Saturday, October 31, 2009

Get Ready To Vote

I got one of those automated calls last week and nearly hung up until I found out it was about a missing pet, Lulu, in Plainfield. I thought it was a very interesting use of robo-calls. Click here to learn more.

The more traditional political-season use produced two more calls, one from John McCain and one from Mitt Romney Friday. Gulp! Did they not know I am a registered Democrat? Or maybe JG gave them my name, as he is convinced I am a Republican.

Well, it really doesn't matter what your party affiliation is in the general election. Despite attempts to brainwash seniors and other voters, you can pick and choose as you will. Look at those names on the ballot and think about what they stand for. Put the ballot under your pillow. Conjure up the future Plainfield might have with this name or that in charge. This is a very important election.

Make sure to check the sample ballot for your polling place. And then vote on Tuesday.

This weekend is the one where candidates pull out all stops to convince voters to choose them. Expect fear tactics and smears from some. I will be looking for rational reasons why somebody should get my vote.


Friday, October 30, 2009

Mapp Holds Town Hall Meeting

About 35 residents took up Councilman Adrian Mapp's invitation to ask questions and air their views about aspects of city government at a Town Hall meeting Thursday.

Of six topics on Mapp's proposed agenda, the state of city finances drew the most concern. After Mapp recently questioned who was certifying funds on resolutions up for council approval, it came out that the administration has had no permanent chief finance officer for the past two years and was using various individuals as acting CFOs. The state Division of Local Services has since said there is no such thing as an acting or interim CFO and has given the city 90 days to name a permanent CFO.

Resident Frank D'Aversa asked what happens if the city can't find one in 90 days. Mapp explained that the state will permit one 90-day extension, but pointed to information on a handout indicating a state employee could be assigned to serve in the role.

A CFO himself, Mapp said anyone can take classes to become certified for the title. An individual can be appointed as a temporary CFO and be permitted to work toward certification for a year. If certification is not achieved, one more year is allowed to complete the work. If unsuccessful, the person must step down.

Plainfield's veteran CFO, Peter Sepelya, was set to retire at the end of 2005, but was asked to stay on in 2006 by then-Council President Ray Blanco. Sepelya finally retired at the end of 2007 and there has been no permanent CFO since.

Jeanette Criscione asked how the council could be sure the city was following fiscal rules and regulations. Mapp said Rutgers University offers governmental courses for elected officials . But he said the council should be holding public forums and must demand accountability from the administration.

Mapp questioned City Administrator Marc Dashield's recent statement that there are only about 300 CFOs statewide and most are settled in their positions. Mapp said 865 people hold CFO licenses, although not all are working.

Others sought answers on terms of CFOs and how the city is keeping track of grant expiration dates. Plaintalker noted a high turnover in Administration & Finance directors and asked whether the department should be restored to purely fiscal operations as before Health & Social Services divisions were added in the mid-1990s.

Councilman Cory Storch said all divisions in the city's three departments need to be reviewed for realignment as the city faces hard budget decisions.

The 2010 budget for the year that began July 1 was the second item on Mapp's agenda. Republican mayoral candidate Jim Pivnichny asked Mapp to explain the ramifications of not having a budget in place. The budget has yet to be introduced and the city is operating on month-to-month appropriations to pay salaries and expenses.

Mapp said the administration is spending "for almost six months of the year" without a new plan in place.

"We don't have a budget," he said. "It's a bad thing."

Other topics on the agenda were the state of city roads, completion of a new senior center and veterans' center, a controversy over a volunteer-run baseball league versus a Recreation Division league and issues around the closure of Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center. Residents added a few more. Independent mayoral candidate Deborah Dowe called for prosecution of those who stole items from the Plainfield Public Library for sale on eBay and who stole light poles from the front of the main post office. Activist and blogger Renata Hernandez warned of a crisis in the school system and called for a commitment from residents to improve the district.

Dr. Harold Yood, also a blogger on city affairs, noted a low turnout at school board elections and questioned the status of a downtown senior center/condo development and Dudley House, a formerly city-run agency to rehabilitate former substance abusers.

Mapp had invited public officials to attend the meeting and Assemblyman Jerry Green took a front-row seat. A woman who did not give her name asked Mapp to let Green speak. Green, who is running for re-election, said he was not trying to run the city, but was "trying to keep the city out of trouble." He said he has asked people to apply for jobs in Plainfield, citing Police Director Martin Hellwig as an example of a successful hire. Green said he believes politics should stay out of government.

Mapp, a former Union County freeholder, previously served on the City Council and began a new term Jan. 1 as Third Ward councilman. He ran for mayor in the June primary, but lost to incumbent Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs by 336 votes. Four other candidates ran, some regarded as spoilers, garnering a total of 624 votes. In what was regarded as political retribution, Mapp was ousted earlier this year from his post as CFO in Roselle by a faction opposed to Mayor Garrett Smith.

With three years to go in his current council term, Mapp has become an outspoken advocate of reform in city government, especially in fiscal matters. He has also initiated Thursday evening office hours to meet with constituents and plans to hold more forums. To see his blog, "Mapping It Out," click here.

--Bernice Paglia

Thursday, October 29, 2009


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

One More Reminder

It is easy to say throw "the school board" and the superintendent out. The latter has a contract that does not expire for a couple more years. "The board" is made up of whatever nine indivduals are serving at the time.

Let us look back to August 2007, when the New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum (NJQSAC) report on Plainfield came out. A monitoring team had studied the district through early 2007. In April 2007, Wilma Campbell and Martin Cox won re-election to the school board and Christian Estevez came aboard. The state gave the district only 11 percent for governance, among other low scores. Should Estevez have shared the shame?

Looking at school board election results online at the Union County Clerk's office, one can see that among sitting members, Cox was on the board at least from April 2001. Agurs Linward Cathcart Jr. won first in 2002. Lisa Logan-Leach was among winners in 2003. Wilma Campbell won in 2004. Bridget Rivers and Patricia Barksdale won in 2005, Estevez in 2007. The newest members are Brenda Gilbert and Katherine Peterson, who won in April. Many, many others have served and are gone.

So how to sweep away the school board?

Why don't we stick to the old-fashioned way? Four seats will be up in April 2010 and three more each in 2011 and 2012. Those whose terms are up next year are Estevez, Campbell and Cox, along with an unexpired term resulting from Rivers winning a City Council seat. In 2011, the successor to Rivers will have to seek reelection, along with Peterson and Cathcart.

Anyone who wants to serve on the school board starting in April 2010 should start now to get a campaign together and seek support of like-minded people. New members are required to take training and commit themselves to a rigorous schedule of meetings. It takes a while to understand the role, as older members can attest. Doing away with a sitting board, even if possible, might result in a loss of knowledge and experience that Plainfield needs.

If you really want change on the board or feel certain members deserve re-election, please consider taking part. School board election turnouts are notoriously low. Do you want to have a say? Plan ahead.


School Changes in Retrospect

Image: My heavily annotated list of new job titles from May 2008.

At the risk of upsetting somebody, may I point out that the big change in job titles took place before Dr. Steve Gallon III was on the job.

The initial vote was at a May 5, 2008 school board meeting. See archived preview here. At the time, Dr. Garnell Bailey was serving as both interim superintendent and Human Resources director. She became assistant superintendent for Administrative Services after Gallon took office.

Gallon was hired in February, although his contract was not finalized at that time. A special closed meeting on his contract was held the night before his July 1, 2008 start date. No doubt he was apprised of the changes, but could not legally have had input in May. Click here for the blog post on the May 5 meeting and here for a follow-up.

Plaintalker commented on the controversy over Gallon's contract on this post.

In June 2008, names were attached to the new titles, but only for the month of July. A preview of the meeting noted that Gallon's contract had not yet been reviewed by Union County Executive Superintendent Carmen Centuolo. Read about the meeting here.

Plaintalker reported on a state-mandated audit report that was unveiled in July 2008. It covered the school years 2004-05 and 2005-06. The time frame would seem to indicate that any audit called for now would not be complete for a couple of years.

Here is a preview of the July 2008 meeting at which the two assistant superintendent roles were up for approval. This post, on Gallon's "dashboard" and the job changes, was one of three Plaintalker posts on the July 15 meeting. Please note the high volume of comments.

Plaintalker found analysis of the changes difficult, as personnel guidelines call for names of terminated staff to be on file but not made public.

In August 2008, Bailey and Gallon revealed a plan for ongoing assessment of administrators' performance. At the Aug. 13, 2008 meeting, Gallon pledged districtwide change. Mark Spivey reported on the meeting for the Courier News.

And there you have it, dear readers, Plaintalker's coverage of the job changes and Gallon's official entry as superintendent. This is the kind of reporting I can no longer do, much to my regret.

Perhaps this context to the current controversies will shed some light on the timetable of changes and the extent of scrutiny at the time. And maybe it will cut down on the sale of political wolf tickets.

--Bernice Paglia

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

School Board Needs More Witnesses

Plaintalker once was able to cover school issues closely, as many archived posts will attest.

More recently, the format of school board meetings as well as the location has proven inimical to ongoing coverage either by reporters or bloggers, although Dr. Steve Gallon III has always responded to Plaintalker's specific Q&A requests.

The current controversy over certification of two staff members has forced reporters and the interested public to endure five-hour meetings to glean details. Some people have called for investigations or wholesale replacement of the school board, but the simpler solution would be to make school board meetings easier to attend for those who want to keep track of how things are going.

Plaintalker's recent ploy has been to examine agendas and follow up on certain specific issues, but a lot of information comes out at meetings that cannot be anticipated just by looking at a document. Unfortunately, this blogger has had to make a choice and the outcome has been to focus on city government and hope that others will be able to take up the slack on the Board of Education.

For those who are interested, the blog archive through mid-2008 does document events leading up to the current situation - the collapse of the Howard superintendency, the interim leadership, the superintendent search and the massive job realignments of Spring 2008. But the need for full reporting can be seen in the case of the report made by the state Department of Education's Office of Fiscal Accountability and Compliance and also the introduction of the New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum. Even some board members themselves did not register the implications of the OFAC report on the meeting where Peter Carter was hired as interim superintendent, and certainly the public at large needed help understanding the implications of the NJQSAC report that found the Plainfield district lacking in several major aspects of its operations.

I feel bad that I cannot currently strectch myself thin enough to cover both the school and city beats for the blog. Early on, Barbara Todd Kerr and I tried to find someone who could adequately cover the school district for the blog, but no such individual could be found.

Since Barbara herself stepped away from the blog, it has been all mine to do with as best I could. Opening the comment function has added more voices, if not more fact-gathering, but I have had to decide where to put my time and energy and it is City Hall and redevelopment.

A lot of information and opinion has come out on the Plainfield forum. In fact, that forum has become almost exclusively focused on education issues. What is sometimes lacking is the context that reporting might add. Still, for now, that's the best exposure of district issues. The district web site by its nature cannot provide journalistic coverage.

It is true that the student performances draw crowds to board meetings and certainly if the board needs to go into closed session, that is their prerogative. But that means the public and the press only gets to hear votes on resolutions late into the meeting. Often they are block approvals by committee, but still they are the official actions that cannot be guaranteed by seeming consenus at work-and-study sessions.

If anyone has the endurance to deal with the current way of doing board business, it's a great opportunity to claim a niche for objective blogging. The public at large needs to know more about the school district than the occasional headline-grabbing potential scandal.

--Bernice Paglia

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Home Soon

Image: Ichiro looking over Audrey's shoulder.

My (literally) flying visit will be over soon.

Today we went to Uwajimaya in the International District, a store with Asian food and products. Inside the store is the Kinokuniya Bookstore, with a treasure trove of pens and notebooks. As writers, Audrey and I feel one can never have too many of either, so we indulged.

Hope the debate went well. Don't forget the League of Women Voters Candidates' Fourm Wednesday at Emerson School! And on to Nov. 3 ...


Saturday, October 24, 2009

Seattle Images

Here I am with Peter at Alki, the westernmost point of Seattle on the Puget Sound. The downtown skyline can be seen the background.

Kayakers ply the waters. We also saw student divers, but no orcas or seal pups today.

The iconic Space Needle is another highlight of the downtown shoreline.

Audrey tries to get Ichiro to give a shout-out to East Coast kitties Mousie and Vincent.

Here is a lovely trillium sculpture at the Delridge branch of the Seattle Public Library. Seattle is full of beautiful public art, a good example for all cities.

I will miss the mayoral debate Sunday in Plainfield, but hope all interested citizens will attend.

One more day of vacation and I will be back in the Queen City!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Greetings from Seattle!

It's 3 p.m. here and I have been up since 2 a.m. Pacific Time. It was a long flight, but the plane had DirecTV, so I was able to indulge in something I hardly ever do at home - watching television.

Now I am at the new home of Audrey and Peter, which is very lovely.

Not sure what kind of blogging I will be doing this weekend, but I will be back in the Queen City on Monday. We had quite a bit of turbulence on the flight, which kind of reminded me of Plainfield. How are things going anyway? Did Dornoch default? Who's holding down the fort at City Hall?

Meanwhile, I will be enjoying the beauteous Northwest and visiting with daughter Audrey and son-in-law Peter. And the West Coast cat, Ichiro.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Government: "Just and Capable" or Just Incapable?

With two months to go in the current adminstration, there are few indicators of good government. A massive turnover in finance directors, a spotty record on chief finance officers and a few too many add-ons such as confidential aide posts and bodyguards leave the average citizen wondering what the incumbent has to brag about.

The advantage of being an incumbent mayor is that one is the face of the city in innumerable photo ops, but the disadvantage is that there is a track record that can be examined.

In the early years, the mayor enjoyed approvals from the governing body on almost everything offered. More recently, City Council members have grown a bit testy when they can't get answers from the administration on important matters such as budget introduction.

Blog archives since 2005 serve as records of the administration's questionable moves. One was the hiring of Nagy Sileem as Assistant Public Works director when there was already someone in that role at a comparable salary. In addition, Sileem was on the record as working in another municipality.

One confidential aide was reportedly on the job before the enabling ordinance passed. Another assigned to the city administrator stayed on in an unknown capacity after the city administrator resigned.

Another aide of Assemblyman Jerry Green was given a civilian position in the Police Division.

Even after the program of "greeters" in the City Hall Rotunda was dropped, the son of a politically-connected person is still on duty and presumably getting paid.

Since this administration took hold, numerous occasions were augmented by offerings of free food and staffing by volunteer city personnel to dish it out.

All these occasions were no doubt special, but at what cost and to whose benefit?

Still, never mind the ceremonial occasions, what about the legalities?

One of the favorite ploys of an incoming administration is to demand a "forensic audit" of the previous administration. It looks good in terms of assigning blame, but in reality not much emerges to enlighten the public. The current adminstration may need the real thing.

Now that Sharon and Jerry have apparently "gone to the mattress" in this campaign by not showing up to debates, we may never know what their views are in 2009. Therefore, if they should prevail on Nov. 3, citizens must demand to know what they have in mind for the next four years.

If they do not prevail, the winners must reveal full information on their goals and plans for the next four years.

This city is full of passionate citizens who want Plainfield to achieve its full potential and recognition in coming years. People come here or stay because they want to, because they "get" Plainfield. Elected officials who stand in the way of this progress may find themselves gone. But those who come next must offer more than just hope. They must offer concrete plans for the future.

Vote on Nov. 3 as your conscience dictates and then hold the winners accountable to take the city to its next level as a vital entity in Central Jersey. Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

--Bernice Paglia

First Stink Bugs, Now Ladybugs

Our building near Park & Seventh was swarmed with ladybugs this week, apparently a widespread seasonal phenomenon as the insects seek places to stay for the winter.
My neighbor was not amused when a couple of hundred ladybugs invaded her sun porch. Although they are widely regarded as beneficial insects outdoors, when they decide to join the household it is time to break out the bug spray.
Online guides say it is best to spray them or vacuum them up for release outside (but won't they just come back?). Stepping on them or otherwise crushing them will release a bad smell.
Here is a link to a good article about ladybug swarming.
Another article says swarming often occurs on a warm day following a spell of cool fall weather.
I have always considered ladybugs as a good luck symbol and at first today thought the sight was a good omen for my upcoming weekend trip to Seattle. My daughter had even loaned me a Juicy Couture ladybug charm last year in acknowledgement of this notion.
As usual, I deemed it too fancy for everyday use. And now I am wondering what kind of luck ladybug swarms convey.
It seems our light-colored building was the ideal attraction for swarming ladybugs. Now some are in my apartment.
When the numbers start mounting into the hundreds or even hundreds of thousands as in some swarm reports, it's not very lucky to see ladybugs.
If you have run out of bug spray, try chanting, "Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home" and let me know if that works.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Job Well Done

This morning, workers tidied up the walkway from Lot 7 to Park Avenue, making life safer and more pleasant for the many pedestrians who cross here to and from East Seventh Street.

Kudos to John Louise and his hard-working staff! Demands are many on their time and labor.

Click here for the "before" photo.

If you are among the many theater fans planning to go see Act IV's production of "Steel Magnolias" at First Unitarian Society of Plainfield, you too will be grateful for the cleanup. Performances will be on Fridays, Nov. 6 and 13 at 8 p.m.; Saturdays, Nov. 7 and 14 at 8 p.m.; and Sundays, Nov. 6 and 15 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $15.

The Parish Hall Theater is at 724 Park Avenue. Call (908) 756-0750 for more information.

The next challenge is to get the lamps fixed to add more security for visitors and those passing through the lot at night. And also for permit holders who park in the lot. Clocks must "fall back" on Nov. 1 and it will be really dark out there without the lamps.

--Bernice Paglia

State Questions CFO Process

A special meeting Monday to name a part-time chief finance officer and then authorize resolutions requiring the CFO’s approval imploded Monday when city officials admitted the city is under state scrutiny for its lack of a properly-assigned CFO.

Councilman Adrian Mapp had asked at the Oct. 13 meeting who was certifying that funds were available for three funding requests. When told that new Finance Director Bibi Taylor had signed off on the requests, Mapp, a certified chief finance officer himself, objected. The title is a statutory one requiring advice and consent of the governing body and none had been sought. The resolutions were withdrawn.

On Monday, longtime city Audit & Control employee Sandra Cummings was up for advice and consent of a mayoral appointment as “part-time chief financial officer” for a term not to exceed six months. But as the meeting began, Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson said state officials had sent a letter to the mayor and council saying there is no such thing as a part-time or acting CFO.

Without a certified, approved CFO, basic fiscal functions cannot take place.

Williamson described talks with state officials going late into Monday, which even included state Local Government Services Director Susan Jacobucci weighing in from her sickbed on her Blackberry. Certification specialist Dan Kaminski was also involved in the talks, he said.

The state officials agreed to allow the mayor to appoint someone to serve duties of a chief financial officer for 90 days, Williamson said, while the city seeks a temporary or permanent CFO. Williamson said he was withdrawing Cummings’ nomination.

But then the bone of contention became the state letter itself. Council members said they never received it.

A discussion ensued about confusion over how letters to the governing body and administration are disseminated. Any communications for the City Council must go through City Clerk Laddie Wyatt, as she is secretary to the governing body, but apparently that never happened in the CFO matter. Wyatt mentioned past confusion about sharing state communications to both the mayor and governing body.

Council members Monday asked Williamson and Dashield to produce the letter, even calling for officials to phone Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, who did not attend the meeting, to ask where it was.

Lacking the letter, Councilwoman Annie McWilliams said, “I don’t feel comfortable voting tonight without all the information.”

Councilman Adrian Mapp said it was not the first time a letter was not shared, citing “disrespect” and “a pattern of withholding information from the governing body.”

Williamson said he could not say it was done purposely, but Council President Rashid Burney said the council was “pretty firm” that it wanted to see the letter and asked Williamson to call the mayor to find out where it was.

The council recessed to allow Williamson to call the mayor, but when the meeting reconvened, he said he had been unable to reach Robinson-Briggs.

“I made every effort,” he said. “She has not answered.”

With that, he requested that the remaining three resolutions, all requiring certification of funding, be withdrawn.

Williams said he would send copies of the letter to all council members, but McWilliams said the letter should be sent to Wyatt as secretary to the council.

“I stand corrected,” Willamson said, promising to send all future official correspondence to the clerk.

As the council prepared to go on to a discussion of economic growth, Burney said the administration officials could leave and Williamson, City Administrator Marc Dashield and department heads did so.

Before the meeting, Plaintalker looked into how the city has handled the CFO issue since the last permanent CFO, Peter Sepelya, retired at the end of 2007.

On January 14, 2008, as “Acting Chief Financial Officer,” Sandra Cummings signed a certification of sufficient funds to remove an oil tank from the Madison Avenue playground.

In September 2008, the City Council approved the appointment of Bridgewater CFO Natasha Turchan as “Chief Financial Officer/Municipal Finance Officer” on a “part-time basis” retroactive to Aug. 25, 2008 and continuing through Dec. 31, 2008.

No subsequent nomination appeared in an online archive of agenda session documents. A February 17, 2009 resolution for professional engineering services contains language that sufficient funding was certified by a city CFO, but no certification was attached to the resolution as filed online. A special meeting on June 25, 2009 contains two resolutions offered by an “Acting Chief Finance Officer.” On Oct. 13, certification for funds for environmental services is guaranteed by the “Acting Comptroller of the City of Plainfield.”

It would appear that there was no officially appointed CFO after Turchan’s term expired.

The name of James Mangin was offered in July at the same time Taylor was nominated and approved as director of the Administration & Finance, Health and Social Services, but Mangin was not hired. A permanent CFO receives a four-year term if hired. Mangin would have received a term starting Jan. 1, 2009 and ending Dec. 31, 2012.

--Bernice Paglia

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Where the Wild Weeds Are

This photo was taken a few weeks ago. It is the walkway from Lot 7 to Park Avenue. Lots of students go through this lot to get to Plainfield High School and Evergreen Elementary School. In addition, on Sunday, Park Avenue church members park in Lot 7 and must make their way down the driveway.

Obviously, all these pedestrians must choose the driveway over the walkway.

One day recently, a bunch of workers including community service people spent most of a day cleaning Lot 7, but did not touch the walkway. Perhaps they did not make the connection that it is part of the parking lot.

In November, First Unitarian Society of Plainfield will be host to a widely-advertised production of the play, "Steel Magnolias." Publicity is being sent to Union, Middlesex and Somerset counties, with parking indicated in Lot 7.

Is this overgrown walkway really the face Plainfield wants to project to people from around Central Jersey who are attending the play?

My request to the DPW for action has so far gone unanswered. I had hoped to get this situation resolved before the pressures of leaf season, but nothing happened.

I must say I recognize the many extra DPW hours spent on various festivities in 2009, but what about the nuts and bolts of general upkeep? No offense to John Louise, who must cover all routine as well as extra ceremonial needs.

The coming year may require adjustments to meet fundamental staffing for basic needs and not so many add-ons. Let us hope sensibility will reign over show-time.

--Bernice Paglia

Pass the Ylang-Ylang Oil

Something tells me things at City Hall may get worse before they get better.

As much as I am dedicated to providing information on city government, redevelopment and other topics to my readers, newsgathering can be depressing. As a resident of the city, my reporter's excitement at a breaking story is often accompanied by a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach because it is bad news for my hometown. I'm sure officeholders in Plainfield get that feeling too sometimes, when they must necessarily identify a problem in order to address it. Life would be much easier if we could all pretend everything is wonderful all the time.

That said, there are little things that can help.

One thing I carried away from the 1970s was an interest in the use of essential oils to set or change a mood. Among the many kinds of oils and their uses, I found out that ylang-ylang oil was especially good for calming anxiety or depression. Rose oil is also good. Given the recent turbulence at City Hall, a trip to Success Express in Westfield or Autumn Harvest in Scotch Plains may be in order to stock up on heavenly scents to counteract the whiff of brimstone in the air. There are probably some places here as well that have essential oils.

Budget season seems to be off to a rocky start. Perhaps Monday's meeting will lead to helpful action. Councilman Cory Storch has promised a series of blog posts on the budget and fortunately there are more citizen bloggers keeping an eye on things. The Economic Growth portion of Monday's meeting should be revealing, as nearly all the development proposals of recent years have dissolved or are in abeyance. Storch's call for a visioning process, though resisted by some, seems reasonable considering the current circumstances. If done properly, the process could generate citizen consensus and support for development in the coming decade.

Monday's meeting is 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave. Think good thoughts and carry some ylang-ylang for back-up.

--Bernice Paglia

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Way to Go, Bill Nierstedt!

As an online reader of the Star-Ledger, I was quite taken with their new magazine and spent a lot of time uploading pages. Imagine my surprise when partway through, I ran up on Page 24's interview with our own Bill Nierstedt.

Bill is the director of the Planning Division and has very enlightened views on sustainability and transit-oriented development, not to mention his advocacy of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards.

There was an Oct. 15 print version, but if you missed it, you can read it online here. Just be aware that there are tons of ads along the way.

One must respect a municipal official who not only advocates environmental principles, but actually lives them out in daily life.


CFO Vote Up at Expanded Meeting Monday

According to a legal notice in Saturday's Courier News, a special City Council meeting previously set to discuss Economic Growth will be expanded to include four resolutions for council action. The notice was also published on the New Jersey Press Association's web site. As previously reported on Plaintalker, Councilman Adrian Mapp said at the Oct. 13 meeting that certifications of funding were not valid because no chief financial officer had received council approval. The notice is reproduced below.

Formal action may be taken
OCTOBER 15, 2009.($69.28) 044196

Friday, October 16, 2009

Mailers Struggling to Meet New Rules

Bulk mailings prepared in Plainfield – anything from a couple hundred church newsletters to thousands of commercial brochures – can no longer be taken to the main post office on Watchung Avenue.

Instead, mailers must make their way to Rahway, Union or Edison, adding hours and miles to the process.

Under new U.S. Postal Service rules, even the Plainfield Senior Center newsletter, sent only to resident elders, must leave town to come back into their mailboxes.

“It has incurred a great expense to our company,” A&E Mailers plant operations manager Dave O’Chat said.

The company has a track record of more than 30 years serving the bulk mail needs of diverse clients including financial and educational institutions, businesses, hospitals and municipalities, but the new situation is unprecedented. Instead of a two-block trip to the post office and a quick turnaround, the company is facing delays and expenses it has never before seen.

O’Chat said one day’s trial at the Rahway post office tied up drivers for hours and forced a shift to the Union post office, no treat when factoring in possible delays and hazards of traveling Route 22.

When customers complain mailings have not arrived as timely as before, O’Chat can only say, “There’s nothing we can do.”

The company used to pay millions in postage to Plainfield’s main post office, but he said, “Everything’s going to Union or Kilmer.”

At First Unitarian Society of Plainfield, the problem is on a much smaller scale, but with finances tight, having the church secretary travel to Rahway instead of a block or so away to Watchung Avenue takes its toll. The church secretary must drive 20 minutes one-way out of her already reduced schedule to get the newsletter out, and preparers must spend more time affixing sticky “wafer seal” discs to the edges instead of stapling the pages and inserts together.

An option for the church may be to publish the newsletter online and charge first-class postage to those who still want to get a print copy.

But for O’Chat, a switch to electronic communications means the bulk mail industry might suffer great harm. The bulk mail location change is impacting a business that he says has already suffered from anthrax scares and the collapse of a prime customer base in financial institutions.

Worst of all, the company will find out the hard way of the impact.

“Customers are just not going to call,” he said.

But USPS spokesman George B. Flood called the new centralization plan a "win-win situation" that will increase and expand the following:
- The level of training and expertise of USPS Business Mail Entry employees
- Consumer education efforts in the highly technical areas of business mail preparation and mailpiece design
- Mailer access to upgraded acceptance equipment
- The hours of business mail acceptance in many locations
- The opportunities for mailers to take advantage of the new electronic mailing acceptance options and initiatives which saves mailers time and money.

"Postal Business Mail Entry experts are making every effort to make the transition as smooth as possible for mailers. Northern New Jersey District Business Mail Specialists are available to assist business mailers Monday - Friday 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. by calling 973-468-7095 or 973-468-7076," Flood said in an e-mail response to Plaintalker.

Disclaimer: I attend First Unitarian Society and usually help prepare the monthly newsletter. I am also a member of the Plainfield Senior Center.
--Bernice Paglia

A Tube for the Times

While going through some boxes recently, I found a relic of the late 20th century, namely the Tube of Gloom. Thinking that recent events might call for widespread distribution of such an object at City Hall, I looked up the place in Seattle where I bought it, only to have my search for the product fail.

Sure, you can still buy lots of other fun products at Archie McPhee's, but none so perfect for the times as the Tube of Gloom. Hailed by Wired magazine as one of the top 10 toys of 1994, it can sadly no longer be had.

As a reporter, I was especially glad to have mine around on Election Night, when each of us in the newsroom had to wrest results from a half-dozen municipal clerks. This involved about a million callbacks. Sometimes a clerk would just go home before the final callback , leaving us at the mercy of a wrathful editor. We also had to start work at 3 p.m., but sometimes did not wring out the last tally until after midnight.

With one hand on the touch-tone pad, I could still tilt the Tube of Gloom in the other hand to call forth its moans of agony.

"Call back in five minutes," a clerk would advise for the tenth time.


A lot of us kept toys at hand to relieve tension. One editor even had a Boxing Nun and another shot Nerf projectiles around the newsroom. Call it "going journalistic."

I just thought the way things are going over on Watchung Avenue, a Tube of Gloom would be the ideal accoutrement to a yellow legal pad and an ill-gotten Mont Blanc pen in executive session.

Oh well, I guess they will just have to stock up on bubble wrap and, like another editor, pop the bubbles all day to settle their nerves.

Have courage, folks. Just keep saying, like the popularity of the Tube of Gloom, "This too shall pass."


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Is Dornoch in Default?

October marks two years since a building permit was issued to Dornoch Plainfield LLC and is the deadline for completion of the senior center/condo project at 400 East Front Street.

The 2007 agreement with the Union County Improvement Authority does allow for an extension if the developer requests one and spells out the reasons in writing. But little has been heard in public from the UCIA on the project in recent months. If The Monarch is indeed the linchpin for future development, may we please know how things stand?

--Bernice Paglia

City in Disarray

The notion that top city officials would try to slip one over on the governing body is disturbing. Being made to confess in public must have been embarrassing, to use one of JG's favorite words.

With 20 days to go before the Nov. 3 election, the sense of disarray was enough to bring a tear to the eye of a citizen. Worse yet, where to take the issue of failed governance? To the state Department of Community Affairs, whose director stepped down amid a flurry of other officials' arrests?

Somehow the oaths taken by elected and appointed officials must be upheld. We see honest individuals in public office under threat of being ground to dust by those who have power but lack scruples. It is no wonder that decent people hesitate to set foot in the muddy waters of party politics.

Whatever the outcome on Nov. 3, the immediate task ahead is to tell the truth and do right.

--Bernice Paglia

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Fiscal Woes Mount in City

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--Bernice Paglia

Monday, October 12, 2009

Some Very Random Images

"La, la la, vote for meee!"

Roofus: "You again with that camera??"

Light play at the Fanwood train station.

Cardinal Climber on a shepherd's crook.

Mousie conducts an experiment with the water dish.

Went shopping in the closet, found jewelry I forgot I owned.

Ah, the '70s, when a girl could macrame a special Christmas bow into a necklace!
--Bernice Paglia

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Abstinence Program on BOE Agenda

On Tuesday, the Board of Education will consider a program that advocates the postponement of sexual activity until marriage.

The Work & Study Meeting is at 8 p.m. at the Administration Building, 1200 Myrtle Ave.

The board will be asked to approve a contractual agreement between district schools and the Central Jersey Community Development Corporation to conduct the "Teens Abstaining Positioning Self" program based on the "Why Am I Tempted?" or WAIT program. There will be no cost to the district. If moved to the agenda, the matter will be up for a vote on Oct. 20.

This kind of program is not without controversy, as a spin around the interwebs reveals.

The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) has reviewed various abstinence programs. Click here for its review of WAIT training. According to a state-by-state report on funding for such programs, those in New Jersey received $4 million in federal Community Based Abstinence Education funding last year.

According to a 2007 state Department of Health and Senior Services report, adolescent pregnancy has declined, but in 2003, 7,209 teens gave birth, nearly 90 percent outside marriage. Becoming a teen parent has many adverse consequences, the report states, including the likelihood of having another teen birth. The report advocates a shift from dealing with the consequences of teen pregnancy to community education on its prevention.

A search for Central Jersey Community Development Corporation brings up the web site of First Baptist Community Development Corporation. Click here for details of an upcoming event.

If approved, the Teens Abstaining Positioning Self program will be offered at Hubbard and Maxson middle schools, the Barack Obama Academy for Academic and Civic Development and Plainfield High School. It will be conducted in 12 sessions to students in grades 7, 8 and 9.

--Bernice Paglia

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Saints Above!

Believe it or not, there is a patron saint of politicians.

Click here to read a 2000 BBC News clip on the subject.


Friday, October 09, 2009

Obama's Peace Prize Deserved

On this day, I feel compelled to deviate from the hyperlocal format to voice support for the awarding of a Nobel Prize to President Barack Obama.

I was rather offended when major media outlets including public radio chose not to suspend regular broadcasting to feature President Obama's speech to the UN General Assembly in September. Listening to the speech on an alternate source, I was thrilled by Obama's message of peace.

For those who missed it, here is a link to the text as printed in The New York Times. Please take the time to read it and think about it.


Grace Church Blessing of Animals

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Commentary on Thursday

Those who attended a May mayoral forum may recall that Jerry Green showed up there also. For details, click here.

I missed a few minutes of Thursday's forum because I got a call from my neighbor about a situation at our building. It seems not only did the rusted-out Verizon pole crash down on a truck in Lot 7, somehow the incident led to our utility pole next door tilting at a precarious angle. Because it holds up all the phone and cable wires for our six-family building, I was upset to discover the situation on my way to the library.

Even though my cell phone rang at the library, I missed the call and couldn't get a response when I called back.

Later, my neighbor and I took a big lantern flashlight outside so I could show her the problem. I had called Verizon upon getting home and although the representative said a leaning pole was not considered a problem, it sure looked like one to us.

A repair person may be sent Friday to look it. Meanwhile, if it crashes, the blog might go dark.

Anyway, while I was outside the library meeting room, I heard James Pivnichny being asked how long ago he joined the senior center, but didn't hear the answer. Whatever it was, if he joined, he is a member and deserves to be respected as such.

At the forum, the mayor alluded to Pivnichny's query that began the incident that led to his ejection from the center. Saying he had asked whether the burglary rate was 74 percent, she had learned from Police Director Martin Hellwig that "last year to this year, it is down 8 percent."

While that statistic may be true, the other figure came up in the recently-released Uniform Crime Report that compares numbers of various crimes in 2008 with those of 2007. It is online here and if you go to pages 50 and 51, you can see all the statistics for Plainfield. Burglaries were up 70 percent in 2008 (390 burglaries) over 2007 (229 burglaries).

The point is, at some of these forums a lot of stuff is tossed around that can only be verified by going to original documentation, something people in the audience may have neither the time nor the inclination to do. I'm sure people take campaign rhetoric with a grain of salt anyway and rely mainly on their overall impressions of candidates in deciding how to vote.

There will be another public forum on Oct. 28 and maybe others that will be announced. This has been one of the most interesting campaign seasons in Plainfield and citizens seem to be paying close attention.

--Bernice Paglia

Forum Draws Large Crowd

Taxes took the limelight at a candidates’ forum Thursday, along with education and the closing of Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center.

About 150 people crowded the Anne Louise Davis Room at the Plainfield Public Library for the forum sponsored by Women for Progress in Plainfield. Though advertised as a mayoral forum with one unopposed 4th Ward candidate also speaking, two Assembly incumbents and their challengers turned up and 4th Ward candidate Bridget Rivers did not.

Those seeking a four-year mayoral term are incumbent Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, Republican James Pivnichny and independent Deborah Dowe. Assembly candidates Linda Stender and Jerry Green are seeking re-election for two-year terms representing District 22 and face challenges from former Mayor Marty Marks of Scotch Plains and Bo Vastine, also of Scotch Plains.

Moderator Martha Royster firmly kept speakers in line, several times consulting the audience for a show of hands on questions they wanted answered.

On taxes, Robinson-Briggs talked about development and said the governing body needs to “get on board to have projects get on board.” In a related question on cutting City Hall expenses, she said the city is not filling vacancies and will be meeting with unions on halting raises to “flatline across the board.” But she said the city’s 550 employees are “human beings with families that need to be supported.”

Pivnichny said he would cut jobs from the top, not the bottom, and noted a city tax increase was averted by deferring pension payments.

“This made the numbers look good this year,” he said, but added the funds will have to be paid back with interest in coming years.

Dowe pointed to tax breaks given over the past decade and said she wanted to expand business and manufacturing in the city, which lost 1,100 jobs with the closing of Muhlenberg. She would seek to cut city expenses through shared services with the school district and the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority.

On what she would do in the Assembly for senior tax relief, Stender named a number of state programs that assist seniors with property taxes, drug costs and utility expenses. Green said state funds help seniors stay in their homes, claiming the state put $150 million in the budget “that George Bush cut out.”

Marks said not only seniors, but young couples are losing their homes and causing a “mass exodus from the state.”

“The overall tax climate is killing them,” he said.

Marks called for elimination of corruption and duplicative county governments to reduce taxes.

“Obviously, this is about looking forward, but with the record of our opponents, I don’t think we can afford one more day of them,” Vastine said.

As for giving seniors rebates, he said, “It’s their money.”

Vastine also cited corruption and overspending as causes of high taxes.

Mayoral and Assembly incumbents took some heat for the August 2008 closing of Muhlenberg, which left an estimated 200,000 Central Jerseyans without a local acute care facility Vastine said Green formerly held a $50,000 consultant position with Muhlenberg parent Solaris Health Systems. Dowe noted her long involvement with activists who fought to save, and then to restore the hospital.

On education, candidates sparred over a new school funding formula that Green voted for, replacing the designation of the state’s 31 neediest districts for so-called Abbott funding. Aid is now spread among more districts with needy students. Marks said the state stills sends $100 million into Plainfield, but “It is not finding its way into the classroom.”

Marks said 60 percent of Plainfield high school students “did not graduate through normal means.”

Green charged, “The Republicans don’t even want the city to have Abbott money,” and told how he challenged GOP gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie for alleging waste in school spending.

Other topics included how to improve the city’s West End and the issue of gay marriage, which Vastine recently called on his blog a “red herring” in the campaign. Vastine noted that President Barack Obama himself does not support gay marriage. Green said if re-elected, “I will support gay marriage.”

Another forum, sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Plainfield, will be held at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 28 at Emerson School, 305 Emerson Ave. It will feature mayoral and Assembly candidates and will be conducted in accordance with LWV guidelines.

The general election is Nov. 3. Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. To vote, be sure to register by Oct. 13.

--Bernice Paglia

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Ill Wind Hits Lot 7

This truck took a hit when a metal pole with a rusted-out base toppled in Wednesday's wind storm. The pole in question was one that Plaintalker had observed previously. I forget who I called, but nothing happened to check out the pole, which was leaning at an angle over the city parking lot for several months.

One can see how the business end of the pole , with those metal projections, could do quite a bit of damage.
Check the damage to the hood, windshield and top of the truck.
The truck owner said the pole belonged to Verizon. Obviously litigation will ensue.
--Bernice Paglia

Noted Plainfield Native Irving Penn Passes

My former co-blogger Barbara Todd Kerr alerted me to the passing of Plainfield native Irving Penn, one of the most revered photographers of our time.

See the obit here:

I hope some of you have time to explore the work of Irving Penn over the years. He was truly a genius.

--Bernice Paglia

Check Notebook at Door?

The Senior Center newsletter is not only mailed to members, it is available at City Hall to the public. Events and comments this week raise the question of whether this group is members-only, and then even open to certain members only. Can a publicly-funded entity bar the public from attending and observing its activities?

As far as this member/blogger is concerned, the mayor has long been aware of my dual role. She has often acknowledged my presence by name at her monthly visits. My camera and notebook have been in plain view.
Now of course news comes in two main flavors, good and bad. The image above is a good-news item where the mayor accepted the gift of a quilt handmade by the senior quilting club.
Here, after seniors marched from the center to a groundbreaking ceremony at 400 East Front Street, the mayor is moved by a song from a young girl for the occasion.
The signing ceremony in January 2007 was a happy and promising event.
The late center president Charles Nelson and director Sharron Brown are seen here with the mayor on that occasion.
Mr. Nelson and the mayor spent many hours working on plans for the new center.
As months wore on, there was some bad news to deliver in terms of delays. Both the mayor's monthly reports and City Council actions were sources in following the story on the blog. Plaintalker reported on the May 20 ceremony at the new center and also on the unfortunate passing of Mr. Nelson.
So here we are in October 2009. A new member who is also a challenger to the mayor's re-election gets removed by two police officers for "campaigning" by asking questions during a question-and-answer session. Within minutes, the Democratic Party chairman turns up to take the microphone and points me out to my fellow seniors as persona non grata in his eyes.
Tuesday's events raise serious questions of free speech and the use of publicly-funded facilities. Expect more news, and decide for yourself whether it is good or bad for Plainfield.
--Bernice Paglia

A Senior Center Visit

In a rush to attain Cronehood (ask a feminist), I joined the Plainfield Senior Center as soon as I turned 55 in 1993. It was a symbolic embrace of a new stage of life. I have visited the center as often as possible, although I am still too busy to get on the senior bus and spend the day. My favorite spot is the corner where women create things out of yarn. For a time, I joined in to make tiny crocheted caps for newborns.

More recently, I have dropped off homegrown double pink impatiens and purple oxalis plants for sale to benefit the Sunshine Club. One year, I donated a bunch of reusable drawstring cloth gifts bags for the holiday sale. The display from my presentation on plant propagation ("Plant Parenthood") can still be seen near the front entrance.

Often I dropped in for the mayor's monthly visits, which sometimes yielded bits of news on city matters. The center was the site of the signing of agreements for a new senior center and I have blogged on the groundbreaking as well as stages of progress since 2007.

So off I went Tuesday on foot from Park & Seventh to East Front and Roosevelt for the mayoral visit.

On the way, I saw mayoral candidate Jim Pivnichny's new campaign billboard at East Front and Watchung and at the center I saw the challenger himself, also a center member.

Bibi Taylor, the new director of Administration, Finance, Health and Social Services waited along with the seniors for the mayor. Taylor is the latest in a chain of directors for that department and as such is the administration's lead person for both the existing senior center and the new one that is slated to open soon at 400 East Front Street.

Finally the mayor arrived and the session got underway, first with a moment of silence for members who passed away since the last visit, then with inspirational songs from five members and acknowledgements of birthdays and anniversaries. After updates on various city matters, the mayor was reviewing a decrease in violent crime over her tenure when Pivnichny asked about a large increase in burglaries. The mayor didn't have figures and asked her confidential aide to call Police Director Martin Hellwig for the statistics.
Pivnichny also wanted to counter the mayor's remark that city bloggers don't always tell the truth. A bit of a standoff ensued over whether Pivnichny was "campaigning" and the mayor called for police. Soon two officers were taking Pivnichny away.
After the mayor concluded her session, Assemblyman Jerry Green appeared to speak to the seniors. Green denied he was campaigning, but talked about both the gubernatorial and Assembly races. He also criticized bloggers and singled me out as a"negative person in the room" who was taking notes.
I haven't spoken to him since a chat we had when he called me at home in July 2008. But as he was leaving, I showed him my membership card and mentioned I had just renewed that day. My point was, I had a right to be there, being a member for 16 years.
Well, Election Day is fast approaching. You must be registered by Oct. 13 to vote on Nov. 3. Besides the mayor and Jim Pivnichny, Deborah Dowe is on the ballot for mayor. Green and Assemblywoman Linda Stender are being challeneged for District 22 Assembly seats by Martin Marks and Bo Vastine of Scotch Plains.
Candidates will appear at two upcoming forums at the Plainfield Public Library. The mayoral candidates and the unopposed 4th Ward candidate, Bridget Rivers, will appear from 6:30 to 8:30 tomorrow night.
On Oct. 28, the League of Women Voters will hold its Candidates' Forum at Emerson School, 305 Emerson Ave. Assembly candidates will speak at 6:30 p.m. and mayoral candidates at 7:30 p.m.
Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. for the Nov. 3 general election. The mayoral and 4th Ward terms are four years beginning Jan. 1, 2010 and the Assembly term is two years.
--Bernice Paglia

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Brownfields Revisited

FYI, Plaintalker has covered the brownfields remediation issue for a couple of years now. The sites announced today were not identified in the Courier News report, but readers may be interested to look at this file on steps along the way.


Library Launches Essay Contest

Is the recession making you look for new skills, job-seeking strategies or just a little diversion to take your mind off things? How is the Plainfield Public Library helping?

Tell your story in an essay and become eligible for prizes. In 250 words or fewer, explain "How the Plainfield Public Library has helped me through these difficult times." Entries must include the writer's name, address, telephone number and be typewritten or printed double-spaced on letter-size paper. All entries must be received by 5 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 13 and will become property of the library.

The library's Circulation staff will judge the entries and winners will be announced by Monday, Dec. 7. First prize will be a $50 Visa card, with cards for $25 and $15 for second and third place.

Library Director Joseph Da Rold said resources for library patrons include free computer classes on Tuesdays for those who sign up. The schedule is on the library's web site along with a lot of other information.

"Other resources for those suddenly laid off include DIY books (do-it-yourself) for fixing up the house, gardening books, and self-help books for those who need a spiritual recharge. For those who did not get cash for their clunkers, we have scads of car-repair books on the shelf and online. We also work with SBA (Small Business Administration) and can set up interviews here at the library for anyone who wishes to talk to someone about starting up a new business," Da Rold said in answer to an e-mailed question on what the library offers.
Job market analysts say volunteering not only keeps the mind sharp and expands networks, it can also lead to a career when economic conditions improve. Da Rold said the library welcomes new volunteers into its Adult Literacy, Information Technology and Local History departments.
"In 2008, volunteers gave nearly 8,000 hours to our library!" he said.
The library has also submitted two Community Development Block Grant proposals to create a Job Search Center with a computer training room, Da Rold said. Grant awards will not be announced until Spring; if the proposals are funded, remodeling will begin next Fall. Meanwhile, he said, library staff is excited about initiating some programs as soon as possible, including a free series of job search lectures.
--Bernice Paglia

Baseball League Seeks Support

Advocates of a youth baseball league expressed anger and frustration Monday with the way they claim Recreation Director Dave Wynn handled their concerns.

Parents, coaches and young people turned out at the City Council’s agenda session at Hubbard Middle School to press their demands, which include better upkeep of the baseball field, pay for coaches and keeping their group intact. Speakers said Wynn wants just one league, which would mean the Queen City Baseball League would have to merge with another.

Supporters of the league were incensed by a flier issued by the Recreation Division for baseball registration, as it did not allow for two leagues.

The Queen City group has 224 players and 42 volunteer coaches and has been successful in games with other leagues, supporters said, even though baseball is not as popular in the city as youth basketball and football.

The administration expects to go over the issues with league leaders and Wynn this week.

The impromptu airing of sports groups’ concerns has become a feature of recent agenda fixing sessions. Council President Rashid Burney acknowledged the presence of the group Monday and allowed numerous individuals to speak at length, delaying the start of the meeting.

--Bernice Paglia

Monday, October 05, 2009

Senior Center Questions Swirl

A tax abatement plan for the senior center/condo complex at 400 East Front Street is dead, City Council President Rashid Burney said Monday, but Councilman Adrian Mapp insisted other questions on legalities of an agreement with the Union County Improvement Authority are not resolved and seniors demanded to know when they can move into the new center.

The tax abatement issue arose when the council was asked earlier this year to approve an ordinance to permit negotiations on a five-year break on taxes for buyers of the 63 condos on three floors above the senior center. Although the proposal was a preliminary measure and any agreement would have to come back for council approval, the terms were discussed publicly as a 40 percent abatement, meaning buyers would pay only 40 percent of taxes for five years.

Normally, such agreements would be negotiated in advance of construction, but the abatement plan was touted by politicians as necessary to prevent the nearly-completed complex known as "The Monarch" from becoming rentals instead of condos over the senior center.

As far as the legal status of the complex, Mapp and city Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson sparred over whether agreements on transfer of city-owned land to the the Union County Improvement Authority were properly executed, with Williamson declaring, "After all is said and done, the transfer was absolutely, positively legal" and Mapp still demanding proof. Mapp's demands for verification drew applause from seniors in the audience.

Meanwhile, senior center member George Smith said most of the furnishings of the current center in leased space at 305 East Front Street have been moved to the new building at 400 East Front Street, but no final moving day has been set. At the same time, the owner of the building now housing the center is trying to get a tenant for the space, he said.

City Administrator Marc Dashield said the certificate of occupancy for the new center was issued about a week ago, and that the city was now working with the developer to come up with a "transition date."

--Bernice Paglia

Property Code Penalties to Increase

Some penalties for property maintenance code violations will triple and landlords could incur fines up to $1,000 and 90 days in jail for "willful and inexcusable" repeat offenses if the City Council approves new rules.

The new penalty schedule is among items on the agenda for tonight's agenda-fixing session. The meeting will be held at 7:30 p.m. at Hubbard Middle School. The ordinance increasing fines will be up for second reading and final passage at the Oct. 13 regular meeting.

The ordinance as offered does not show the previous penalties, but by comparing the section to that which is posted on Councilman Rashid Burney's web site, one can see the differences. Look at Chapter 6, Article 2, Section 4:17.

A violation of any part of the code would be punishable by a fine of up to $1,000, currently a range of $200 to $400. The current penalty for a second offense of up to three days of community service or jail time would be increased to up to 90 days.

As previously, each violation would be counted separately for imposition of penalties.

First offenses for certain violations are increasing as follows: Failure to remove trash and debris or failure to cut and maintain lawn, $150, up from $50; failure to remove abandoned/disabled vehicle, $200, up from $50; improper garbage storage, $150, up from $100; failure to provide garbage removal services no less than twice weekly, $150, up from $100.

Second offenses of the above violations could mean fines of not less than $250 and not more than $750 and perhaps three days of jail or community service. The fines are up from $200 to $400.

A new section has been proposed for third and subsequent offenses, with fines ranging from $500 to $1,000 and from five to 10 days of jail time or community service.

If passed on Oct. 13, the ordinance would kick in by November.

When the ordinance was discussed at the Sept. 8 agenda-fixing session, City Administrator Marc Dashield said code enforcement activities were being improved through establishment of a new task force that will review both the current building and health codes. The code enforcement task force will focus on rapid response to violations.

Citywide At-Large Councilwoman Annie McWilliams praised the administration for "using this overhaul of code enforcement to make the city look cleaner and nicer."

Code enforcement has long been a thorny problem for the city. The councilwoman's father, the late Mayor Albert T. McWilliams, said of all city issues, code enforcement generated the most citizen complaints during his tenure. A seven-member addition to the Inspections Division was created by his administration, but disbanded by the current one. Attempts to raise fees and make the Inspections Division self-sustaining were attacked by a real estate group, and a Safe Housing ordinance was repealed.

This year, code enforcement issues erupted into newspaper headlines after tenants of the city's largest landlord complained about elevator problems, sewage in the basement of one complex and numerous other violations. But just after landlord David Connolly appeared in Housing Court and was fined for violations, the Courier News uncovered complicated financial woes faced by Connolly Properties in Plainfield and other locations. The investigative series by reporter Mark Spivey is ongoing and may be seen at

--Bernice Paglia

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Pets to be Blessed

Local pets will receive blessings at two locations today and another on Oct. 18.

Grace Episcopal Church invites people to bring pets on leashes or in cages to church in celebration of the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. There will be a 9:00 a.m. Family Friendly Communion on the front lawn of the church, East Seventh Street at Cleveland Avenue, followed by a 10:30 a.m. Holy Eucharist Abbreviated Service in the Sanctuary. At 4 p.m. there will be a musical program in celebration of the feast day.

The Friends of Sleepy Hollow will hold the Annual Celebration of Animals at 1:30 p.m. in the Leland Avenue Park. Those offerings blessings will be Rev. Leonard Bethel, retired from Bethel Presbyterian Church; Rev. Carolyn Eklund, rector of Grace Episcopal Church; James Handlin, a Buddhist; Sandra Miller, a shaman; and Rev. Frank Rose, poster of St. Bernard/St. Stanislaus R.C. Church.

On Oct. 18, the new minister at First Unitarian Society of Plainfield, the Rev. Tracy Sprowls-Jenks, will offer blessings at the church, 724 Park Ave. The sermon is titled, “A Joyful Paws.”

“Pets are important members of many families in our congregation. I am mindful, too, that not everyone has a pet and some people are allergic to them. Yet, everyone has a story about an animal that has touched them in some way,” Rev. Sprowls-Jenks said.

During the 10 a.m. service, Rev. Sprowls-Jenks said, she will “share some stories about some amazing animals and then we will have an animal blessing. Everyone is invited to bring a pet(s) to be blessed during the service. Children will be participating in this service.”

--Bernice Paglia

Saturday, October 03, 2009

IT Hire Imminent

There have been so many twists, turns and delays in paving the way for an Information Technology director that I thought I had lost my mind when I saw in my files an ordinance passed on first reading with no second reading to be found.

Upon further investigation, I found that while MC 2009-11 went nowhere, MC 2009-18 indeed passed on two readings. The second reading was Sept. 14, so the 20-day time frame to take effect should be just about now.

The final exact title approved was "Manager 1 Information Processing Level 1," with a lengthy job description posted at the state web site on personnel titles. The city's needs are slightly different, as the new IT person will be expected to monitor communications on Channel 96 as well as tending to the city's web site and fostering general online interactions among the city's many divisions.

One thing that held up past attempts to pass the ordinance was the suspicion that the job was being tailored to a certain individual, something the administration denied.

Still, members of the City Council's IT Committee recently asked whether they would be able to take part in the hiring process once the new ordinance passed. City Administrator Marc Dashield's answer was an emphatic "no," which is correct, given the division of authority between the executive and legislative branches.

The question still echoes the concern that the appointment will not be totally objective, but may have political aspects. The appointment will be taking effect in the waning three months of the mayor's current term. While New Jersey political wisdom suggests that a Democratic primary winner is invincible in the general election, the Nov. 3 results are still unknown.

All shall be revealed in coming weeks. Let's hope it is a plus for the city and not just a big payday for a pre-determined candidate.

--Bernice Paglia