Thursday, March 04, 2010

Commentary on Committee Reports

The City Council heard reports from all four of its 2010 committees Monday, revealing a broad range of issues in less than half an hour.

The committees each have a chairman and two other council members, stopping at three in order to avoid having a quorum of the seven-member governing body. For 2010, the committees are Administration & Finance, chaired by Adrian Mapp with Annie McWilliams and Cory Storch as members; Economic & Community Development, chaired by Storch with Rashid Burney and McWilliams as members; Public Safety, chaired by Bridget Rivers with Burney and William Reid as members; and City & Neighborhood Services, chaired by Linda Carter with Reid and Rivers as members.

As with the liaison assignments noted earlier, the committee system began with the late Councilman Ray Blanco's Rules of Order in 2006. Dormant after Blanco's untimely death in August 2006, the system was revived last year and launched again in January on a tighter schedule for meeting and reporting.

Normally a reporter would glean out good story ideas without attempting a point-by-point recount of the reports, but just so readers can get a feel for the scope of information presented, Plaintalker will try to cover what was presented.

Mapp gave a number of "bullet points," beginning with a reminder that the city agreed to many restrictions attached to acceptance of $250,000 in extraordinary state aid this year, including spending money on food. (The council had been receiving food at its agenda sessions, which begin at 6:30 in closed session and often go to midnight or beyond.) Now, he said, "We are not allowed to have any refreshments whatsoever."

Next, he suggested not applying for extraordinary aid in the coming fiscal year, if it means a budget delay. (This year, the budget was delayed into the third quarter of the fiscal year.)

Mapp said the council needs a "volunteer facilitator" for a planned retreat. (The retreat was proposed before the state Division of Local Government Services imposed a ban on spending money on such meetings.)

Among other items, Mapp said the city administrator will report on overtime expenses monthly(to keep better track of spending before budget passage) and the committee will look into a delay of PILOT -Payment in Lieu of Taxes - obligations of the Union County Improvement Authority for the downtown office building.

The committee will also look into formation of the Citizens' Budget Advisory Committee and the budget process for FY 2011, he said (according to my illegible notes).

On Economic & Community Development, Storch noted a large proposed project was not even in a redevelopment area. (I did not hear the name of the project, as I was multi-tasking by helping somebody mend a torn coat lining. Don't ask. Sewing is one of my compulsions.)

In addition, Storch said the North Avenue Historic District redevelopment agreement has lapsed, which he said creates an "opportunity for the city to renegotiate the agreement." He said the administration had agreed to provide the council with a timetable. The administration will also provide interlocal agreements with the Union County Improvement Authority. ( Here is an example where context is needed for those who did not follow every twist and turn of redevelopment since 2006. Unfortunately for me, I have a carton full of bulky folders on the proposals and can decipher an acronym such as UCIA when I hear it.)

Storch said there are significant fund balances in the UEZ ( Urban Enterprise Zone account, made up of sales tax from certified retailers in the zone which can be drawn down with approval of the Urban Enterprise Zone Authority for projects). Storch mentioned security cameras, long sought for the downtown shopping district. Proposals for UEZ funds must have "a very strong economic development focus," he said.

On economic development planning, Storch said the city does not have a plan that is "job-focused." He said the committee wants to work with the administration to develop one.

Speaking as chair of the City and Neighborhood Services committee, Carter said her group would be meeting later in the week. One issue is a second ambulance promised by Solaris Health Systems (after the August 2008 closing of Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center). Carter said there has been no update.

She also reminded the council and public that City Council Town Meetings will begin this month with the First Ward meeting at 8 p.m. March 18 at Emerson School and the Second Ward meeting at 8 p.m. at Cook School. The Third and Fourth Ward meetings will take place in April.

The committee will also discuss getting back on track with a road repair program, she said. Storch noted the city is only in Year 3 of a plan that began six years ago, and the first roads repaired are showing signs of deterioration. Mapp said there is an ordinance on the books that requires infra-red patching, and he wants it enforced. (A massive water main repair program by New Jersey American Water Company resulted in many road openings about two years ago and not all have been fixed.) Mapp also reiterated his opinion that the city should allow Route 28 to revert to the state. ( This refers to a portion of South Avenue where the roadway is failing. Route 28 enters Plainfield at the Dunellen border on West Front Street and continues to Plainfield Avenue, dipping down to Fifth Street and going east to where it turns into South Avenue to the Fanwood border.The city assumed responsibility for the road many years ago, but it is a state road in other municipalities.)

Rivers, reporting on Public Safety, noted new City Administrator Bibi Taylor will look at Station 3 (the fire station at West Third and Bergen streets) to see how it can be rebuilt.

As you can see, there was a high volume of information, although not all was immediately intelligible to the casual listener. But the same can be said for the governing body's review of resolutions and ordinances while being taped for the local access television channel. The usual dialogue goes, "Is everybody OK with A? B?" and so on.

The council reports will be written in the future, according to McWilliams, which may be a more palatable form than out-loud reports that are hard to follow.

Plaintalker welcomes comments on the City Council liaison and committee system. The council is also fostering several citizen committees. Please share your views.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

My comment is that it's next to impossible to absorb and understand, let alone retain, the product of the committees when presented in a prose format, therefore it's truly impossible to track, measure and account for progress toward goals. I don't think it's Plaintalker's job (though I wish it were - data would be up to date and accurate) to keep a list of who's engaged in what activity and how they're doing, but in the age of online communities surely someone should know of a moderately low maintenance way of keeping score.

Does anyone know of such a way? Let Bernice know and maybe she will be willing to act as a matchmaker between interested parties.

8:30 PM  

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