Monday, November 30, 2009

Addendum to "Choose Your News"

Let it be said that Mark Spivey of the Courier News also attended the Nov. 23 special meeting and wrote a comprehensive report that was published on Nov. 24.

Mark is the nonpareil and the sine qua non of print reporting on Plainfield (not to mention ruling the Courier News "information platform" on the Plainfields and beyond). We are lucky to have him.


Choose Your News

A commenter on Doc's Potpourri recently questioned the veracity of bloggers compared to that of a Star-Ledger reporter regarding what happened at a Nov. 23 special meeting:

Doc, I have read the various Blog accounts of the Council meeting and in each it seems clear that we face dire problems. It also seems clear from all of the Blogs that the current Administration seems unqualified to handle the current situation. This said I was surprised to read an account of the meeting in todays Star Ledger that in no way painted a similar picture. This article talked of the layoff problems but painted a picture of a Council and Administration working together in a matter of fact way to resolve the issues. With do respect to the bloggers, many more people are going to form their opinion from this newspaper article than from your postings. The Star Ledger and the bloggers can not both be right. Perhaps the bloggers and the reporter from the Star Ledger should sit down and compare notes. Is this a case where the Star Ledger simply does not care to do any type of in depth reporting on Plainfield or a case of the bloggers not being fair to the Administration?

Having been a reporter for 16 years myself, I had an inkling that the S-L article was a phoner, meaning the news desk probably had the reporter follow up by phone on a story. Sure enough, I inquired and received an e-mail confirmation that the reporter in question was not present at the meeting, as the four bloggers were. The S-L story was based on a phone interview with City Administrator Marc Dashield. Perhaps this led to the contrast to which the commenter alludes.

If a reader wants to believe any one source over another, that is the reader's prerogative. There are many styles of newsgathering and reporting, including both live coverage and phone interviews. In this case, according to the commenter, four bloggers who attended the meeting came up with similar findings.

BTW, hell will freeze before any editor would let a reporter "sit down and compare notes" with bloggers, although some dailies routinely use blogs for news tips.

So believe what you will, but better yet, come out and see your administration and governing body interacting at City Council meetings. The next one is 7:30 p.m. Dec. 7 at Cook School.

--Bernice Paglia

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Eight Meetings? What?

The normally meeting-adverse governing body is now on the hook for two agenda-fixing sessions, one regular meeting and five budget sessions in December.

This schedule puts a big strain on councilwatchers who may have other things to do in December, including holiday observances.

Earlier this year, the City Council agreed to hold just one agenda-fixing session and one regular meeting per month, down from two agenda-fixing and two regular meetings as per the traditional schedule.

Now budget concerns have apparently added intensity to the December schedule.

According to a legal notice, there will be four budget sessions and one on the capital budget in December.

Curiously, the City Council had scheduled a series of budget meetings in early spring, although budget information for the year beginning July 1 would not have been known by that time.

It remains to be seen what the governing body and its Citizens Advisory Committee will come up with to trim costs for the budget year that began July 1, 2009.

Plaintalker's gratuitous advice is to stop adding food to every public occasion and not to let new patronage jobs turn up at City Hall since the incumbents won.

--Bernice Paglia

Not All Want Solar4All

Image: Solar panel at sunset.

New solar panels on utility poles in historic districts caught preservationists by surprise over the holiday weekend, but the Solar4All program was proposed by PSE&G in February and launched in July, according to published reports.

In e-mails forwarded to Plaintalker, preservationists call them unsightly and wonder how they escaped the scrutiny of the Historic Preservation Commission.

For a concise report on the program from Reuters, click here.

The Historic Preservation Commission reviews and makes recommendations on all changes to the exteriors of buildings in the city's six residental historic districts, the city's North Avenue Commercial Historic District and the Civic Historic District around the War Memorial and City Hall, among other responsibilities. Land use boards must take the commission's recommendations into account when hearing applications.

It is not clear whether the HPC's jurisdiction extends to new uses on utility poles.

The panels need to be installed where tree branches or other objects will not block the sun. They are fixed and cannot follow the sun's rotation. According to a PSE&G Solar4All fact sheet, "PSE&G will install solar panels on up to 200,000 utility poles in neighborhoods throughout PSE&G's service territory - the largest pole attached installation in the U.S."

Click here to read the full fact sheet. A South Plainfield firm, Petra Solar, received the contract for installation. PSE&G won approval last summer from the Board of Public Utilities for the five-year, $515 million project. It is expected to generate "hundreds of good-paying green jobs" in addition to creating savings on energy bills over time.

City Hall was closed for the Thanksgiving holiday, but you can bet on Monday preservationists will be looking for answers from somebody on the sight that ruined their appetite for the traditional feast.

--Bernice Paglia

City Council Sets Budget Sessions

Note: Chalk it up to BWE (blogging without eyeglasses), there are some glitches. The first session is Tuesday, Dec. 1. Also I read "senior center" and didn't look at the address. The legal notice has the address of the old senior center, which is now vacant. Seniors were advised on Veterans Day to park behind 305 East Front (the old location) and walk to the new center at 400 East Front. I alerted City Council President Rashid Burney to that issue.

The City Council has advertised five budget sessions in December.

On Tuesday, Dec. 1, budget talks will be held in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave. On Thursday, Dec. 3 and Wednesday, Dec. 9, the sessions will take place in the new senior center at 400 East Front Street. (As of Dec. 1, the city web site states this meeting will be at the old center, 305 East Front) On Wednesday, Dec. 16, talks will be held in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

The final discussion listed is for Dec. 17 on the capital budget and will also be held in Municipal Court.

All sessions will be from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Click here for something to do with your tax dollars while they are still yours.

--Bernice Paglia

Visit Park Hardware

When Doug, Bill and Rich Borchers began Park Hardware in 1978, nails were sold by the pound. They still have the old scale used to weigh nails, but now sell them by the box.

Entering the store at 617 Park Avenue in the Park & Seventh business district, you can see hundreds of items that builders, contractors, homeowners, gardeners and fix-it folks need and want.

"Some people thank us for being here, because it's easier to get in and out," Rich says, contrasting the store to big-box outlets.

Rich and Doug are on hand from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday, to locate just the right plumbing or electrical part or the best tool to get a job done. For heavy items like mortar mix or bags of potting soil, customers can pull up to the rear door off East Seventh Street for easy loading.

In a city where half the residents are renters, new keys are an ongoing necessity. Locks are on hand in many styles as well. But with all these wares at the city's main east-west, north-south crossroads for more than 30 years, people are still discovering the hardware store and the district, which also has two pharmacies, a florist, a bakery, a computer store, beauty salons, eateries and a surgical supply store.

"People don't know they are there," Doug says.

Once they get out of their cars and walk around, visitors are often surprised to see what's available at Park & Seventh.

"To me, there is more diversity than there is down on Front Street," Doug says.

While adapting to modern needs of customers, the brothers are perfectly happy using this old rotary phone to do business. Ring them up at (908) 754-9137. And even though they have a digital cash register, they have kept their old electrical one that has a hand crank in case of power failures. It's down in the capacious basement, which has the same footprint as the store. The Borchers said the store was once an A&P supermarket and the lot across the street had houses that were demolished to make way for a new shopping center, now dominated by the popular Twin City supermarket.
The basement is also where the tiki torches will soon go as the brothers get ready to sell snow shovels and windshield scrapers. They have no computerized inventory management, but just go through everything in stock two or three times a year.
"We're still old school," Doug says.
On Friday, the brothers' father, Don, was visiting. He said one important feature of Park Hardware is the ability for customers to speak directly with Doug and Rich.
"People need advice," he said.
So next time you're at Park & Seventh, stop in and look around. The slide show below gives a glimpse of what is available and there is plenty more.
This is one of a projected series on the Park & Seventh business district.
--Bernice Paglia

Park Hardware

Friday, November 27, 2009

Eid Mubarak

People in Plainfield and all over the world unite today in observing Eid al-Adha, The Feast of the Sacrifice. Click here to learn more.

Our city's diversity is very broad and the more we learn about each other's cultures and religions, the better it will be for all.

If you know someone of the Islamic faith, you can say "Eid Mubarak," or Blessed Eid, as a greeting.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

FUSP Volunteers Cook, Serve Holiday Dinner

The First Unitarian Society of Plainfield had its largest Thanksgiving crowd yet on Thursday, numbering more than 300 guests.

Church members provided turkeys, traditional side dishes and desserts. Volunteers of all ages staffed the serving tables. Guests included people in need as well as those who just wanted to enjoy a nice dinner in the company of others.

The kitchen was a hive of activity as church members ferried pans of food from ovens and the stovetop to hot plates in the Parish Hall. A cleanup crew (including this writer) washed pans for more fill-ups.

From noon to about 2 p.m., the crowd was steady and very appreciative. Many took home extra dinners for later enjoyment at home or for relatives who could not get to the church.

FUSP makes the same effort for Christmas and Easter and all are welcome. The genius behind food provision at FUSP dinners and its food pantry is Cass Cochrane, who is also a mainstay of its Act IV Productions theater events.

FUSP's Plainfield origins date back to 1899 and one of its original benefactors was Job Male, the first mayor of Plainfield. For more information, see or visit on Sundays at 10 a.m.

The church has a new minister, The Rev. Tracy Sprowls-Jenks, and is looking forward to a greater presence in the community. Rev. Tracy has already joined with other local ministers to see how best they can serve Plainfield at large as well as their diverse congregants.


Give Thanks

Best wishes to all for a happy and safe Thanksgiving holiday.

I am personally thankful that I can still get around on foot without needing new knees or hips, and that Plainfield has a high degree of walkability with good transit links.

I give thanks for all the new voices in the local blogosphere. With many more people studying city issues, the more likely solutions are to be found. Blogs have also increased celebration of the city's attractions and have opened a new window to the world on life in Plainfield.


Commentary on Cabinet Pay

Some speakers at Monday's special meeting called for cabinet members to share in budget sacrifices as the administration proposed layoffs, furloughs and other measures for the rank and file.

In fact, in the case of one department head, 44 employees under him will earn more than he does for the 2010 budget year, and 20 of those employees will make more than the city administrator.

Until the establishment of an in-house corporation counsel, the city administrator used to receive the top salary. Presently, the corporation counsel receives $29,000 more than the city administrator. All three department heads once received the same compensation, but now there is a spread between department heads and other non-union top employees of nearly $20,000.

Now that public employee salary information is online, one can see that perhaps the reason why the director of Public Affairs & Safety can accept a five-figure salary when police captains, police lieutenants, the fire chief, fire captains, deputy fire chiefs and battalion chiefs all get six-figure salaries. The Public Affairs & Safety director, who is also the police director, gets a five-figure pension in addition to his pay here.

The new director of Administration, Finance, Health and Social Services came here with a buyout package from another municipality that provided her full salary through 2009, so her compensation here is on top of that. She and the director of Public Works and Urban Development make more, though not much more, than their highest-paid division heads.

Back to Public Affairs and Safety: This department takes up the lion's share of the budget and is considered a core need for the city. The real issue here may be the number of superiors in Fire and Police Divisions. Twenty-four make over $100,000 and 37 make over $90,000. But short of a reorganization, there may not be any way to reduce these costs. There are already vacancies in both divisions.

The new Citizens' Budget Advisory Committee will soon be examining these issues. While they may conclude that budget pain must be shared across the board, it is unlikely that demands on a handful of cabinet members will make much difference to the bottom line, especially when one department head is already working at a reduced salary. Cabinet savings have unfortunately taken place already through vacancies that caused the city administrator to serve as an acting department head in addition at no extra pay.

This year's budget process is already proving to be very difficult and the road to an outcome is strewn with dilemmas. The CBAC this year is seeking input from the community at large on its new blog. Click here and have your say.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

One of Those Days

I was feeling skittery due to unsettling news that is unfolding in the city, then had a very scary nightmare about home invaders. Next, the cat woke me up very early to point out his empty food bowl and I had absolutely no coherent thoughts for the blog despite sitting at the computer for a couple of hours. My alarm clock went off at 7 a.m. and within seconds later, some workers began jackhammering in the driveway, which is still a mess from the recent underground leak.

For all these reasons, I am taking the day off to collect my wits.


Monday, November 23, 2009

Budget Issues Draw Crowd

The notion that a 10-hour outside consultancy could replace 90 hours' work by in-house Planning Division staff met with objections and even derision by speakers at Monday's special City Council meeting.

Residents and officials said the change would create a loss in understanding of local planning concerns and issues, in addition to being unrealistic.

"I just don't believe that number. It just doesn't look good," Councilman William Reid said.

The two full-time and one part-time staffers were removed from a layoff plan before council members approved it Monday, but administrators said delaying the cut will only lead to more layoffs later to make up a 9.6 percent budget shortfall for the budget year that began July 1, 2009. But members of the governing body said the move will force more budget-slashing before final adoption.

The special meeting included votes on introducing the SFY 2010 budget, which means it will now become the governing body's budget to modify as it will.

In addition, the council agreed to seek extraordinary state aid, while admitting the tough fiscal times mean it is highly unlikely that Plainfield will get anything close to its $3.5 million request.

Under questioning by members of the governing body, the administration and union representatives differed on how soon the administration had seriously addressed cost-saving measures such as furloughs, wage freezes, union givebacks and other voluntary measures to save jobs. Even on Monday, the administration's stance seemed vague.

Plainfield Municipal Employees Association President Cynthia Smith refuted some administration claims about timelines on talks, saying members had agreed to concessions earlier in the year, but then got layoffs only from her union after the Nov. 3 general election.

Among the half-dozen city bargaining units, some Public Safety groups just got raises, Smith noted, but deplored the discrepancy of opportunity.

"I don't want to stand here tonight and be pitted union against union," she said.

The City Council has empowered a Citizens Budget Advisory Committee, but no deliberations have yet been announced.

The city is already in the fifth month of the SFY Budget year and as time passes, opportunities to save will dwindle, as speakers pointed out.

City Administrator Marc Dashield said a budget hearing will be held in early December to answer more questions.

--Bernice Paglia

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Special Meeting Monday

You couldn't tell it by the city web site, but there is a special City Council meeting Monday (Nov. 23, 2009).

The meeting is 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

According to a legal notice, the three items up for voting are a resolution introducing the SFY 2010 Municipal Operating Budget coupled with a resolution exceeding the state deadline for introduction of the SFY 2010 budget; a resolution authorizing approval for the City of Plainfield to submit an application to the Division of Local Government Services, Department of Community Affairs, for extraordinary aid in SFY 2010; and a resolution approving authorization for the submission of a layoff plan to the New Jersey Civil Service Commission.

The municipal budget for the fiscal year that began July 1, 2009 is $73.3 million, of which $49.3 is to be raised in local taxes. The budget is late, with nearly half a year of expenditures already paid out.

The city is seeking $3.5 million in extraordinary state aid to offset a projected 9.6 percent increase in municipal taxes, but state officials have already said overall budget constraints make such aid unlikely in SFY 2010. The city is not filling five vacancies due to retirements, but needs to fill a Chief Finance Officer position and must hire five police officers, three firefighteres and a part-time building inspector to meet critical needs, according to its pitch to the state for extraordinary aid.

All these circumstances make the job of the new Citizens Budget Advisory Committee a daunting task, not to mention the strains on the administration and governing body.

Curiously, the City Council set budget meetings in 2009 for March and April, way ahead of any concrete information on likely facts for SFY 2010. So far, no schedule has been announced for the CBAC to hold meetings or to produce a report.

It's a knotty situation. It appears that only major slashing of costs will bring about the desired effects, but what the cuts will be remains to be seen.

--Bernice Paglia

Thanks to David Holmes

Help was just a few steps away Saturday as I dealt with the crisis du jour, a dead keyboard. I had only to walk over to T2 Computer Systems at 633 Park Avenue to get a new one and have a chat with the genial owner, David Holmes.

I have previously purchased a laptop there and a PC tower, among other equipment. This business is just one in the Park & Seventh district that deserves more attention. The merchants are helpful, friendly and knowledgeable. In coming days, Plaintalker hopes to highlight some of them.

The Park & Seventh business district is slated to receive one of 11 "Welcome" signs through the efforts of the Special Improvement District. But don't wait for the sign. You are welcome to get acquainted with the merchants right now.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Gre-e-e-n Space!

Could this piece of land on Somerset Street be any greener?

The newly-planted grass looks like it will soon be a foot tall. This lot next to the former Tepper's building was an eyesore for many years, but now it is an emerald vision. Good work!


Going ... Going ...

Some ramshackle buildings on this parking lot by the main train station are being torn down. The lot itself could use repaving.

The big street numbers were painted to prevent accidental demolition of the wrong buildings, something city activist Nancy Piwowar said has happened in the past.
The site could eventually become an attractive and welcome augmentation to the commuter experience at the main station.

Keyboard: FAIL

Goblins invaded my computer system in the early a.m. First I found out the keyboard wasn't working, then the mouse wouldn't work. Some crawling around behind the computer desk allowed me to fix the mouse, but the keyboard could not be coaxed into life.

My computer desk has an unfortunate feature, a panel behind the tower cubby that turns one into a contortionist to deal with the plugs or whatever those things are called. I have been dawdling over plans to create a better set-up, but not even daughter Audrey's excellent example of a laptop and a "paperless office" have spurred my ambitions to the point of execution.

In my fevered dreams after being unable to blog, somebody came and fixed things one-two-three, but in real life it won't be so easy. So if the blog is dark over the weekend, now you know why.

On Friday, I checked with the Tax Assessor's office and unless the state buys the building at 110 East Fifth Street, it will not be exempt. As I understand it, the Division of Developmental Disabilities will lease from Paramount Assets. A better question about state offices would be how much rent does the exempt Union County Improvement Authority collect from governmental tenants in its so-far unnamed building at Park Madison? Where does the rent roll go? Can an authority make a profit? In the back of Book II of all properties, there is an exempt list, but governmental offices are lumped in with "other," as opposed to school, religious or public utility properties.

Paramount bought the East Fifth Srtreet property from Kings Temple Ministries in 2006 for $390,000, which had previously purchased it for $250,000. It was an abandoned car dealership and its assessed valuation is only $50,000. Once it is occupied, the value of the renovations will kick in.

My time on this library computer is running out fast, so I will say goodbye for now. Publication of comments may take a while, so have patience.


Friday, November 20, 2009

BOE Vacancy Announced

City residents who want to serve on the school board may apply for a vacancy by completing a petition and submitting a one-page letter explaining why they wish to serve. The petition form is online here or may be picked up at the Board of Education office, 1200 Myrtle Avenue.

The paperwork must be submitted to BOE Business Administrator Gary Ottmann at the Myrtle Avenue office by Dec. 4. Prospective candidates must be available for interviews on the evening of Tuesday, Dec. 8.

The vacancy is due to the election of school board president Bridget Rivers to the Fourth Ward City Council seat. Rivers must relinquish her school board seat in order to serve on the council.

The person selected to fill the vacancy will serve until the April 2010 election, when the unexpired one-year balance of Rivers' term will be filled. Three regular three-year terms will also be up for election in April. The incumbents whose terms are expiring in April 2010 are Wilma Campbell, Christian Estevez and Martin Cox.

--Bernice Paglia

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Refurbished Building Will House State Agency

Plaintalker learned Thursday that the building at 110 East Fifth Street will be solely devoted to offices of the state Division of Developmental Disabilities.

Early on, the former car dealership was expected to have retail and office uses.

Now it seems the main benefit for the Park & Seventh business district will be the influx of state employees in need of lunch, floral or hardware services, bakery treats and maybe other shopping and service opportunities.

According to state web information, the new Plainfield office will replace a West Orange office dedicated to intake services only for Union and Somerset counties.

Plaintalker welcomes comments on this topic.

--Bernice Paglia

Update on PILOTs

Fear not, dear readers!

Yes, there was a page in the budget document that added up to a paltry amount of Payments in Lieu of Taxes, but the there was another page that had all nine PILOTs and added up to $1,148,182.72 in revenues.

So, sorry for the false alarm.

More to follow on the 2010 budget.


PILOT Revenues Way Down?

At Monday's City Council meeting, a copy of the budget document that is sent to the state was available in a blue binder. Recalling last year's big $1.7 million error in anticipated revenues from PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) plans, I took a look at that page first.

The list looked kind of short and tonight I comnpared it to that of last year. Indeed, nine PILOTs were on the books last year and there were only five on the new document. In addition, there was no comparison to past years' anticipated and realized amounts of revenue.

I was prepared to obtain and pay for a copy of the document Tuesday, but because the State Fiscal Year 2010 budget was not introduced Monday, it was perhaps not official, so I figured I had to wait until after a special meeting this coming Monday at which it is expected to be introduced.

Anyway, the figures I copied down for anticipated PILOT revenue in SFY 2010 only added up to $187,445.56. Only Netherwood Gardens, Liberty Village, Covenant House, Horizon at Plainfield and Park Madison were on the list. On the document for last year, Presbyterian Homes, Cedarbrook Apartments, Leland Gardens and Allen Young Apartments were also listed. After correcting the $1.66 million error on Allen Young Apartments, the amount of revenue anticipated for SFY 2009 was $1,346,019.61, which was what the city actually realized in 2008 for PILOTs.

That means PILOT revenues anticipated for SFY 2010 are down by $1,158,574.05.

My homework will now be to find out why the four entities were omitted and why projected revenues are so far down. For example, in 2008, the city received $95,337.06 from Liberty Village in 2008, but for SFY 2010, only $949.55 is projected.

I hope the new budget committee will receive the official budget document, which includes both anticipated revenues and appropriations, as well as the large budget binder that includes department and division requests, but not projected revenues. I'm told the official budget for the state Division of Local Government Services runs to 66 pages, but as we found out last year, it deserves scrutiny. Officials downplayed the $1.7 discrepancy last year as a "typo" and not a real loss, but the error had to be corrected by shifting funds around.

Meanwhile, as other bloggers have pointed out, the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee is taking suggestions on how to save money. Click here to access the web site.

--Bernice Paglia

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

El Censo del 2010

Everyone agrees that reaching the the crucial 50,000 count in the 2010 Census hinges on getting the city's burgeoning Latino population to participate. The question is how to engage that group and make those residents understand the many benefits that will come from an accurate count.

As others have already reported, suggested strategies offered at Monday's City Council meeting may not achieve the desired results. Putting a public service announcement on the city's web site, making outreach to English-speaking churches and talking up the Census at public events like the annual tree-lighting at City Hall may miss the mark.

In public comment, school board member Wilma Campbell suggested using schools as a link to Spanish-speaking households. Many children already are bilingual and help their parents access everyday systems such as banks and various offices. Material on the 2010 census is readily available in Spanish, but hearing about it from one's child could reinforce the importance of participating, if only for the sake of the next generation.

Census officials know that Plainfield is a tough nut to crack when it comes to gathering data. Partnership Specialist Kevin Derricotte showed the governing body a color-keyed map of Union County that indicated the city had less than 50 percent participation in 2000, meaning people were getting a reduced amount of governmental funding that is tied to the count.

City Administrator Marc Dashield claimed Monday the city has been involved in a partnership with the Census Bureau since June, but members of the council appeared to be skeptical of how strongly the city and the agency are reaching out to the Latino community. Councilwoman Annie McWilliams said she is a member of Shiloh Baptist Church, one of the named partners, but she said, "Plainfield has 100 churches."

Derricotte said there will be a "road tour" on Jan.9, with a Census vehicle at City Hall and coverage "online in real time" on the local Channel 96.

In 2000, the count was 47,829, he said.

Since then there has been an even greater influx of Spanish-speaking people than in the late 1980s, when Central and South American refugees fled their homelands for safety reasons. Newer immigrants, especially from Mexico, have come here for work, many being men who left their families behind. They can be seen in billiard halls, public laundries, places that send money and goods to homelands and in bars and restaurants that cater to the Latino population.

Derricotte said whether they are documented or not, "Everyone needs to be counted."

Census data beyond the actual count is held confidential for 70 years, under penalty of law. Breaching that confidentiality results in five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Only the numbers will be made public, Derricotte said.

Currently the effort is in the "awareness" stage, he said. Next comes the "motivational" stage. The Census Bureau is also hiring Latinos to help canvass the city, he said.

The presentation Monday did not exactly fulfill the council's direction to the administration to bring forward local individuals who are involved in the 2010 Census. Normally, presentations are made at agenda-fixing sessions, not regular meetings, although the presence of a large crowd Monday may have been an unexpected plus for raising awareness.

The actual count will start with a survey in March. Households that do not respond will find Census Bureau workers knocking on their door five times, Derricotte said. Results will then stand for the next decade and will be used for everything from political redistricting to allocating funds for housing and social services.

--Bernice Paglia

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Census Plans Revealed

Monday's City Council meeting included a presentation on preparations for the 2010 Census. Plaintalker's full report will follow later. Census Partnership Specialist Kevin Derricotte outlined actions taken since June and more to come to assure an accurate count. Plainfield fell short of a 50,000 count in 2000 that would have allowed direct access to federal funding and this time officials are determined to overcome obstacles that led to what they feel was an undercount.

More later.


Budget Introduction Delayed

Image: Cynthia Smith, president of the PMEA.

Questions over layoff decisions derailed the expected introduction of the SFY 2010 budget for the year that began July 1, 2009.

A large number of members of the Plainfield Municipal Employees Association came out for Monday's City Council meeting, hoping to be heard at a 6:30 p.m. executive session, but union president Cynthia Smith said the group was ejected because although 18 people received layoff notices, three were out of town and so did not respond.

Lacking a full complement, the union was denied a hearing, Smith said.

The crowd was only admitted once the meeting was opened, nearly an hour after the stated 8 p.m. starting time.

Officials announced the budget introduction would now take place at a special meeting at 8 p.m. Nov. 23, following a special 6:30 p.m. executive session that evening.

Speakers on the issue of budget reductions advocated furloughs, givebacks, concessions and attrition as ways to cut costs.

Smith said most of the PMEA members live in Plainfield and are taxpayers who would be doubly hit by layoffs, suffering both income loss and possible foreclosures on their homes.

While PMEA members are 80 to 85 percent Plainfield residents, she said, other bargaining units'
member residency is only 15 percent, she said.

"Stop the targeted cuts," Smith said.

Other speakers said proposed cuts to the Planning Division would severely impact city initiatives, such as the historic preservation movement and the efforts of the Shade Tree Commission.

Resident Frank D'Aversa said the city must try to negotiate with its unions.

"There has to be a stick and there has to be a carrot," he said.

In all, speakers held out hope that some sort of dialogue would emerge to reduce costs.

City Adminstrator Marc Dashield recently said all of the city's multiple bargaining units would be up for contract renewal at the end of 2009, but City Council President Rashid Burney reported on his blog that those talks did not result in any concessions.

With time marching on and the budget year elapsing, there will be fewer and fewer chances to cut costs.

The new Citizen Budget Advisory Committee will have less and less leeway to suggest cuts.

Stay tuned for future developments.

--Bernice Paglia

Monday, November 16, 2009

Monarch: Rent to Buy?

Last Friday's Home Guide section in the Courier News had a front-page article about The Monarch, the building at 400 East Front Street that has a senior center and veterans center on the ground floor and 63 two-bedroom condo units on three floors above.

The Monarch is now represented by ERA Reed Realty and owner Carl Reed is quoted as saying prospective buyers can explore "leasing to own" a unit or could set up a layaway plan to build up a down payment.

Condo prices begin at $199,000 and under FHA rules, qualified buyers need only put 3.5 percent down. In addition, first-time home buyers may seek an $8,000 tax credit and those "trading up or down for another home" can get a$6,500 tax credit, both measures approved by Congress and President Barack Obama to stimulate sales. Reed says monthly payments can be as low as $2,000 per month.

Open houses will be held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Nov. 21 and 1 to 4 p.m. on Nov. 22. The article was not online (at least I couldn't find it) but to reach Reed's agency, call (908) 769-0011.

The city is counting on tax revenue from this project, which is the only one completed out of more than a dozen development or redevelopment schemes floated over the last several years.

--Bernice Paglia

Council Meeting Tonight

The municipal budget for SFY 2010 is expected to be introduced at tonight's City Council meeting.

The meeting is at 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave. Due to questions last week about the disposition of Dudley House, the council plans to hold an executive session before tonight's meeting.

Dudley House is a city-owned residence on Putnam Avenue where men in recovery from substance abuse live. Program costs, including city staff, come largely from outside funding sources, but City Council members have sought to turn the entire program over to an an outside agency. Click here for Plaintalker's report on the discussion at the Nov. 9 agenda-fixing session. Council members have voiced dismay at delays in getting promised updates from the administration.

--Bernice Paglia

Pennies That Could Have Been Pinched

With a possible 9.6 percent tax increase looming, economy is on the minds of citizens.

This citizen thought the Nov. 11 tax lien sale notice looked different than usual and dredged out last year's notice for comparison. The 2008 notice ran only to just over three pages, while the 2009 one is more than six full pages.

The notice includes the block and lot, name of property owner, address, type of lien and amount owed for each item. Last year, the information was in fine print that permitted two sets of columns per page. This year, only one set was printed per page.

By law, the notice must be printed twice. Last year's cost, noted at the end of the notice, was $4,012.64 per publication date. This year, it's $7,124.60. So for the two insertions, the difference will be $6,223.92. That's about nine weeks of the mayor's $35,000 salary, if my math is correct.

Some of the same property owners' names seem to appear on these lists every year. I have heard for some it is a strategy to hold on to the money owed until the last minute, and then pay up. Obviously, that benefits the property owner and harms the city's cash flow. The city ultimately gets most of its cash, either from the property owner or whoever buys the lien. If the lien is sold, the property owner then owes the lienholder, with up to 18 percent interest on the debt. Unsold liens go to the city at 18 percent interest.

One property owner that I keep an eye on owed a total last year of $54,753.12 on properties, some by himself and some with a partner. For 2009, the amount owed on these 11 properties is $82,829.29, an increase of 51 percent. Too bad the city and PMUA can't get this money as it is billed, instead of having to wrest it out of the owners with a tax lien sale.

The tax lien sale will be held at 10 a.m. Dec. 2 in City Hall Library. Property owners can pay up at the tax collector's office before the sale to avoid having liens placed on their property.

--Bernice Paglia

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Some Interesting Sights

These colorful cakes at the Bread Basket Bakery on Park Avenue each have unique fruit and frosting decorations. A treat for the eyes and the palate!

East Second Street at Park Avenue is getting new signage. Those cracks might indicate a need for new resurfacing as well.

This new signage at E&A Bar and Restaurant Supply sums it up. Do you know someone who covets a really big stockpot?

This chef invites you in to make your culinary dreams come true.

Moving On with Jerry

"I would like to reiterate how happy and proud I am of everyone in Plainfield who supported me."

That's how Assemblyman Jerry Green started a Nov. 5 blog post on Jerry Green's Page, only to say in the next paragraph, "I believe the strategy of the Republican Party was to make the suburban communities feel that I care only about Plainfield. "

This page has three links, one to his "virtual district office," one to his legislative page and one to Plainfield's official site. Never mind the 10 other municipalities in the 22nd District.

It kind of makes one wonder whether it is those nefarious Republicans or the Assemblyman himself who creates the feeling that he favors one part of his constituency over the rest of it.

The first sentence also brings up the question of whether he intends to represent everybody living in the district, even if they did not support him or failed to make their way to the polls. Certainly this Plainfielder has felt that his personal attacks on me, assigning motives and labeling me a Republican even though I am a registered Democrat, leave me without representation.

Green, 70, now has two more years to serve the people of the 22nd District and presumably four more years to mentor his protege, Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs. His chairmanship of the Plainfield Democratic Party is also secured through June 2011. He has the power in the district and the city to set a new direction. It remains for him to spell out what he means when he says, "Let's move on."

--Bernice Paglia

Cheers to Frontiers

The Frontiers event Saturday at The Pillars was very pleasant. One of the favorite wines up for tasting was Sheba Tej, an Ethiopian honey wine with a fascinating history dating back to antiquity.

A search online turned up an article from Tadias magazine.

This wine would make a nice addition to any holiday event where drinks will be served.

Thanks to the Frontiers yokefellows for a lovely event for a good cause.


Friday, November 13, 2009

Rivers Stepping Down from BOE

According to the Plainfield school district's web site, Bridget Rivers will step down Tuesday (Nov. 17, 2009) as president of the Board of Education and will leave the board Dec. 16.

Rivers won the June primary for the Fourth Ward City Council seat and was unopposed in the Nov. 3 general election. She will take office Jan. 1, 2010.

As previously reported by Plaintalker, the board will have to choose a new president and also appoint someone to fill the vacancy until the April 2010 school board election.


Frontiers Wine Tasting Saturday

The Frontiers International Plainfield Area Club will hold a wine tasting event from 3 to 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 14 at The Pillars, 922 Central Ave.

Hors d'oeuvres will be served. Your $20 donation will benefit the club's scholarship fund.

Plaintalker does not normally do event postings, but this service club is exceptional in its dedication to Plainfield students. The club holds the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast on the MLK holiday and always has a compelling speaker. Awards and recognitions are part of the event.

Click here to read Plaintalker's account of the 2009 event and make sure to attend in January 2010.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

PPS International Food Event

Historic Preservation Commission Seeks Web Presence

On Monday, city preservation consultant Gail Hunton informed the City Council that updated design guidelines for the city's many historic districts are now complete. But the improvement led to discussion of why the Historic Preservation Commission's comprehensive informational web page was removed from the city's web site.

Speakers alluded to a funding issue, but it appeared there was also a communication problem with the administration.

Historic Preservation Commission Chairperson Sandy Gurshman said the commission was "not waiting any longer" for a resolution on the city side, but would put up its own web site and hope that at least there would be a link to it on the city's web site.

The former HPC site was full of information, including maps of historic districts, design guidelines and much more. Given that the city's rich architectural legacy is well-known throughout the historic preservation community nationwide, it is only fitting that this information should be fully shared.

--Bernice Paglia

Council Wants Census Answers

At Monday's City Council meeting, members of the governing body made it clear that they want all stops pulled out to get an accurate 2010 Census count.

Officials have long suspected that the city's residents have been undercounted, especially the Latino population who may have come from homelands where talking to authorities is something to avoid. But if Plainfield can prove its population exceeds 50,000, it would no longer have to go through Union County, but could directly apply for and receive important federal funding. As it is, a Citizens Advisory Committee here reviews applications for Community Development Block Grant funding for housing, social services and other needs. The committee then forwards its rankings to Union County for further review before the county makes the final cut.

On Monday, City Council President Rashid Burney said he asked City Administrator Marc Dashield a month ago for an update. Dashield said Monday the city will have Census Bureau people here, but Burney said there were a lot of people here in the summer.

"That's the Census Bureau," Dashield said.

Burney prodded further, saying key employees, non-profits, the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority and others must be involved. He applauded the "warm and fuzzy" thought that the effort is going on, but said, "If we don't do it right, the numbers will go down this year," because the city has people who are not comfortable talking to authorities.

"We really need to know that it's working," Burney said.

Councilman Adrian Mapp agreed that the city needs to have a plan of its own.

"What is the administration's plan to engage the community to increase our numbers?" he asked.

Burney noted that Perth Amboy had begun its effort in June, and Councilwoman Linda Carter said outreach is needed.

Councilwoman Annie McWilliams questioned who is ultimately responsible for the local count and Dashield said it is the mayor's office.

McWilliams said the administration must have the city's 2010 Census point person at the next council meeting.

The Census Bureau is apparently well aware of the need for sensitive approaches to particular population groups to ensure their willing participation in the count. Click here to see a "toolkit" on Latino participation.

--Bernice Paglia

Veterans Day 2009

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Just Bring Money

Seen in a downtown Plainfield storefront.


Condolences to Dr. Yood

One aspect of Dr. Yood's blog has been a glimpse at the rich experiences he and Helen enjoyed over the years. Dr. Yood's love and devotion were apparent in every mention of his wife, up to the final sad news of her passing. My sincerest condolences to Dr. Yood and his family. May your happy memories sustain you in your loss.


New Life for Cable Board

The Plainfield Cable Television Advisory Board has a new chairman, three prospective new members, a web site and a mission to improve programming.

Chairman Lamar David Mackson made a presentation to the City Council Monday on goals and recent achievements of the board, which had been languishing in recent years for lack of members. Former chairman Peter Briggs had to step down last summer after a review of rules revealed he was ineligible to serve because he is the mayor's designee and the chairman must be a Class IV citizen member. Among his remarks, Mackson noted three other citizens - Kieran N. Anderson, Lesli Price Hall and Michael C. Allen - are seeking mayoral nomination and council approval to serve. Other members include Plainfield Public Library Director Joe Da Rold, Councilwomen Annie McWilliams and Linda Carter and Board of Education member Patricia Barksdale.

McWilliams and Carter have consistently pushed for revitalization of the board, which is responsible for oversight of local Channel 96 (formerly Channel 74) and interaction with cable providers. In a franchise agreement with Comcast of the Plainfields, the city received two local channels, one for municipal programming and one for education, but the latter has yet to be set up.

On Monday, Mackson named three goals:

- To encourage community participation by providing a public forum for dialogue.
- To provide training and internship programs in an effort to engage our residents.
- To provide quality programming and services to our residents and neighbors.

Among achievements, Mackson named his appointment and identification of the three proposed new members, drafting of policies and procedures, a preliminary agreement between the advisory board and the Plainfield Board of Education for an internship program, establishment of contact with Verizon and a schedule for rollout of PEG (Public Educational Government) access. In addition, a web site is now up at

Mackson asked the governing body for reviews of current and past operating budgets for PCTV 96, an inquiry into operating procedures, setup of a franchise fee share agreement, some possible funding support from the city, confirmation of the three new members and more synergy between the advisory board and the city's Media/Station Operations unit.

Residents and council members have voiced many complaints about the local channel and the administration's communications in general, especially the quality of the official city web site. A public information official who managed the media unit left in March and the administration hopes to place the unit under a new technology manager. The title was recently approved by the City Council, but no one has yet been named to the post.

Mackson also offered a timeline for improvements. It is posted on the board's web site (link above).

The board's next meeting is at 7 p.m. Nov. 19 in the conference room at City Hall, 515 Watchung Ave.

--Bernice Paglia

Dudley House Operator Sought

An agency that had been poised to take over operations Jan. 1 at Dudley House has withdrawn for financial reasons and city officials are considering at least three other options.

The residential program for men recovering from substance abuse shut down in May 2008, after failing to meet new state licensing rules. The 15-bed Putnam Avenue house has since been refurbished and made handicapped-accessible, but has not yet received licensure.

City Administrator Marc Dashield said Monday the administration is weighing proposals from three entities, one for a "sober house," one from Sunrise House and a third from a non-profit agency in East Orange. The news came in an update to the City Council, which has requested a turnover from city operation of the program.

Councilwoman Annie McWilliams questioned the change, asking about a contract the council had approved with the Plainfield-based Organization for Recovery. Dashield said the contract had not been executed. The council had expected a resolution by Jan. 1, but Dashield said it might take longer under the new circumstances.

Dashield called Sunrise House a "strong competitor" to take over, as it is licensed and the city has not yet obtained licensure from the state for Dudley House. In answer to Councilman Cory Storch, Dashield said Union County officials are helping the city decide which course to take.

As with several other recent issues, Dashield drew criticism for not letting the council know earlier what was going on. The council had asked for an update by October.

"It's very disrespectful that we have to ask this again," McWilliams said.

The governing body will hold an executive session before its regular meeting on Nov. 16 to discuss the matter. The meeting is 8 p.m. Nov. 16 in Municipal Court.

--Bernice Paglia

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Mayor Holds First Visit in New Senior Center

Image: Senior Center member "Miss Hattie" Allen sings an inspirational song.

Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs deferred her November visit to the Senior Center from the Nov. 3 Election Day to this Tuesday. On Nov. 3, Robinson-Briggs won re-election for another four-year term.

Entering the meeting at the new Senior Center Tuesday, Robinson-Briggs exclaimed, "Yayy!" as is her custom.

Here is Senior Center member Gloria Spence singing a revised gospel song. Spence has modified lyrics to document the long passage to having a new senior center.

The mayor called for a moment of silence for those who have passed, including the father of athlete Jayson Williams, who once promised to build a senior center here.
The former leased space at 305 East Front Street has been vacated. The new opening at 400 East Front Street fulfills a promise from 2007 for a brand new city-owned senior center. The status of sales of the 63 condos on the top three floors is not known.
One glitch that became apparent in the transition is related to parking. The developer must amend a parking plan that was accepted conditionally two years ago and must appear before the Planning Board with a revised plan, according to officials. Meanwhile, seniors must park behind 305 East Front Street and make their way on foot or by senior bus to the new facility.
The original approval allowed for only 1.5 parking spaces for each 2-bedroom apartment, anticipating shifting needs between condo owners and other users of the parking spaces.
Tomorrow (Wednesday) there will be a Veterans' Day celebration at the new site, starting with a 10:30 a.m. parade from Roosevelt Avenue and East Front Street to the new center. Attendees are advised to be on time for the 11 a.m. ceremonies and should park behind the old senior center at 305 East Front Street and walk to 400 East Front Street.
--Bernice Paglia

Monday, November 09, 2009

City Faces Hard Budget Choices

Layoffs and unfilled vacancies are only two of the strategies Plainfield must employ in the new budget year while still keeping up vital services, City Administrator Marc Dashield told the City Council Monday.

The council will be asked to vote Nov. 16 on introduction of the State Fiscal Year 2010 budget year, after which the governing body can have its say on the final budget. Factors impacting their decisions will be the national recession, decreased revenues, increased pension costs and the slim possibility of receiving extraordinary state aid to offset a tax increase.

As it is, the owner of an average home valued at $113,000 is looking at a projected tax increase of $400 just for municipal taxes. But in a pitch to the state for more than $3 million in extraordinary state aid, the administration said county and school taxes are also expected to increase for a combined tax increase of perhaps $618 on the average home.

Last year, the city received no extraordinary state aid and lessened the tax impact only by taking a "pension holiday" to defer costs which now must be paid in full, plus an increase.

In the face of hardship, Dashield said the city's three main priorities in the SFY 2010 budget are public safety, continued investment in road improvements and investments in information technology.

Naming crime reduction as the number one priority of the administration, Dashield said public safety costs take up 36 percent of the projected budget. Insurance and pension costs are second at 28 percent, followed by Public Works at 10 percent.

The presentation caught both City Council President Rashid Burney and new Administration, Finance, Health & Social Services Director Bibi Taylor unaware. Council members also raised questions and objections to the administration's submission of the request for extraordinary aid before budget introduction. Dashield explained the discrepancy as an accommodation made by the state Division of Local Government Services to allow the city to meet the deadline for applications.

"What concerns me is the lack of openness with the governing body," Councilman Adrian Mapp said. "We as the governing body deserve more respect."

Dashield said a call had been made to Burney as council president, but Burney said he thought it was just an informational call and agreed that council members should have been informed of the circumstances before a vote.

The budget, which was whittled down from an initial projected 19 percent increase to a 9.6 increase, will be studied both by the council and a budget advisory committee for further refinement. Meanwhile, half the budget year starting July 1 has elapsed with temporary or emergency appropriations.

During the public portion of the meeting Monday, some city employees spoke out about being residents and taxpayers whose home ownership would be on the line if they were laid off. For 2010, layoffs "in the teens" are forecast unless relief comes from somewhere.

In other business, the council discussed the disposition of Dudley House, which may not be resolved until past the New Year. Plaintalker will report later on this topic.

Mapp inquired about two memos he said he never received, one regarding the chief finance officer and one on communications from the Union County Improvement Authority, which was designated in 2006 as the city's redevelopment entity. The state Department of Community Affairs has challenged the city's use of acting or interim CFOs and has demanded the naming of a temporary CFO as required by state law. The nature of the UCIA communication was not revealed at Monday's meeting.

New Cable Television Advisory Board Chairman Lamar Mackson updated the governing body on improvements in both the composition, mission, goals and more of the board. Council liaisons to the board commended Mackson for his efforts over the past two months. Plaintalker will also break out a separate post later.

Other speakers Monday had issues about recreation and sports programs, with some making personal challenges to council members about their commitment or participation in community athletics and voluntarism.

Speed humps on Kensington Avenue raised the question of why other speed-prone streets could not get the same traffic-calming devices. But some said the safety factor for possible damage to police and fire vehicles had to be considered.

All in all, this meeting gave rise to many issues that deserve amplification. In coming days, Plaintalker hopes to oblige.

--Bernice Paglia

Budget Flash

I just noticed that the agenda scanned in by City Council President Rashid Burney does not match the one on the City of Plainfield web site, which is longer and contains "Introduction of the SFY 2010 Municipal Operating Budget Coupled with Resolution Exceeding the State Deadline for Introduction of the SFY 2010 Budget."



Veterans' Day, Council Agenda on City Web Site

Information on Wednesday's Veterans' Day program is now up on the city web site. The information e-mailed to me initially had no name attached, only a logon that I did not recognize at first glance, and I was not sure it was official.

On his CLIPS blog, Dan took it upon himself to embellish my blog post by saying the move was the first in 83 years, a detail I was unaware of, and that it would be inside the Veterans Center, something else I did not state because the developer's agreement says the Veterans' Center will be turned over to the city only after all the residential condominium units are sold. I wanted to check further on the details.

The agenda for tonight's City Council meeting is on the city web site, but City Council President Rashid Burney also posted the resolutions and ordinances on his web site. One item is a layoff plan with no details made public. This needs to be explained at the agenda-fixing session.

The council is expected to give approval Nov. 17 retroactively for a street closing Wednesday. The flier I received says there will be a "mini-parade" on East Front Street starting at Roosevelt Avenue and proceeding to the Veterans Center at 400 East Front Street. Free music, giveaways and refreshments are also promised, along with performances by the Plainfield High School ROTC and marching band, along with a gun salute tribute, special presentations and prayers.

Tonight's meeting is 7:30 p.m. in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave. The regular meeting is 8 p.m. Nov. 17 in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

--Bernice Paglia

Sunday, November 08, 2009

2009 Photo Contest Exhibit Opens

Bloggers were well represented at the Plainfield Public Library's reception and awards presentation Saturday. Jackie, Dan and I were among a large group of photographers present, including Evergreen School students who had a special exhibit. I did not take notes (trying to enjoy myself) so can't give a nuts-and-bolts report. The exhibit will be up all month, so go take a look.

Library Director Joe Da Rold announced the theme for next year, which is "East Side, West Side, All Around the Town." At home I got out my copy of "The East Enders" by A.J. Wood for ideas. I think the Maddalonese Society building has changed hands and history is not standing still either in the East End or West End, so now's the time to get started. Maybe there is a fig tree getting bundled up for the winter in the East End and is this the year for the West End Reunion?

All these photos become part of the library's permanent collection and will be digitized for online viewing. Joe has a background in museum work and has done a fine job of expanding the library's cultural reach. A recent exhibit, "Plainfield: Lost But Not Forgotten," will be made into a book, Joe announced. Check out the library's very fine web site for more information and be sure to sign up for the newsletter.


Harrelson Film in Theaters Next Week

"The Messenger," a film partly shot right here on Block 832, is finally up for release to theaters next week.

Click here for the schedule and more. And click here for two Plaintalker posts on the filming.


Saturday, November 07, 2009

Mousie Gets a Cat Bed

Veterans' Day Program

I'm told there will be a Veterans' Day observance at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11 at the Veterans' Center, 400 East Front Street.

According to a flier sent to me, the program will include a "mini-parade" at 10:30 a.m. starting at Roosevelt Avenue and East Front Street. There will also be special performances by the Plainfield High School R.O.T.C. and marching band, a gun salute tribute, special presentations and prayer, free music and giveaways. Refreshments will be served.

Those who attend are asked to park behind the Senior Center at 305 East Front Street or on Westervelt or Sandford avenues.

In the past, observances have taken place at the War Memorial on Watchung Avenue. There is no notice of this program on the city web site. I will update if more information becomes available.

--Bernice Paglia

Friday, November 06, 2009

Recap of West Seattle Shopping

My extremely fast Seattle weekend visit still yielded lots of interesting experiences, but the disasters on returning home have prevented me from expounding on them until now.
Not only does West Seattle have the lovely Westwood Village mall with major chains, it also has The Junction with a year-round Farmers' Market and lots of interesting shops and food places.
The Junction is the West Seattle downtown and has many fascinating aspects. I forgot to bring my camera and so could not document everything.
Back at home, I contrasted two pairs of fingerless gloves that I bought. One was a very nice purple pair from Edie's for $32 and another was a $1.50 pair of sparkly aqua fingerless gloves from Daiso, the ultimate dollar store in the Northwest.
We also visited the Frye Museum for the exhibit entitled "The Old, Weird America" and got some souvenirs from the gift shop.
As much as I felt trepidation about going on this trip, I must say it was very expansive in terms of my worldview and worth all the trouble.

Lights, Action ...

"Let there be light!" my neighbor proclaimed as she called to say a Signal Bureau team was in Lot 7, fixing the lamps that have been out for months.

We began guessing why action was being taken now, after so many months of darkness. She thought it was because I had pointed out the non-working lamps when I blogged about the weedy sidewalk to Park Avenue from Lot 7. I had seen two state government cars on Cleveland Avenue today and guessed that officials were checking up on Lot 7 per a plan announced many months ago for employees of a new state office at 110 East Fifth Street to park in Lot 7.

Tonight it dawned on me that the lights were fixed just in time for the opening night of a theater production of "Steel Magnolias" at First Unitarian Society of Plainfield, where the Act IV group is based. Maybe church officials sought the change. This theater group is well-known and attracts out-of-town patrons who might otherwise be put off by a pitch-dark parking lot.

Whatever the reason, I'm sure the one overnight permit holder appreciates it. She leaves for her work at JFK Medical Center in the wee hours and the improved lighting must give her a sense of greater personal safety.

So thanks to the Signal Bureau for whatever the reason you took action today.

I must say I am looking forward to see the opening of the Cleveland Avenue/East Fifth Street building, which will include retail outlets as well as offices. It is in sort of a byway, between Park and Watchung, but also a logical destination for commuters from the main train station, City Hall employees and the many tenants of Connolly buildings on Block 832 and environs. I can't wait to see what the retail businesses will be. It is one of the first major overhauls by Paramount Assets, which has acquired nearly all the downtown commercial property including the former Pittis Estate.

The only downside is the loss of an Art Deco historic facade featuring a Ford logo that is now buried under some kind of modern building material.

This building is right across from E&A Bar & Restaurant Supply, famous in its own right, but which still may benefit from extra traffic at the refurbished building.

--Bernice Paglia

Seen Around the City

This window on Park Avenue has been broken since early August. Somebody placed a board behind the broken glass, but here we can see that a person reached through the broken glass to post a flier on the board. Shouldn't this window be secured from the outside instead of the inside? It is in the old Courier News building.

PNC Bank will be closed on Wednesday, Nov. 11 for Veterans' Day. The sign brings to mind the issue of when the day should be observed. Correction: it is Wednesday. Monday is the federal holiday, but historically it is the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month when we should pause to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. No word yet on Plainfield's plans for a memorial service.

I usually try to avoid the crowd when school lets out, but made a tactical error a couple of days ago and ventured out only to find it was a half-day. I was somewhat surprised to see the Mobile Command Center in the Twin City lot with lights flashing. An officer told me it was there because of the half-day dismissal. Later, I stopped in the pizzeria, which was packed with students, and saw three officers standing by. I didn't know what to think. Was this a positive or negative thing or just the way life is around here? Any thoughts?

Back at the old homestead, a crew was digging up the driveway to work on the leak that started last Friday. Not having found a shut-off valve, the water company was putting in a new one. On Wednesday, the leak was finally fixed. I took off for Westfield while the water was turned off. Smith & Hawken is in its final days, a sad sight. But I came home with lots of treats, a happy thing when cooking is problematic.

The farm stand at Watchung and East Sixth is in its waning days for the season. Stop by on Mondays or Wednesdays for a few more weeks.
Enjoy these fall days! And stop by the Plainfield Public Library to see the "Four Seasons in Plainfield" exhibit. At least three local bloggers submitted photos. The reception and awards presentation is from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday.
--Bernice Paglia

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Council Year Winding Up

There are only five more City Council meetings on the 2009 calendar, the next one being 7:30 p.m. Monday in City Hall Library.

Perhaps we will find out how the administration has responded to the state Division of Local Government Services regarding the naming of a temporary Chief Finance Officer. As previously reported, the city has had no permanent CFO for two years. A city employee's name has been improperly appearing as a co-signer on municipal checks. Most recently, the administration tried to pass off the new director of Administration, Finance, Health & Social Services as a CFO, but she is not certified.

In an Oct. 8 letter to the mayor and council, LGS Director Susan Jacobucci gave the city three weeks to explain "the status of the appointment of a certified CFO for the City of Plainfield." But council members said they never saw the letter. That's where the story left off before election time, but at a town meeting on Oct. 29, Councilman Adrian Mapp gave more information on the process of naming a temporary CFO. A person can be so named for one year while attaining certification and a second one-year nomination may be made. If by then the individual has not yet achieved certification, he or she would have to step down.

After Monday's agenda-fixing session, the regular meeting for November is 8 p.m. Nov. 16 in Municipal Court. The December agenda-fixing session will be 7:30 p.m. Dec. 7 at Cook School. The regular meeting follows at 8 p.m. on Dec. 14 in Municipal Court.

On Dec. 21, an agenda-fixing session will take place at 7:30 p.m. in City Hall Library for the Jan. 1 annual reorganization.

Some councilwatchers have their hopes up that the City Council will revert to the former schedule of two agenda-fixing sessions and two regular meetings per month in 2010. If such a calendar received approval in the next two months, it could kick in at the start of 2010. The last two major changes to the calendar took place in the month of April, causing an official annual calendar from January to be replaced in a somewhat confusing transition. Let your representatives know whether you favor changing back to the traditional schedule.

This is also the season to apply for various boards and commissions. A list of vacancies has been compiled, but not posted as required by the Civic Responsibility Act of 2005. Applications can be downloaded from the city web site and must be completed and returned to the mayor's office. It is advisable to keep a copy and send another one to the City Clerk's office.

The mayor nominates prospective board and commission members for City Council approval. Because most boards and commissions reorganize in January, it is optimal to have new members aboard by then.

The mayor will also have to name her cabinet on Jan. 1. That roster will include a city administrator, three department heads, the corporation counsel and any other top administrative titles such as police director or deputy city administrator. A new manager of Information Technology title was approved recently, but it is unclear whether that is a cabinet title.

Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs won a second term and will be sworn in at the reorganization, as will Fourth Ward Councilwoman Bridget Rivers.

--Bernice Paglia

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Comment on Passing of Emilia Stahura

The election has somewhat eclipsed several other items of varying importance that I intended to post on the blog.

One very important item is the passing of Emilia Stahura. I met her when I first began reporting on Plainfield in the early 1980s. She was the municipal clerk from 1977 to 1987 and as I see in her obituary, she had previously worked in City Hall from 1937 to 1950.

Emilia Stahura was one of the most dedicated public servants I ever met. She was quiet and detail-oriented and helpful at all times. I was writing for the long-defunct print weekly known as Plainfield Today (not to be confused with Dan Damon's online production of the same name). Having little background in journalism but a keen interest in municipal government, I was in and out of City Hall often and relied on her help to decipher council issues.

Mrs. Stahura gave her all to the city, once attending a City Council meeting even as pressing family matters might have called her away.

Some could rightly say the mold was broken when she retired as clerk. Certainly City Clerk Laddie Wyatt has her own style, but she has also always held Emilia in high regard for her example.

As Laddie will tell you, the municipal clerk is one of the most timeless offices in government and has its parallels in every form of government throughout history worldwide. For this most basic role in government through the ages, Emilia Stahura's memory stands as a measure to be matched.

--Bernice Paglia

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Incumbent Mayor Wins Second Term

As predicted by the Courier News, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs was re-elected for another four-year term, defeating Republican challenger James Pivnichny by4,906 votes to his 2,103. Independent Deborah Dowe received 391 votes.

While correctly assessing the odds on her win in a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans more than 12 to 1, the editors did take note of a first term with "few successes" and some major flaws in governance. Local bloggers went further, posting long lists of unresolved issues from the past four years, including road upkeep, high turnover of administrators, stalled development and state chidings on the lack of a chief finance officer for two years.

Whether the mayor will take these concerns to heart remains to be seen. Her mentor, Assemblyman Jerry Green, also won re-election, though by a closer margin. The pair could take their wins as a mandate for business as usual.

However, Republican Chris Christie's defeat of incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine will mean new leadership in Trenton. In the midst of 44 recent arrests, including many Democratic politicians, the head of the state Department of Community Affairs stepped down. This department includes the Division of Local Government Services, which is only now pressuring the city to set things right fiscally. If Christie can find the right person to head up the DCA, perhaps oversight of local government will tighten up.

Robinson-Briggs will also have to contend with Councilman Adrian Mapp, whom she defeated in the June mayoral primary but who has three more years in his council term. Mapp and other members of the governing body have taken off the gloves over fiscal lapses and many other failings of the administration.

As for Pivnichny, he obviously has support beyond party lines and, if he wishes, could still be a voice for more capable government. The silver lining of his loss may be that he will not have to clean up the messes made since 2006. The mayor must now take up that chore herself.

The other municipal winner Tuesday was Bridget Rivers, who won the Fourth Ward City Council seat. Rivers is the current president of the Board of Education. She will have to relinquish that seat Jan. 1, but could do so sooner. The board will then have to fill the vacancy and also pick a new president to serve until the April 2010 school board election.

--Bernice Paglia

Monday, November 02, 2009

The Marriage Wars

Today I received a flier from the National Organization for Marriage Inc. asking me to challenge Gov. Corzine and Assembly members Green and Stender for their support of gay marriage.

I don't know who these people are, but they are pretty organized, giving phone numbers for folks to call the legislators they oppose.

Meanwhile, my Plainfield church has been involved in a rally for marriage equality, along with many other entities.

But then when I sought a break from household distractions and put on a 1998 Kate Clinton CD, what should I hear but a "Mad Vows Disease" comedy routine on the issue.

I leave it up to the readers to decide what they think about this matter, but is it the main thing in the 2009 campaign? Some say yes and others think property taxes and corruption are more important.

Whatever your issues, please make your way to the polls and vote your conscience.


Leak-o-rama Day Four

The water that has been bubbling up from the driveway since Friday has many more outlets as authorities try to solve the problem. As of today, three water company crews have been unable to find out how to shut off the water, let alone fix the leak.

A very official-looking truck arrived Friday afternoon, but after poking and probing, the crew left without finding the shut-off valve.
Residents of our six-family building are therefore spared a day without water, but when the experts finally find the shut-off valve, we will have neither water nor heat.
Some of us have buckets of water at the ready to flush toilets and cases of water bottles to drink and use for cooking, etc. We are just waiting for some results.
It seems the water company has no information on where the water main might be. Could this be a result of the old E-Town water company being acquired by first a British, then a German firm?
New Jersey American Water is none of the first three appellations and good luck with the last.

ZZZZZ - Wake Me on Nov. 4

I, Mousie, saw this vest and decided the armhole was my special place of the moment for a nap.

Sleeping on the radiator - does my butt look big?

Hmm... Bernice dumped the contents of her messenger bag in this dishpan after the trip, but most are sorted out, so I may as well curl up.

Here I am in the kennel Bernice bought when she didn't know how wild I might be as an adopted feral cat. It makes a nice retreat, don't you think?
Cats can't vote, but I hope all you humans will hit the polls and make your best choices. My best choice is "flakes of real tuna." Wait, is that on the ballot or the menu?