Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Commentary: A Wynn-Wynn Situation

Yet another hour of the governing body's time and energy was spent Monday on how to settle a conflict between a volunteer youth baseball league and the city's Recreation Division, which launched its own league with paid coaches this year. Both leagues need access to municipal ball fields, but the Queen City Baseball League has had lights turned off, bases under lock and key, its banner vanished and other signs that the Recreation Division accidentally or on purpose is making the season difficult for its 50 or 60 young players.

In talks and protests since last fall, parents and coaches have suggested that Recreation Superintendent Dave Wynn's style of management is part of the problem or maybe is the problem. There was supposed to have been a sitdown last fall with Wynn and the administration to get to the bottom of the issues, but on May 3, Queen City players and advocates packed City Hall Library and had the ears of the governing body for two hours.

The clash is taking up many hours out of the lives of City Administrator Bibi Taylor and Public Works & Urban Development Director David Brown II, as well as the seven council members and the mayor. Calls are being fielded at all hours, from what Taylor said Monday, and Public Works Superintendent John Louise is being dragged into it as well.

When Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs was first elected in 2006, she said publicly there was not enough for children to do in Plainfield. Wynn correctly pointed out the city's huge roster of athletic programs and events for children and before long, the mayor was one of Wynn's most staunch supporters. Even when council members later sought to cut back on public events as the economy worsened, Wynn dodged the fiscal bullet. But some events took on political overtones, such as the Music in the Plaza series that featured the mayor's re-election campaign image on all its promotional materials.

The situation escalated Monday with the council proposing passage of two ordinances aimed at defusing the problem by changing who would be responsible for field access.The mayor was absent, but Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson, the most highly paid city employee, read off a series of remarks from the mayor, including one in which she threatened legal action if the council passed the ordinances.

"I am very sorry to hear that," Council President Annie McWilliams said, but noted seven days had elapsed without the administration naming a requested "point person" to replace Wynn in the current dispute.

Both measures failed, with McWilliams, Adrian Mapp and Rashid Burney voting "yes" and Linda Carter, Bridget Rivers and William Reid voting "no." Cory Storch was absent.

Then there was the notion that a newly-minted Recreation Committee, advisory in nature, should be made into full-blown commission with broader powers. Taylor objected, saying that would produce another budget line item with no duties assigned.

Responding to the mayor's suggestion of possible legal action against the council, Mapp noted budget decisions are coming up and said the "next level" might be to remove salaries from the Recreation Division.

Despite the heated nature of the controversy, Taylor described it at one point like this: "When you start a new program and mesh it with the old, you will have hiccups."

Apparently in this case, you will also have an ever-expanding sphere of well-compensated officials trying to deal with what time the ballfield lights should go out and why bases are being stored in the ladies' bathroom.

It is hard to conceive of any other organization where a middle manager can be at the center of a months'-long controversy without suffering any consequences. Parents and coaches are upset, children are perplexed, government officials are being drawn in when they have plenty of other things to deal with in these still precarious times.

Two commenters at the end of the meeting summed up their feelings, which no doubt many Plainfielders share.

Dwayne Wilkins of the new Recreation Committee said of seeing the children at the May 3 meeting, "I struggle with that."

Their plight "should not have to go to the highest levels of government," he said.

Lamar Mackson, who grew up in the city in what he described as "simpler times," said he was "hurt and distraught by what we're doing here."

"When you look at the headlines, there is nothing but distress coming from Plainfield," he said.

Mackson said he wants to see things that put Plainfield in a better light.

He said of the controversy, "It's just unconscionable."

--Bernice Paglia


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is there a better example of the city administration's political success being built on jobs largess than the fact that the city sponsored league's coaches are paid? Isn't that the heart of the matter: jobs for the politically connected?

Who are the coaches, and who selected them? If they are high school and college kids making a small stipend for a few hours a week as part of a jobs program then that's OK, but if they are grown men (note that I'm really sure there are no women allowed in this club), that's just not right. The city has enough expenses without having to augment the earnings of adult kid coaches. If the city has money to burn let them throw some at the schools for some extra tutoring to see if we can get a few more into college.

1:58 PM  
Anonymous Ron said...

Reading about the city from afar is just heartbreaking.

2:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ron - Reading about the City from anywhere you mean

11:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Remove the cancer and his initials are DW. What does DW have over the mayor for her to turn a blind eye to what's going on. And Jerry Green, please, he can't say he didn't know any of this was going on.
The adults are carrying on worse than the children. No wonder there are so many rotten attitudes in Plainfield.

12:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In this period of financial stringency, this is the LAST thing that should be taking up taxpayer financed time.

The Department of Recreation is a "nice to have", not a "need to have" and in light of its poor management, a shame to have.

I would like to propose legislation to eliminate the department of recreation altogether - no staffing at all. The free market will step in to offer services - as AAU Basketball leagues, QCBL, Pop Warner Football, etc. Remove the municipal subsidy (which we can't afford) for all activities that are available elsewhere. Trust me - Parents WILL get their children where they want them to be, and pay for it at market rates.

If we must have these types of programs, they should be linked in with crime prevention - E.g, midnight basketball for teens and young adults is a successful program that comes to mind.

Given that we have at least $2Million tax levy from the defeated, yet mandated school budget, the Wynn proposition is a losing proposition.

Now - who on the municipal council has the fortitude to present the legislation? No one? Well - I encourage all concerned Plainfield citizens to visit the Center for Civic Responsibility to explore how to introduce legislation as a private citizen.

...No longer silent in the center....

9:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ya know... I have lost faith that anybody in Plainfield can do anything right. It's stupid and embarrassing. It's a huge waste of time energy and good will. Between the mayor's office, all of city hall in fact, the city council and the BOE / Gallon and cronies, it's a three ring circus with only sad sad clowns.

1:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why should Bibi, who has 3 jobs already, and Dave Brown who has his hands full with trying to get Plainfield as a destination town, spend one second on this issue. There is a person with a 6 figure salary who is supposed to be doing this job. Can't do the job, don't pile it on others who already are overburdened, get rid of the guy and get someone in there who can do the job!

3:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Council you should be very careful how you act and what you do. If the council is considering changing the lighting ordinance then residents are entitled to be notified. I am sure everyone is not going to find it acceptable to have lights shining over their homes past 10pm. You are concerned with lawsuits, you may find more than you anticipated in taking such action.

9:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

9:41p Anonymous --- just a note to you and the city taxpayers, The city has no lighting ordinance. This too, was something rec(DW) has made up. Trust me as a taxpayer too, I would not what to disdurb any of our residents. Rock Avenue baseball field is not in a residential area it is surrounded by businesses, ie., PSE&G, Plainfield's Clinic, Comcast and the pound.

1:47 PM  

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