Friday, July 31, 2009

The World According to Cammarano

Hoboken Mayor Peter Cammarano stepped down today, but proclaimed his innocence nonetheless, despite some rather incriminating taped remarks.

One hopes that the 44 recent arrests will make everyone in elected office think twice before skirting ethics rules.

So far, Union County politics have not hit the headlines. But we have our eye out ...

--Bernice

Work on Watchung Avenue

I think this is a milling machine that is chewing up the road in preparation for resurfacing. Although both drivers and pedestrians are inconvenienced for the time being, the results should be worth the trouble.

I for one appreciate the new, even sidewalks that make walking so much easier, especially across the street from Municipal Court, where pedestrians had to hop from piece to piece of broken sidewalk.
Like last summer's waterworks as pipes were being repaired, this too shall pass.
--Bernice

Art Deco on Cleveland Avenue

One thing about not driving is that you don't have to keep your eyes on the road (not that texters do anyway). I was checking on construction at a building on East Fifth Street and noticed this Art Deco frieze. Never mind the barbed wire, I'm too short to get a better shot of the frieze.

Here's a closer look. There is a Ford logo in the middle. This building used to be McKelvey's Oldsmobile, but at some point it was a Ford location. In looking up Art Deco, I found a link that shows an example of how the style was used to promote modern transportation. Click here and scroll down to the Chevrolet Showroom example.
The Chevrolet building in New York City is another example of Art Deco style.
Although the frieze on Cleveland Avenue is minor, it is still interesting and worth seeing while it lasts. Does anyone know of other Art Deco ornamentation in Plainfield?
--Bernice

Summer Reading

My church book club is not meeting this summer, but I have been reading a lot due to good luck at the Plainfield Public Library.

Chuck Palahniuk is one of my favorite writers, and I was very happy to see "Pygmy," his latest, on the New Book shelves in June. I picked up "West with the Night" by Beryl Markham after reading a favorable review. "My Father's Tears" by John Updike was necessary reading and the author's deftness with descriptions of aging matched his ineffable way of writing about youthful and midlife passions.

A book club choice about the life of Frank Lloyd Wright, "Loving Frank" by Nancy Horan, led me to read T.C. Boyle's "The Women: A Novel" and that led to reading both "After the Plague," short stories by Boyle, and "Death in A Prairie House: Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Murders" by William R. Drennan.

Author Thrity Umrigar's "The Space between Us" had been a well-liked book club choice, so I was glad to see her novel "The Weight of Heaven" at the library.

Other good finds at the library this summer were "The Story Sisters" by Alice Hoffman and "Tea Time for the Traditionally Built" by Alexander McCall Smith.

I was eager to read the updated version of "The Soprano State: New Jersey's Culture of Corruption" by Bob Ingle and Sandy McClure, so I got that one from Amazon.

Something I heard or read about Louis-Ferdinand Celine made me wish to re-read "Journey to the End of the Night" and "Death on the Installment Plan" after many decades. Neither was available in the library, but Amazon had them both in paperback.

Last but not least, I got in the habit of listening to audio books on tape while walking or gardening and the tales spun by Walter Mosley have been very entertaining. The audio book section at PPL is worth looking into if you have a portable cassette or CD player and you are feeling too lazy or relaxed to turn pages.

Happy summer reading, whether at home or on vacation! Or at home on staycation!

--Bernice

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Bike Rodeo Saturday

As reported here, Councilwoman Linda Carter announced National Night Out plans at a July 1 special City Council meeting. So far, nary a word on the city web site.

From Plaintalker, July 2:
"Carter took the opportunity of the special meeting to put in a plug for National Night Out in August. There will be a Bike Rodeo for kids on Aug. 1 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Library Park and then the traditional gathering on Tuesday, Aug. 4 at City Hall, starting at 6 p.m."

The city web site is heavily touting the "Music in the Plaza" events, which also include a car show and movie in the plaza. The first two concerts are on Friday, noon to 2 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. There is even a blurb for the September art festival, but nothing on Saturday's Bike Rodeo.

National Night Out had been former Councilwoman Elizabeth Urquhart's pet project for many years. Carter revived it in 2005. Last year, the event spread over several weeks and involved citizen participation in all four wards. A National Night Out banner used to be displayed on the front of City Hall, but this year the mayor won council approval to display her "Mayor of the Year" banner there from spring through September. The banner features an image from her campaign posters.

The Bike Rodeo is a wholesome, educational activity and fosters the safety of children. It is very worthy of parental attention. Let's hope the word gets out.

--Bernice

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

PMUA Faces Council, Residents

"One of the things we have to stop doing is lynching ourselves."

So spake Eric Watson, executive director of the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority as he and other PMUA officials appeared before the City Council in a "working conference" session Monday. Watson's further advice: "We need to change ourselves as a city," and "We have to get down to the facts and communicate with each other." He also said, "Plainfield has always kicked itself."

Watson's somewhat petulant tone and dramatic language stood in contrast to a barrage of information offered by other PMUA representatives to demonstrate a more cooperative relationship with the governing body and ratepayers.

The PMUA was originally supposed to be first up in four scheduled working conferences for 2009 as Council President Rashid Burney revived the practice originated in 2006 by then-Council President Ray Blanco. Instead, the February conference topic became public safety and PMUA got the July slot.

The interval gave the autonomous authority more time to prepare its presentation and in a possible pre-emptive move, its officials agreed earlier this month to roll back some of the rules that had inflamed a group of citizens to the point of revolt and litigation. Several members of the DumpPMUA movement and Philip Charles, who launched the lawsuit, were present Monday to witness the proceedings.

PMUA attorney Leslie London began by walking the council through documents in very thick binders given to each council member. They included the city ordinance establishing the authority in 1995, the Interlocal Services Agreement spelling out its role, the agreement with the Union County Utilities Authority to receive waste at the Linden incinerator and a transcript of the January rate hearing where PMUA commissioners approved increases of 14 percent for sanitary sewer services and 20 percent for solid waste services.

The January rate increases set off a citizen protest in which property owners were urged to "opt out" of using the PMUA for trash pickup and its operations were criticized. DumpPMUA members delved into public records and investigated practices, posting their findings online. PMUA travel expenses drew headlines and became one of the flashpoints of protest. London said Monday travel will now be limited only to what is necessary for licensure and essential training.

As a result of closed-door talks with the council and Assemblyman Jerry Green, PMUA officials announced the new travel policy and other modifications at a July 1 press conference. If the intended effect was to deflect a big protest Monday, it apparently worked, as only about 30 people showed up Monday. But many of the council's questions could not be answered due to litigation that is underway, and every PMUA move is reported on the DumpPMUA web site.

Other topics Monday included the authority's need to consolidate its headquarters and operations on one site, which may need a zoning change. The authority is also moving toward acquiring automated equipment that will reduce manpower to cut costs. It will seek outside contracts to bring in more revenues, officials said, though resident and mayoral candidate Jim Pivnichny questioned why that promise, first made 15 years ago, has not yet come true.

Resident William Gearhart said he and others were willing to pay for an independent audit of PMUA, citing an "enormous jump" in rates that he uncovered. Albert Pittis, former manager of most downtown commercial buildings, said it was unfair that rates were the same for both large and very small stores. Others questioned the ample benefits that commissioners get in addition to a $4,500 stipend.

As residents began calling out from their seats, Burney gaveled them into silence, but not before Gearhart said, "Mr. president, this is just the tip of the iceberg."

--Bernice Paglia

Posting Later

Random image: Bee on Trumpet Vine flower.
The late hour and the heat last night did me in. My report or commentary on the City Council's working conference on the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority will therefore be delayed.
--Bernice

Monday, July 27, 2009

PMUA Topic of Special Meeting

The City Council will meet in a "working session" tonight with PMUA representatives. The meeting is 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

The "working session" concept was introduced in 2006 by then-Council President Ray Blanco. who called them "working conferences" in a 28-page Rules of Order document he formulated. After Blanco's untimely death in July 2006, the concept was dropped until Council President Rashid Burney brought it back this year. As Blanco envisioned them, the conference meetings were for discussion and formulation of policy, with time set aside for public comment.

Past topics have included public safety and a community-based effort to revitalize the West End. Tonight's discussion is unique in that it involves an autonomous authority created by a City Council vote 15 years ago, but over which the governing body has no direct power. The PMUA's mission is to provide solid waste and sewer services to the city. It is governed by a board of commissioners appointed by the mayor with council advice and consent.

The PMUA holds annual rate hearings as well as an annual reorganization. In 2007 almost all its rates increased, with barely a peep from the public. In 2009, Plaintalker reported on a 20 percent increase in solid waste costs and a 14 percent increase in sewer costs.

As ratepayers received their bills, a backlash began that led to formation of a movement to "Dump PMUA." In a similar but unrelated move, mayoral candidate and Councilman Adrian Mapp called for PMUA operations to be placed back under city control. PMUA Chairwoman Carol Brokaw, who also ran for mayor in the Democratic primary, published an 11-point rebuttal, citing legal issues and many other complications of disbanding the authority.

After a recent meeting of city and authority officials, PMUA changed some of the rules and charges that residents found most disturbing. A lawsuit by DumpPMUA member Philip Charles is ongoing and updates on all concerns are posted on the group's web site. The group is urging attendance at tonight's session.

--Bernice Paglia

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Beetles - Yeah, Yeah Yeah.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a red ant wrangling the shell of a beetle many times its size. I dashed inside to get my camera, but by the time I got back, the ant had abandoned its task.

The beetle was light brown, with a few spots. I looked it up and soon found it was a Grapevine Beetle. I had never seen one before, but last week I came across one on a wild grapevine on the fence between our yard and Municipal Lot 7. This time I had my camera in my garden apron's pocket, but the beetle crawled under a leaf before I could get a shot.

Click here to see some images and to learn more about this bug. One reward for spending hours toiling away at yardwork is the discovery of such interesting visitors.

--Bernice

Corruption - Lessons Not Yet Learned

The corruption and money-laundering charges in the news last week were the third phase of investigations going back to 2002 in Monmouth and Ocean counties. This time, Hudson County officials were prominently represented. The magnitude of the arrests last week, with officials and religious leaders taken by the busload to appear in court, was shocking. But the alleged behavior was not unprecedented.

Take a look here at the 12-page press release and individual ones on each person charged. Then scroll down through the rest of the press releases for 2009 to see why New Jersey retains the title of "The Soprano State."

The recorded conversations that allegedly took place between the cooperating witness and the young Hoboken mayor are especially revealing of attitudes that shape political life. A cynical pattern of reward and punishment is seen here. Pay-to-play practices effectively sideline legitimate, honest businessmen and developers, or so it seems.

Some of the individuals have already stepped down from official posts, but Hoboken Mayor Peter Cammarano III, previously an attorney specializing in election law, has declared he will remain in office while fighting the charges against him. He won his seat less than a month ago. It is chilling to read his alleged words on how people will be treated according to their degree of allegiance to his campaign.

Maybe any aspiring politician should sit down and read all of last week's press releases on the arrests. Some of the defendants assure the cooperating witness they have been laundering money for years. One even says he has been involved in selling human kidneys for years. But the proverbial long arm of the law has now collared these persons and they face possible loss not only of honor and status, but of their personal freedom as well.

Many New Jersey residents long for the day when such news stories will become rare and the stigma of corruption will fade. It will all depend on how well current and future politicians and community leaders take the lesson delivered last week.

--Bernice Paglia

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Monarch Already Has Breaks

An article on the front page of the Courier News Home Guide Friday describes two benefits that condo buyers at The Monarch may enjoy.

First, with permission of the Federal Housing Administration, prospective condo buyers need not come up with the traditional 20 to 30 percent of the sale price for a 30-year mortgage, but can "pay as little as 3.5 percent of the total cost of the residence at the time of closing."

In addition, first-time home buyers who act before Nov. 30 "may qualify for a tax credit of up to $8,000."

All the more reason for the City Council to think hard about allowing an unprecedented 40 percent tax abatement to entice buyers to the 63-unit development at 400 East Front Street. An ordinance to that effect passed on first reading July 20 and will be up for a public hearing before second reading and final passage on Aug. 17. Councilman Adrian Mapp has stated he will vote "no" on the abatement.

Among other details in the article, the condo prices are listed as starting in "the low $200,000s." This is a reduction of nearly a third or fourth from the original price, another benefit for buyers.

It is unfortunate that this much-anticipated senior center/condo complex is coming on line in the midst of an economic collapse. But there are many other victims than the developer of The Monarch. Should those who lost a large portion of their life savings be forgiven a percentage of their taxes? How about the large numbers of middle-aged journalists and other professionals who just lost their jobs in industries that are shrinking or disappearing? Should they get a break while they seek new livelihoods?

The new FHA program, the $8,000 stimulus tax credit and reduced price should be inducements enough to buyers at The Monarch without creating a revenue gap in the city tax coffers. Friday's article cites the many attractions of The Monarch, such as gourmet kitchens, spacious layouts and accessibility to rail and bus links. See more at http://www.monarchliving.net/ and on tours from 1 to 4 p.m. on Aug. 1 and 2.

--Bernice Paglia

Friday, July 24, 2009

A Good News Story

Jeff Scheckner, the community engagement manager of the United Way of Greater Union County, reports that the "Maidens in May" house tour was a "major success" and will result in the Tri-County American Red Cross and the Plainfield Rescue Squad sharing in the proceeds.

Dozens of volunteers came together to mount the event on May 31, coincidentally the date of the highly popular Friends of Sleepy Hollow Garage Sale that draws visitors from all over Central Jersey for the day. Scheckner reports there were 93 garage sale participants. The house tour raised over $7,000 and proceeds will be given to the two non-profits at 10 a.m. on Aug. 6 at the American Red Cross offices, 332 W. Front St.

Scheckner's press release credited a long roster of donors and supporters for the event and invited anyone interested to help with planning for next year's event. Contact Jeff Scheckner "at" uwguc.org for more information.

--Bernice Paglia

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Soprano State Indeed

Forty-four arrests, including mayors, legislators, rabbis and other in positions of trust today cannot make New Jerseyans feel good. Sure, we are glad that possible violators of the public trust must now face consequences, but it doesn't do a lot for the state's image.

Over the years, several Plainfield mayors have had their records impounded by state and federal authorities, but no charges were ever filed. Some observers chalked it up to "fishing" for malfeasance, while others believed there was just not a solid enough case to proceed.

The worst thing today is the notion that dozens of people in positions of public trust apparently gambled on not being found out. It echoes the financial dirty deeds that led to the global economic collapse.

Maybe the state flag should have an image, not of the goddesses of liberty and prosperity, but of one hand raised to take an oath and the other hand behind the back with fingers crossed in the classic "I'm lying" pose.

--Bernice

Proofreading is Good

Stacks of colorful printed cards advertising Music in the Plaza turned up in public places last week, but alas! the concert times were not included. New cards (at top) were printed to reveal there will be two concerts each day.

Confusion over times for the Aug. 28 movie and car show (old card, top) was cleared up on the new card. Now about that movie ...
--Bernice

The Real Poop

To the person who chides me for "pooping all over Plainfield, " please take notice of definition N0. 3. Whether inside information or common knowledge, unless the facts are made part of civic discourse here, some official actions will continue to be impulsive, arbitrary and uninformed.

The commenter's use of the word is not among the definitions in my dictionary. Neither is ca-ca or doo-doo. Maybe the commenter needs to develop a more grown-up vocabulary in order to criticize the blog more constructively.

--Bernice

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

More on Taxes and Finance

From a reader:

"You asked for some help with your math, so here is my take on the proposed Monarch property taxes. Please note that the current tax rate is $5.979 per hundred. Land: $1900 + Condo $69000 = $70,900 total assessed value X .05979 = $4239.11 in taxes X 40% = $1695.64 proposed/yr."

Sounds right to me. Agree? Disagree? (Update: Another reader points out that $5.979 is probably the total tax rate and the municipal rate is closer to my figure of $3.50. He raises the question of whether the tax abatement is only on the municipal portion or the whole amount. I'm guessing just the municipal portion, so maybe my figures are more accurate. Bernice )

Meanwhile, I looked in the back of the big yellow Book II in the tax assessor's office to learn more about exempt properties, those where no tax is collected. The value of all these properties is listed as $254,134,000. The categories of exempt properties include homes of disabled veterans, schools, city-owned properties, municipal buildings, cemeteries, houses of worship and parsonages, public housing, state- and federally-owned buildings, railroad property, hospitals, social agencies, PMUA properties, lodges and fraternal organizations and Union County College.

One unusual listing was Bogart Commerce Urban Renewal. Some may recall this as the commercial portion of the former Tepper's building, which has a residential part and also the city-owned basement. Listed among the Bogart exemptions were stores such as Aaron's, a rent-to-own place on Somerset Street. Horizons at Plainfield, first contemplated as senior housing and now 75 apartments, paid the city $56,641.42 for FY 2009 in lieu of taxes. Why Bogart Commerce is exempt demands more inquiry.

The other PILOTs for FY 2009 were from Presbyterian Homes, Netherwood Gardens, Cedarbrook Apartments, Liberty Village, Leland Gardens, Covenant House, Allen Young Apartments and the Park Madison governmental office building.

The infamous $1.7 million typo occurred in a listing of anticipated revenues that was sent to the state Local Finance Board. This year's budget committee should make sure to get the document with anticipated revenues as well as expenses, not just the big white binder that only talks about department and division budget needs.

Some council members have asked the administration a couple of times to provide some of these figures, but as reporters know, you can always go to original documents such as those big books on the assessor's counter to dig up information. It would be a courtesy for the administration to provide such information, but it's there for anybody, even an elected official, to track down. Some things do need the administration's help and that's where things have seemingly bogged down in recent years.

By the way, the major condo conversion at Meadowbrook Village several years ago did not attract buyers for all units. Many remained in possession of New Meadowbrook Village as rentals and some were purchased by non-profit agencies and thus came off the tax rolls.

The revolving door of finance directors undoubtedly has marred oversight of these issues. Mayoral appointee Bibi Taylor received council advice and consent Monday as director of Administration, Finance, Health and Social Services, but the resolution was amended to indicate her term was concurrent with the mayor's term ending Dec. 31. The nomination of James Mangin for chief financial officer was withdrawn.

--Bernice Paglia

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Assessing the Monarch Situation

Between now and the Aug. 10 agenda session where Tax Assessor Tracy Bennett may address the City Council on tax abatements, we average citizens can do some homework.

Over the years, I learned that tax assessments have two parts, the land and the improvements, meaning the buildings. Block 324, Lot 10.01 is the site of the senior center/condo complex for which P&F Management LLC is now seeking a five-year tax abatement where condo buyers will pay only 40 percent of property taxes. The City Council approved the agreement on first reading Monday. Second reading and final passage may occur on Aug. 17.

First of all, the condos have already been established as separate tax entities. The same thing happened several years ago when the Meadowbrook Village garden apartments were turned into condos. Each one got its own block and lot number for taxing purposes.

So now when one looks up Dornoch Plainfield LLC (the former name for the senior center/condo complex owner at 400 East Front Street), one can see that taxes are currently being paid only on the land. Each portion has been assessed at $1,900 and the developer paid $114 in taxes on each of 63 lots for a total of $7,182.

Bennett said Tuesday she has set an assessment of $69,000 per condo, so the total assessment for land and improvements per condo will be $70,900. The last stated tax rate per $100 was $3.59 (or $3.50, depending whether you look at the resolution or the certification), so let's say the municipal tax rate will be either $2,481.50 or $2,545.31.

If the 40 percent tax abatement goes through, owners would then pay either $1,018.12 or $992.60 in municipal taxes.

I would like to invoke the phenomenon known as crowdsourcing for help on this one. Anybody with expertise, please confirm or dispute my numbers by e-mailing bernice.paglia"at" gmail.com. Journalists may have high verbal skills, but are notorious for lack of math expertise. Your help is welcomed.

--Bernice Paglia

Stuff-O-Rama on Park Avenue

Last week I heard a hand bell ringing on Park Avenue and looked around for a Christmas-in-July Santa. No, it was a low-key attempt to bring attention to the grand opening of a new dollar store in the former Eiseman's building. I was in a hurry and did not go in (also a bit downcast by the notion of yet another dollar store).

On Monday I ventured inside and was amazed at the array of stuff to buy. Walls of hair ornaments, aisles of cooking utensils, rugs, even furniture and everything else in between. Most are off-brands, but the housewares looked serviceable and the gewgaws were mostly attractive. I didn't want to carry anything, so made no purchases, but I will keep this store in mind for the occasional small need that might not warrant a trip to the Watchung Square Mall.

Overhead, eight apartments are under construction. The developer hinted in land use talks that occupants are expected to be urban dwellers who mainly use public transportation. Well, they will only have to walk downstairs to go shopping.

Many years ago, members of the now-defunct Plainfield Redevelopment Agency talked about a future when the likes of Louis Vuitton products would be sold downtown. It's true the downtown was once a shopping mecca for Central Jersey, featuring well-made shoes, business clothing and fine accessories, but it never soared to luxury level and the "good goods" shifted to malls and Westfield.

The nature of the downtown now resembles what a person sees in Elizabeth, if walking around on a jury duty lunch break. Lots of cheap clothing, cheap goods, gimcracks and shoppers buying it all by the bagful. There is a vibrant low-end market, for sure. This is not a judgment on the shoppers who need and want inexpensive goods, it is just how things are. There are also a few destination stores like Suburban Jewelers Appliance-Arama and E&A Restaurant Supply that add to the mix and presumably add to the Urban Enterprise Zone sales tax coffers.

Eventually the influx of new families from the late 1980s and the 1990s may grow into a more upscale consumer class. Will Plainfield recover its middle-class mercantile status or will the better-off consumers just go to the malls and Westfield for their needs? Time will tell.

--Bernice Paglia

Monday, July 20, 2009

Developer Seeks Major Tax Abatement



Buyers of condos at “The Monarch” could pay only 40 percent of city taxes for five years if a proposed tax abatement plan goes through.

The Monarch at 400 East Front Street has a new senior center and veterans’ center on the ground floor, with 63 two-bedroom condos on three top floors. Sales are being coordinated through an office located across the street and more information is online here.

An ordinance that received initial City Council approval Monday states that the plan is “deemed to be in the City of Plainfield’s best interests” and would “benefit the residents of the City by helping to ensure the sale of the condominium units to bona fide purchasers.” At a May 20 open house for the senior center, developer Glen Fishman said eight condos had been sold.

Although the ordinance authorizes the five-year agreement between the city and P&F Management LLC, Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson said Monday its passage will actually open the door for negotiations with the developer. P&F Management LLC appears to be a successor to Dornoch Plainfield LLC, which negotiated the original development agreement with the city.
Council President Rashid Burney said without the tax abatement the condos would be extremely difficult to sell and might become rental units.
The ordinance will be up for a public hearing, second reading and final passage on Aug. 17.
Among commenters at Monday's meeting, resident Nancy Piwowar said her family has paid its taxes in full for 55 years and suggested a one-year tax abatement for people who have been paying taxes for 50 years or more.
"I think we're giving away too much here," said resident and Republican mayoral candidate Jim Pivnichny.
Resident Robert Darden read from a July 2006 newsclip comments by Assemblyman Jerry Green that the senior center/condo project was expected to bring the city $400,000 in taxes annually and that there would be no tax breaks.
A groundbreaking was held for the project in July 2006, with promises of completion within one year. But the developer missed three stated deadlines. Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, who is seeking a second term in the November general election, turned up the heat on the developer as the promised senior center appeared to be stalled. In May, a couple of weeks before the June Democratic primary, the mayor hosted a large celebration in the senior center, which was opened for the day on a temporary certificate of occupancy.
According to Construction Official Joe Minarvich, the developer has until October to complete the project before being in default of an agreement with the city and the Union County Improvement Authority. The agreement was signed in January 2007, but the two-year time frame for completion did not start until construction permits were obtained in October 2007.
The condos were originally priced at $300,000, but were reduced to $199,000 as the housing market collapsed. Various amenities can be added to the basic model at additional cost. Tax liability begins when a certificate of occupancy is issued, but with questions remaining on the overall tax picture, the council will ask Tax Assessor Tracy Bennett to the next agenda session for clarifications.
--Bernice Paglia

Council Meeting Tonight

Random image: Beetle on edge of Soil Scoop.

A contract to operate Dudley House, cabinet appointments, salary increases for crossing guards, bonds for road improvements, 22 liens for property cleanups and establishment of an information manager's position are all on the agenda tonight, among other matters.

It has been good to see the newest and youngest City Council member, Annie McWilliams, taking notes and asking questions at meetings since she was sworn in Jan. 1 as the citywide at-large representative, meaning her constituency is all four wards of the city. Wherever you live in Plainfield, you can bring your concerns to her.

Each resident also has another at-large representative, Linda Carter for Wards 1 & 4 and Council President Rashid Burney for Wards 2& 3. Then you have one representative for each ward: William Reid, Ward 1; Cory Storch, Ward 2; Adrian Mapp, Ward 3 and Elliott Simmons, Ward 4. Contact information for council members is posted here on the city web site.

One thing that came out in the Connolly saga was that residents don't always let their landlords or City Hall know about housing issues. The proper way to proceed is first to ask the landlord to fix things. If that doesn't work, you can file a complaint with the Inspections Division at (908) 753-3386. And now that the council is revisiting the issue of safe and decent housing, your input can help your representatives understand what tenants face in rental housing. Renters constitute about half of all city households and more apartment housing is planned for the future.

Your council members have many other issues to deal with, and your communication with them can help their decisionmaking.

Tonight's meeting is 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

--Bernice Paglia

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Buy the Paperback "Soprano State"

Random image: Black-Eyed Susans.

In March 2008, I urged Plainfielders to buy "The Soprano State: New Jersey's Culture of Corruption." Now the book is out in paperback, "Updated with the latest scandals," and my copy arrived last week from Amazon.

It is more compelling than ever in this election year. The names are so familiar and yet when set in the context of scandalous behavior, they come across as Dorian Gray types who keep look great until the past catches up with them.

It is this shameful behavior that one hopes will stop being the norm in New Jersey. The go along to get along, cost of doing business, pay-to-play charade must stop, if only for the millions it costs taxpayers in patronage, no-show jobs and dual office holding for the purpose of getting mammoth pensions.

It happens at the state level that is the main focus of journalist authors Bob Ingle and Sandy McClure, but it also occurs at the county and local level. Take a look at this web site and notice how many people in positions of public trust are on it.

Politicians are good at mouthing the words "honesty" and "transparency" even as some land up behind bars. Government at all levels needs an infusion of moral uplift. Will it happen?

--Bernice Paglia

Grace is the Place

Stop by Grace Episcopal Church today for a health fair and yard sale. The church is located at East Seventh Street and Cleveland Avenue.

After hearing a woman exclaim "What a deal!" so loud that I heard it across the street, I figured I better get there.

I picked up Thelonius Monk and Slim Gaillard CDs for $1 each, some hemp cord to indulge my summer habit of making granny-square plant holders and "The Elements of Style" for a refresher course.

Here are some unusual ornaments that I donated. Hmm. Maybe I'll buy the stars back.

The Health Fair awaits your participation.

Check out the butterfly garden while you're in the church yard.
I'm told fried fish sandwiches from Blackberry's will be on sale at 1 p.m. The event concludes at 3 p.m. Just don't park in the yellow-striped spaces in Lot 7 - they are permit-only and the Parking Bureau is on duty today.
--Bernice

Friday, July 17, 2009

Going Buggy

At first I thought this bug was Polyphylla Decemlineata, but they only live in the Northwest. Could one have traveled here on packages from my Seattle relatives?

On second thought, I deduced it might just be the Colorado Potato Beetle.

Anyway, it was interesting to see this handsome fellow in the yard, even though we suspect his motives.

--Bernice

Cheers for Mark

Kudos to Mark Spivey for getting the Connolly story up fast in a concise form Friday. I was on my way downtown at noon and thought by then the matter would have been heard. But an officer at Municipal Court said it was just starting. The court session had begun at 9 a.m.

I took a lot of notes but then proceeded on my errand. By the time I got home, Mark's story was online with all the major points. So I will drop back to watering the plants in case the promised thunderstorms do not arrive.

--Bernice

Garden Design Approved for Complex

Rear of "The Monarch" senior center/condo complex.

Approval for design of a roof garden Thursday wrapped up Planning Board dealings for a new senior center/condo complex at 400 East Front Street.
In early talks on project dubbed "The Monarch," developer Glen Fishman and his staff promised a second floor roof garden over ground-level parking. Architectural drawings indicated four trees and other plantings. However, promotional material released this year showed a plain deck with chairs and some potted arborvitae, a change that did not sit well with city officials.
On Thursday, planners discussed a design developed by landscape architect April Stefel of the Planning Division in cooperation with city officials, the mayor and the developer. Attorney Alfred Faiella said it was one of the last steps toward issuance of a certificate of occupancy for the project.
The design features four pergolas, or roofless gazebos, that can be covered in vines to provide shade, but which would weigh much less than trees would. Other plantings include geraniums, vinca, fountain grass and lavender in large pots. Tables with umbrellas and seating are are part of the design. Planning Director Bill Nierstedt said it had taken "quite a bit of back and forth" to agree on the new design.
The roof surface itself will be a textured rubber membrane in two shades of beige, which board member William Toth, an architect, called "a good product" that is very durable.
Although the design is not the same as a full-fledged rooftop garden, it satisfied the board members. Click here for a prior Plaintalker article on the subject.
Faiella said the certificate of occupancy may be issued as soon as Monday and buyers may be able to move into the new condos. The roof garden will be accessible both to seniors and occupants of the condos, but not to the public. Balconies at the rear of the U-shaped complex will overlook the site.
Faiella urged the Planning Board members to take a walk-through at the complex. A sales staff is located across the street and has been arranging tours for prospective buyers of the 63 two-bedroom condos. At a celebration held in the new senior center in May, Fishman said eight had been sold at that point. Click here for more information on the condos.
--Bernice Paglia

Thursday, July 16, 2009

When Company Comes

The visit of gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie to Plainfield made this writer aware of how the downtown may come across to an outsider.

The downtown has long since lost its retail luster as a regional shopping destination and is now serving a demographic that needs lots of stuff at a moderate price. Dollar stores, urban gear outlets and a whole lot of cell phone places have popped up among the longtime establishments. Even so, the economic downturn has affected even these newly popular stores.

Part of the downtown problem is escalating rents since a new company took over most storefronts. Business owners could not pay triple the past year's rent and had to make other plans.

This business, a Bible store now converted to an urban fiction bookstore, was the subject of a paintball attack. Some may remember it as the old Lazaar's. (Correction: Boise's?)

All ages can now get their new kicks downtown, from pre-school to all grown up.
A downtown building that has many windows shuttered by blinds had just one that stood out - a very naked woman in full view of anybody. Even a police officer on special detail for the Christie visit was surprised by the sight. Apparently it is a large beach towel with the message, "A great towel for a great body." Hmm. So what goes on behind the rest of those windows?
Most likely Chris Christie was shepherded through the downtown so fast by his handlers that he didn't take time to peer around at such things. Still, it was eye-opening to get a possible new view of our downtown through the eyes of a visitor.
--Bernice Paglia

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Interesting Legal Notices

An incomplete legal notice today left this writer wondering what it was all about. A "board," otherwise unidentified, was holding a special meeting today on the topic of facilities. Furthermore, it was a closed meeting to be conducted by telephone at 6 p.m. Could it be more cryptic?
Click here to see the notice. If anybody knows what it is all about, please comment.

Also in the paper today was a synopsis of the PMUA audit for the year ending Dec. 31, 2008 in contrast to 2007. Click here to see it. It is likely that dumppmua.com will have something to say about this audit. The City Council is still planning a special work session on PMUA at 8 p.m. July 27 in Municipal Court.

--Bernice Paglia

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

"Parents Strongly Cautioned"

I am neither a TV viewer nor a movie-goer, so until I looked into it, I did not know much about ratings for viewers.

It seems the movie scheduled for viewing at the Aug. 28 event, "The Fast and the Furious 4," is rated PG 13, a category for which all may be admitted but for which parents are strongly cautioned for content.

Click here for an explanation of ratings.

We have no idea what age ranges will attend the movie night, but on the face of it, a milder rating might have been more suitable so as to safely include younger children.

The City Council approved a budget for the Music in the Plaza events, but if you are a resident and want to know how come it expanded to a car show and a dubious movie filming, let your elected officials know what you think. Here are links to your elected officials.

--Bernice Paglia

Chris Christie Tackles Plainfield

As part of a tour to address urban problems, former Attorney General (Correction: U.S. Attorney) and current Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie visited Plainfield. Here, Assemblyman Jerry Green attempts to challenge Christie as he concludes his downtown visit.
Christie appears to be trying to comprehend Green's impromptu questions.

Christie chats with the owner of Appliance-Arama, who told the gubernatorial candidate, "They're trying to take my building," referring to a still-unresolved eminent domain case on the PNC Bank block.
Suburban Jewelers owner Lisa Cohen explains issues of doing business in an urban center and Christie promises help.
At Bill's Luncheonette, customer Tracie Adams poses with Christie. She said she wants his support to help with crime, taxes and school issues.
The owner of Bill's Luncheonette, with his characteristic sprig of basil behind his ear, had no idea Christie was on his way to pay a visit.

Urban fiction author J.M. Benjamin told Christie how he turned his life around after serving time in prison.
The media gaggle was interesting, though this writer was not as competitive as others, leaving the coverage to the gainfully employed professionals. Check your print media and NJN, etc. for more details.
--Bernice Paglia

Too Much Info or Not Enough?

A past event in the plaza.

More details on this year's Music in the Plaza are now posted on the city web site.

Plaintalker had carped about the flashy card that heralds the events but doesn't say when they take place. A downloadable flyer on the city web site reveals that on July 31 and Aug. 28 there will be two concerts each day, one from 12 noon to 2 p.m. and another from 6 to 8 p.m. In addition, there will be a car show on Aug. 28, as well as a movie at 9:30 p.m.

However, a link to a web site on the card results in a slide show with slightly different information.

Picky, picky, picky - yes, I admit it. Too many years of getting the who, what, where of things have made me into a stickler for the facts. I pity the person who has to sort this all out for an "If you go" box in the newspaper.

And furthermore, learning that there are two concerts on each day only makes me more curious about the logistics and costs. Will there be two set-ups and break-downs each day? Attendees are told to bring their own chairs (and buttered popcorn) for the movie, but seating was provided for past concerts.

Communication continues to be a weak aspect of the current administration. It's one thing to get event planning wrong, but even the big stuff gets screwed up. Witness the last-minute, unpublished notice for a special meeting that then was canceled Monday. Oh well, it was only about $15 million and 180 new apartments.

--Bernice Paglia

Smith & Hawken Closing

I learned over the weekend that Smith & Hawken is closing all its stores. For some of us, it's the end of an era, but others, including Paul Hawken himself, apparently feel it's past time for the doors to close.

The company started out with basics meant to last a lifetime and gradually became more and more upscale. As commenters on Garden Rant indicated, the company changed after its acquisition by a major firm. Many said they could no longer afford to buy anything there, but they had fond memories of its original cause. Scroll down to see the article and comments.

I never bought the gardener's pants that I coveted, but did get some good tools. When I retired in 2003, my co-workers surprised me with a very generous gift card that I gradually used up at the Westfield store. More recently, my purchases have been more in the realm of amaryllis bulbs or packets of fancy seeds, as I had no excuse to buy more tools.

The events of the weekend having clouded my mind, I did not head off to Westfield yesterday to look for bargains, but hope to get there soon.

Changes after a corporate acquisition of a company do tend to dilute the founders' intent. Another danger is getting too heavy on garden playthings instead of necessities, as I see happening at another favorite company. I just ordered slug bait and a tool sharpener from that company, but never mind the tchochkes like solar-powered garden decorations.

It's too bad that Smith & Hawken strayed from its roots, so to speak, and grew into a mercantile operation like many another that is becoming unsustainable in these times. Still, I offer a tip of my Smith & Hawken garden hat to its memory.

--Bernice

Monday, July 13, 2009

Dudley House Still in Question

A year after licensing issues led to the closing of Dudley House, its future is still up in the air.

On Monday (July 20, 2009), the City Council will be asked to approve a $30,000 contract with a city-based group, Organization for Recovery, to operate the Putnam Avenue facility through Dec. 31, with promises from the city administration possibly to shift to outsourcing the substance abuse program.

The decades-long program has helped hundreds of clients overcome substance abuse and regain a place in society, but it lost its license (Correction: failed to obtain a license) in 2008 when new accessibility rules kicked in. By May 2009, all clients had left, and over the summer, work on rehabilitation of the building took place.

The collapse of the program led some officials and a citizens’ budget advisory committee to question why the city was in the rehabilitation business anyway, especially when many clients served were not from Plainfield. Pressure arose to shift the program to non-profit status as soon as possible.

At Monday’s agenda-fixing session, City Council President Rashid Burney challenged the resolution to provide $30,000 in operational costs by saying, “This is not what we talked about.”

But City Administrator Marc Dashield said the first step was to regain licensure and then a transition might occur in January.

Burney asked how soon the administration might know whether a transition would take place and Dashield said it could be known by October.

Possibilities include leasing the Putnam Avenue building to a designated operator more familiar with such facilities and funding sources, including both grants and payments for service from sending counties.

Early on at Monday’s meeting, the seats were crowded with people obviously interested in the issue. Many craned forward to hang on every word of the discussion of Dudley House. This writer left the meeting before public comment, so I am leaving it up to Dr. Yood and Mark Spivey to fill in the gaps. Sleeplessness from weekend noise, 4 a.m. garbage trucks, phone calls and other interruptions have left me rather fried in terms of ability to pay attention. Not to mention the macaw.

--Bernice Paglia

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Summer Noise - How Much is Fair?

Mother Nature had the last word Saturday night on neighborhood noise on Block 832.

A resident had a party with a DJ that was blasting music into everyone's window, whether they liked that kind or not. Somebody must have had their finger on the telephone buttons to call the cops, because soon after 10 p.m. the DJ toned down, although the crowd kept up the music a capella. At around 10:30, big thunderclaps drowned out the noise and a torrential rain dispersed the crowd.

Obviously this party was a big event. The pool was filled, a tent was erected, grills stood at the ready and balloon arches decorated the grounds. OK, so in a recent City Council discussion of neighborhood noise everyone conceded that there will be a big blow-out event once in a while.

Today the aural mix included happy kids yelling in the pool, recorded music and live drummers and just this minute the screech of the resident macaw, whose call may serve well in the Amazon forest but over here sounds like the most annoying repetitive racket you are ever likely to hear. It's sort of like, "AAAHHHNN! AAAHHHNN!" on and on at top volume. I checked some macaw audio sites but couldn't get a match.

So now the question is what to do if this is going to be our weekly fare. Blast our favorite music back at them? Play the Gyuto Monks at top volume? Drown out the congas with Baba Olatungi? Those with air conditioning can shut all the windows and listen to the white noise of the machine, but with windows open or if sitting or working outside, excessive noise is unnerving. The macaw alone could make one consider psittacide.

It's too bad common civility and consideration for other people can't always help out with neighborhood noise. More likely the City Council will have to tighten up existing laws or get a stimulus grant for free earplugs.

Now you know why my favorite blogging hours are in the middle of the night. No trucks, only a few motorcycles. Sometimes even the soothing chirp of a katydid. And always the radio tuned to WBAI, with the volume control within reach in case an insomniac neighbor doesn't like to hear reggae, Bob Dylan or political wrangling in the wee hours.

--Bernice Paglia

New CFO, Finance Director on Tap

Monday's City Council agenda is posted here on the city's web site and Council President Rashid Burney has scanned in all the resolutions and ordinances here. If the council agrees, all items will be up for approval at the July 20 regular meeting. You can pore over them yourself, but meanwhile here are some highlights:

- The name of Bibi Taylor is offered to fill the vacant position of Director of Administration, Finance, Health and Social Services. A Google search was very interesting but not relevant to the candidate. We will have to wait to hear her qualifications. The department is one of three mandated in the city's special charter but has been vacant since December. Since 2006, Norton Bonaparte, A. Raiford Daniels and Douglas Peck have served stints in the office and during vacancies former City Administrator Carlton McGee and current City Administrator Marc Dashield filled in. Dashield has been doing both jobs since December, over the 90-day limit for acting positions. Daniels and Peck both left midway through budget deliberations, complicating matters for Dashield and the governing body. If hired to the statutory post, Taylor will be on hand just in time for the new 2010 fiscal year.

- James Mangin is the nominee for the post of chief financial officer, which was last held permanently by Peter Sepelya until his retirement at the end of 2007. This is another statutory position with important duties. Click here for a state description of the job. The city has gotten by with temporary or acting CFOs since Sepelya left.

- The title of "Manager I Information Processing, Level 1" is to be created by ordinance. A salary range of $70,000 to $110,000 is proposed. The administration previously offered another title, but upon review of state Department of Personnel titles the current one was chosen. The question of establishing an IT department and hiring someone to run it was not resolved in the FY 2009 budget process, but it remains a high priority as the administration seeks to combine or collapse communications and IT functions into one entity. Last week, Dashield told the Cable Television Advisory Board that neither a consultant nor a person who currently tapes events and meetings is able to take on a "supervisual" (supervisory?) role. At Monday's meeting, Dashield is expected to make a presentation and to give updated specifications on information technology.

- Speaking of the television consultant, the council will be asked to approve a contract for up to $50,000 for Blok Box Pictures LLC, whose principal, Parris Z. Moore, has served previously in that role. Moore developed new segments for the city's local Channel 74. Other items in the scope of work include editing, filling out logs, getting talent release forms, scheduling, managing archival materials and many other duties. In May, Blok Box received a contract retroactive to July 1, 2008 and ending June 30.

- A $5,985,000 bond ordinance for road improvements will be up for second reading and final passage at the July 20 meeting.

The meeting is 7:30 p.m. in City Hall Library. The mayor has called a special meeting for 8 p.m. on the subject of a $15 million Neighborhood Stabilization Program which could result in 180 new apartments downtown. Click here to read Burney's blog post on the topic. This matter has come up very fast. It reminds this writer of the hustles in 2006 to get major development proposals shoved through the process. There may be issues of timeliness in this new opportunity, but let us hope there are adequate questions and answers Monday to achieve transparency. The development area is on the PNC Bank and Appliance-Arama block and the developer is Landmark Developers. Click here to read more and be sure to look under "Development" to read about the North Avenue plan that Landmark agreed to in 2006.

--Bernice Paglia

Campaign Image Resurfaces

Once again, the mayor's image that was first on a campaign poster and then on a banner on the front of City Hall has popped up - this time on a promotional piece for the "Music in the Plaza" series.

The card lists two Friday concert dates, July 31 and Aug. 28, promising music, food and fun. The concert times are not indicated. On the back, an Aug. 28 car show and movie night are promised, again with food and fun. The event is listed as 9 p.m., with the movie starting at dusk and running to 11 p.m.

Even though the concert series was curtailed due to budget constraints, the addition of an evening car show with 200 entries and a film to be shown on a "gigantic 2-story screen" would seem to amplify the need for police and public works involvement. It's a bit curious, given the City Council's demand to know all the hard and soft costs for the concerts before agreeing to fund them.

If the Aug. 28 concert is in the evening rather than in the afternoon as in the past, it would make more sense logistically, although whether it would benefit downtown shopping is unclear. That had been a consideration in proposing that the concerts be held in the evening.

As for the image, the original featured a campaign button on the mayor's lapel. The banner went up with the button showing, but it was obscured after complaints that it was inappropriate for the front of City Hall in the pre-primary season. On the card no button can be seen, but by now the image itself is subliminally political, as it has also appeared in campaign posters all over the city.

Anyway, considering the expense of designing and printing up all those cards, it would have been good to have the concert times included. The concerts are on the plaza in front of the new office building at Front Street and Park Avenue. The locations of the car show and movie night are not spelled out. If the council has anything to say about the matter, it will have to be at Monday's meeting, 7:30 p.m. in City Hall Library.

--Bernice Paglia

Saturday, July 11, 2009

More Telecom Madness

Random image: Mousie doesn't do door jamb measuring.

Last week the land line lost its dial tone - again. Verizon promised to have someone out by Monday, but luckily the technician arrived yesterday. Meanwhile, the DSL was acting fishy as well. All this has been going on since June 4, despite a visit from another technician. So as I was hurrying over to Grace Church to drop something off for the yard sale, it dawned on me that I was a week early. These telecom distractions are driving me batty. Maybe this time it is fixed, although the computer began spewing out dozens of repeat windows after I clicked on a Gannett Blog successor, and then it froze. It took some time to get it back to normal. As of right now, things seem to be working.

--Bernice

Friday, July 10, 2009

Events at Grace

If you are anywhere near Park & Seventh tomorrow (Correction: next Saturday), check out the Health Fair and Yard sale at Grace Episcopal Church.
Click here for details.

Even though I am not a member, I truly appreciate what Grace Church does for our neighborhood, ranging from the soup kitchen to wonderful community events such as the upcoming Peach Festival and the carillon concerts. Plainfield has at least 200 houses of worship, counting both those with church homes and those in storefronts or doubled up in other churches while working on getting their own church home, but Grace projects a special vitality that I can't help but admire.

Our Park & Seventh neighborhood is a very mixed bag, from self-sufficient to very needy people and everywhere in between. Grace Church is a beacon for many. As other churches, including the one I attend, go through transitions of leadership, I recommend getting to know The Rev. Carolyn Eklund as a partner in understanding Plainfield and its unique community.

--Bernice Paglia

Digital TV Coming Soon

From Peter Briggs:
Corrections to your story:

The Cable TV Advisory Board is not doing a presentation on Monday; that presentation is from the City Administrator.
Comcast has already applied for that 5 year extension.
Please don’t forget the 3 free boxes come with the stipulation about people who already have boxes do not get the 3 free. Only additional boxes that would total three and the price that they are currently paying for any boxes that they already possess would remain the same.


Digital conversions and other changes to Comcast of the Plainfields dominated the discussion Thursday at the Plainfield Cable Television Advisory Board meeting.

Charles L. Smith III, Area Director for Government and Community Affairs for Comcast, was on hand to answer questions that ranged from the impact of new technology to possible concessions to subscribers.

Smith outlined upcoming changes that will require subscribers to obtain converters to get digital reception, although some subscribers to basic analog reception may still keep what they normally receive. In that case, the company will have to rework digital transmissions back to analog for that class of subscribers. The new digital lineup will result in changes to channels, with Channel 74 expected to become Channel 6.

The change will come in two phases, one at the end of July and another at the end of August. The need for subscribers to get the converters is being explained in spots on Comcast as well as through mailings and ads. A subscriber can get up to three free converters and Smith said the Rock Avenue office is gearing up for an “onslaught.” Subscribers can also call to have the boxes delivered to their homes for self-installation.

Plainfield is the first system in Northern New Jersey to get the conversion, Smith said.

Ultimately, all transmission will be digital, Smith said, as the digital signal can be compressed to one-sixteenth of an analog signal.

Under the franchise agreement approved in 1999, Comcast was to have provided two local access channels, one for municipal government and one for educational purposes. Part of the discussion Thursday involved the possibility that there might be enough room on Channel 74 for content from both while further possibilities are explored. There is no extra channel in the analog lineup, so the second channel would mostlikely have to be digital.

Council liaisons Linda Carter and Annie McWilliams and Board of Education liaison Pat Barksdale successfully pushed in May for viewings of school board meetings, over city administration protests that Channel 74 was understaffed. Now the question is when best to schedule the school board meetings.

At the time of the franchise agreement, Comcast agreed to build two “returns” for local content, one at City Hall Annex and one at Maxson Middle School. Channel 74 operates out of the annex, although concerns continue over its programming. The middle school connection is not in use. Barksdale asked whether an educational channel return could be placed somewhere else, but Smith said the city would have to pay the cost.

Barksdale also asked whether Comcast would consider and “givebacks” or “rebates” to customers, but Smith said, “Rates are rates.”

The city’s 10-year franchise agreement with Comcast expires on Aug. 3, but Smith said the company will apply for an automatic five-year renewal. Although the Board of Public Utilities lists an ascertainment process that should have begun in 2006, Smith said the three-year process will start later. The process provides for public hearings on Comcast service and other concerns before a franchise renewal.

Members of the Cable Television Advisory Board are expected to make a presentation to the City Council Monday. The agenda-fixing session is at 7:30 p.m. in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave.

--Bernice Paglia

Posting Later

My blog post on last night's Cable Television Advisory Board meeting will be delayed. Check back later!

--Bernice

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

A City Resource

Planning a block party, family reunion, wedding, garden party or general get-together?

Make sure you visit E&A Supply on Cleveland Avenue off East Fifth Street for everything you need. Walk around inside and you will find things you need that you never knew you needed.

It is already a destination for the party-minded in the entire Metropolitan area, so why not use it to make your Plainfield event spectacular?

And if you have decided to open a restaurant as your next career, get out your checkbook or credit line and come on over.

Mousie loves the nice little dishes I bought for him and I love the kitchen accessories I found there. It is a true treasure trove for cooks and all the culinary-inclined folks in the Metropolitan area, as it is easily reached by train on the Raritan Valley Line.

Make it your next expedition! Another thing to love about Plainfield!

--Bernice Paglia

Senior News

Seniors can get a tasty meal for $1.75 now that a boxed lunch program has begun.

Senior Center Director Sharron Brown said the program began this week and is funded with federal stimulus money. Each weekday, 50 boxes are delivered to the center at 305 East Front Street. A menu for the month has been distributed and on Wednesday a line formed to get boxes filled with tuna salad on a roll with lettuce and tomato, potato salad, fruit punch, fruit cocktail and milk.

Some seniors will be absent for the meatloaf sandwich special on July 16, because they are going to see President Barack Obama at Rutgers University. They were invited to attend by Assemblyman Jerry Green. Obama is coming to New Jersey to bolster Gov. Jon Corzine’s re-election campaign.

Meanwhile, the knitting corner at the center was very busy Wednesday. Josiebelle Johnson was working on a child’s sweater with an intricate “Diamonds and Bobbles” pattern. Johnson said she likes to keep several projects going at once, so if she becomes bored with one, she can just pick up another.


Down the street at 400 East Front Street, the new senior center had its windows splattered in a paintball attack. Seniors who saw the images on Plaintalker’s digital camera were appalled to think anyone would vandalize the new center.


A new sign marks the portion of the building reserved for veterans. No date has been set for the big move that seniors are eagerly anticipating.

--Bernice Paglia

For Sydney

Here's a closer view of Roofus the cat. The picture was taken through a glass window, not directly, hence the blurry quality. He is a handsome guy. My Mousie is also a black and white tuxedo cat, but with asymmetrical markings on his face. Look up Mousie in the search box or click here and scroll down for photos of Mousie.

--Bernice


Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Bye-Bye Gannett Blog

One of my fascinations this year has been with Gannett Blog, published by former USA Today editor and reporter Jim Hopkins.

The outpouring of emotions, gossip and facts by Gannett employees in the face of unprecedented changes in the newspaper industry was almost overwhelming. The information answered many questions I had piled up in my mind over my 16-year stint with the Courier News. I will not go into details. Suffice it to say it was extremely revealing to see my thoughts echoed in numerous posts.

Gannett Blog will end this week, but the fate of the Gannett organization is still being played out, with reallocations of resources through regionalization, furloughs, layoffs and other modifications. And to think I was taken aback by the end of free coffee in the newsroom and the end of profit-sharing!

The newsroom of today, as Managing Editor Paul Grzella tells us, is really an Information Center with a print product and Internet platforms. The general public will have to make of that what it will, but to us old newsies, the memories of journalistic life in the old days will always have a special flavor. Where is that editor that sent me through the night twice to get something from police on the story of a man who killed his wife because he saw her as the devil in the shape of a fish? When I drove through the fog for the second time, I got the same non-response from police and saw the man himself handcuffed to a bench, as the station had no other means of confining him.

Then there was the time I was sent to a fire scene in Manville and spent hour upon hour at an editor's command awaiting an official comment that was not forthcoming. Once there was a federal case outlawing uncompensated hours, editors became more judicious about making reporters camp out endlessly in adverse conditions to get an official quote.

Deadline at one time was in the early a.m. and I must say I did relish going home at 2 a.m. on Route 22 with no other drivers in sight, in contrast to the rush hour traffic that garnered the highway the nickname "Blood Alley."

Over time, I came to know many city sites as the locations of homicides or fatalities, something Mark Spivey said he is already beginning to register as he goes about the city. When Maria and I did some of our "field trips" around Plainfield, those same sad recollections colored my memories.

Since retiring six years ago, I have made myself available to all four reporters who followed me, sharing whatever information or resources I have. Hopkins is making much of his closure of Gannett Blog, but I suspect that if a good story comes up, he will be on the case by Twitter or whatever means to break the news. The instinct dies hard.

Anyway, Gannett Blog has carved its place in news history and its departure as a daily fix will be lamented by many, including me.

--Bernice Paglia

Infamous Potholes Face Repair

The Park & Seventh parking lot at the former A&P, now Twin Cities, has deteriorated quite a bit over the years. It was heartening to see heavy equipment on the lot today. The worst sinkage, aka the bathtub, is getting a whole makeover as this photo attests. In the old days, land was cleared by merely bulldozing everything and leveling it. However, there are many spots where the former contents of the lot, such as wooden structures, decomposed and settled. This happened at Park-Madison and some may recall the compacting equipment brought in to deliver earth-shaking blows to the debris-ridden land before new construction could commence.

All over the parking lot, lesser potholes were marked out for repairs. Good for the owners and good for Inspections (we hope) for seeing to it that this lot will become less of a hazard to motorists and pedestrians. Next up? We hope it will be Municipal Parking Lot 7, where walking is tricky due to the uneven paving. There is a promise that the lot will be fixed with proceeds of a deal with Paramount to use the lot for parking once new state offices are in place on East Fifth Street.
--Bernice Paglia

Even the Loyal Can Fall

One expects the heel of the political jackboot to come down on party opponents, but what to think when it lands on the neck of a loyalist?

A sad sidelight on the primary election surfaced when one of the most visible handmaidens of the RDO was denied the party line for a city committee seat. This is a person who had been a legislative aide to the chairman, who moved from his office south to City Hall even before a new city title was created for her and another former aide when the new administration took charge.

As someone who could be counted on to do the right thing politically, this person had served on the school board and city boards, most recently being the mayor’s designee to the Planning Board.

But somehow things changed.

Denied a petition, as the story goes, this true-blue party loyalist was so nonplussed that she took out her own petition. Her slogan? “Real Democrat.”

Maybe the past was just a dream in her mind and now a nightmare.

She can still be seen, sans epaulets, at some of her usual stations. But how soon before she is gone, disappeared from the scene for unnamed crimes, her faithful service a bitter memory?

Let this be a lesson to those who pledge allegiance to a powerbroker. The hand over your heart can fly to your mouth in disbelief when the boot comes down. Call it the fickle finger of fate or just the finger, when it points to you, you’re gone.

--Bernice Paglia

Check Out Roofus

City resident Jackie has a blog about TV shows, which is lost on me as I hardly ever turn on the tube. However, she has an enviable nationwide and maybe worldwide following of fellow fans who like her commentaries.

Occasionally she updates her readers on the status of Roofus, a stray cat who likes to sit on parts of the facade of a building just across from the main train station. I happened upon Roofus yesterday inside a Gavett Place building and sent Jackie a photo, which she posted on her blog. It instantly drew a bunch of comments, making me envious of her reach. Oh well, we of the hyperlocal persuasion will never attract the masses. At least we can share our interest in Roofus.

Click on the link above and enter "Roofus" in the search box to read more. And if you are a TV fan and haven't heard about Jackie's TV Blog, enjoy!

--Bernice Paglia

On Voters and Power

It’s interesting that some local politicians say they chose not to seek changes in the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority’s operations until “after the election,” meaning the primary. The implication is that now everything is settled, so the actions of politicians cannot be construed as political.

It’s true that the winner of a Democratic primary normally goes on to win the November general election, but must we believe that it’s all over now? Another assumption that came up at the Democratic Party’s reorganization after the primary was that Rashid Burney will get the line next year for the 2nd and 3rd Ward at-large seat and all good Democrats would pledge allegiance now to that outcome. And of course the biggest foregone conclusion in the minds of Regular Democrats is that all loyal troops will back Gov. Jon Corzine for re-election.

The only problem with these scenarios is that people are human and may not in their hearts wish to be slotted in to a role assigned by party bosses. Does our hard-won franchise mean nothing more than a chance to become somebody’s bobblehead in the voting booth?

A thinking person must wonder what the party stands for after learning how an orchestrated set of moves deprived Roselle’s chief financial officer of his job. It brought to mind the way Plainfield’s former chief of police was stripped of his status – first a layoff of one, followed by abolishment of the title in favor of a new one that has yet to be established by a title and salary ordinance. Luckily for the city, the police director doesn’t mind working for nothing, as he already receives a department head’s salary here and a pension from another jurisdiction.

Those who benefit from the party’s machinations may do good work. In and of themselves, they may meet the highest standards of public service. It’s just how they got there that is bothersome. And who is to say that the displaced person lacked the highest motivations? It’s not about good will or competence in the end, it’s just about what the party wants. The chute narrows and narrows until there is only one way to move – the party’s way.

One of the most damning epithets that elected officials hurl at each other is that the target is nothing more than a rubberstamp to those in power. And yet when there is a major challenge in an important race, the dominant party expects blind allegiance. And once power is or appears to be secured once more, the powerful ones may think they have been given carte blanche to act in any way they see fit, without regard to what their constituents may think. What they are forgetting is that the people do think – and as the chant goes, they are liable to “remember in November.”

--Bernice Paglia

Monday, July 06, 2009

Technical Difficulties Continue

Random image: Butterfly Weed at the Shakespeare Garden.

Blogging failed earlier, due to the unresolved DSL issue. I had to copy a whole post off the screen by hand, write it in Word, then hustle to copy it on a new post - not exactly the modern way.

--Bernice

TV Board meets Thursday

The Cable Television Advisory Board will meet Thursday to continue addressing its myriad issues of membership, operations at Channel 74, programming content and community involvement, among others.

At the June meeting, members discussed airing of school board meetings, public use of video equipment, the board’s function and staffing issues. Although the city negotiated establishment of two local channels in a franchise agreement 10 years ago, only one – the municipal channel - is operating. While still waiting for the school district to have its own channel, city and school board liaisons to the TV board have successfully pushed for DVDs of monthly Board of Education meetings to be added to the schedule along with City Council meetings. Still at issue is the best time for maximum viewership by parents.

The TV board is charged with supervising operations of Channel 74, but station staffing has been spotty. For most of the year so far, only one person has been on staff. A retroactive contract to July 1, 2008 for a production consultant was only passed in May and ran out June 30. So far, no new contract has been presented for council approval. The lack of staff has also hindered possible public access to production equipment, but the TV board also needs to formulate policies and procedures for such use. Members said they would look into how other municipalities handle citizen involvement.

Plainfield Public Library Director Joseph Hugh Da Rold came up at last month’s meeting with several suggestions, including a future film festival for independent productions, loaning of Board of Education meeting DVDs in addition to airing on Channel 74 and combining an outreach for new members with an announcement about an impending change in the channel lineup of Comcast of the Plainfields.

Later this month, Channel 74 will become Channel 6 as Comcast goes digital and revises its lineup.

The TV board has several categories of members, but currently lacks a chairman because the title must be held by a resident appointee. Any resident interested in serving can apply by filling out a form downloadable from the city’s web site. Meanwhile, the public is welcome to attend the meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave.

--Bernice Paglia

A Joyful Noise

A mighty racket coming from this Park Avenue building indicates that a plan to construct eight apartments on the second floor is in full swing. Work is also going on in retail space on the ground floor.

The building is one of many purchased by Paramount Property Management in recent years. Quite a few remain vacant, as business owners fled when the rent tripled under the new ownership. But things are happening at this location and at 110 East Fifth Street, where an old building is being renovated for retail and office space. Anyone walking along Cleveland Avenue to the main train station can hear proof of the changes being wrought there behind a curtain of blue tarpaulins.

Will these projects have a happy ending? Recent articles on Connolly Properties indicate a 40 percent vacancy rate for apartments owned by the city's largest residential rental property owner, and there is a glut of vacant office space downtown. Meanwhile, the noise of construction is music to the ears, when so many land use applications have been approved only to remain fallow.

--Bernice Paglia