Mapp Holds Town Hall Meeting
Of six topics on Mapp's proposed agenda, the state of city finances drew the most concern. After Mapp recently questioned who was certifying funds on resolutions up for council approval, it came out that the administration has had no permanent chief finance officer for the past two years and was using various individuals as acting CFOs. The state Division of Local Services has since said there is no such thing as an acting or interim CFO and has given the city 90 days to name a permanent CFO.
Resident Frank D'Aversa asked what happens if the city can't find one in 90 days. Mapp explained that the state will permit one 90-day extension, but pointed to information on a handout indicating a state employee could be assigned to serve in the role.
A CFO himself, Mapp said anyone can take classes to become certified for the title. An individual can be appointed as a temporary CFO and be permitted to work toward certification for a year. If certification is not achieved, one more year is allowed to complete the work. If unsuccessful, the person must step down.
Plainfield's veteran CFO, Peter Sepelya, was set to retire at the end of 2005, but was asked to stay on in 2006 by then-Council President Ray Blanco. Sepelya finally retired at the end of 2007 and there has been no permanent CFO since.
Jeanette Criscione asked how the council could be sure the city was following fiscal rules and regulations. Mapp said Rutgers University offers governmental courses for elected officials . But he said the council should be holding public forums and must demand accountability from the administration.
Mapp questioned City Administrator Marc Dashield's recent statement that there are only about 300 CFOs statewide and most are settled in their positions. Mapp said 865 people hold CFO licenses, although not all are working.
Others sought answers on terms of CFOs and how the city is keeping track of grant expiration dates. Plaintalker noted a high turnover in Administration & Finance directors and asked whether the department should be restored to purely fiscal operations as before Health & Social Services divisions were added in the mid-1990s.
Councilman Cory Storch said all divisions in the city's three departments need to be reviewed for realignment as the city faces hard budget decisions.
The 2010 budget for the year that began July 1 was the second item on Mapp's agenda. Republican mayoral candidate Jim Pivnichny asked Mapp to explain the ramifications of not having a budget in place. The budget has yet to be introduced and the city is operating on month-to-month appropriations to pay salaries and expenses.
Mapp said the administration is spending "for almost six months of the year" without a new plan in place.
"We don't have a budget," he said. "It's a bad thing."
Other topics on the agenda were the state of city roads, completion of a new senior center and veterans' center, a controversy over a volunteer-run baseball league versus a Recreation Division league and issues around the closure of Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center. Residents added a few more. Independent mayoral candidate Deborah Dowe called for prosecution of those who stole items from the Plainfield Public Library for sale on eBay and who stole light poles from the front of the main post office. Activist and blogger Renata Hernandez warned of a crisis in the school system and called for a commitment from residents to improve the district.
Dr. Harold Yood, also a blogger on city affairs, noted a low turnout at school board elections and questioned the status of a downtown senior center/condo development and Dudley House, a formerly city-run agency to rehabilitate former substance abusers.
Mapp had invited public officials to attend the meeting and Assemblyman Jerry Green took a front-row seat. A woman who did not give her name asked Mapp to let Green speak. Green, who is running for re-election, said he was not trying to run the city, but was "trying to keep the city out of trouble." He said he has asked people to apply for jobs in Plainfield, citing Police Director Martin Hellwig as an example of a successful hire. Green said he believes politics should stay out of government.
Mapp, a former Union County freeholder, previously served on the City Council and began a new term Jan. 1 as Third Ward councilman. He ran for mayor in the June primary, but lost to incumbent Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs by 336 votes. Four other candidates ran, some regarded as spoilers, garnering a total of 624 votes. In what was regarded as political retribution, Mapp was ousted earlier this year from his post as CFO in Roselle by a faction opposed to Mayor Garrett Smith.
With three years to go in his current council term, Mapp has become an outspoken advocate of reform in city government, especially in fiscal matters. He has also initiated Thursday evening office hours to meet with constituents and plans to hold more forums. To see his blog, "Mapping It Out," click here.