Council Demands Cabinet Interviews
The city administrator and three department heads serve four-year terms concurrent with that of the mayor. As winner of a second term, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs must offer nominees for City Council "advice and consent," along with a corporation counsel, judges, attorneys and appointments to various boards and commissions. Last week, Robinson-Briggs was quoted in the press as saying she had not yet begun her search for a new city administrator to replace Marc Dashield, who is leaving Dec. 31 to become Montclair's township manager.
City Council Rashid Burney stated firmly last week that cabinet nominees must meet with the governing body in closed session before Monday's agenda-fixing meeting for the annual reorganization. Throughout the mayor's first term, she has often offered names at the last minute, sometimes having them rejected outright by angry council members. On Jan. 1, 2006, she avoided the issue by naming her cabinet in acting capacity, warding off the council's consent powers for 90 days. Last year, the issue of timely communication arose again at the 2009 reorganization.
Besides Dashield, the cabinet currently includes Jennifer Wenson Maier as director of the Department of Public Works & Urban Development, Martin Hellwig as director of the Department of Public Affairs & Safety and Bibi Taylor as director of the Department of Administration, Finance, Health and Social Services. All their terms expire with the end of the mayor's first term on Dec. 31. Wenson Maier is also a councilwoman in Rahway and Hellwig also serves as Plainfield police director, a title created to replace that of police chief.
Hellwig, Wenson Maier and Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson have served for all four years of the mayor's first term, but Taylor was hired recently to a post that had been handed off six times previously in four years. The city is also now under state orders to hire a permanent chief finance officer, as the last one left at the end of 2007.
The use of city-owned cars is another issue that comes up at the annual reorganization. Last year, an attempt to curtail officials' use of city-owned vehicles dragged on for a month before being resolved. Residency is another issue that may come up. The council agreed to waive residency for all four top cabinet members and none ever moved to Plainfield.
The council will also adopt an annual calendar at the reorganization. The traditional Mondays-only meeting schedule was changed to a Monday-Wednesday format in 2008 and then to just one agenda-fixing and one regular meeting a month in 2009. Plaintalker is among those who favor a return to the traditional schedule, but so far it appears the 2009 format will continue.
Both changes occurred in spring, causing more than a bit of confusion and a drop-off of public attendance.