Residents Sound Off on PMUA
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.