Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Council Approves Deferral Plan

With much trepidation, the City Council voted Tuesday for a pension deferral plan that will save $2.7 million for the 2009 fiscal year, but will put the city in debt for 15 years beginning in 2012.

Facing a $3.2 million shortfall in the yet-to-be-passed budget for the year ending June 30, the alternative would have been to make drastic cuts in police, fire and public works staff, City Council President Rashid Burney said.

The city hopes to create a reserve that will lessen the impact of the future debt by allowing early repayment, officials said.

Tuesday’s special meeting to take action on the matter was necessary to meet tomorrow’s deadline, City Administrator Marc Dashield said. The council’s resolution will be faxed to Trenton Wednesday (April1, 2009).

Dashield said one of the advantages of the plan is that it will allow the city to look into the future and make cuts.

But Councilwoman Annie McWilliams said the city might better set a percentage of budget reduction and put that into the reserve. McWilliams called the plan “just really debt that my generation will have to take on.”

Councilwoman Linda Carter agreed, but added that seniors who want to stay in Plainfield will also be affected. However, she said, “We just find our hands are tied.”

Members of the public sympathized with the council’s plight, but were also dubious of the outcome.

“I don’t envy any one of you,” Dr. Harold Yood said. ”I’m glad I’m not sitting in your seat.”

Yood said the city is going into “uncharted waters” because the interest rate on the debt is not known.

Resident Frank D’Aversa asked whether the city had negotiated with unions or considered pay furloughs, among other cost-cutting strategies.

Even while admitting he is a union supporter, D’Aversa said, “You got to cut back until it hurts.”

Dashield said the city has held four sessions with unions and noted that most union contracts come due this year, saying, “actually it gives us a great opportunity” to do a lot of things.

Resident Robert Darden was less sanguine, saying pensions had been underfunded for some time.
“That’s a big hole we are digging for ourselves,” Darden said.

At the end, the council voted unanimously to seek the pension deferral, with Dashield saying the move “gives us the ability to start planning ahead,” while Councilman Adrian Mapp called the plan “a horrible piece of legislation.”

But with the 2009 budget “between a rock and a hard place,” Mapp joined his council colleagues in approving the resolution “with a great deal of reluctance.”

--Bernice Paglia

Starting Over

Random image: Seedling

Things seem to be getting a bit bogged down or mixed up, so much so that I had to look up whether Mercury was in retrograde. Well, it was in January and will be so again in May. Perhaps what we are undergoing now is the repercussions of problems with communication earlier this year. Click here for one explanation of Mercury in retrograde.

Specifically, I am thinking about calendar issues, although there are others.

I can't be any more specific right now. It remains to be seen whether entities in the city, including citizens, can or will agree to be more collegial and less adversarial.

Meanwhile, the wheel of the year rolls on, regardless of what fools we mortals be. April 15 looms as Tax Day to most people, but to some of us it is relevant as the last day when frost is expected in Central Jersey. And then we get to have some surcease from the pains of everyday life, with sunny hours in the garden until the next killing frost in late fall.

--Bernice Paglia

PEA Follow-up

Connie Jenkins-Buwa has announced the candidates receiving the endorsement of the Plainfield Education Association.

Jenkins-Buwa is chairperson of the PEA School Board Elections Committee.

For three three-year seats, the PEA is endorsing Lisa Logan-Leach, Brenda Gilbert and Mahogany Hendricks. For the two-year unexpired term, the endorsement goes to Katherine Peterson.

The endorsements follow a forum held on March 24. Click here for Plaintalker's report on the forum.

The school board election is April 21.

Others seeking the three-year terms are Rasheed Abdul-Haqq, Patricia Barksdale, Joanne Hollis and Joseph Ruffin Sr. Tammy Westbrook and Terrence Williams are also seeking the two-year unexpired term.

Abdul-Haqq, Barksdale and Logan-Leach are incumbents seeking re-election.

--Bernice Paglia

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Two Quotes and Rebuttals

Random image: Mousie's political slogan: "Reaching for new heights."

Quote from comment on Maria's blog: "When Dan Damon put out false information about libraries, funding and the association with the Mayor, you did not see Bernice put out any "wacko" statements on that. "

Response from me: Well, for one thing, Dan is not my elected representative in Trenton, voting on all sorts of matters that may directly affect my pocketbook and daily experiences. Dan can fulminate all he wants, but his statements are ultimately irrelevant unless people endorse them.

Quote from Jerry Green's Page: "I had an opportunity yesterday to participate in a tour of the new Senior Citizen Facility on East Front Street. It is a building that the citizens of Plainfield can take pride. Similar condo units would probably go for $100,000 or more in other parts of the State. It was also rewarding to hear that we are getting a lot of people from New York who has shown interest in purchasing these units."

Response from me: My sixth grade teacher would freak if she had to grade this statement for proper use of English. Luckily she is in a better world. The comment on pricing is especially faulty. Think about it.

Voters today want smart, well-spoken, thoughtful representatives. It is a necessity in this world, even at the state and local level. Whether we will get such choices is problematic, but we can still hope.

--Bernice Paglia

Special Meeting Tuesday

Although you wouldn't know it from the city web site, there is a special City Council meeting at 8 p.m. Tuesday in City Hall Library. According to a legal notice , the purpose of the meeting is to act on a resolution to apply to the Local Finance Board for a reduced pension contribution. This is probably one and the same as the "deferred pension payment" proposal that has been discussed recently.

The meeting coincides with a previously advertised City Council budget session, also at 8 p.m.

The revised City Council meeting calendar was published the same day with the location of the first agenda session, 7:30 p.m. on April 6, listed as Emerson School. However, the new schedule as posted on the city web site says the April 6 meeting is at City Hall Library.

Jazz Clayton-Hunt, the former PIO for the city, has a new blog on which she deplores the criticism aimed at the city web site, among other topics. I think there is good reason for questioning why, after three and a half years, the administration can't get timely and accurate information up on the city web site.

Please note this is not my opinion, it is factual, as indicated by the mix-up described above and many other examples. The public is ill-served by having to guess which information is correct.

NOTE: I forgot to say there will be a public hearing on the school budget at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the administration building, 1200 Myrtle Ave.
The Plainfield Public Schools budget is also in the same edition of the Courier News as the calendar and special meeting notice. The local tax levy, which held steady at $17,683,663 for many years, rose to $18,391,262 in 2008 due to a state-mandated increase. For the 2009-10 school year, it will be $19,862,563.

Abbott District advocates are fighting to get the new funding formula rolled back, but meanwhile taxpayers will be asked to pay more each year in local school taxes. Under the old plan, taxpayers only kicked in 20 percent of school costs, while various forms of aid made up the rest. In surrounding suburbs, the ratio is more like the opposite and there has been a backlash against the high level of aid given to poor urban districts when other towns also have poor students who need extra help.

One thing the document doesn't tell is the anticipated tax rate per $100 for school purposes in 2009-10 and the rate of increase over last year. Editors always want those numbers and so journalists always have to pester the BA/BS in each district. If I want to state it on the blog, I guess I will have to do the same next week.

--Bernice Paglia

Remember Plainfield's Gardeners

For Women's History Month, a reader suggests that we honor three longtime Plainfield Garden Club members who passed away this year. They are Betty Hackman, Nancy Kroll and Evelyn Madsen.

The Plainfield Garden Club maintains the Shakespeare Garden in Cedar Brook Park, among many other activities. In about a month, members will begin their weekly work to keep up this beautiful site that has brought much positive attention to the city. It is a link to other Shakespeare Gardens across the world, where each plant is linked to a Shakespearean quote.

The Plainfield Garden Club also has conducted educational classes for Plainfield school children and in past years has invited visitors in June, when the garden is at its peak. Members in their garden hats and green aprons with the club logo would guide visitors around the formal beds and borders at the event, explaining the plantings.

Although the club has had to curtail some activities, it has a new web site.

These volunteers, past and present, seflessly share their love of natural beauty and garden design. There may not be a formal event this June, but the garden is open to visitors as long as the park is open and it is certainly worth a visit and a moment of silent thanks for what these dedicated women have done and are doing for the city.

--Bernice Paglia

Friday, March 27, 2009

Whither the Fourth Ward Race?

Random image: Mousie apprehends a feather duster, declares, "Tastes like chicken."

OK, so now we know parts of two slates, Green and Robinson-Briggs vs. Mapp and Smiley. But what of the Fourth Ward seat?

All shall be revealed by 4 p.m. April 6, when candidates must file for local seats including District 22 Assembly, mayor, council and City Committee. Will there be a three-way mayoral race? Will Bridget Rivers file for the Fourth Ward seat? Will battling Democrats file slates including freeholder candidates and more?

I am tempted to take a lesson from Mousie, who thinks in very small increments. His policy concerns center on the contents of his food dish - dry or wet? His platform is simple: I am the cat and you are my minion. Agreed?

But seriously folks, in thinking of the Fourth Ward, this part of the city has been shortchanged by circumstances such as the failure of the Schools Construction Corporation, which was in the process of acquiring properties to carry out plans for a new middle school between Grant and Plainfield avenues when it ran out of money. That plan was linked to a neighborhood revitalization project covering a huge portion of the city, which then also failed.

The Fourth Ward was supposed to receive development anchored by a national chain supermarket, another dream deferred. And so far, the notion of transportation hubs around the former Clinton and Grant Avenue railroad stations is still a notion.

While there are many very nice blocks and neighborhoods in the West End, the Fourth Ward still bears the stigma of poverty and crime in many people's minds. Increases in voter registration have not led to empowerment of citizens and voting districts have been lost due to poor turnout.

A Fourth Ward councilperson with energy and conviction might be able to inspire a new outlook for his or her constituents and bring a new image to this corner of the city. It is a challenge worthy of someone's sincere attention.

Fourth Ward residents should pay attention on April 6 to who files for the office and between now and the June 2 primary should press for details on exactly how the candidates plan to uplift this very worthy but largely neglected ward.

--Bernice Paglia

More Wacko Green Math

In his latest blog post Jerry Green attacks mayoral candidate Adrian Mapp. No surprise there, as Green is expected to give incumbent Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs the party line. However, Green's ongoing misstatements of facts can't be overlooked.

Speaking of 2008, when Mapp won over incumbent Don Davis , Green states, "Adrian forgets that He only won that election by 80 votes."

Anyone can look up vote tallies on the Union County clerk's web page. The June 2008 primary results were Mapp, 475; Davis, 372; Lynch, 155. In the November general election results for the Third Ward were Mapp, 3,517; personal choice, 35.

Journalists aren't known for their math skills, but according to my trusty calculator, Mapp beat Davis by 103 votes in the primary. Davis was not on the ballot in November.

"Misinformation, inaccuracy, and hearsay are foreign platforms to my campaign and me," says Green in the same blog post.

Oh, really? BTW, capitalizing "He" is normally reserved for the Lord, who wasn't running for the Third Ward seat.

--Bernice Paglia

At Long Last, Sidewalk Repairs

I was walking home from a City Council meeting on March 16 when I realized something was different. It might not mean much to drivers, but those of us who travel on foot have reason to celebrate the new sidewalk at Watchung and Sixth.

Here is an October 2006 blog post on the subject:

Along the east side of Crescent Avenue just north of East Seventh Street, there is a missing patch of sidewalk that is by turns dusty, muddy or icy.

It’s been that way for years, even though it’s just across from City Hall. The mystery of its neglect became clear at a recent Planning Board meeting.Schoor De Palma representative Jeff Marsden described a plan to repair Watchung Avenue from Front Street south to Sixth Street, among other road projects. But after resident Sandy Gurshman asked what would happen to the “big hole” on the other side of Sixth Street, it came out that recent repairs to Crescent Avenue did not include that one block north of East Seventh Street. Watchung Avenue stopped short of it.

Board chairman Ken Robertson, who has to pick his way over the dirt, mud or ice on his daily walk to the train station, and the other board members agreed that the block should not be left in limbo. They asked Marsden to include it in the proposed project.

Because the orphan block is in the Civic Historic District that includes the War Memorial and City Hall, the plans will have to be reviewed by the Historic Preservation Commission. But the time is coming when pedestrians won’t have to detour into the street to avoid the unsightly and dangerous gap in the sidewalk.

It certainly was a long time coming. Maybe this gives some insight into the time lag on road repairs.

--Bernice Paglia

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Notes on City Committee Numbers

“When I became Chairman, the support system of the Democratic Party was less than 50% in the 34 districts of Plainfield. Now today, we have support in over 30 of those districts.”
--Jerry Green

May I remind anyone interested that in 1989 there were 42 voting districts, with a slot for one male and one female candidate in each. Therefore, this most grassroots body of elected officials has shrunk by about 20 percent. The First Ward had 9 districts, now has eight; Second Ward had 13, now has 11; Third Ward had 11, now has 10; and the Fourth Ward had nine, now has five.

As I understand it, when fewer than 250 voters come out to the polls in a district, it is liable to be merged with another district. This is not about the number of registered voters, it is about the number who actually come out and vote. So over 20 years, voter apathy has led to less representation.

Why would voters in a community predominantly of people of color turn their backs on this hard-won right? Any thoughts?
--Bernice Paglia

More Downtown Residences Proposed

Details on PNC Bank exterior.

Developer Frank Cretella, who recently unveiled projects with a total of 36 residential units downtown, is planning to add 112 more, according to a presentation Tuesday by City Administrator Marc Dashield.

Dashield spoke at a forum on economic growth and stimulus funding sponsored by Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, who is running for re-election. This writer could not comprehend the stimulus funding part, which involves numerous funding sources and opportunities. Dashield promised a new web page will soon be posted on the city web site, with an overview, a listing of projects and a status report.

After the slide show on stimulus funding, Dashield presented one calling the downtown a “diamond in the rough,” with a diamond image superimposed over a Google map of the central business district. What makes it a “jewel,” he said is the presence of the main train station, the as-yet-unnamed Union County office building and the Plainfield campus of Union County College.
Hailing plans for closed-circuit television cameras, the Music in the Plaza program and the new Madison Avenue playground and the new senior center as highlights of the downtown, Dashield went on to enumerate Cretella’s projects. Although his company, Landmark Developers, is the designated developer for the entire North Avenue Historic District, Cretella has recently offered separate projects with various names.

One involves two buildings in the 200 block of Park Avenue, under the names of Certified Green Property One LLC and Next Step to Collins Avenue LLC. The first will have four residential units and 3,565 square feet of commercial space, and the second will have 12 residential units with 3,935 square feet of commercial space.

Arts Loft I LLC is a project in the 100 block of East Second Street that will include 20 residential units and 3,737 square feet of commercial space.

A project called Front Street Offices LLC will contain 50,000 square feet of commercial space and an adult day care center.

One new one is the somewhat ironically named “Luxury Condos” in the largely ruined Miron’s warehouse on East Second Street. A former developer failed to proceed with his project, leaving the building open to the elements from both the roof and sides of the building. For months, only a sign for “luxury condos” stood at the site. Cretella proposes 12 residential units on the site, but has no approvals as yet.

The most ambitious project announced Tuesday is the “West Second Commons,” apparently to take place on the so-called North Avenue Extension behind the PNC Bank building. Dashield said 100 rental units and 11,500 square feet of retail space are proposed. The PNC Bank now at the corner of Park Avenue and East Second Street would relocate to the new complex. The current PNC Bank building would become a “hospitality operation,” Dashield said, with lounges in the former bank vaults.

Cretella was in the audience but did not speak except to answer questions. Asked about a timetable for the commercial development on West Front Street, he said it would take place within the next 12 months.

--Bernice Paglia

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

PEA Reviews Candidates

Ten school board candidates were grilled Tuesday by members of the Plainfield Education Association on their stances, with union endorsement the prize promised by March 30.

The union boasts 1,200 members, including teachers and support staff, 400 of whom live and vote in Plainfield. Forum organizer Connie Jenkins-Buwa put the candidates on notice by saying, “We take this very, very seriously. The way that we vote will tell you how we feel,” adding the union will “expect something of you” if endorsed.

The field of candidates includes seven vying for three three-year seats and three seeking an unexpired two-year term. Incumbents Rasheed Abdul-Haqq, Patricia Barksdale, Lisa Logan-Leach and appointee Joseph Ruffin Sr. are running for re-election. Challengers for three-year terms are Mahogany Hendricks, Joanne Hollis and Brenda Gilbert.

Candidates for the unexpired term are Katherine Peterson, Tammy Westbrook and Terrence Williams.

Attendance at the meeting ranged from 50 to about 75.

In opening statements, Abdul-Haqq noted his longtime civic involvement and called for a process “that respects all stakeholders.”

Barksdale recounted an experience of coming home from a trip to find her basement flooded and related her relentless bailing out of the water to her determination to roll up her sleeves in challenging times.

Gilbert noted she spent 12 years as a district employee, saying to union members, “I’ve sat where you sat.” Gilbert said she felt she had the skills to say, “What can I do for you?”

Hendricks said she was “not raised to run” but was raised to “stay and fight,” and would bring an analytical approach to board decisions.

Hollis noted that five of her nine grandchildren are in the Plainfield system and called herself “a good listener” to district concerns.

Lisa Logan-Leach, seeking her third term on the board, cited her “strong record “of holding the schools superintendent accountable, even if she is the sole vote for “doing what is right.”

Katherine Peterson, a Plainfield High school graduate and retired principal, cited problems such as school safety and staffing issues.

“I know where you are all coming from in the field of education,” she reassured union members. “I love Plainfield and I have a passion for education,” she said.

Joseph Ruffin Sr., an appointee for an unexpired two year term, cited his experience in education outside Plainfield, but promised an “independent yet collaborative “approach to dealing with the union.

Tammy Westbrook declared herself as a 15-year resident and 10-year veteran teacher someone who understood the “tremendous challenges to get the work done” by union members. She said she wants to improve the “32 percent graduation rate” in the district.

Terrence Williams, a former Maxson Middle School teacher now working in Newark, based his interest in serving on his 17 years in education.

Questions to the candidates included how they would improve parental involvement, interact with Schools Superintendent Steve Gallon III, formulate their board decisions, address violence in the system and deal with a shrinking budget. Before the question-and-answer period, PEA member Jeff Truitt asked those running for a three-year seat to raise their hands, then asked those running for the two-year unexpired term to do so.

“We need to make a distinction,” he said, repeating the fact that 400 members live in Plainfield. “Whoever we endorse, most likely they will become the next board members.”

But as Maria Pellum pointed out on her blog recently, anyone receiving PEA endorsement would be barred from sitting in on contract negotiations for one year, under state ethics rules. After Gilbert repeated the caveat, Ruffin told the PEA, “I cannot seek your endorsement.”

Ruffin, appointed in January to fill the vacancy created when board member Vickey Sheppard resigned, said he was serving on the contract negotiations team. A union negotiator in his profession as a researcher, Ruffin was asked to serve also because he had no conflicts of interest such as relatives or business ties in the district.

Candidates will face the public at two upcoming forums. On March 30, Parents Empowering Parents will hold a forum from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Washington Community School. Statements by candidates are also being posted on the PEP web site.

The League of Women Voters of Plainfield will hold its forum at 7 p.m. April 16 in the Plainfield Public Library meeting room. The league will also publish candidates’ statements in the Courier News before the April 21 election.

--Bernice Paglia

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Three Meetings Tonight

The Plainfield Education Association's Candidates' Forum is today, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. in the Plainfield High School cafeteria. The union plans to make an endorsement by March 30.

Later, at 8 p.m., the City Council resumes its budget sessions. Last week's budget meeting was canceled. Instead of the planned forward look at the fiscal year that begins July 1, the council is still talking about the 2009 budget for the fiscal year ending June 30. Surreal as it sounds, that budget has not yet been passed.

The first budget meeting coincided with a program on re-entry sponsored by Jerry Green and there was no quorum. Tonight the mayor is having a meeting, 7 p.m. at Washington Community School. Click here for the flyer. Not sure how it affect the council meeting.

--Bernice

Monday, March 23, 2009

Not Hestia

The question was "Where?" not "Who?" but thanks for setting off an entertaining ramble around the interwebs.

I had guessed the image was Mercury, but I didn't see any wings on his feet. But taking a closer look in Photo Editor, I spotted a caduceus in his hand and what might be a wing on his head. What convinced me finally was discovering that Mercury is the god of commerce, among many other things. So what better image for a downtown commercial building?
But which one? Keep looking.
Meanwhile, click here for a look at Hestia, who kept the home fires burning but didn't run around with torches.
--Bernice

Guess Your Best

This graceful figure on on a downtown building. Anybody recognize it?

--Bernice

Senior Center Close-Up

Here is a section of the ground floor at 400 East Front Street, where the new senior center is taking shape. Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs is predicting completion by May.

"The Monarch," as the project is called, will also include 63 condos on three upper floors. Ground was broken in July 2007, but developer Glen Fishman has missed three stated deadlines for completion.

This banner has names of officials from 2007. Rayland Van Blake went on to the Union County Freeholder Board and Don Davis and Harold Gibson lost 2008 elections to Adrian Mapp and Annie McWilliams. Terms of the mayor and Fourth Ward Councilman Elliott Simmons expire December 31.

According to a recent article in the Courier News real estate section, condo prices now start at $199,000. The initial projected price was $300,000.

A temporary sales office is set up across the street. This corner will be the entrance to the condo management office, sales model and residences. The senior center entrance is at the east end of the building.

Here is a close-up of the condo entrance. It is not clear whether the senior center will actually open while construction continues above. Another question is how the center will be outfitted. Plaintalker hopes to find out some answers in coming days.
--Bernice Paglia

Sunday, March 22, 2009

NAACP Forum Today

Peter R. Briggs Jr., president of the Plainfield Branch of the NAACP, corrects information provided by the Plainfield Education Association: "Just to clarify, the NAACP has not held their forum yet, it will be March 22, 2009 at 5:15pm at the Whitney Allen Young Community Room. "

That would be today. The Whitney Allen Young Community Room is in the complex also known as Allen-Young Apartments, 300 Central Ave.

As previously reported, seven people - Rasheed Abdul-Haqq, Patricia Barksdale, Brenda Gilbert, Mahogany Hendricks, Joanne Hollis, Lisa C. Logan-Leach and Joseph M. Ruffin Sr. - have filed for three three-year terms on the Board of Education and three people - Katherine Peterson, Tammy Westbrook and Terrence Williams - are vying for one two-year unexpired term. The school board election is April 21.

--Bernice Paglia

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Butterfly Garden in the Works

The Rev. Carolyn Eklund shows off the butterfly kite that volunteers are eligible to win for helping to create a Community Butterfly Garden at Grace Episcopal Church.

Volunteers young and old raked, trimmed shrubs and cleared debris Saturday to make way for the garden.

The effort will continue on April 25 and May 1. Plantings will include butterfly bushes as well as nectar-producing flowers. It's a great thing for the Park & Seventh neighborhood and for all the children of Grace!
--Bernice Paglia

Pearls, Ties and Identity

A Hubbard Middle School initiative called “Girls in Pearls” and “Guys in Ties” (see http://www.plainfieldnjk12.org/) piqued my interest, having covered Plainfield for 25 years and being well aware of African-American issues around dress and hair styles. Listening to WBAI since its inception also played into my awareness of the struggle for balance between mainstream norms and culturally important identity factors.

So given that background, I posed three questions to Dr. Steve Gallon III, who as chief school administrator in Plainfield is responsible for the school environment of about 7,000 young people with diverse outlooks. Dr. Gallon was kind enough to share his views.

Plaintalker: To some people, this initiative may smack of conceding to the mainstream society at the cost of racial identity. After all, it was a hard-won fight for people to be able to wear cornrows and dreadlocks in the workplace, so why the pearls and ties norm?

Dr. Gallon: With respect to the Girls in Pearls and Guys in Ties Initiative, as I understand the effort of helping young people to learn to "dress for success," I am in full support. I don't view this as an imposition on one's personal style and/or choice regarding hair styles, etc.

However, I view this as an opportunity to teach and discuss with young people the appropriateness of certain attire for career choices, interviewing, etc. In fact, there continues to be a national discourse regarding the manner in which young men wear their pants well below their waist. As adults, although we understand the need and importance of young people having their own "identity," such does not absolve us of our responsibility and obligation as adults to tell them what is so!

I have to do the same with my own son who is a college freshman and who by the way wears his hair in dreadlocks---he graduated from cornrolls. He knows, however, that you don't go to certain places or events without a shirt and tie, and with his pants below his waist.

Thus, we as adults have to teach and confront the real issues governing such with our young people that will have an impact on how they will be perceived as they compete for jobs no longer against their immediate peers, but peers from around the nation and globe. This is an issue that is far greater than "cornrows, and dreadlocks" and even tattoos which have become quite popular over the years. This is about the appropriateness of certain attire at certain times.

Plaintalker: Is this issue different now that Barack and Michelle Obama are setting the tone for style in America, and if so, how do you see young people reacting?

Dr. Gallon: I don't view this issue as being different now that President Obama and the First Lady Michelle are "setting the tone" for style in America. In fact, I somewhat take that view as being somewhat condescending to many who have presented themselves and held to such "standards of style" for decades.

Frederick Douglass, Carter G. Woodson, Booker T. Washington, Mary McCleod Bethune, and Malcolm X all dressed for business and success. Martin Luther King always wore suits and Coretta Scott King truly reflected elegance as the "First Lady" of the Civil Rights Movement. I feel, though, and have to admit that recently they both have positively reminded mainstream America in some cases, and informed America in others, of the elegance, class, style, and positive persona that is in effect mode amongst countless African Americans throughout the nation---all of which are clearly not limited to attire, but reflect their attitude, aptitude, and actions.

Their impact clearly supersedes and must never be, even unintentionally, deduced to attire. I have been an educator for two decades. Personally, I have been wearing suits and shirts and ties to work since my days starting out as a student teacher intern and substitute teacher.

Plaintalker: Plainfield Public Schools staff have generally observed a professional code of dress. Is this something you feel is important for young people to see in their schools? What does it say to them?

Dr. Gallon: Yes, I believe that appropriate attire is important in the Plainfield Public Schools. My position is well known and has been publicly articulated. I believe that attire not only tells our young people something about the "business" of education and seriousness of their learning, it also speaks to us as adults and about the notion of needing to "professionalize" our work.

This applies to all levels of the organization. Plainfield Public Schools, as a business, has been recently compelled to embrace marketplace variables such brand, demand, and competition, to name a few. In doing so, we must all recognize both the spoken and unspoken channels by which we message such on behalf of the District. Appearance in any situation is a first impression and attire is inextricably linked to such. It is something, however, that has to be "personally" embraced, promoted, and valued.

--Bernice Paglia

Friday, March 20, 2009

PEA to Hold Candidates' Forum

The Plainfield Education Association will hold a Candidates’ Forum Tuesday, followed by two days of interviews before making endorsements for the April 21 school board election.

“Meet the Candidates Night” will be held from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday (March 24, 2009) in the Plainfield High School cafeteria, 950 Park Ave. The entrance and parking are off Stelle Avenue.

Seven candidates are vying for three three-year seats. They are incumbents Rasheed Abdul-Haqq, Patricia Barksdale, Lisa C. Logan-Leach and Joseph M. Ruffin Sr., as well as Brenda Gilbert, Mahogany Hendricks and Joanne Hollis. Three others, Katherine Peterson, Tammy Westbrook and Terrence Williams, are competing for one unexpired two-year term. The forum will follow a structured format including opening statements, questions and answers and closing statements.

Connie Jenkins-Buwa, chairperson of the PEA School Board Elections Committee, said this year’s election is especially important to the 400 PEA members who live and work in Plainfield, due to anticipated “statewide budgetary cuts in education.”

“PEA is expecting a much greater voter turnout than in past elections,” she said.

In all, the union has 1,200 members, including teachers, bus drivers, security guards, secretaries and other non-administrative staff.

The union has sent letters to over 400 members and has even teamed up with local Parent-Teacher Organizations to invite the community “to take a close look” at the candidates, Jenkins-Buwa said. Endorsements are expected to be announced by March 30, she said. Although candidates have announced two slates, the PEA endorsement may go to individuals or to a slate.

The PEA forum is the second so far, Jenkins-Buwa said, noting the NAACP has already held one.
Correction: The NAACP forum is March 22 at 5:15 p.m. in the Whitney Allen Young Community Room, according to NAACP President Peter R. Briggs Jr.

Other forums: Parents Empowering Parents is holding its forum from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. March 30 at Washington Community School, 427 Darrow Ave. The traditional League of Women Voters of Plainfield Candidates’ Forum will take place at 7 p.m. April 16 in the Plainfield Public Library, 800 Park Ave.

--Bernice Paglia

Persian New Year

When I first learned about this holiday a few years ago, I was entranced by some of its customs. I even grew a pot of grass one year to mark the Spring Equinox as the celebrants of this holiday do.

I think it is vitally important to know the significant celebrations of other cultures, if we are to increase global understanding among people. So I was thrilled to see the video of President Barack Obama acknowledging this holiday and sending greetings to the people across the world who observe it.

Click here for more information on the Persian New Year.

--Bernice

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Information Please

Monday's City Council meeting revealed that Channel 74 is basically on life support until more "resources," aka staff, can be hired.

According to City Administrator Marc Dashield, staffing levels "don't exist."

At the council's next meeting, a contract will be offered to re-hire a consultant who had been helping out with programming and production for Channel 74.

The issue arose during questioning of why the city can't offer viewings of school board meetings, even if all that is needed is to play a recording of a meeting. Councilwoman Linda Carter asked why a DVD of a meeting simply couldn't be played, but Dashield answered, "We don't have the resources to do it."

Public Information Officer Jazz Clayton-Hunt was recently let go from the staff, leaving only one employee in the department. Although that individual was taping the council meeting Monday, Dashield said the station was just being maintained with existing content and there was no capacity to run the TV station.

Council President Rashid Burney called for a detailed discussion at the next council meeting, which will take place April 6 at Emerson Community School.

The city receives more than $100,000 annually in franchise fees meant to fund operation of the local channel and Councilman Adrian Mapp said, "I am just at a loss to know why the station is not functioning."

Councilwoman Annie McWilliams asked for a schedule of what is currently being aired.

Meanwhile, a meeting of the Cable Television Advisory Board on March 12 did not have a quorum, Carter said. The board is supposed to oversee operations of the local origination channel and also to conduct hearings on cable matters.

Plaintalker has an archive on this issue as related to Comcast of the Plainfields. The advisory board had several duties it was supposed to undertake regarding franchise renewal. Franchise fees are supposed to double when Verizon's FiOS reaches a certain level of penetration in the city, but Plaintalker has not been able to get information on how far along FiOS is in the city.

However, as evidenced Monday, the franchise fees will not mean much if there is no staff or plan to implement programming.

As much as the incoming administration trashed Channel 74 operations in 2006, it appears not much progress has been made. Here is an opportunity where funding exists and all that is needed is execution, which remains lacking.

--Bernice Paglia

Let the Sun Shine!

I hear we may soon have some Citizen Journalism on the PMUA meeting. All right!
Let me wish all the citizens a Happy Sunshine Week as you pursue public information on topics of interest or concern to you.
If there was a prize for filing OPRA forms at City Hall, I think I might win it.
It's good to know many more people are availing themselves of this right. Sometimes the only way to get the truth is to research original documents such as legislation, municipal codes, contracts and interlocal service agreements. And budgets!
I am picturing each of you with a Sherlock Holmes hat and magnifying glass.
Elementary, my dear Watson!

--Bernice Paglia

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Taking a Break

Glass beads make a rainbow on the street.

This writer will be in contemplative mode for a couple of days.

--Bernice

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Of Fog, Blogs and Obfuscation

The image above is one reason why I feel I must voice my concern about the possible blurring of the blogs in this election year. I have taken pains to keep Plaintalker nonpartisan, although I have been known to point out the foibles of politicians. Now it seems that Dan is actively campaigning for someone, while still posting links to my blog. Call me a worrywart, but it makes me nervous.

Dan tells me he considers Plainfield Today a locale for his personal writings, including campaigning for someone, while CLIPS is the place where he aggregates the work of others. But because CLIPS starts off with Plainfield Today, is the distinction clear? Or is it a bit foggy?

Since I was last agonizing over this in the wee hours of the morning, Dan has posted his rationale for why there is no problem. If he crafts a campaign piece and then showcases it on his blog, it's just his business. He concludes by saying in Latin, "Let the games begin." Hey Dan, I think they began back in January. But better late than never to be up front with the readers.

--Bernice Paglia

Citizens: Keep Solaris Off Emergency Council

After numerous residents protested the proposed inclusion of Solaris Health Systems on a broad-based emergency management council, the governing body voted 5-1 Monday to table the matter.

The purpose of the ordinance was to add representatives of 15 diverse agencies and city departments to the Emergency Management Council that currently has just one director and two deputies.

Given that Solaris Health Systems sought and achieved closure of Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center despite months of protests and rallies, residents indicated they found the company's proposed inclusion on the council insulting. City residents who formerly counted on having an acute care facility within minutes must now be transported out of town to hospitals in Edison, Summit, Somerville or Morristown, in effect compounding medical emergencies by delays in treatment or overcrowding in the hospitals, speakers have said since Muhlenberg closed.

After hearing the outcry Monday, Council President Rashid Burney first tried to table the ordinance by executive power, but then made a motion to table. Burney, Councilwomen Linda Carter and Annie McWilliams and Councilman William Reid voted "yes" and Councilman Cory Storch voted "no" to table. Councilman Elliott Simmons was absent.

Earlier, Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson had reported on talks with Solaris over certain concessions sought by the administration and city groups following the closing. Plaintalker is leaving the fine points up to Mark Spivey, who has been reporting on the issue for the Courier News. Among the issues are the makeup of a Citizens Advisory Group provision of either an ambulance or ambulance service. The talks remain unresolved and the report apparently added to the residents' level of suspicion about Solaris Monday.

--Bernice Paglia

IT Ordinance Tabled

The administration's quest for an information technology director faltered Monday when the City Council tabled an ordinance creating the job title.

Council members said they still have questions about what the job should entail. But City Administrator Marc Dashield said he spelled out the needs in a recent presentation, which he promised to put up on the city web site for those who missed it.

In February, the administration offered an ordinance to create the title of director of data processing, but on Monday a new title, Manager I of Information Processing, was up for a vote. The salary range had also been revised, from $95,500 to $135,400 for the previous title to $70,000 to $110,000 for the new one. But Councilman Cory Storch moved to table the ordinance, saying, "I don't see any harm in taking a few months" to settle the issue. Storch wants more citizen input and a more convincing argument from the administration on the need for what will amount to an IT department.

Click here for a file of past blog posts on the issue.

Storch, Councilwoman Annie McWilliams, Councilman Adrian Mapp and Council President Rashid Burney voted "yes" to table the ordinance. Councilman William Reid and Councilwoman Linda Carter voted "no." Councilman Elliott Simmons was absent.

--Bernice Paglia

Flor Gonzalez Honored

Flor Gonzalez meets with North Avenue business owners

The City Council passed a resolution Monday paying tribute to Flor Gonzalez for her advocacy of the Latino community in Plainfield.

Gonzalez is founder and president of the Latin American Coalition. The resolution described her as "the go-to person" when "a staunch, articulate advocate was needed to speak on behalf of the community."

Her Watchung Avenue office is crammed with evidence of her assistance to Spanish-speaking residents from throughout South and Central America and beyond.

"With so very many diverse communities within a community, it is the leadership of Flor Gonzalez that has solidified the various Latino communities into one powerful entity creating a singular economic and cultural impact on the City of Plainfield," the resolution stated.

Flor leads a rally at City Hall for Latino civil rights.

A 30-year city resident, Flor served two terms on the Housing Authority of Plainfield's board of commissioners. She was a Human Rights Commission member for five years and an appointee to the Mayor's Advisory Committee.

The resolution was a "walk-on" item Monday and Flor was not present to receive it.

--Bernice Paglia

Monday, March 16, 2009

Hellwig Appointed As Police Director

Public Affairs & Safety Director Martin R. Hellwig is now the city's permanent civilian police director for the city, following a City Council vote Monday. He will serve through the balance of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs' term, ending Dec. 31.

It is the third time Hellwig has been named to the same role.

In March 2008, the mayor appointed Hellwig to the post in acting capacity the day after the City Council agreed to abolish the title of police chief in favor of a police director. Legislation establishing the title allowed for the Public Safety director to hold the additional post for up to one year in acting capacity. In an addendum to an April 14, 2008 council meeting, the mayor informed the council again of Hellwig's acting appointment, this time effective April 11, the day the abolishment of the chief's title took effect.

Hellwig draws only a $90,000 salary as Public Safety director. No salary has been established for the police director position.

Councilman Adrian Mapp asked why Monday's resolution was not presented to the City Council at the March 9 agenda-fixing session. City administrator Marc Dashield said it would have been presented at a March 30 agenda session under the council calendar adopted Jan. 1, but due to revision of the calendar, that date was dropped. The former April 6 voting meeting is now the next agenda-fixing session and the resolution would have been late if it had not been added to Monday's meeting.

Mapp also questioned the lack of a salary ordinance, but Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson said it had not been necessary "because we have the luxury of having a gentleman to serve in both positions."

Click here for a blog post on some of Hellwig's initiatives as police director. While many residents were upset over deletion of the police chief title, Hellwig has gained a reputation as being responsive to residents' public safety concerns, especially quality of life issues such as speeding in residential neighborhoods and safety on Mischief Night and Halloween.

--Bernice Paglia

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Counciil Meets Monday

Monday night’s City Council meeting has mostly routine items on the agenda, except for approval of a $275,000 settlement with former Police Chief Edward Santiago and possibly some action regarding the expiration of Police Director Martin Hellwig’s one-year acting term.

The meeting is 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave. As of this writing on Sunday evening, the agenda is not available.

Please all be aware that this meeting marks the last under the calendar published Jan. 1

The dreaded new calendar kicks in next month but has yet to be published. According to City Council President Rashid Burney’s unofficial calendar, the April 6 agenda fixing session will take place at 7:30 p.m. at Emerson Community School as part of Burney’s plan to hold four such sessions across the city, one in each political ward. One has already been held Feb. 9 at Washington Community School.

Plaintalker’s stance is leave well enough alone, that decades of tradition allow the civic-minded to come out to witness the governing body in action at either City Hall Library or Municipal Court.

The new calendar also compresses the schedule to one agenda-fixing and one regular meeting per month, year-round. The schedule is meant to allow more time for council committee meetings and such.

Meanwhile, council meetings have been televised, but Plaintalker has been hard put to follow the Channel 74 schedule.

Perhaps it will all work out in weeks to come. Innovation always draws concern and this Taurean writer is intrinsically skeptical, but maybe I’m wrong.

Stay tuned to Channel 74 and meanwhile come out live for council meetings as best you can.

--Bernice Paglia

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Community Butterfly Garden Planned

Sign of Spring - Snowdrops at Grace Episcopal Church

The Rev. Carolyn Eklund sends word that a Community Butterfly Garden will be created on the grounds of Grace Episcopal Church.
Work will take place on three upcoming dates. All those who participate will have a chance to enter a free raffle for a beatiful nylon butterfly kite. The church is at East Seventh Street and Cleveland Avenue.
Here are the dates and tasks:
Saturday, March 21 11:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.
Clear the area - begin to vision the plantings.
Pizza served. Wear work clothes.
(rain-snow day, March 28)

Saturday, April 25, 11:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.
Design the plot and decide on the plantings.
Lunch served.

Friday, May 1 in conjunction with New Jersey 21st Century After School "Green Environment" Day - plant the garden. Raffle winner announced.

Believe it or not, a lot of butterflies visit the Park & Seventh neighborhood. The butterfly bush in my yard across the street from the church gets lots of visitors each year. They are delightful to watch. Last summer, an Aphrodite Fritillary stopped by. The migratory Monarch butterflies are an especially good reminder of how we are connected to distant lands and people through the cycles of nature. Click here for some information and photos from the U.S. Forest Service.
Mother Carolyn mentioned her vision of a community garden to me last year and I'm glad to see it will come about.
--Bernice Paglia

BOE Facilities Supervisor Resigns

The Board of Education is expected to accept Tuesday the resignation of Lawrence Martin as supervisor of buildings and grounds.

Martin has served just seven months in the role. The resolution states the reason for resigning is personal. He was hired for the 2008-09 school year at a salary of $121,000.

As listed on the district web site, there are 10 elementary schools, two middle schools, two high schools and an administration building among facilities to be maintained. Another new school is slated to open in September. The former administration building is now a family support center. There is also an athletic complex on Randolph Road. (If I am forgetting any facilities, let me know.)

Plaintalker has not been able to attend recent school board meetings. Tuesday’s meeting coincides with both a City Council budget meeting and a PMUA meeting.

The school board’s business meeting is 7 p.m. Tuesday at the administration building, 1200 Myrtle Ave.

--Bernice Paglia

Friday, March 13, 2009

More Park & Seventh Details

Stop! Don't worry about the striping on potholes. There is a reason why. Because the intersection was receiving new lights , the striping had to be done for traffic safety.

This damaged portion of the street must be repaired by New Jersey American Water. The county issued a street opening permit that is backed by bonding to assure restoration of the road and in this case, new striping.

On Friday morning county official Paul Leso said the old poles would be removed and by the time I made my way to Twin City for groceries, they were gone.

The remaining bases of the poles were jack-hammered out and in days to come, the sidewalks will be fixed.

Infrastructure is not a sexy topic, but for the hundreds of pedestrians and thousands of drivers who go through the Park & Seventh intersection, I suspect these improvements are warmly welcomed.
--Bernice Paglia

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Update on Park & Seventh

These workers appeared today (Thursday, March 12, 2009) to complete the Union County improvements at Park & Seventh. They included markings for left turn lanes, crosswalk delineations and new signage.

The street marking process involved trillions of small glass beads.

Even though road repairs have not been done since New Jersey American Water ripped up the intersection, the workers valiantly drove their striping machines over the potholes.

Kind of made a person woozy to look at it.
Oh Mary, where's the Dramamine?
The update includes turn lanes on all four corners.
The old yellow lines were scraped away by one machine and this machine made new ones.
Turn left, turn right, go straight, just watch out for those pesky pedestrians.

Hmmm. You mean it's been wrong all these years? Why yes, to the west of Park Avenue it is indeed West Seventh Street.
Park Avenue is always Park Avenue and is the border between East and West.

And here we are at Park and East Seventh Street. No indication of when the duplicative signage will be taken away.
Once all systems and signage are operative, including push buttons for pedestrian crossings, I think all the many hundreds of people who cross here daily on foot and even the thousands of drivers who travel the crossroad will be much happier. Thanks to Union County for this project. Click here for more information.
--Bernice Paglia

Remembering Pepsi Charles


My pitch to readers about significant women in Plainfield’s local history was meant to elicit responses, but instead Renata has now given me homework.

Who was Pepsi Charles? Somehow I remember writing a tribute to her, but since she joined the ancestors in 2002, I would still have been a reporter at that time. Let me just say that Pepsi’s interests and concerns ranged from cultural advancement of the community, recognition of Africana history and symbolism, the needs of urban youth, appreciation of all the arts and a deep spirituality that was an example to her friends and acquaintances.

Pepsi had served as a programmer on WBAI-FM, a station well-loved by many Plainfielders. She also headed City-wide Parents for some time and fostered fundraising events for students who “beat the odds” to graduate from high school. Some of the odds were truly heartbreaking, and these children very much appreciated the support.
Pepsi also was instrumental in founding a summer Freedom School for young people.

As a writer and poet, she had broad recognition outside the borders of Plainfield. One of her projects was a biography of Chaka Khan, whom she traveled with and knew well. Pepsi also knew the enduringly influential Last Poets and many other creative people.

Many people saw one side or another of Pepsi, but few knew all sides.

Personally, I shared a lot with Pepsi. When I ordered my lunar calendars from Luna Press, I got one for her, too. I passed along an “A Love Supreme” T-shirt that I think was a WBAI premium. I gave her an Ashanti brass animal symbol for unity signifying, “Bite not one another,” a symbol she printed on her letterhead. When she wore her blue Yemaya bead necklace, I knew what it meant to her. We had some sort of understanding that did away with conventional barriers. We seldom had to explain ourselves to each other.

Looking around today, I see few comparable examples of a person who is so vitally interested in increasing the awareness of all citizens to their community and heritage, and who quietly expends the energy to make it happen.

--Bernice

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Q&A with Dr. Gallon: Character Education

Schools Superintendent Steve Gallon III was kind enough to respond to some questions Plaintalker posed about a new character education program.

Plaintalker: Is this an original program or one already in wide use?
Dr. Gallon: This is an original, new districtwide initiative that is reflected in the 2008-2012 District Strategic Plan. Several schools may have done some infusion of character education in the past; however, this is a Districtwide initiative that will involve all schools via a monthly, unifying focus and recognition.

Plaintalker: How are the traits being explained to children, especially at the elementary level?
Dr. Gallon: The traits are being introduced and taught to the students in various ways throughout the District. Specifically at the elementary school level, they are being taught via literacy across the curriculum, and throughout various content areas. More important, these traits are not only expected to be taught and learned, but more important, modeled by students, staff, and parents of each school community. In this way, students can see a true manifestation of what it means to have integrity, be honest, persevere, etc. A student can be selected by his or school as the Student of the Month for a particular trait by virtue of what they do that symbolizes that trait at their school.

Plaintalker: Are there materials in schools to reinforce the awareness of traits?
Dr. Gallon: Yes, Schools are using the six pillars of character that addresses all of the values for our Character Education Initiative. This information was given to school principals.

Plaintalker: The district formerly had a program for social-emotional learning. Is this current program related in any way?
Dr. Gallon: Yes, the program for social-emotional learning addressed character education via six pillars of character that helped students review and identify with certain values based on the behaviors and or school infractions that they are exhibiting. This initiative extends this effort districtwide with alternate means for learning and/or demonstrating the monthly character trait. Further, the recognition of students for such display of positive traits has been instituted.

According to a chart Dr. Gallon furnished, traits for the balance of the 2008-09 school year are Honesty/Fairness in March, Cooperation/Good Sportsmanship in April, Loyalty/Citizenship in May and Courage in June.

Certainly the current generation of adults in power has been tarnished by the lack of character exhibited by major corporate leaders, financial institutions and politicians, as we see in the news. Reminding young people of the need for good character and ethical behavior can only strengthen the next cadre of citizens and leaders. Click here for more information on the six pillars of character.

--Bernice Paglia

Is Hellwig's Year Up?

Last night at the budget non-meeting I mentioned that Police Director Martin Hellwig's one-year acting term was up on March 20. Therefore, some action regarding the role should be taken next Monday. City Administrator Marc Dashield said he believed the term was up on April 20.

At my age, one always fears for signs of memory deterioration, so I looked it up on the blog and, for good measure, in the Courier News online archive to back up my news clip with a hand-written date. On March 21, 2008, Brandon Lausch reported that Public Safety Director Martin Hellwig had been appointed the day before as police director in acting capacity.

So either the mayor jumped the gun or the year is indeed up.

I used the search word "loggerheads" to retrieve the blog post and it also turned up a long-forgotten spat with Dan. Click here and scroll to trudge down memory lane.

The question of "acting" roles also made me realize that Dashield himself is overdue again in his dual role as city administrator and acting director of Administration, Finance, Health and Social Services. And so it goes.

--Bernice Paglia

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Who Are Plainfield's Historic Women?

Tonight's budget meeting had only three City Council members, thus lacking a quorum, and just two citizens in attendance.

Therefore, I will change the subject and ask for remembrances of Plainfield women who made local history.

Some names that come to mind are Pepsi Charles, Angela Perun, Helen Miller, Adele deLeeuw and Phyllis Mason.

I welcome any comments on these women or others who contributed to Plainfield's legacy, whether cultural or political.

If possible, please sign your name to your comments.

--Bernice Paglia

Shoutout to Jackie

This must be a friend of Roofus. He and others are holding down the fort on Gavett Place. If you get a chance, peek in and check out the phone covered in paw prints. There is fresh food and water, even though the building has changed hands.

Construction on the proposed new building won't start until sometime in 2010, so the feline population rules until then.

--Bernice

Re-entry, Recidivism Revisited

Interesting that recidivism and re-entry are coming up now as matters of urgent concern. Click here to read about a "working conference" on public safety in April 2006. Note the large binders full of information on parolees coming home to Plainfield.

That whooshing noise must be the sound of three years passing since then.

--Bernice Paglia

No Budget Love for Parade

A citizen's question at the end of Monday's City Council meeting brought an answer confirming that the 2009 July Fourth celebration may have to be canceled.

"It is one of the items under consideration, yes," Council President Rashid Burney answered resident Ralph Corniffe.

Burney said the expense was on the list of the council's Finance Committee's recommendations, and was also a cut recommended by the Citizens' Budget Advisory Committee. Burney said the current budget includes costs for last year's parade and the recommendations would impact this year's parade.

The celebration costs about $50,000. Fireworks and a concert are usually part of the day, in addition to the parade.

The parade was once a highlight for most of Central Jersey, with as many as eight or nine municipalities contributing to it. Over the years neighboring towns dropped both support and participation. When North Plainfield decided to hold its own parade, the city had to change the route, which formerly proceeded from Johnston Avenue and East Front Street to Front and Somerset streets, where it turned north to end at a reviewing stand in front of Somerset School. The new Plainfield route ended on Front Street between Park and Madison avenues, with a reviewing stand on the sidewalk.

The City Council passed legislation to form a new, Plainfield-only Independence Day Committee, but to the best of this writer's knowledge, only an ad hoc committee worked on parade plans.

Burney said tonight's budget meeting was originally intended for "forward-looking discussion" of the FY 2010 budget year that begins July 1, but because the current budget for the year ending June 30 has not yet passed, the meeting will be devoted to "gaining consensus" for budget items.

The budget meeting is 8 p.m. in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave. The schedule calls for more meetings on March 17, 24 and 31, as well as April 7 and 14.

--Bernice Paglia

Monday, March 09, 2009

New Title Floated for IT Leader

After more than an hour of detailed discussion Monday on hiring and funding a director of data processing, City Administrator Marc Dashield told the City Council a new title - manager of information processing - needs to be established by ordinance.

Passage on two readings will add many weeks to the timetable for what Dashield has recently called a job that needs to be filled immediately, within the budget year that ends June 30. The SFY 2009 budget is still not finalized, as the fourth quarter of the budget year looms.

Dashield reminded the council that he had made a presentation in October on the need for what he called then an "IT director" to plan and carry out a long-range technology plan. The city has invested in equipment to consolidate its computer systems and now has a Voice Over Internet Protocol phone system, but needs someone to manage operations.

The salary range connected to the title of director of data processing was $95,500 to $130,400. At the maximum, the director would be the second-highest paid official in the administration. Much of the discussion Monday revolved around whether in today's economy a person might accept a salary the lower range to start. No salary range was mentioned for the new title.

Funding the title was also at issue. Dashield said the funds would be offset by budget cuts. But upon questioning by Councilwoman Linda Carter, Dashield said benefits would add another $16,000 to the cost of the hire. Councilwoman Annie McWilliams and Councilman Adrian Mapp remained dubious of the costs, as extra staff will also be hired.

Dashield pressed with his explanations of the need for a high-level director, citing the arduous tasks such as doing requisitions on paper and having to copy reports for sharing. But Mapp, who is chief financial officer in a nearby municipality, said he was shocked to hear requisitions were still being done manually in the city.

As much as Dashield advocated speed in filling the position, he withdrew the ordinance before a vote on final passage March 2 and did not mention the need for a new ordinance until after a PowerPoint presentation and lengthy discussion on the issues Monday.

The delay comes as the council is making a transition to a new calendar. If the new ordinance is passed on first reading March 16, second reading is not possible until April 13. Then 20 days must elapse before it takes effect.

Once it takes effect, the administration could hire someone on a provisional basis without council advice and consent. Part of the council split on the issue is over some members' suspicion that the job is being pushed with a candidate in mind. Council President Rashid Burney asked Dashield flat out, "Has an offer been made to someone?"

After Dashield said, "No," Burney asked, "Has anyone approached you locally?"

Again, Dashield said, "No."

Burney then asked who Dashield talked to about the job. Dashield mentioned state, county and local school board officials. Burney pressed for more details and asked to have citizens as well as the council and administration take part in making an IT plan, including participation in a survey.

"I'm just a data kind of guy," Burney said.

It was only then that Dashield declared the title of director of data processing outdated and said the ordinance would be reintroduced with the new title.

The next council meeting is 8 p.m. on March 16 at Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

--Bernice Paglia

What You Say!

For those who wondered about the blog post title regarding votes, it was a play on a well-known meme. Now don't ask me to explain what a meme is. Click here and all shall be revealed.

--Bernice

New Calendar Requires Planning Ahead

Soon the new calendar advocated by City Council President Rashid Burney will take effect.

This calendar calls for just one agenda session and one voting meeting per month. Previously, there have been two of each per month, except for summer months and those affected by elections.

Practically speaking, the new schedule will mean that ordinances which have to be passed on two readings will now take two months instead of one for passage. In addition, community groups seeking City Council permission to hold events involving sidewalk encroachments or use of city streets will have to plan ahead, as they will get just one shot per month to gain approval.

The other innovation, as some have learned by my kvetching, is that four of the agenda sessions will be held at schools instead of at City Hall Library. The first already took place Feb. 9 at Washington Community School. The April 6 agenda fixing session will be at Emerson Community School. Others are Oct. 5 at Hubbard Middle School and Dec. 7 at Cook School. I personally don't like the change because I can't walk to these remote venues.

The calendar has not yet been published officially, although it is up on Burney's web site. Erroneous information on the school meetings is posted all over City Hall and on the city web site, because officials used the calendar adopted Jan. 1 as the basis for extrapolating the agenda sessions. City Council attendance is poor enough without adding confusion about where and when to show up to see the governing body in action.

In 2006, a calendar change resulted in attendance falling off drastically and I am afraid the same will happen this year, despite the cheerleading of officials who like the new plan. One of the rationales for the reduced meeting schedule is that council business is sparse enough to be conducted once a month. Having observed the City Council for 25 years now, it is my opinion that the reason for the apparent lack of resolutions and ordinances is that the administration is not taking care of business that needs council approval, such as timely appointments to boards and commissions.

Another innovation is early budget meetings, starting Tuesday, March 10, and continuing on March 17, 24, 31 and April 7 and 14. Supposedly this is to get a running go on the FY 2010 budget year that starts July 1. It is my opinion that no matter how early the council starts, the budget year staggers on until after the New Year anyway. Early talks in 2005 ended up being fruitless because the administration changed in January 2006. This fiscal year has only three months to spare and the budget has yet to be passed. The city is still waiting on news of extraordinary state aid for tax relief. Why prolong the agony with early talks for next year?

Enough of my crankiness. It has been my choice to report to you, the citizens, on government doings as best I can on this blog, so until I decide to do something else such as catch up on re-runs of all the TV series I have missed, so be it.

--Bernice Paglia

Green: All Your Vote Are Belong to Me

Later this month Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Green will have to declare the Regular Democratic Organization’s choice for mayor and the Fourth Ward City Council seat.

It brings to mind the kind of nutty post on Jerry Green’s Page for December 18 in which he condemns John Campbell, a backer of the successful 2008 primary and general election candidates Adrian Mapp and Annie McWilliams, for “dividing the black vote here in the City of Plainfield.”

Excuse me, but wasn’t the early civil rights movement all about being able to vote, and to vote one’s conscience?

Green’s blog post attaches to the supporters of the 2008 primary and general election winners “the emasculating attitude” that “those in charge of slave ships used to turn their captives against one another” similar to the “Willie Lynch syndrome,” a reference to a possibly dubious slave era speech on how to exert control over captives.

So Green conveniently kicks to the curb the free choice of registered black voters in favor of lock-step loyalty to the entrenched party. Does he think that his choice of mayor and Fourth Ward candidate this year will then become the nonpareil slate that none dare challenge?

It is Plaintalker’s opinion that voters of whatever ethnicity in this diverse city are smarter than that and will sift the candidates for the most deserving of their votes.

The complete field will not be known until the April 6 filing deadline. And then the race will be on.

--Bernice Paglia

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Break? What Break?

There’s nothing like declaring a break to make a newsie’s brain fill up with a backlog of ideas for stories. There must be a name for this syndrome, but I don’t know what it is.

Among the topics that floated to the top of the mental soup were the unanticipated effects of the new City Council schedule, musings on what constitutes the “black vote,” the problem of sorting hard facts from conviviality when it comes to redevelopment and some other thoughts on why, despite everything, we love Plainfield.

Therefore, in coming hours or days, I will expound on these topics.

--Bernice Paglia

Cretella Unveils Downtown Plans

Transforming the former Romond's Garage into a modern, five-story building is just part of developer Frank Cretella's vision for downtown Plainfield. He also see an entertainment venue on Gavett Place and new stores where he hopes to lure "second-time entrepreneurs" with free rent for a year.

Cretella, architect Jose Carballo and attorney Jay Bohn came before the Planning Board Thursday seeking approvals for two applications: Certified Green Property One, LLC, at 214-24 Park Avenue would convert a vacant building to ground-floor retail space and four apartments on two upper floors. Art Lofts I, LLC, proposes first-floor retail and 20 apartments on four upper floors at 152-58 East Second Street. Both sites are in the North Avenue Historic District.

Cretella recently brought forward plans for two other sites and said Thursday he expects to add 100 units downtown and even more later.

Plaintalker described the Park Avenue proposal in a blog post about the Historic Preservation Commission meeting where Cretella's team sought a review and recommendations to the land use board for 214-24 Park Avenue and also the former Courier News building next door. Cretella also has plans for the PNC Bank building, he said.

Planning Board members questioned the size of proposed apartments for Certified Green Property One, LLC, but Carballo said, "That is the space we have within the building."

Because the building takes up the whole lot, there will be no open space or onsite parking. Cretella said a traffic study indicated an abundance of parking downtown at municipal lots, as much as 350 spaces at any given time. Parking is not a requirement downtown anyway, officials said.

With no room for Dumpsters, trash will be stored in the basement until pickup and storage for tenants will also be in a separate section of the basement.

After a few more questions, the board granted preliminary site plan approval for the Park Avenue proposal.

As explained by Carballo, the East Second Street proposal includes Romond's Garage and an adjacent lot at the corner of Gavett Place. A modern five-story building would be erected, incorporating the garage and wrapping around the corner. A stage would be part of the site, facing the main train station. There would be four stores on the first floor and apartments on upper floors would be equipped with Magic Pak heating and cooling units in special closets with just venting grills flush with the exterior.

Again, no onsite parking will be provided for the 20 units, but some will have balconies for open space. Cretella said he hopes to have events such as car shows and a farmer's market on the Gavett Place side, where a city-owned lot could be made into a lawn. If Gavett Place was closed off, he said, the site could hold a "couple hundred" people for weekend events.
After more discussion on where tenants might park, the application also won preliminary site plan approval. Councilman Cory Storch, the board's council liaison, praised the project, especially the entertainment and event aspect.
"I'm very pleased with the whole concept," he said.
Dr. Scott Rufolo of Plainfield Vision Center, next door to Romond's , said he was "very excited" by the plan.
Cretella said he expects to start with the Park Avenue projects and work on the East Second Street proposal next.
--Bernice Paglia