Bernice Paglia

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Gated City

On my walk downtown Tuesday, I was surprised to see all these gates down at 10 a.m. on a business day.

Maybe people were open on the holiday and shut down today, but it certainly did not look inviting.

Some of the stores were vacant, or should I say many of the stores were vacant.

A few held pitches for new tenants. Many were Paramount properties acquired from the Pittis Estate.

This view was down Watchung Avenue toward the train station.
In all, it was a surprising sight in the central business district on a weekday. If anyone has any insight into why the downtown looks like this, please leave a comment.
--Bernice Paglia

The Party's Over ...

The tables, balloons, food and other hoopla are all gone.

Shoved against the window of the new senior center, my camera revealed only that the lights are still on in the kitchen.

--Bernice Paglia

Church Faces Old Parking Issues

About five years ago, this building was slated to become a multi-faceted facility with two restaurants along with office and retail space. Despite a lack of onsite parking, the application was approved with the notion that nearby municipal parking lots would provide the needed spaces. But somehow the "Caribbean Plaza" never materialized, and according to my notes, the building went up for sale in May 2007.

Despite the address emblazoned on the corner facade at West Second Street and Central Avenue, the former electrical supply business technically comprises two lots making up 401-411 West Second Street.

Now that Genesis Seventh-Day Adventist Church seeks to use the building as a house of worship for about 200 people and also to have a fellowship hall and meeting, reading and study rooms, a kitchen/pantry and classrooms, the issue of parking remains. The church is asking the Planning Board on June 4 to approve three onsite parking spaces and the use of 47 municipal parking spaces.
On my investigatory walk Tuesday, I saw a city parking lot catty-corner to the site that was largely vacant except for pairs and trios of Latino men apparently waiting for employment. I don't know which lot it was, but for the past case the applicant cited 76 spaces in Lot 2 and 138 in Lot 9.
This was an early indication of the trend to try to trade off parking in city lots for onsite parking. Below is an image of a page in my notebook of development and redevelopment proposals over the past five years. The prior applicant sought to use two nearby sites for parking, but both owners declined, leading to the pitch for city-owned spaces.
Regarding other questions that have come up, the two lots are now owned by the Allegheny East Conference of the Seventh Day Adventists and neither is exempt. Tax officials confirmed that a church does not automatically get exempt status, but must apply for it.
Some oldtimers may recall the Rose of Sharon case, where the church bought some property across the street from the church and ran up a tax tab because it was not exempt. But the City Council at the time voted to excuse the $35,000 or so in back taxes because the church supposedly did not know the rules. A certain councilwoman who was a member of the church caused a bit of scandal by voting on the matter when some thought she should have recused herself.
As long as I was at City Hall Tuesday, I looked in the back of the tax book and found out that exempt church property has a total value of $96,256,800, which is 7.6 percent of the total value of all property, namely $1,260,499,421. By contrast, exempt public schools at $63,090,400 stand at 5 percent of the total value of all property. Storefront churches in leased spaces are not tax-exempt and there are many of them. The city could use a good analysis of its current commercial building usage.
--Bernice Paglia

A PMUA Dilemma

On my way to the Memorial Day ceremony, I smelled something really bad. A glance down the driveway behind a large apartment building revealed this sight.

Given the PMUA rules on trash overflow, it would seem the property owner is in for a slew of fines. But I saw more examples of this excess trash in my short walk, making me wonder who really owns the problem. Is it the tenant, who at month's end is preparing for a move? Is it related to the holiday weekend? When and how often is this problem repeated? Is a larger receptacle in order?

At a recent meeting, PMUA representatives advised residents that they should hold excess trash somewhere until the next pickup date. But isn't trash in a garage or basement an invitation to vermin?

For many years, despite press notices of suspended PMUA pickup on holidays, the big trucks would rumble up our driveway anyway. We wondered whether PMUA staff got double time or triple time pay for these holiday pickups. Now the pendulum has swung to cracking down on residents who can't stuff everything into the receptacle on a long weekend.

At the May 12 meeting, one resident joked that when presented with a photo of a trash overload, the property owner should mail PMUA a photo of a $50 bill to pay the fine. It got a laugh, but the problem remains.

Phew! Just now a PMUA truck pulled up , wafting a mighty stink into my window. Maybe citizens should mount a revolt to make sure PMUA washes down its trucks in summer.

All these aspects of waste flow and disposal seem to be unresolved even as PMUA touts a proposal to cut back pickups in winter. That might help PMUA's cash flow, but what about the annual winter holiday trash overflow?

The City Council expects to go over PMUA issues at a special meeting at 8 p.m. on July 27 in Municipal Court. Get your questions ready.

--Bernice Paglia

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Other Memorial

While an observance was held at the War Memorial at Crescent and East Seventh, this one on the grounds of City Hall was not visited. Flags and a wreath had been placed at the memorial, which was erected through the efforts of citizens and was dedicated on Memorial Day 2001.

On four of its five sides, names of Plainfielders who gave their lives in major 20th Century wars are inscribed.
The largest group by far is from World War II.

The monument is set in the middle of a brickwork five-pointed star.

If you are near City Hall anytime soon, take a look at this monument and remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

--Bernice Paglia

Memorial Day Observance

Veterans assemble in remembrance of all those who made the ultimate sacrifice to defend our country.
Members of the Plainfield High School ROTC participate.
Residents assemble to pay tribute.
Lisa Dixon, Past Commander of American Legion Post 219, presides.

Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs gives remarks.
--Bernice Paglia

Observe Memorial Day

Did you know that veterans comprise 20 percent of the U.S. population and the their median age is 60?

For more facts on veterans, click here.

A Memorial Day service will take place at 10 a.m. today at the War Memorial, Watchung Avenue and East Seventh Street. Take an extra moment to visit the memorial on the grounds of City Hall.

--Bernice Paglia

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Parking, Charter School on Land Use Agendas

The fine print of legal notices has yielded a few interesting items coming up at land use boards.

An apartment project that won preliminary site plan approval last year will be the subject of a public hearing June 4 on the issue of parking. Eight apartments are proposed on the second floor of the former Eiseman's building on Park Avenue, but the developer is asking the Planning Board to waive the requirement for one parking space per apartment. The public hearing is 8 p.m. in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave. For Plaintalker's previous blog post on this application, click here.

Also up for a public hearing the same night is a proposal to convert an 11,595-square-foot commercial building at 401-411 West Second Street into a church. Genesis Seventh-Day Adventist Church of North Plainfield seeks preliminary and final site plan approval for the conversion to a house of worship seating 200 people. The group also wants to have a fellowship hall and meeting, reading and study rooms, along with a kitchen/pantry and classrooms. While 50 parking spaces are required, the applicant proposes three, along with use of 47 municipal parking spaces.

Zone requirements include a lot area of one acre, while the site is just over one-quarter acre. Frontage is a little over half the required 200 feet.

There has been a trend recently of seeking relief from parking requirements downtown and proposing use of municipal lots. North Avenue developer Frank Cretella recently dropped the idea of a multi-story parking deck on Municipal Lot 6 in favor of parking at numerous underutilized downtown parking lots. A proposal for state office space on East Fifth Street relies on purchase of a couple dozen permit slots in Municipal Lot 7, two blocks south. Because none of the projects are complete, the issue has not been tested in reality. The new senior center/condo complex at 400 East Front Street will have 93 parking spaces for 63 two-bedroom residential units as well as the senior and veterans' centers. The developer was also allowed to omit the required eight landscaped traffic islands.

Another legal notice tells us that the YWCA at 232 East Front Street needs site plan approval to permit a charter school on the property. Schools are not a permitted use in the central business district. That matter is up for a hearing at 7 p.m. on June 3 before the Zoning Board of Adjustment in City Hall Library. The school is the Dr. Ellen G. Pressman Charter School, slated to open in September. It will be the fourth charter school in Plainfield and in all of Union County.

Documents on all these matters are on file in the Planning Division on the second floor of City Hall and may be inspected by the public between the hours of 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, excluding holidays. City Hall will be closed Monday for Memorial Day.

--Bernice Paglia

An Invitation from Piv

Over the past 25 years, I have seen many people come forward with a desire to serve in elected office. I always find it interesting to see Plainfield through the eyes of a candidate. Once a person decides to step forward, what does he or she perceive as important in civic life?

At the risk of being called a Republican by Jerry Green, I am passing along an invitation from James Pivnichny, who will be on the ballot in November along with the June 2 Democratic primary winner and any independents who file on June 2. "Piv" has joined the ranks of bloggers commenting on Plainfield and has proposed an observance of Memorial Day.

Here is his message:

"Dear Friends,
On our national day of remembrance it would be fitting to take some time to honor those who have throughout history made the ultimate sacrifice for the good of our country and the cause of freedom. I propose that the residents of Plainfield gather together to do this. We will meet at 11:00 AM on Memorial Day at the monument in front of City Hall for a brief ceremony. Please pass this word along to your friends and neighbors so that we may have as large a group as possible. Thank you, and I am looking forward to seeing you there.
Jim Pivnichny"

As some may recall, the memorial was built through the efforts of a group of citizens in remembrance of those who made the ultimate sacrifice in 2oth century wars. As far as I know, no other observances have been announced for Monday. Correction: The Courier News lists a 10 a.m. service at the War Memorial at Watchung Avenue and East Seventh Street, co-hosted by Veterans of Foreign Wars Post7474 and American Legion Post 219. The ceremony will include refreshments.

--Bernice Paglia

Saturday, May 23, 2009

House Tour, Garage Sale May 31

Some of Plainfield's most impressive homes and gardens will be open to the public on May 31, with the added bonus of a highly popular multi-family garage sale the same day.

"Maidens in May" is the house tour organized by the United Way Community Council of Plainfield for the benefit of the Plainfield Medical Transportation Fund. This year's beneficiaries will be the Tri-County Red Cross and the Plainfield Rescue Squad. Six homes of historical and architectural significance will be featured. Tickets are $20 in advance or $25 on the day of the tour. Hours are 2 to 5 p.m. with a reception from 3 to 6 p.m. at The Pillars. For more information, click here.

Volunteer docents and helpers may still be needed for the event. Call (908) 353.7171, ext. 138 to volunteer.

The Friends of Sleepy Hollow garage sale draws hundreds of people to the city in search of bargains. More than 120 households will take part this year. The garage sale is 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Participating homes will be marked with balloons and maps will be available.

--Bernice Paglia

Friday, May 22, 2009

Modem is Misbehaving

My Verizon connection failed twice this morning. Now I am all paranoid and keep looking over to see if I have four green bars or three, with one red one meaning trouble. If I can't post over the weekend, never fear, I expect to be on the planet, if not on the interwebs.


PMUA Reschedules Meeting

According to a legal notice in today's Courier News, the June 2 PMUA meeting is now rescheduled to7 p.m. on Thursday, June 4 at the Authority's office, 127 Roosevelt Ave. Not surprising, considering that mayoral candidate Carol Brokaw-Boles is also chairperson of the PMUA's board of commissioners and she may want to be checking the returns on the June 2 primary race.

Brokaw-Boles is one of six Democrats vying to win the mayoral primary. Others are incumbent Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, former Councilman Bob Ferraro, Third Ward Council and former Freeholder Adrian Mapp, Thomas Turner III and Board of Education member Martin Cox.

FYI, The New Jersey Press Association is now putting legal notices online in a far more readable format than the 1 1/2-inch by 1 7/8-inch one in the paper. Click here to see it.

--Bernice Paglia

Relay for Life Coming Up

An American Cancer Society event to "celebrate, remember and fight back" will take place overnight at Hub Stine Field on May 30 and 31.

Darlene McWilliams, who lost her husband to renal cancer, visited the City Council on May 4 to discuss the event and urged the council members to take part. The late Mayor Albert T. McWilliams was only 53 when he lost his life two years ago, leaving behind Darlene and their five children.

Mrs. McWilliams called the blow a "sucker punch," noting it was just "five months from diagnosis to death" in her husband's case. Their daughter, Citywide At-large Councilwoman Annie McWilliams, is carrying on his political legacy and listened as her mother described the devastating effects of cancer on families.

Mrs. McWilliams and Cynthia Lewis said the group aims to "paint the town purple" with ribbon bows that people can purchase to show support. Signs are also available for display. Participants will raise funds in the overnight event. The goal is to have 40 teams and to raise $60,000. On May 4, the tally stood at $9,000 and is now listed as more than $20,000 on the Plainfield Relay for Life web site. Click here to see it.

The 14-hour event will honor survivors and recall those who did not make it. Funds raised will be used locally and the event overall will promote awareness of cancer and its impact on the community.

--Bernice Paglia

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

New Senior Center Event

Operating with a temporary certificate of occupancy, the new senior center was opened Wednesday for a pre-primary celebration. Occupancy will occur later this year. The developer had already missed three stated deadlines, but with the re-election of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs on the line, organizers pulled out all stops for a spectacular event with celebrants packing the main room of the new center.

In the foreground here, marchers from the old center include Senior Center Director Sharron Brown, the mayor, former City Councilman and present Union County Freeholder Rayland Van Blake and 22nd District Assemblyman Jerry Green.

Celebrity reporter Mark Spivey wards off the paparazzi as he tries not to become part of the story.
Developer Glen Fishman appears pensive. So far, eight condos of 63 on the upper three floors have been sold, he said. Fishman received title to the site from the city for $1, but said Wednesday he invested about $2 million in the center. Seniors made all their wishes for the center known through a building committee that met over many years. Several plans for a new center were considered and discarded. Plaintalker did not stick around for a tour, but the center does have many specialized rooms for sewing, billiards, computers and many other activities.
Public Safety Director/Police Director Martin Hellwig cuts a dashing figure as he attends along with many other City Hall staffers.
Red balloons mark the mayor's favorite color and many seniors wear red for the big event that featured prayers, songs, speeches and recognitions, especially for the building committee. Seniors gave sincere wishes for the speedy recovery of committee president Charles Nelson, who is recovering from health issues and could not attend.
The crowd acknowledged the efforts of Jayson Williams to help create a new senior center and applauded the presence of his father, E.J. Williams and representative Akhtar Farzaie.
With Glen Fishman looking on, the mayor led a round of applause for the celebration.
Green and Robinson-Briggs are on the June 2 primary ballot. There are five other Democrats challenging the mayor, who is seeking a second term.
Fishman later acknowledged that terms of an agreement among the city, Dornoch Plainfield LLC and the Union County Improvement Authority have not materially changed. Among the terms: Closings on condos may not occur until issuance of of a certificate of occupancy for the senior center. The Veterans' Center space is currently being used as the sales model for the condos, but as stated Wednesday there will be an interim space made available. Once the senior center takes occupancy, the city must pay a condo fee of 13 percent or more for overall costs.
While not quite a pig in a poke, the senior center proposal is not exactly the unalloyed success that politicians would have us believe. How much longer must the city pay for the quarters at 305 East Front Street and at what rate? We need some hard, cold facts on this situation. Some might also ask what was the billable hours' total for city staffers to be away from City Hall for the event?

--Bernice Paglia

Are We Our Bloggers' Keepers?

Bloggity blog blog blog!

How did a dispute between Police Captain Siddeeq El-Amin and Councilman Adrian Mapp get to become homework for some of us other bloggers? Is it incumbent upon us to try to sort out the facts?

Initially, Captain El-Amin objects to Mapp's statement that a grant opportunity was missed. No, in fact the grant was filed before deadline. A council resolution will follow in June and is a "formality." Captain El-Amin reaches out to some city bloggers because his response to Mapp is not posted on Mapp's blog.

Bloggers attempt to get more details. Is it possible that the calendar change to one agenda session and one voting meeting per month has hindered the usual process of council authorization first and grant application second?

Meanwhile, Mapp's post appears first on his campaign blog and later on his councilmanic blog, where according to Dan, Captain El-Amin's response is in fact also posted. So are the other bloggers now off the hook for posting about it on their blogs? Mapp claims that even though the deadline was met, the governing body should have been told about it by the administration. But he also points to a resolution he offered to facilitate timely response to Stimulus Plan opportunities.

Captain El-Amin says he prepared the resolution on the COPS grant and he does not know what resolution Mapp is talking about.

Oy vey. Can we please be excused to go outside and do yardwork?

--Bernice Paglia

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Remember Malcolm X

With just days to go before the June 2 primary, I am somewhat torn between the desire to comment and the inclination to hold my tongue , as other bloggers have chosen to do.

Meanwhile, WBAI reminded me that Malcolm X would have turned 84 today.

Malcolm's voice on WOR on late-night radio was compelling in the 1960s, even though his message was sometimes alarming. His life viewed in its entirety and the circumstances of his death are testaments to human enlightenment (the former) and the evil that men can do (the latter). There is a mysterious Plainfield link that I have yet to fully comprehend.

Anyway, Wikipedia does a pretty good job of detailing the stages of his life, from dissolution to militance to finding his own direction and purpose before his assassination. Click here to read it.

Now to some just a name in the history books, Malcolm X was a complex being, a seeker who ended up in a higher place at his peril. I will be thinking today about Malcolm X, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz.

--Bernice Paglia

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Flower Images

Update on the Star of Bethlehem: When it fully expands, it has another star in the center. Quite lovely!

Does this look like a bunch of doves? Thus the name columbine, from the Latin name for doves.
Gardens are full of enchanting surprises!
--Bernice Paglia

New BOE Titles Looming

Seven new job titles up for Board of Education approval Tuesday recall the wholesale shifts of titles a year ago.

The business meeting is 7 p.m. in the administration building at 1200 Myrtle Avenue. The agenda is posted on the district web site.

The school board abolished more than 40 job titles in May 2008 and approved nearly 40 new ones. The stated goal for the current new titles is to "improve the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the district and school operations" by achieving greater alignment with district goals and objectives. (See text on page 7 of the agenda for full language).

Only titles are up for approval Tuesday, not personnel assignments.

One new title is "Coordinator, Information Technology & Support Services," in contrast to the 2008 title of "Director, Information Technology & Support Services," filled last year by Chris Payne at a salary of $118,680. This title was on the 2008 list, but according to my notes was never approved previously.

The new title of "Resource Teacher, Educational Services" recalls the 2008 titles of "Assistant Superintendent , Educational Services" held by Angela Kemp at a salary of $142,750 and "Director, Educational Services," held by Beth Ebler at $134,300. There is also a new title of "VP, Educational Services."

"Coordinator, Public Information & Marketing " appears to be related to the 2008 post of "Coordinator, Community Engagement, Public Information & Marketing" which was assigned to Eric Jones at a salary of $85,940.

"Coordinator, Special Education Programs," may be related to two 2008 titles, "Director, Special Education, Gifted & Psychological Services" and "VP, Special Education, Gifted & Psychological Services ."

"Coordinator, Pupil Progression Services" is a new title that is not specifically reflected on the 2008 roster.

"Coordinator, Administrative Services Operations" echoes the 2008 roster title of "Assistant Superintendent, Administrative Services" held by Garnell Bailey at a salary of $149,550.

It is not clear whether the new titles are in addition to past titles or may be supplanting some. Last year, new titles were established in May but not filled until July. All district jobs must be approved within the next couple of months for the 2009-10 school year.

--Bernice Paglia

Saturday, May 16, 2009

New Crop of Mantids

Mantids have begun emerging from the egg case saved from last fall. I cut it off the forsythia bush, which needed a trim, and placed it on some ornamental grass. A couple days ago I noticed a clump of white stuff attached to the egg case by fine strings.

Believe it or not, these are the emerging mantids. One group came out first and this is another group.

Here is a fine fellow from the first group. Several dozen could be seen clambering over the grass, but they tended to duck or jump away at the approach of a camera. Now only about half an inch long, those that survive will grow to five inches or more. Meanwhile, my neighbor and I hope they will patrol the garden and eat up insect pests all summer - and maybe not snack on butterflies, as seen in this slide show.
--Bernice Paglia

Green Goes Gunning

Jerry Green's latest salvo against Board of Education member Christian Estevez reminds me of the reason why I stopped trying to deal with Green on July 9, 2008. He had called me at home to try to get me to put something on my blog, in rather a bullying way. I did not want to spend the day making phone calls to follow up on his allegations. I wanted to go shopping.

Twenty days later, Green began his own blog.

Here is his lofty promise as he began blogging: "From day one, I’ve tried to make my blog different. I’ve made a conscious decision not to get involved with negative blogging or negative blog comments. I am very proud that nothing has gone out on this blog that did not come from my mind."

Well, I leave it to readers to decide whether this has been the case. Because I had the temerity to interview John Campbell after the primary win of Adrian Mapp and Annie McWilliams, Green assigned untrue motives and actions to me on his blog, claiming I was a Republican who worked for the election of Sarah Palin. This pattern has continued with other targets. In the case of Estevez, Green accuses him of a cover-up on an alleged incident at the high school. Estevez has responded point-by-point on his blog and notes Green's ongoing allegations of mismanagement in the school district.

Tossing out smears against people has become a recurring theme on Green's blog. Because most of his charges are vague and lack factual substantiation, or as in the above case cross lines of confidentiality, they boil down to misguided mudslinging that adds nothing to the public discourse. Having an elected official who behaves this way leads to feelings of disenfranchisement and lack of legitimate representation in the halls of government. Conversely, Green seems blind to the shortcomings of the current administration and therefore cannot address objectively such things as the churn of finance directors since 2006 and the lack of movement on capital projects.

No wonder State Superior Court Judge William Wertheimer got a laugh when he joked about the number of people wanting to be mayor of Plainfield. With Green as turret gunner, anyone not kowtowing to his politics is in the crosshairs.

If history is any example, expect the next couple of weeks to bring even more slurs and slams. The days before elections in Plainfield are usually quite depressing for the amount of vitriol flowing from the political establishment. But maybe Green will recall his early blog promise and take the high road in the run-up to June 2.

--Bernice Paglia

Friday, May 15, 2009

Ooops! Forgot I Was Paid!

This 2007 declaration of income , as required by the Local Government Ethics Law Financial Disclosure Statement, leaves out the $35,000 salary for mayor.

Details, details.

--Bernice Paglia

Thursday, May 14, 2009

TV Board Revitalization Sought

City Council reorganization and mayoral address on Channel 74.

Members of the Plainfield Cable Television Advisory Board and other officials are seeking to fill board seats as questions continue regarding the functioning of Channel 74.

Lacking a quorum Thursday, members held an informal discussion on how to revitalize the board, which has oversight of the local origination channel provided by Comcast of the Plainfields. Programming has been stalled since early spring, since the loss of the city public information officer and the need to contract with a consultant who formerly developed shows for the channel.

At its May 11 meeting, the City Council approved a contract with Blok Box LLC, which had previously served in the 2007-08 fiscal year and had qualified to 2008-09, but until this month had no contract.

The advisory board needs more citizen members as a first step and at Thursday's meeting detailed several other steps necessary to get programming to the level desired by the public. One key issue lately is to have school board meetings aired, as City Council meetings have been in recent months. School board member and liaison to the City Council Patricia Barksdale presented a DVD to City Council member Linda Carter Monday, saying it was one of five or six awaiting airing on Channel 74.

The TV board has several categories of membership, including a mayoral designee, a city official, three council members, representatives of the school board and public library, four citizens and three citizen alternates. The mayor's designee is her husband, Peter R. Briggs. Carter and Councilman Rashid Burney are two of the council representatives, the third being unclear. Jan Massey and Quadir Lewis are citizen members.

Councilwoman Annie McWilliams attended Thursday's TV board meeting and pledged to recruit more citizen members, while Barksdale said she will look into assignment of a school board liaison. TV board members will check with City Clerk Laddie Wyatt on the status of other seats.

The TV board's chairperson must come from the Class VI citizen category and at present there is no chairman or secretary.

Any citizen interested in serving on the Plainfield Cable Television Advisory Board may download an application form from the city web site, fill it out and return copies to Wyatt and to the mayor's office. Terms are for three years or the unexpired portion of such a term.

The duties and responsibilities of the TV advisory board include making recommendations to mayor and council on cable operations, making annual reports to the same and to "encourage and coordinate the use of all available technical equipment and expertise needed by the public and private organizations and private individuals to produce cable television programs," among many others listed in Article 26 of the Agencies and Boards section of the Municipal Code.

The board has dealt with Comcast of the Plainfields since its inception, but is also exploring possibilities of expanded franchise fees and service as Verizon FiOS takes hold in Plainfield.

--Bernice Paglia

DPW and "The Monarch"

Inquiring minds wondered why Plainfield Division of Public Works employees and heavy equipment could be seen on the senior center work site recently.

Were they working on a new sidewalk to get ready for the mayor's May 20 dedication?
No, City Administrator Marc Dashield explained that the work crew was installing conduits for future closed circuit television installation. The city wanted to do the work before the developer puts in a new sidewalk, Dashield said, to avoid having to break up the sidewalk later.
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.
Downtown surveillance cameras to fight crime have been under discussion for at least 10 years.
Meanwhile, construction of The Monarch will bring not only a new senior center to the central business district, but also 63 condos on three upper floors.
The dedication of the new senior center is slated for 11 a.m. on May 20. The Monarch is located at 400 East Front Street, just across the street to the east of the current center in leased space at at 305 East Front Street.
--Bernice Paglia

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Residents Sound Off on PMUA

A PMUA packer in my driveway.

Riled-up residents packed the Plainfield Public Library’s meeting room Tuesday to make their concerns known to two representatives of the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority.

The meeting was organized by the Friends of Sleepy Hollow, a neighborhood association, and moderated by its president, Tom Glynn.

The PMUA was formed about 14 years ago to handle solid waste and sewer operations in the city, but double-digit rate increases in January and what appeared to be a recent commissioners’ junket to Oakland, Calif. combined to raise the wrath of ratepayers. The Oakland event was organized by the National Forum for Black Public Administrators, whose New Jersey chapter president is former councilman Don Davis, liaison to the PMUA while in office.

The rate increases and various fines for infractions such as having garbage bags on top of trash containers led to formation of a citizens’ revolt, complete with a lawsuit and a website called “DumpPMUA.”

Philip Charles, originator of the lawsuit, told the crowd Tuesday of his ordeals in attempting to opt out of PMUA trash pickup and getting more information on the authority’s operations.

“The response has been a non-response,” Charles said.

Charles has objected to a “shared services” cost for downtown trash pickup as well as a litany of perceived excesses such as a full-color newsletter mailed to about 12,000 households and cross-country trips for conferences. Having filed multiple Open Public Records Act requests, Charles continues to amass data on the authority’s operations.

Besides Charles’ concerns, Glynn fielded questions from other residents who complained their incoming water bills somehow morphed to four times the cost for sewage disposal.

PMUA representatives Howard Smith, the operations director, and Erin Donnelly, who handles public relations, answered some questions but often directed questioners to fill out a form for future follow-up.

Pat Turner Kavanaugh, who helped organize the event, said she had asked for PMUA Director Eric Watson and Assistant Executive Director David Ervin to attend, but she said, “They fought me off.”

Referring to Donnelly and Smith, Turner Kavanaugh said, “They’ve thrown these two people to the wolves.”

As much as the two representatives tried to answer concerns, there were many more questions than could be answered on the spot. Turner Kavanaugh and others questioned the motives for a recent PMUA survey on residents' views, such as whether once-a-week pickup in winter months would be acceptable.

The PMUA issues have become a leit-motif of the current mayoral campaign, with one candidate, Carol Ann Brokaw-Boles, being the current chairperson of the authority and another candidate, Councilman Adrian Mapp, calling for “reining in” of the authority, with possible restoration to city oversight of its functions.

In addition, mayoral candidate Bob Ferraro was once a fierce opponent of the authority and then accepted a job with it, from which he just retired. The incumbent mayor, Sharon Robinson-Briggs, nominated Davis for a commissionership earlier this year, but the nomination did not come up for a City Council vote. Assemblyman Jerry Green, who along with Robinson-Briggs is seeking re-election, appeared briefly Tuesday to say he had asked the state controller to audit the authority.

Many of the candidates were attending a mayoral forum at Shiloh Baptist Church, which began at the same time as the FOSH meeting.

Although the Dump PMUA movement began during the campaign season, organizers say the group is non-political.

Though he did not appear Tuesday, Watson defended the PMUA in a recent news interview, citing problems that a city takeover would incur, including the need to assume the authority’s debt. Since beginning in 1995 with little more than a phone and a desk for Watson, the authority has established its operations base at the city-owned transfer station on Rock Avenue and has offices at other locations in the city. Initially the authority contracted for trash and recycling pickup, but now has its own fleet of trucks. It has grown to become the city’s fifth largest employer, according to Watson, with more than 100 employees.

Glynn reminded those present that the City Council will hold a special meeting on the topic of the PMUA at 8 p.m. on July 27 in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

--Bernice Paglia

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Council Forced to Pass Defeated School Budget

A school budget figure that voters rejected on April 21 was reluctantly approved by the City Council Monday, a move forced by the School Funding Reform Act of 2008. Correction: As noted by Olddoc, they agreed to take no action on the budget.

The local school tax levy had remained the same since 1992, even as the overall budget swelled with state and federal aid. But after passage of the reform legislation, the local amount went up from $17,683,906 to $18,391,262 last year and $19,862,563 this year. The legislation is aimed at achieving more of a "fair share" of school costs in the state's 31 neediest school systems, known as Abbott districts. Plainfield still receives massive amounts of aid, but residents are now being asked to pay more than the roughly 20 percent paid in the past. In suburban districts, residents pay almost all school costs out of local taxes.

Even though Plaintalker confirmed April 15 with Business Administrator Gary Ottmann that the budget figure would stand even if voted down on April 21, some local leaders did not believe it until they heard Commissioner of Education Lucille Davy say the words at a May 4 council meeting. Davy explained that no matter what action the council took to trim the defeated budget, she would be forced by law to restore it.

Council President Rashid Burney remarked Monday that he had never faced such a situation before and that he and others had gone over the budget for possible cuts. But in light of the legislation and facing a May 19 deadline to take action on the defeated budget, the council accepted the amount set by the state.

--Bernice Paglia

Monday, May 11, 2009

Yay Mark!

If you are up at this hour before midnight, you can go online and see a great news scoop by our own Plainfield reporter, Mark Spivey!

Actually it was up even before tonight's City Council meeting, where a resolution was passed about legal representation in the case in question.

This is breaking news at its best. I would not be surprised if all other metropolitan media now have to follow this story as best they can.

You go, Mark!

--Bernice Paglia

Airing of BOE Meetings Promised

School board member Patricia Barksdale delivered a DVD of a Board of Education meeting to Councilwoman Linda Carter Monday as officials promised Channel 74 viewings by the end of May.

It was the fifth or sixth DVD offered, Barksdale said, as discussions on the issue have gone on for months. Terms of a franchise with Comcast of the Plainfields call for two local origination channels, one for city government and one for education, but so far only the governmental channel is up.

Barksdale is the school board's liaison to the council and Carter and Councilwoman Annie McWilliams are the governing body's liaisons to the school board. The issue of airing school board meetings intensified as the women took charge this year, but city officials claimed a lack of manpower to make the airings happen. The issue hinged on renewing a contract with media consultant Parris Z. Moore of Blok Box Pictures LLC. Moore previously fulfilled the function in 2007-08 and then qualified to do the same job in 2008-09. But apparently no contract was offered.

Blok Box racked up a tab of $23,400 for work at the request of city personnel without a contract in the 2009 fiscal year starting July 1 2008, and is apparently owed more for other work. The contract approved Monday, authorizing up to $50,000 for Channel 74 work, is retroactive to July 1, 2008, even though Blok Box only qualified in mid-August of 2008.

City Administrator Marc Dashield said in no way would the total for work done exceed $50,000. However, if the work resumes at the end of May, the city will need to engage the company or one similar to proceed through 2009, as the fiscal budget year ends June 30.

Although council members have questioned why the station can't just put up a DVD, Dashield has insisted it is not that simple.

By the end of the month, McWilliams and Carter said, they want both airings of the school board meetings and a schedule for Channel 74.

Meanwhile, City Council President Rashid Burney has questioned how Channel 74 programming is formulated. Currently, it is a mix of public service announcements, local programming and outside shows such as "Democracy Now." Burney is seeking more information on the decision-making process.

The city has a Cable Television Advisory Board that has oversight of Channel 74 as one of its responsibilities. It is scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. Thursday in City Hall Library.

--Bernice Paglia


To Anonymous 2:23, I hope JG is paying you well to cook up political applesauce. But it will not be served up on local blogs because it is not relevant to posts. Get a life, get a blog of your own, just don't expect to see your blatherings online over here.


Sunday, May 10, 2009

More Power to M.PoWer

My neighbor and I enjoyed a first-class performance today of Lorraine Hansberry's play, "A Raisin the Sun," right here in Plainfield, within walking distance of our apartment building.

The audience at the YWCA was more than appreciative, giving a standing ovation to the cast at the end.

For us seniors, to have such a theater experience for $10 was nothing short of a miracle, when NYC prices are nearly ten times that amount.

Big ups (as they say) to all who made this theater event possible. For younger attendees, it was no doubt a glimpse into the mid-20th century struggle for housing equality that in some places continues today.

Many of the performers are local talent, which gives cachet to the Queen City as a proving ground for theatrical excellence.

Thanks to all for a wonderful afternoon and again to my neighbor, who is always willing to explore the interesting things about Plainfield.

--Bernice Paglia

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Art Exhibit at Grace Continues Sunday

KuoLiang "Ivan" Lo is the featured artist of the weekend exhibit at Grace Episcopal Church, which is in part a benefit for the church soup kitchen, Grace's Kitchen.

Visitors enjoy a reception Saturday evening at Grace Episcopal Church.

Attendees were able to select prints for $120, or $100 if two or more are chosen. The exhibit will continue Sunday (May 10) from 12 noon to 1:30 p.m. Each image has five signed prints.
--Bernice Paglia