Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Fiscal Woes Mount in City

Plainfield has no official chief financial officer and may not have had one since the departure of Peter Sepelya at the end of 2007, questions from the governing body revealed Tuesday.

The chief financial officer in a municipality has among other duties the responsibility to certify that funds are available before the City Council votes approval of various expenditures. After Councilman Adrian Mapp asked Tuesday who certified funds for resolutions up for votes Tuesday, City Administrator Marc Dashield said Bibi Taylor, the new director of Administration & Finance, Health and Social Services, did so.

"She can't," Mapp said, unless the mayor nominates her for advice and consent by the council.

Dashield initially replied that a resolution would be prepared for the November 16 regular meeting. Meanwhile, Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson said in answer to Councilman Cory Storch, two resolutions at issue Tuesday were invalid. Both had to do with approving additional funding for legal defense of police officers in two separate cases. In addition, a resolution requiring matching funds for a recreation grant was withdrawn.

Under further questioning, Dashield said Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs had made the temporary appointment of Taylor. Noting the CFO reports to the finance director, Mapp again questioned the arrangement. The discussion also revealed that there should have been an appointment after Sepelya retired, calling into question the role of previous temporary or acting CFOs since then. One temporary CFO signed the SFY 2009 budget that contained a $1.7 million typo. In July, James Mangin was up for the post of CFO but was not appointed.

Under questioning from Councilwomen Annie McWilliams and Linda Carter, Dashield said the city will now have to hold a special meeting on the issue of appointing a CFO "so we can operate."

Mapp himself was the chief financial officer of Roselle until a majority on the governing body voted to fire him in what was widely perceived as political retribution by by a faction at war with Roselle Mayor Garrett Smith. Before the firing, Roselle and Roselle Park councils had held simultaneous meetings to vote on a shared services plan that would disband Roselle's finance department and unseat Mapp, but Roselle Park rescinded the vote after public protests.

In another blow to the Robinson-Briggs administration, an ordinance to exceed municipal spending limits for the fiscal year that began July 1 failed to pass on second reading. Storch had urged the council on Oct. 5 not to pass the measure, saying it was a "golden opportunity to use external discipline by voting 'no' next week."

With council members William Reid and Elliott Simmons absent Tuesday, Storch's "no" vote left the council short of a super majority of five votes to pass the ordinance. Council members McWilliams, Carter, Mapp and Council President Rashid Burney voted "yes."

Burney had asked Dashield whether the budget would be introduced Tuesday, but Dashield said it wouldn't. With the ability to exceed a cap on budget appropriations now lost, Dashield said the budget may be introduced in November.

For now, he said, "Everything we did goes out the window."

The council approved emergency appropriations to run the city in November, which will be the fifth month into the 2010 fiscal year.

Council members also questioned other information that was presented to them Tuesday night, having to do with the beleaguered Connolly Properties. The owner of nearly all the city's major multi-family dwellings is facing various court actions on foreclosures and bankruptcy matters, as well as unpaid water bills. Asked by Carter who submitted the information, Williamson said, "I did."

Although some of the court issues will not change landlord-tenant responsibilities, Williamson called the possible water shutoff "a very tough issue," as it would render affected apartment buildings uninhabitable. Tenants would then have to be relocated at city expense. Williamson said the city was reaching out to the landlord as well as the water company "in hope that no catastrophe will develop."

In answer to Carter's questions on certificates of compliance for some of the buildings, Williamson said certificates were never issued for three buildings. Plainfield's certificate of compliance ordinance requires either the buyer or seller to agree to bring property in compliance with city property maintenance codes at the time of sale.

"Something went askew," Williamson said, adding ownership of the three buildings should never have been transferred.

McWilliams said she has received a number of phone calls from tenants and wanted to make sure they were aware of their rights in the present situation. Dashield said the city will receive state assistance in going door to door to apprise residents of their rights.

--Bernice Paglia


Blogger Bernice said...

Thanks to Dr. Yood for pointing out my calendar lapse. The meeting was Tuesday, not Monday as in my initial post.

12:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is it just me, or does it seem like the administration wants to wait until after the election to address a lot of very important issues?

9:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Although it's tempting to just cry "incompetence" at the administration for their failure to introduce a budget I suspect the truth is more complicated.

Plainfield can not avoid forever the reality vise of shrinking revenues and rising costs. Probably sooner rather than later they have to deal with layoffs, furloughs and pay and benefit cuts for non-union workers, and some tough talks with the unions. But to admit this in a published budget so close to the election would jeopardize one of the two strongest voting allies the administration has, their workers.

The administration has managed to keep the loyalty of the seniors by the pseudo-grand-reopening of the Monarch-Senior Center, and they are trying like hell to not pick a fight with the employees before November 3.

I would be lying if I wished them luck.

9:40 AM  
Blogger active citizen said...

The current city administration is once again caught with it's pants down and shows that not forethought was given to the Connolly problem. How can we, as citizens, allow another four years of this type of messy government. I hope the Robinson-Briggs administration can at least try to get its act together.

11:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bernice this latest behavior, especially Mr. Dashield's sending in requests for extraordinary aid based on ordinances that don't exist seems to verge on the criminal. Isn't sending falsified documents a felony? What are we supposed to do? What are the council members who are elected to protect us going to do about this? Councilor Burney needs to hold a public hearing or maybe Councilor Mapp should hold another town meeting to hear from the residents how they feel about how this administration is putting our city at risk through these unethical activities.

12:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wanna bet the Monarch Senior Center opens November 1st?
Wanna bet the budget is introduced November 9th? No bet.

Betting the mayor will not be reelected, and hoping like anything I win.

1:38 PM  
Blogger Rob said...

Mayor Jerry and his Assistant Sharon will be reelected. The same fools who elect the 2 back into office will be crying 7 days after the election "why don't things improve?", "why doesn't our city look like others in NJ?", why do our taxes go up, services down and we look like half-wits compared to the other towns around us??" . This my friends is written in stone. The 2 village idiots will be back in power. And for anyone who thinks that Assistant Mayor Sharon was incompetent, rude, self serving prior to the election??? You ain't seen nothing yet! The same Seniors who push her vote over the top are the ones who will be getting screwed the most by her and Mayor Jerry.

5:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Warning, danger. The tide is turning, I feel it...just not in our favor. The misinformed, uneducated and irresponsible voters are organizing once again to deliver another party machine victory come Nov. 3. Be prepared for the Green, Briggs tsunami of incompetence to wipe out Plainfield in the next four years.

3:05 PM  

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