Monday, April 12, 2010

Council Tables Dornoch Resolution

A resolution to add more than a quarter-million dollars to a $1 deal for a senior center was tabled Monday after both citizens and the governing body raised questions.

Developer Glen Fishman's company, Dornoch Plainfield LLC, received a large parcel of land on East Front Street for $1 in January 2007 in return for adding a senior center and veterans' center to a project dubbed "The Monarch," which was to have 63 two-bedroom condos on three upper floors. The senior center had a one-day temporary opening in May 2009 in advance of the June primary, where Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs was seeking a second term. It opened for good in November 2009, just after the mayor won re-election. However, according to Monday's resolution, the city took occupancy before attaining ownership.

The resolution Monday was to convey ownership to the city for $1, but also included common condo fees dating back to November and costs for fitting out the senior center space with rooms for various activities.

Objections began with public comment on the resolution by Dr. Harold Yood, resident Jim Pivnichny, a 2009 mayoral candidate who just filed Monday for a City Council seat representing the Second & Third Wards, and community activist Rasheed Abdul-Haqq, all seeking more details. City Council President Annie McWilliams asked City Administrator Bibi Taylor to explain. Taylor said she understood that modifications were needed to make the space more "user-friendly."

Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson said the plain "vanilla box" space led to a need for an "expansion of uses" and so a decision was made to " enhance the value of the asset."

But council members questioned who authorized the expenses.
"Who looked at the actual bill?" Councilman Cory Storch asked. "I would like some assurance that this was looked at carefully."

Storch called for tabling the resolution until the May meeting, which passed with only Councilman William Reid voting "no."

Before the resolution is brought back to the governing body, council members said they want many more details, included itemized bills and who approved and reviewed expenses.

"This is brand-new on my radar and everybody else's radar," McWilliams said.

She said she did not understand "why this is coming back before us," unexpected and unannounced. The item was added to the agenda on April 5 without explanation.

A further unresolved problem has to do with parking, Williamson said, adding the developer still needs to go to the Planning Board to resolve the issues.

As McWilliams expressed frustration at not knowing the facts and questioned whether the deal was related to the developer's pitch last year for a tax abatement, Williamson said, "It's hard to put your brain around the kind of plum the city got," and denied there was any quid pro quo related to the denied tax abatement.

The "plum" analogy set off reactions, including Mapp's remark that the plum the city expected was not what it got with the vanilla box.

"We thought it would be a juicy plum," he said.

The funding source for the renovations also came under fire, as it was described as a 2004 bond ordinance to build a senior center in the Tepper's basement, a notion that seniors had heartily rejected in favor of a brand-new center. Mapp said the funding could not be repurposed without amending the bond ordinance on two readings.
The next agenda-fixing session is May 3 and the regular meeting will take place on May 10.
--Bernice Paglia


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The child v parents, or if you prefer town v gown, relationship between the administration and the council would be amusingly dysfunctional were it not a always a distraction from the more serious issues that challenge Plainfield's livability.

Hey council, get over it! Let the administration do their job as best they can without the constant boy scout scolding.

Hey mayor, try asking permission rather than forgiveness once in a while. Maybe you'd get more cooperation in return.

9:40 AM  
Anonymous Jim Pivnichny said...

I don't consider obligating the taxpayers to pay over a quarter of a million dollars that was not proposed in a budget as a trivial matter. That the above commenter suggests the council attend to serious matters raised the question of how much unappropriated dollars can the mayor spend before it becomes serious. I have urged the council to let the mayor take care of this extraordinary debt from her own budget - even if that leaves no monies to pay her salary or that of her staff.

5:51 PM  
Anonymous Alan Goldstein said...

It will be interesting to see just what we got for our $250,000, and how and by whom the expenditures were authorized. But regardless of what was purchased, the fact remains that the Administration spent money that it was unauthorized to spend. Given that 2/3 of the year goes by without a budget, and several high-salary positions are budgeted for but not filled, one can only imagine that financial shenanigans in the City's daily operations may be rife.

Although much of this is speculation, there should be no doubt this specific spending without proper authorization is a serious matter the Council needs to address with an equally serious response. The next City Council meeting should not be allowed to close without a resolution censuring the Mayor for continued financial mismanagement.

6:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great suggestion, Jim: take away the mayor's allowance for being disobedient. Exactly which legislative maneuver will you use to modify the existing budget resolution? And what makes you so sure that it's the mayor's doing as opposed to all of the other possible players, or is that just a little too nuanced?

8:58 PM  
Anonymous Alan Goldstein said...

Anon 8:58- I think it is your comments that are a bit too nuanced. Corporation Council Williamson, when asked who was responsible for signing off on the spending, said it was the Mayor who authorized the expenditures. And if it were some other 'possible players', well, that would be equally damning.

4:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Again, as i just said on Dans blog. The seniors have been played as fools yet again. They should have been kept in the old location. It could have been renovated over time into a nice center. Probably even purchased as a condo from the owner. And why would we listen to the seniors who demanded a new center? Were they paying for it? Did they open their pockets to help? I doubt it. Again, the sense of entitlement. In this economy, you get what you get and like it. The Regan building was fine. The armory was even better. They would have a huge kitchen, large function space for meetings and dances. But no, they wanted new. Well they got it and at what expense? Small space, no parking and a never ending supply of bills to go with it. Again the fleecing of the ages! Shamefull!

10:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In addition to being appalled by the seniors rejecting the original space, I can't believe anyone listened to them. Perhaps they should pay a usage fee for the new Senior Citizen in order to help defray the costs.

11:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

11:47, I agree. They should pay a usage fee. Nothing in life is free. Let them buy a monthly ticket to get in. Can even be a minimal fee of $10.00 or so to help defray the cost of having to bus them in since there is no where to park at this building. But of course, they paid their taxes and are ENTITLED to it.

2:21 PM  

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