Sunday, February 28, 2010

File Monday for BOE

Petitions for the April 20 school board election must be filed by 4 p.m. Monday(March 1).

Prospective candidates by now should have picked up informational packets on serving as a school board member, as well as the petitions, which must be returned to Schools Secretary/Business Administrator Gary Ottman at 1200 Myrtle Avenue by Monday's deadline.

Three three-year terms are up, as well as a one-year unexpired term. Incumbents in the three-year seats are Martin Cox, Christian Estevez and Wilma Campbell. The unexpired term arose after former Board President Bridget Rivers resigned in December, following her November election win as Fourth Ward City Council representative. The school board appointed Sandra Chambers to succeed Rivers, who was sworn in Jan. 1 as a councilwoman.

Those who file for the four seats will have about seven weeks to campaign for the April 20 school board election. The public will have a chance to hear their views at several forums, including the traditional League of Women Voters of Plainfield candidates' forum. The League will also seek contenders' answers to three questions on current issues and will publish a candidates' sheet for voters.

--Bernice Paglia

Seniors to Receive Hot Meals

The new senior center at 400 East Front Street will become a group meal site, starting Monday (March 1, 2010), Freeholder Director Daniel Sullivan announced in a news release.

Click here for the full text of his announcement.

Senior Center member Rasheed Abdul-Haqq led a long campaign to get hot meals at the new center while seniors were still occupying the old facility at 305 East Front Street. He gathered signatures on a petition on May 2007 to have the program start when the seniors were expected to occupy the new center by December 2007. However, occupancy did not occur until November 2009,

In February 2009, Union County Division on Aging Executive Director Fran Benson visited the center to explain the program and urged seniors to visit the nearby nutrition site at Richmond Towers, a senior housing facility. Click here for Plaintalker's report on the meeting. Among concerns were proper handling of the hot meals and getting some sense of participation levels. About 150 seniors attend the center daily.

Fifty box lunches have been provided at minimal cost to seniors in recent months, and now the new program will begin with 50 hot meals daily.

A longtime community activist, Abdul-Haqq also led a successful campaign to get deteriorating railroad bridges in the West End repaired. Another of his causes was removal of a controversial painting from behind the judge's chair in Municipal Court. The Albert Bierstadt painting, "Landing of Columbus at San Salvador," depicted indigenous people bowing down to Columbus and his crew, which Abdul-Haqq found offensive to people of color. After repairs to the court house, the painting was placed on a side wall and Bierstadt's "Autumn in the Sierras" now hangs behind the judge's seat.

--Bernice Paglia

Friday, February 26, 2010

Going Buggy

Not only are last summer's Stink Bugs still showing up in homes, the Leaf-Legged Bug is also around.

I found two in recent days, one in a window curtain right over my bed.

I now have a kit consisting of a plastic cup and a popsicle stick, the latter to pitch the bug into the cup for a "burial at sea" in the toilet bowl.

The Leaf-legged Bug is slimmer than the Stink Bug and has appendages on its rear legs that look like leaves.

Click here for more on the Leaf-Legged Bug.

Our tally for Stink Bugs is three this week. Anyone else having this problem?

--Bernice

Seen in the Nabe

You know it's winter when the Grace Church gargoyles are dribbling icicles.

The Man Who Cuts the Grass or a reasonable facsimile was out today with a snow blower, clearing the sidewalk in front of the church.


Later on, an interested observer of the winter scene was this big hawk, perched on a utility pole.

He is our resident pigeon patrol around Park& Seventh, but he sat a long while contemplating the traffic below.
--Bernice

'sNo Fun!

This juniper tree got weighed down by the last storm and is being punished more by the new one.

Take a broom to your shrubs if you can, to knock off the heavy, wet snow and avoid damage.

This post got knocked out earlier when AOL said "Goodbye" for unknown reasons. Anyway, I was commenting on the sunshine and snow showers and how I hoped the rays would prevail and melt some of the snow.

Take care, everybody, and don't shovel too much!

--Bernice

How the NJSP Does Things

If you want to know how the New Jersey State Police deal with trooper infractions, check out this report.

Note that it is from 2008. Investigations and outcomes do not always happen fast.

BTW, a state trooper found guilty of improper use of an office computer gets 20 days' suspension.

--Bernice

Turning Over Rocks: FAIL

I don't have a pointy stick, so all y'all who want me to repost what Dan posted from CMD, it's not happening.

When an investigation results in something like this, that's when the mainstream media can deal with it.

I don't think the mayor even said why she suspended Director Hellwig. And I repeat, the stuff is out there. It's just not going to be here.

--Bernice

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Side-stepping James Devine

James Devine sent me an e-mail about the Hellwig matter. Here is an excerpt:

"Copies of the Plainfield police report that is attached to this message were sent to several journalists seven days ago, without any story appearing since the njtoday entry -- although other outlets did report on Hellwig's return from his three-day suspension.
Plainfield Today's Dan Damon reposted the CMD link at http://ptoday.blogspot.com/
but Bernice Paglia njplaintalker neatly sidestepped the story and assured readers "I can guarantee you that journalists are doing their best to look into this situation" in a blog entry entitled 'Mainstream Cover-up?' "

Number One, the initial e-mail arrived on a day when my PC failed and before I had the laptop set up, so I missed it.

Number Two, I did try later to get an official response from a law enforcement entity and could not.

Number Three, Dan posted the story, so why should all others have to follow? It is online for all to see, so let Dan have the crown of laurels in the Gossip Olympics. Officials cannot or will not verify this report as required before publication in mainstream media and in this blog.

Call it side-stepping if you will. There are lots of things I side-step, including mud, doggy doo, dubious unnattributed "news" stories and half-baked snark from people who have their own explanations to make for their behavior.

--Bernice

Stormzilla

How big is this storm? Click here for a radar image (scroll down and click to enlarge).
At least people are having fun making up names for these February weather monsters.
What are your favorites?
I kind of like Stormorama.

--Bernice

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Merchants Question Directory Plan

A merchant’s puzzlement over a solicitation for a new business directory led Plaintalker to investigate.

The solicitation includes an undated cover letter in English and Spanish from Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs on city letterhead, an advertisement request form for ads ranging from a $10 listing to an $1,800 back cover and an ad size chart. The dubious part, at least to the merchant, was that checks or money orders were apparently to be made out to an individual, not a company or organization, with no refunds.

Members of Plainfield merchant groups drew a blank on the proposed directory, pointing out the Special Improvement District and Chamber of Commerce jointly sponsor a quarterly publication called Positively Plainfield that includes a business directory at no charge to merchants. (Correction: It is a SID publication only.)

The mayor’s letter urges cooperation with “Mr. Ray Mikell,” which is also the name listed to receive fees for ad requests. A call to the phone number listed on the ad request form resulted in a message saying Ray Mikell is “a design and concept company for municipalities.” Fees are to be mailed to a city post office box.

Plaintalker called the Rahway Center Partnership, where Ray Mikell is listed as executive director, but Mikell was on another line and did not return the phone call by the close of business hours Tuesday. A call to the mayor also was not returned. The Rahway Center Partnership recently published an 80-page business directory, which is online on the group's web site.

The perplexed merchant who questioned the request said he never heard of having to send fees to an individual, not even for his high school reunion.

Suburban Jeweler owner Lisa Cohen, a past SID president, said she found it “concerning” that business might be going to a competing SID. Donna Albanese of the Plainwood Square Merchants Association said she had not received the solicitation letter and pointed out the Plainfield directory provided “at no charge” to business owners.

--Bernice Paglia

Wintry Disarray

This demolished city bench on Park Avenue echoed other elements of disarray that marked the day Tuesday.

Items in the news included the court appearance of the school district's assistant superintendent and her possible dismissal, the sentencing of local icon Jayson Williams and another phase of the Muhlenberg saga.

While personnel issues in the school district are grabbing headlines, there is still no contract with the employees' union and the district is facing not just the state-mandated increases in the local school tax levy, but also budget constraints and possible tax burdens at an unprecedented level. Schools Superintendent Steve Gallon III directs our attention to the expected March 16 announcement of Gov. Chris Christie's FY 2011 budget for details.

Jayson Williams promised years ago to develop North Avenue and later to build a senior center here. Neither promise was kept and meanwhile his personal life unraveled while awaiting justice in the shooting that took place at his mansion. Nonetheless, some local officials vaunt him as a hero and friend to the city. Why? It is hard to understand.

Every mention of Muhlenberg revives in some of us the jitters and downright fear of what may happen if we fall ill. Where will we be taken? Even if the decision to close Muhlenberg as an acute care facility is overturned, how long will it be before it reopens? Meanwhile, the absurdity of health care costs is played out in examples such as a recent set of bills from the satellite emergency department for an incident involving removal of a piece of cotton stuck in a person's ear. The gross cost was $596 from the hospital and $481 from the physician. The net cost was $34.50 and $20.21 respectively. Which is more bizarre?

City Hall was not in the news Tuesday, but it was on a lot of residents' minds. How are things going over there in the wake of layoffs and with a still-evolving cabinet? Do we have a finance director or chief finance officer yet?

Which kind of brings us back to that bench. Never mind that streets and sidewalks are littered with twigs and branches from the recent heavy snowstorm, can this mega-litter of wood and metal be cleaned up anytime soon?

When times are gray and grim, it is up to individuals to do what they can to make things better. Even sweeping a sidewalk or volunteering to read to a school child is a start. On Monday, it will be time to file for the school board. Early indications are that a lot of people will file for the three three-year terms and one unexpired term. Voters will have about seven weeks to discern which candidates will have the qualities to serve in the tough times ahead. The governing body will also resume its schedule Monday and the public will get a glimpse of how things are going in that sphere.

Spring is just weeks away and if nothing else, residents will be able to tidy up their yards and share the season's beauty Let us hope some of the city and school district disarray will also be cleared up soon as well.

--Bernice

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Budget Crunch Effects Kick In

Some early effects of recent layoffs and budget cuts include a foreclosure notice for one employee and the dislocation of groups that meet on Thursday evenings at the Plainfield Public Library.

The foreclosure notice was for one of 15 employees who lost their jobs last week. A second round of layoffs is predicted. Other employees were pushed out of jobs they held for years due to "bumping rights" that meant they had to be shifted to other divisions. The City Clerk's office lost experienced staffers at one of the worst possible times, as the office will be gearing up for the school board election, primary election and the annual liquor license renewal process, In addition, the clerk's office now has the duty of sorting City Hall mail.

This writer received an e-mail saying the Plainfield League of Women Voters can no longer meet on the first Thursday of the month at the Plainfield Public Library, as the library must close at 5 p.m. for budgetary reasons. Usually, several meeting rooms are busy that night. In addition, the Barack Obama Green Charter School has advertised board of trustees meetings on the third Thursday of each month, but will now have to regroup. Other organizations may also be affected by the early closing.

As time goes by, more and more effects will be experienced by the public and city employees alike. Those involved in the 2011 budget planning process need to hear about the scope of the effects of current budget cuts as they become known.

--Bernice

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A PMUA Question

Plaintalker is told the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority held its annual reorganization Feb. 16, the same night when the City Council was holding a budget hearing and the Board of Education was holding its business meeting.

The PMUA has five commissioner seats and two alternate seats. Plaintalker has been watching for nominations from the mayor, for advice and consent by the City Council, for a vacancy created by the death of Commissioner James Green. Green's term expired in February 2009 and he was apparently serving as a holdover until his passing. So far, no name has come to the governing body.

In addition, there is an alternate seat open since February 2009. This year, the terms of Commissioner Dave Beck and Alternate No. 1, the Rev. Tracey Brown, expired.

This means out of five commissioners, only three are serving current terms, and both alternate terms have expired.

Given the scrutiny the authority came under in 2009, is this an acceptable situation?

Plaintalker will attempt next week to find out why no nominations have been made for the 2009 and 2010 vacancies.

--Bernice Paglia

NAACP News

Hearing news of Rosalyn Brock becoming the youngest NAACP board chair and also learning of the “Yes We Count“ campaign, Plaintalker reached out to Peter R. Briggs, president of the Plainfield Area Unit, to get his views and an update.

On the Yes We Count campaign: “The Plainfield Area Unit is actively working in two vital ways with the Yes We Count Campaign. We are actively recruiting people to take the examination to become workers with Census 2010. Our branch has recognized that employment in our area is a critical problem in and around our city, so we are actively searching for employment opportunities for those who are in need of a job. These employment opportunities are being sought in the Census 2010 and also in the Tunnel Project in NJ. Secondly, our branch is in contact with local schools and houses of worship in connection with Census 2010 to actively and effectively influence the actual count. We have been for the last year promoting making sure that each household is counted. George Gore is currently running our Census 2010 campaign here in the city and surrounding areas.”

On Rosalyn Brock: “Rosalyn Brock, a personal friend of my cousin, is a trend that I would like to see for the NAACP for the next 100 years. Ms. Brock represents the turnover from the old guard to the next generation and the civil rights struggle. For quite some time we have been promoting our youth and the training of our youth to run this organization. The Plainfield Area Youth Chapter is once again active and making strides towards increasing their membership and participation. We all recognize the hard work of the past, but there is a time when we all need to recognize the youth and give them the opportunities to guide the direction of the organization.”

More from Peter R. Briggs:

- Information on the Plainfield Area Branch can be found at http://www.plainfieldnaacp.org/

- "Also, we have our annual Black History Month, Middle School Overachievers Program on Thursday, February 25, 2010 6:30 pm, Washington Community School, 427 Darrow Avenue, Plainfield."

- "In addition, Plainfield NAACP will be the host city for the NJ State Conference of NAACP Branches for the calendar year 2010. The first meeting will be held at First Park Baptist Church, 315 West 7th Street, Plainfield on March 6, 2010."

Plaintalker encourages residents to catch up with the Plainfield Branch. The next meeting is Sunday, Feb. 28. Details are on the Plainfield Branch web site, along with much more information. Thanks to Peter for responding to our inquiry.

--Bernice

Mainstream Cover-up?

To the commenter who sees a cover-up by the newspapers, there is a good reason why responsible, mainstream media cannot go with unsubstantiated allegations. Unless there are charges confirmed by some level of law enforcement, there is no story to print. I can guarantee you that journalists are doing their best to look into this situation.

Please note that the article posted online had no byline. The inclusion of a link to the "purported" official report did not make it official. It was an internal document, not a news release. The further inclusion of personal e-mail did not make it official.

As far as bloggers go, each one of us decides as individuals what to post. If you want outcry, truck on over to the Plainfield forum and do it yourself.

As a reporter, I once had to follow up on a case involving a well-known Plainfield figure. Everybody had heard what happened, but all the FBI would say is, "we can neither confirm nor deny" an investigation. Eventually, the person became one of the first guests at a brand-new correctional facility, but until the legal process was complete, there was no story.

Sometimes an investigation needs a lot of work to make the charges stick. No prosecutor or AG wants to go to court with a half-baked case. Investigators owe allegiance to their agencies, not to journalists trying to break a story.

I am rather troubled by people who interpret this as something racial. A large proportion of Plainfielders choose to live here because of the city's diversity. There may be another factor at play here, but I don't think race is involved.

--Bernice

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Happiness Downtown

Today I went to the main post office to drop off a garden catalogue for Audrey and Peter, my daughter and son-in-law, as they plan crops in the yard of their new home.

Moving on to Bill's Luncheonette, I was surprised to see a big crowd, including many families, enjoying breakfast. Many appeared to be of ethnic categories that may not have have grits and cheese or other selections on their native menues. I loved the blend and hoped all were having a happy Saturday morning, a break from their pasts and an embrace of new possibilities in food choices.

In the same vein, I am so happy to have a falafel sandwich place on Park Avenue at Hubblee Bubblee.

It is always a good thing to rethink one's choices. Are they based solely on habit or are there more aspects to consider?

I encourage my readers to look around and see what's new in Plainfield. Admittedly, by being a pedestrian, I have the advantage, but there are lots of clues for those who take the time to look.

--Bernice Paglia

PBA Vote of No Confidence

In a Jan. 26 letter from the Plainfield Police Benevolent Association Local 19 to Police Director Martin Hellwig, attorneys for the union outline several reasons for the vote that have nothing to do with the recent allegations against the director.

The letter cites "an atmosphere of mistrust, disinformation and disorganization" with references to unfulfilled promises of new police vehicles and changes to uniforms.

In addition, the letter notes a plan to demote three captains, claiming the director's announcement was not corroborated by other city officials.

Further, six new officers were hired despite an alleged layoff/demotion plan having been submitted to the Civil Service Commission.

Although the legal representives allude to many more reasons for a lack of confidence in the director's leadership, the letter concludes with the comment, "Frankly, our members deserve to be treated with more respect - especially in light of their efforts in helping the City secure a record low crime rate in 2009."

Meanwhile, whatever the situation is with the allegations of impropriety, Plaintalker looked up the statutes on soliciting prostitution and was surprised to see how out-of-date they may be.

In years past, local police did make undercover busts by placing decoys on such local hot spots as the 1500 block of West Front Street where hookers did in fact violate state statute 2.C:34-1.1 by waving down cars and beckoning to people. So what if somebody nowadays arranges a "hook-up" online?

Much tidier, but just as illegal?

Time will tell.

--Bernice

Friday, February 19, 2010

Iffyness

While I have been able to get online and read my mail and such, there are lots of weird messages popping up and making me think this laptop may not be totally reliable over the weekend. I will take my chances and do my best to file, but on the other hand, a break from blogging wouldn't be the worst thing in my life right now.

There is also the "ick" factor of recent local news revelations that make me think a day off contemplating more positive and pleasant things in life might be in order.

--Bernice

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Malcolm X Remembered

In the mid-20th century, a number of charismatic figures were killed.

Nobody knows exactly why, and historians and conspiracy theorists are still arguing their points.

I was a young suburban mother in 1965 when Malcolm X was assassinated, but had heard him speaking on the popular late-night radio shows of the late 1950s and early 1960s and felt he was one of the most articulate figures of the times. He minced no words in spelling out the nation's racial issues, some of which persist to today.

The nuances of black power - separatism vs. integration - were played out in news headlines daily. I tried my best to understand how this nation-fracturing scenario would play out.

I read The Final Call, the Autobiography of Malcolm X and many other writings without gaining insight into this divide. Listeners to WBAI-FM can still hear arguments weekly on the issues.

People in Plainfield have continued to sort themselves out by the categories of that era and its most fervent spokesmen.

All I can do at this point is express my homage to Malcolm X as an evolving leader for exploration of this decades-old question, compounded by the unwilling blending of the races by those in power and the powerless.

For those who did not experience the contradictions of the times, click here for more information.

--Bernice Paglia

Eureka!

The teensy-tiny laptop has found a way to enable my habit!
I keep reaching for the mouse instead of the track wheel, but it seems I can blog at 3 a.m. if I wish!
Still can't get used to the keyboard but maybe I can pontificate or elucidate soon.
Thanks for your patience.
Bernice

Computer Down

I may not be blogging for a while. My PC is at the shop for diagnosis. If possible, I will blog by alternate means. Thanks for your patience.
Bernice

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Council Rejects Further Delay, Adopts Budget

The budget for the fiscal year that began last July 1 was finally adopted Tuesday, but not before Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs and supporters on the City Council pushed for another two weeks to seek union concessions.

The 4-3 vote came only after some verbal sparring between council members who sought to wrap up the budget and move on to cost-cutting measures in the next budget cycle, and those wanting the last-ditch effort. Council members William Reid, Rashid Burney and Bridget Rivers voted “no,” while Cory Storch, Adrian Mapp, Linda Carter and City Council President Annie McWilliams voted “yes.”

The council received a budget from the administration late last year that reflected a 9.6 percent tax increase, but introduced amendments Feb. 8 that reduced the increase to 7.5 percent. Although the city has a half-dozen bargaining units, Plainfield Municipal Employees Association President Cynthia Smith said her union is taking the brunt of layoffs announced last fall. Fifteen employees among the lowest-paid ranks will be out of work as of today.

Smith and affected workers have spoken out at every council meeting since the layoffs were announced. Again on Tuesday, Smith deplored the layoffs, especially that of a 34-year employee with singular knowledge of the city’s infrastructure. Four years from retirement, the person has no “bumping rights” and will take his expertise with him when he goes.

“There’s your knowledge,” Smith said.

Other layoffs will affect office workers who support Recreation Division programs. Several speakers in Tuesday’s public hearing on the amendments called on the council to save the workers for the sake of residents of all ages who benefit from the programs.

“I hear about the pain,” resident Roland Crawford Muhammad said, referring to the council’s mantra of sharing the budget pain. “I can handle the pain, but our children cannot.”

Muhammad said if children can’t learn to shoot pool, they will learn to shoot guns, citing gun violence last week that resulted in the death of one man and injuries to another.

Much of the nearly two-hour meeting was taken up with discussion of the results of further delay. City Administrator Bibi Taylor said a delay would mean starting over with budget amendments. Estimated tax bills would have to be sent out, incurring extra printing costs.

But Robinson-Briggs said a state notice on bumping rights would shift employees into jobs they had no idea how to do. Someone from the City Clerk’s office is slated to go to Inspections, a secretary in the mayor’s office will go to Municipal Court.

“The bumping rights will put us in a state of chaos,” Robinson-Briggs said as she pleaded for two more weeks to sit down with the unions and find ways to avoid layoffs.

McWilliams said Civil Service bumping rights are “systemic” and there is nothing the council can do. Once the budget is adopted, she said, the administration can work with the unions.

But Reid said, “I don’t want to vote for something that is a hope.”

“I can’t believe that we are sitting here going through this loop over and over,” Mapp said as the discussion wore on.

Mapp said the council had discussed in closed session the amendments’ impact on personnel.

“We are now here at the eleventh hour and having a back-and-forth discussion,” he said, calling further delay “a disservice to the taxpayers” and asking for the vote.

Budget passage means tax bills can now be sent out, Bob Swisher of the auditing firm Supplee, Clooney said. The council on Feb. 8 approved temporary emergency appropriations for March, meaning three quarters of the budget year will have elapsed before normal tax collection.

--Bernice Paglia

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

An Interview with Councilwoman Bridget Rivers

Councilwoman Bridget Rivers with school board attorney Raymond Hamlin, who administered her oath of office on Jan. 1, 2010.

Plaintalker sought an interview with new Fourth Ward Councilwoman Bridget Rivers in advance of the 4th Ward Community Forum, 6 p.m. at Washington School, Feb. 17. Rivers, City Council President and Citywide At-large Councilwoman Annie McWilliams and First & Fourth Ward Councilwoman Linda Carter will discuss issues with residents.


Q. The idea of a new middle school linked with revitalization of a 44-block section of the West End became stalled with the failure of the Schools Construction Corp. Now that the PPS has a new emphasis on K-8 configurations, the middle school population has shrunk. Do you see any alternative means of developing a broad-based revitalization program?

A. Yes. I feel that the emphasis needs to be on quality affordable housing and businesses on the West End, potentially something similar to what we have on South Avenue. As you know for most residents in this area, they must travel either downtown or to the East End to access businesses. Quality, affordable housing will remain a priority for me. As a former BOE member and President, and now the Council's Liaison to the BOE, I will work directly with the district as they review their educational plans such as grade changes and new models that have recently come to Plainfield under the Superintendent.

Q. What do you think a renewed Transit-Oriented Development program would do for the West End? Are you encouraging citizen participation in the visioning study that the City Council endorsed?

A. Yes. Any and all consideration of the West End in Transit Oriented Development (is welcome).

Q. In terms of public safety, what are your most pressing concerns? Examples: Abandoned houses attracting squatters, drug activity, gang recruitment of young people. In terms of public safety, the most pressing concerns involve persistent drug activity and the violence that comes with it.

A. Yes, abandoned housing and gang recruitment are also concerns. But the increased drug activity and violence as that which occurred last week and cost the life of a young person needs to be a priority. There needs to be a planned approach to addressing this matter and not one that simply relies on locking young people up and creating a wider divide between them and law enforcement.

Q. The Fourth Ward has lost several voting districts over the years due to voters not going to the polls. Do you have any strategies for increasing voter participation?

A. Yes. Strategies include doing a better job of registering voters and convincing them that their votes do count. Many voters have felt that they were not a part of the city's plans for improvement and when people feel neglected, they either withdraw or rebel. Many of the voters in the Fourth Ward have simply withdrawn from the political process. Creating more informed voters is also a part of the strategy to ensure that they are aware of what is happening and how it can both impact and improve their lives. Through community meetings, and door to door interaction, I plan to increase voter turnout in the Fourth Ward.

Q. As the Fourth Ward representative, how are you connecting with the many new Spanish-speaking households and their needs as new residents?

A. I plan on reaching out to Spanish-speaking residents in several ways that include community meetings with translators and providing information in their native language. Coming from the BOE, I fully understand and appreciate the importance of being able to connect with Spanish speaking residents that represent a growing population. We made a great push to reach out to them and saw increased parental involvement as a result. A similar approach in terms of communicating with them in their language and being openly sensitive and aware of their needs will be key.
--Bernice Paglia

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Budget Hearing Tuesday

A notice has been posted on the city web site regarding a budget hearing Tuesday.
Click here to see a synopsis of the budget and the meeting notice. If it is too small to read, you can change the size by clicking on a "percent" button at the top of the notice. My first look was at 48 percent and I couldn't read the fine print.

For good measure, here is the public notice from the New Jersey Press Association.

--Bernice

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Hellwig is Suspended

City Council President Annie McWilliams confirmed Saturday that Police Director/Public Affairs & Safety Director Martin Hellwig has been suspended.

Plaintalker's e-mail to Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs early Friday was not answered, but sources said Hellwig had been suspended for three days. McWilliams said she was informed of the suspension Friday, but could give no further details as it is a personnel matter and she did not want to infringe on Hellwig's rights as an employee.

Commenters began responding to Friday's blog post in which Plaintalker noted that Hellwig and Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson were the only two cabinet members to serve the entire four years of the mayor's first term and to be reappointed to serve concurrently with the mayor's second four-year term. Click here to see his resume, which includes many years in law enforcement before taking the civilian posts in Plainfield. Plaintalker cannot post the allegations made by commenters.

Hellwig is in charge of both the Police and Fire divisions. No official reason for the suspension has been revealed. McWilliams said the full council has now been apprised of the suspension. City Hall will be closed Monday for the President's Day holiday, so an official statement may not come until Tuesday or later. As a department head, Hellwig reports to City Administrator Bibi Taylor, who was just sworn in last week.

Hellwig was in the news recently after the Plainfield Police Benevolent Association announced a vote of no confidence in him following his proposal to demote three police captains for budgetary reasons. In April 2008, he became police director following the City Council's vote to abolish the title of police chief. Hellwig received no extra compensation for the title in addition to serving as department head. A salary range for the police director title was passed just last week at the Feb. 8 City Council meeting and will take effect 20 days from that date.

--Bernice Paglia

M. Elizabeth Chitty, Historic Plainfielder

One of the first stories people told me about Plainfield was how M. Elizabeth Chitty took off her dress at a school board meeting to make a point. I never got the full context, but now all can read about her dramatic move in a Star-Ledger article on her life, part of a series on local icons of Black History.

An activist in many fields, she was a three-term president of the Plainfield Board of Education. According to the S-L article, she was "often criticized for being hard-line on budget issues." She removed her dress, the story goes, to prove she was human and not a "two-headed monster."

Her story is compelling for many reasons, including her personal struggle to succeed and the many causes she took up. A portrait of her hangs in the Plainfield High School library, which is named for her.

Kudos to the Star-Ledger for celebrating the lives of local historic figures. We need to know more about them, in addition to the traditional roster of Black History personalities.

--Bernice Paglia

Love, Mousie-Style

"Yesss! I will be your Valentine!"

"Now where are those treats???"
--Bernice

Summer Concerts May Fall to Cuts

The City Council agreed last week to seek $40,000 in Urban Enterprise Zone funding for the Music in the Plaza events, but Gov. Chris Christie may have the last word.

Among items named in his executive order last week cutting the state budget, $78 million in "undesignated balances" in the UEZ fund will be "brought into the budget and lapsed."

While the governing body cut the Recreation Division's request from $55,000 to $40,000, Christie's action may reduce it to zero.

The council had quibbled over the need for the program, which includes four days of noon and evening concerts, because some members felt Recreation Supervisor Dave Wynn and Economic Director Jacques Howard did not make a strong enough case that it benefited downtown businesses. Between the Feb. 1 agenda-fixing session and the regular meeting on Feb. 8, the council did receive a letter of support from the Special Improvement District organization, but Councilmen Adrian Mapp and Rashid Burney still voted "no." Councilman Cory Storch said he voted "yes" very reluctantly, noting the council made the same comments about Music in the Plaza last year.

"I don't think the message was received," Storch said.

Council members Linda Carter, William Reid, Bridget Rivers and President Annie McWilliams also voted "yes."

The SID group had recommended a slightly lower amount, about $38,500. Last year, organizers sought $6,000 and the council denied the request. The organizers went on to get donations totaling $26,000 from downtown businesses to put on the event.

UEZ funds come from sales tax collected by certified retailers, who are allowed to charge just half the state sales tax as an incentive to consumers. The funds are retained by the state for uses within the zone and each request must be approved by the Urban Enterprise Zone Authority. A projected timetable called for UEZA approvals by May.

Meanwhile, according to published reports, Christie has vetoed recent UEZ requests, including one for streetsweeping in Hillside.

Putting the $78 million into the state budget to help close a gap echoes a past instance in which former Gov. Christie Whitman used UEZ funds for state budget relief, with a promise to restore them over time.

In past years, the city's UEZ fund was swelled by sales at Macy's, the former retail anchor of the downtown district. The Plainfield store was closed in a court-ordered bankruptcy settlement. More recently, Appliance-Arama generated a large portion of UEZ sales tax. On Feb.8, McWilliams asked for an accounting of the city's current UEZ funds. With Christie's move, it may only serve to see how much the city will be contributing to the state's $2.2 billion budget shortfall.

--Bernice Paglia

Friday, February 12, 2010

Operation CeaseFire Shot Down for 2010

A program hailed in 2007 as crucial to addressing gun violence here is now on Gov. Chris Christie's budget freeze list for the balance of 2010.

Click here to read Plaintalker's 2007 post on Operation CeaseFire.

The program is no longer run by Liberty Community Development Corporation, according to staff at Mount Olive Baptist Church where LCDC was based.

A call to the Plainfield Police Division verify the current status of the program was not immediately answered. Christie's cut comes just as the city is facing one fatal shooting, the year's first homicide, and another shooting in the same incident in West End gardens.

Plaintalker will update the story as soon as possible.

UPDATE: I'm told the program is no longer active in Plainfield, even though the city is listed among 14 sites in media sources. The closing of the Plainfield satellite unit of the Union County Prosecutor's office is cited as one factor.

--Bernice Paglia

Inside/Outside

The pristine beauty of the snowfall is gone, turned to slush and worse. For something lovely to look at, I have to check out my latest crop of double pink Impatiens, the great-great-great offspring of a cast-off plant that workers tossed aside in Lot 6 many, many years ago. Propagating plants from cuttings is one of my favorite things and these wintered-over ones will add a big, free boost to my spring garden.

Outside, sunny days and freezing nights will make reduction of snow piles like this go very slow.
Meanwhile, getting around on foot is tricky. Standing in my storm boots this afternoon, I watched a very well-dressed man with elegant shoes approaching a stretch of churned-up dirty snow bordered by icy slush on East Seventh Street. He plunged right in, but those shoes will never be the same.
The hazardous stretch just happened to be in front of Municipal Parking Lot 7. The lot was plowed, but the sidewalk was barely passable, forcing people to walk in the street, which is also hazardous.
Note to self: Remember to call (908) 753-3427 later and beg for the sidewalk to be cleared.
--Bernice

Taylor Approved as City Administrator

The City Council has approved Bibi Taylor as permanent city administrator.

Taylor had served as acting city administrator and acting director of Administration, Finance, Health & Social Services since Jan. 1. She was previously acting director of AFH&SS from July 2009 to Dec. 31, when the first term of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs ended. On Jan. 1, Robinson-Briggs began a second term and named Taylor to both posts, but said it was only until Jan. 31, as Taylor was taking a job in East Orange.

Taylor's change in plans met with relief by the governing body, which had been very pleased by her forthright and comprehensive budget presentations last year and her communication skills as acting city administrator in January.

On Feb. 8, the City Council approved her appointment as city administrator to serve until 1/1/2014. She was granted a residency waiver, meaning she will not have to move from East Orange to Plainfield. Although a resolution for 24-hour use of a city-owned car appeared on the Feb. 1 agenda, it was pulled by Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson, and at the regular Feb. 8 meeting Taylor was granted a $10,000 annual car allowance in addition to a salary of $120,000.

Another cabinet role was filled Feb. 8 with the announcement that David Brown II would be on the job as director of Public Works & Urban Development. Brown had been appointed Jan. 1, but was not expected until April 1. However, his predecessor, Jennifer Wenson Maier, took a post in Hoboken last week and left city employment.

The city still needs a permanent AFH&SS director and has not yet named a permanent chief finance officer to replace Peter Sepelya, who retired at the end of 2007. In Robinson-Briggs' first four-year term, AFH&SS duties were handed off seven times to various acting and permanent directors. The city is under a directive from the state Division of Local Services to hire a permanent CFO, but certifications of funding are still being signed by acting CFO Sandra Cummings. Taylor was briefly signing certifications last year, but had to stop because she is not a certified CFO.

The post of deputy city administrator remains vacant. During the tenure of the late former Mayor Albert T. McWilliams, the deputy city administrator was in charge of economic development. In the first term of Robinson-Briggs, economic development duties fell to the PW&UD director.

Two cabinet members who served in the last four years were reappointed on Jan. 1. They are Public Affairs & Safety Director Martin Hellwig and Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson.

--Bernice Paglia

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Snow Yesterday, Sunny Today

Sun and wind today may reduce the amount of snow that piled up in the big storm. There is still enough around to disrupt routines. And maybe enough to make some good snow sculptures!

How about a dragon for the Lunar New Year? Or a tiger for the Year of the Tiger? Maybe a Valentine design?

Be safe, have fun - the Presidents' Day weekend is coming and we can all recuperate from the stress of the blizzard.

--Bernice

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

PayPal Enabled

OK, I have followed the advice of a devoted reader and set up a PayPal account.

It seems you can send a PayPal contribution to me at bernice.paglia "at" gmail.com and it will land in my new account.

I have been reporting on the blog since June 2005 with no compensation except the knowledge that I have been informing the public on issues that need citizen interest and input. If you appreciate the work, feel free to donate.

--Bernice

Love Conquers All - Even Blizzards

Park Florist owner Maribel Gonzalez was not sweating the big snowstorm Wednesday. More customers were ordering in advance, she said, in contrast to a past situation where last-minute buyers slogged through snow and slush on Valentine's Day to pick up flowers and gifts for their sweethearts.

The store at 613 Park Avenue is stocked with balloons, bouquets, and baubles to mark that most sentimental date on the calendar. Woe betide the husband or boyfriend who hasn't planned ahead.

One really cute thing this year is a "two-lips" vase that can be filled with tulips and bought onsite or delivered to out-of-town to dear ones.
A favorite for women to give to men is this basket of "junk food" treats, Gonzalez said. He'll think of you at work when he takes a candy bar or snack bag out of his office desk stash.
Give Maribel a call at (908) 756-1899 and avoid those tears and pouts if you have lost track of time and forgotten that Feb. 14 is next Sunday.
--Bernice

Squirrel Art

Squirrels made this tracery in the last snowstorm, but this time around the fluffy-tailed rodents might end up making tunnels if snow depths hit the 15-inch mark.

Plaintalker urges all to take care dealing with heavy snow. But have some fun with snow art, whether it be traditional "snow angels" or fancy snow creatures. Here is a really cute one.
--Bernice

A New Push for Economic Development

Image: part of PEDCO roster from 1985

In its 2010 report, the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee singled out economic development “because we believe that developing Plainfield with forethought is crucial to its future.”

The committee’s six well-credentialed members called for establishment of an “economic growth committee” among six recommendations “to achieve a new vitality in the life of the city.”

It’s true that without new ratables coming about through development, taxpayers will be asked to pay more and more each year to run the city. Major developments in recent years – the adaptive re-use of the former Tepper’s department store for 75 apartments, the new governmental office building on the Park-Madison lot – have received tax incentives that reduce income to the city. The 63-condo project known as “The Monarch” is facing slow sales, and the developer is only taxed on the land until units are sold.

The hopeful tone of the CBAC recommendation made this writer think of what has gone before: PEDCO, PRA, OED, PBDC on the city side, PBA, MOPUP, UEZ and SID on the business side, an alphabet soup of organizations that have taken on the challenge of improving revenues through development and business retention. Have they succeeded? Each one has its tale, some getting close to success only to have the governing body turn down a project, while others have come and gone without leaving a mark.

Not much happened in 2006-2009. At the administration’s inception, nearly 20 proposals were on the table and Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs added a few more. Hard economic times stalled a lot of development, but some was rejected by land use boards and citizen groups as inappropriate for their locations or not properly conceived.

So here we are at a new juncture. The mayor has four more years and a new cabinet. A visioning study for development is underway. The City Council has a new Economic & Community Development Committee and the CBAC is advocating an Economic Growth Committee comprised of one appointee from each council member, city planning and development officials and several recognized local business organizations.

The CBAC recommends re-establishing contacts with New Jersey developers and setting of economic development targets that include “clearly defined goals and benchmarks,” with quarterly progress reports to the city.

Surely the stage is set for new directions and progress. But it might also be good to think about why, beyond economic factors, the city can point to just one new development project achieved in four years. Were some proposals, like Omnipointe, Netherwood and the East Third/Richmond project, just too ambitious? Were promises made that were unrealistic? At least one proposal was sited on contaminated land that has to undergo brownfields remediation.

A review of failed or stalled proposals could be instructive for future development. Even a bit of history over the past quarter-century could be informative. There is a list of all the proposals floated over the past 10 years that could be updated and shared among all the entities looking into development.

And now let’s decipher some of those acronyms. PEDCO was the Plainfield Economic Development Corporation, with more than 20 members. PRA was the Plainfield Redevelopment Agency, with seven members including the inestimable Chris Onieal, now a resident of Green Village. The Office of Economic Development in City Hall during Mayor Rick Taylor’s tenure included staffer Leslie Anderson, now executive director of the New Jersey Redevelopment Authority. The Plainfield Business Development Corporation was where the late Mayor Albert T. McWilliams made his local entry into civic service. He went on to serve two mayoral terms.

During his tenure, the role of the deputy city administrator was changed to leadership in economic development. The post was not filled in 2006-2009.

The Plainfield Business Association dated back to the Queen City’s heyday as a retail hub for Central Jersey, before malls wooed consumers away from downtowns. MOPUP, or Merchants of Plainfield United Program, was another advocacy group in effect after the city lost Macy’s as its retail anchor. The Urban Enterprise Zone program permits certified retailers to charge half the state sales tax and revenues are made available for state-approved projects within the zone. It dates back to 1985.

The Special Improvement District is a more recent program in which designated property owners pay extra taxes for improvements in the downtown and South Avenue business districts. It has a manager and a board of directors and works in cooperation with the Plainfield Chamber of Commerce.
There are individuals who have great knowledge about the city's economic history. Among them are Lisa Cohen, owner of the longtime family business Suburban Jewelers; Albert Pittis, manager of the downtown Pittis Estate for decades. Its 45 storefronts now belong to Paramount Assets. Donna Albanese, owner of the family-run Dairy Queen on South Avenue, knows all about that business corridor. Their counsel and insight are ongoing resources for the city.

So you can see, there are and have been many minds at work on economic revitalization. Will this new decade be the charm? Our hopes are up.

--Bernice Paglia

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

P&F - As In PFFFT! Perhaps?

Here's something to ponder while you're snowed in:
http://www.rahwayrising.com/2010/02/smoldering-hedge-fund-and-rahway.html

Dan riffed on the Fortune article and now Rahway Rising is connecting the dots there.

Meanwhile, we haven't had a thorough update on the status of The Monarch lately. Maybe new City Admnistrator Bibi Taylor will oblige. Sure could use some of that $400,000 projected tax revenue in SFY 2011.

--Bernice

Dudley House on Way to Renewal

The appearance of an ad for a new director for Dudley House signaled a renewal of the institution's mission, now under private direction.

Formerly a city-operated agency, the house on Putnam Avenue for men with substance abuse issues failed to receive licensure under new state terms, triggering a move to privatize the operation.

The city identified Sunrise House of Lafayette, NJ as the agency to take over operations. The new director will be employed by Sunrise House.

In past testimony by graduates of the program, many individuals said their lives were saved by taking part in Dudley House residency. Although not all participants came from the city, many became residents and productive citizens, according to comments at City Council meetings in 2008 and 2009.

--Bernice Paglia

Monday, February 08, 2010

Monday's City Council Meeting

There were plenty of surprises at the City Council's regular meeting, including introduction of the new director of Public Works & Urban Development, David Brown II, and introduction of budget amendments for the fiscal year ending June 30.

Brown was appointed Jan. 1, but will now take office as of Monday, Feb. 8. Previously, he was expected to take office April 1. Former department head Jennfer Wenson Maier was not reappointed Jan. 1, but was expected to stay on until April 1. However, she took a position in Hoboken and was expected to leave Plainfield city employment this month.

Plaintalker's foray to City Hall Monday morning yielded no budget amendments, but the evening agenda contained under "New Items" amendments that reduced the local municipal tax levy by $1.07 million. The amendments were too numerous to list here, but Plaintalker will follow with an analysis.

The Citizens' Budget Advisory Committee came up with amendments that would have slashed the budget by $1.4 million. In their presentation Monday, the CBAC detailed many cost-saving measures, including shared services, restructuring city operations, measuring outcomes of goals, considering outsourcing and ensuring consistency in key administrative positions. Plaintaker will report more later on the report, which in a way became moot once the council specified amendments.

This writer did not stay for public comment, favoring checking the 0ther blogs and print media for reports. More later.

--Bernice Paglia

Early Departure Explained

Monday started out kind of nice, but in late afternoon my neighbor reported there were three guys outside in Lot 7 plotting mischief directed at my second floor apartment. I called the cops, who duly investigated and took one guy away in handcuffs.

The recent crime reports about armed robberies and other crimes have made me wary of walking to and from meetings at City Hall and Municipal Court. It never bothered me before, although people said it should have.

Anyway, I got some news and look forward to getting more, but paranoia took over tonight and I am now home to report on issues that came up at the council meeting before I got all antsy.

--Bernice

More on PMUA

Even though the PMUA's home page calendar is for January, there are agendas on another page for both the 6 p.m. rate hearing and a 7 p.m. budget introduction.

Click here to view the agendas.

The slide show of scenes around Plainfield may be a bit misleading to viewers. The PMUA is an autonomous authority that serves the city through an interlocal agreement to provide solid waste and sewer services. It is not part of city government. So the images of City Hall and other locations are nice, but not as symbolic of the PMUA's mission as perhaps images of the transfer station or authority trucks might be. Just sayin'.

--Bernice

PMUA Rate Changes Up Tonight

The Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority rate hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. tonight at 127 Roosevelt Avenue. This year, the rates were published in advance of the meeting. As usual, the Dump PMUA group has done an excellent job of bringing forth information on the authority's finances so ratepayers can see how their money is being used.

Because the meeting was rescheduled from Jan. 19 to the same night as a regular City Council meeting, Plaintalker may not be able to get to both. The council meeting may yield important news for taxpayers. I'm told there will be a presentation by the Citizens' Budget Advisory Committee and budget amendments may be introduced. It is unfortunate that the meetings now coincide, although the council meeting is at 8 p.m.

Please bookmark the Dump PMUA web site for ongoing updates on reforms that the group has achieved or is seeking on behalf of ratepayers. The PMUA web site does not seem to be up to date.

Here is the proposed rate schedule:

Proposed Solid Waste Rate Changes - Effective 4/1/10

Low Density Residential
Current Rate Per Lot $110.92 / Quarter
Proposed Rate $ 106.37 / Quarter

Current Rate Per Household $ 80.52 / Quarter
Proposed Rate $ 93.01 /Quarter

Shared System Services Fee
Current Rate Per Lot $ 30.37 / Quarter
Proposed Rate $ 35.07 / Quarter

Current Rate Per Household $ 32.86 / Quarter
Proposed Rate $ 16.06 /Quarter

High Density Residential, Commercial, Industrial Container Service
Current Rate Disposal Fee $100.55 / Quarter
Proposed Rate $ 109.98 / Quarter

Current Rate Collection Fee $230.88 / Quarter
Proposed Rate $ 223.77 / Quarter

Proposed Sanitary Sewer Rate Changes - Effective 4/1/10
Vacant Lot Service Fee
Current Rate Per Lot $ 58.00 / Quarter
Proposed Rate $ 0.00 / Quarter

From the legal notice:
"The proposed rate changes will be effective April 1, 2010. All other fees, rates and charges remain unchanged. The Authority shall provide evidence at the hearing showing that the proposed adjustment is necessary and reasonable and shall provide the opportunity for cross-examination on such evidence. A transcript of the hearing shall be made and a copy thereof shall be available upon request to any interested party upon payment of a reasonable fee. The Rate Hearing is open to all members of the public."

According to Philip Charles of Dump PMUA, there will also be a budget presentation at the PMUA meeting.

This is the month when the PMUA reorganizes, naming a chairman and officers for the year as well as designating official banks and newspapers. The annual schedule for 2010 calls for a meeting on Feb. 16, but meetings are often rescheduled. Check Dump PMUA or call (908) 226-2518 to confirm. There are several vacancies on the PMUA board of commissioners. Plaintalker will check tonight's City Council agenda for appointments to the board.

--Bernice Paglia

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Running for School Board? Consider Ethics Code

All y'all out there who are considering filing to run for the school board, please take a look at the Code of Ethics that will govern your behavior. If you can't agree to these terms, don't file. This is not just a notion, this is the law.

That said, Plaintalker hopes to see a broad field of candidates and a strong voter turnout. The district will need a competent, capable school board to deal with upcoming changes coming down from Trenton and one that is able to assure the community that no personal agendas are in play.

Any board that is called on to make decisions involving millions of dollars must be of the highest caliber. Voters will have several opportunities to discern the motives and qualifications of those who file on March 1. If the district ends up with another board that ranks low with New Jersey monitors (NJQSAC), it will be on the consciences of registered voters who chose to stay home on April 20.

--Bernice Paglia

On the Police Demotion Issue

Comments are still coming in on the blog post about one police captain who is not going to take a demotion for budget reasons. Click here for that post.

I spent some time looking up news stories about demotions. Historically, they are given for infractions and the word itself has a negative connotation. I came across one story where a deputy police chief, the son of a chief, committed suicide when given a demotion for budgetary reasons. Another story described a posthumous promotion which doubled the salary and increased family benefits for a rookie cop who died after being mistakenly shot by a fellow officer.

The importance of rank attained in law enforcement is indisputable. Some officers choose to serve faithfully until retirement without seeking higher rank, but those who take the tests and achieve successive titles deserve all possible respect. The Plainfield Area Ebony Police Association made support of those seeking higher rank one of its goals over the years and members proudly celebrated as promotions took place.

A commenter points out that the proposed demotions will leave no African-Americans at the captain level. Captains were already shut out of the possibility of become police chief, when the title was abolished in 2008.

Budget amendments are expected to be revealed next week. If demotions are part of cutting expenses, how and when will those demoted get their titles back? It may be legal to demote public safety staff to save money, but what is being lost in the process?

No City Council agendas were available Saturday online or at the library, which was closed due to the snowstorm. The regular meeting is 8 p.m. Monday in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave. The exact timetable for introduction of amendments and a hearing on the amendments is not known at this time.

--Bernice Paglia

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Homage to J.D. Salinger

Image: A tattered cover from 1972 by artist William Steig.

For 50 years or so, The New Yorker has been a staple of my literary and cultural education. Back in its earlier days, the magazine did not have an index. Readers would start reading a piece of fiction and discover by the style whose name would be at the end of the piece.

It was always a source of satisfaction to me to be able to guess the byline, whether it was Salinger, Cheever, Updike or whomever.

But Salinger's works always came across to me as a gift, a literary benison to the reader. His creations have lived through decades as essential reading and some of his literary images are simply burned in the brains of readers - think the turning of the doll's head to view Seymour Glass.

It was his decision to retreat from the world, and some have seen the rationale indicated in his own writings before that. I would love to know what writings may or may not be made public in the future, but for now I am content with his oeuvre as it is. If you have not read Salinger, please do so. His works are totally worth reading over and over.

--Bernice Paglia

Coping with "The Boomer Burden"

Julie Hall's book is subtitled "Dealing with Your Parents' Lifetime Accumulation of Stuff."

As soon as I saw it in the Plainfield Public Library, I wanted to read it. I picked it up Thursday night and I can tell you, it is invaluable as a guide to dealing with several important transitions as parents age, decline in health and pass away, possibly leaving an unknown quantity of trash and treasures for the next generation to sort, document, evaluate, share or toss. Hall, also known as "The Estate Lady," draws on her extensive experience with estate liquidation to outline all the pitfalls, be they physical, emotional or even ethical.

My opportunity to use her wisdom passed long ago, when my widowed mother died in 1992.

But my daughter and I often talk about "stuff" and stuff reduction. The last person to deal with all your memorabilia, photographs, furniture, clothing, household goods and valuables may just rent a Dumpster and be done with it, so some pre-planning may be in order.

Hall gives all sorts of tips gleaned from her years of experience, ranging from advice to ditch all the plastic containers hoarded by your boomer to checking odd places where elders may have secreted expensive jewelry, gold coins or currency. Some of them are really odd and the average person would never guess!

As much as I enjoy the latest fiction or biographies acquired by PPL, I appreciate books like this that deal with practical problems in a thoughtful and helpful way.

I will return it next week and then I hope anyone needing such advice will take it out. For more information on Julie Hall and her work, click here.

--Bernice

Friday, February 05, 2010

LWV Urges Voter Participation

At the meeting Thursday of the League of Women Voters of Plainfield, members pledged to make voter awareness and participation in the Queen City a priority in 2010. (Disclaimer: I am a member.)

To that end, here are some important dates in March and April, as listed on the web site of Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi:

MONDAY, MAR 1: Petition filing deadline 4 p.m. for the School Board Election.

TUESDAY, MAR 30: Last day to register to vote for the School Board Election.

TUESDAY, APR 6: Deadline for filing of appointments or applications for Challengers with the Union County Board of Elections for the School Board Election.

MONDAY, APR 12: Petition filing deadline 4 p.m. for the June Primary Election.

TUESDAY, APR 13: Last day to apply by mail for a Mail-In Ballot for the School Board Election.

FRIDAY, APR 16: Deadline for objections to partisan candidates nominating petitions for the Primary Election.

MONDAY, APRIL 19: Last day to file Party Declaration Forms to change political party affiliation for the June Primary Election.

TUESDAY, APR 20: Annual School Board Election.

THURSDAY, APR 22: Ballot Position Drawing for the June Primary Election at 3 p.m.

The complete list of dates may be seen here. There are three three-year school board terms up for election this year, as well as one unexpired term. In the municipal elections, the First Ward seat and the Second & Third Ward at-large seat will be up for election.

The League expects to hold a school board forum in April before the April 20 election. Details will follow.

--Bernice

A Sweet Treat

On my last visit to Westfield, I had intended to go to Baron's, where a dazzling array of candies awaits those assembling Valentine's Day packages for faraway loved ones. Instead, I decided to explore the aisles of Trader Joe's for both the usual enticing lunch items and some sweet treats.

If you are tired of candy hearts with mottoes, you might like the various dried fruit delicacies at Trader Joe's. They also have things like chocolate-dipped sunflower seeds and nut and fruit blends. These are some of the same ingredients in the traditional candy box, just not enrobed in chocolate.

As for me, I discovered my new favorite food group, Pecan Pralines. In my food pantheon, they are now right up there with apricot rugelach. They are like a popular ice cream flavor without the ice cream. I don't really like ice cream but love butterscotch, toffee and praline, so this product cuts to the chase for me in the same way Callard and Bowser butterscotch once did.

If you want to give healthier treats, a great way to package them is by creating Humbug Bags. Just use food wrap to make small bundles of fruit and nuts and put them in your colorful bags.
You can do the same with candy hearts or traditional candies if it seems too geeky to give your little sweethearts something resembling trail mix.

It's true that Valentine's Day can create anxiety if your significant other is expecting a lavish token of your love. This may be the year to drop back to simple but sincere expressions of devotion. When times are better, there will always be the more expensive if perhaps banal presents. Back in the day, a really good tape mix often meant more than a dozen red roses.

--Bernice

More on Sunshine Law

If you want to read more about the Sunshine Law, click here.

From the text of the Open Public Records Act:
d. "Adequate notice" means written advance notice of at least 48 hours, giving the time, date, location and, to the extent known, the agenda of any regular, special or rescheduled meeting, which notice shall accurately state whether formal action may or may not be taken and which shall be (1) prominently posted in at least one public place reserved for such or similar announcements, (2) mailed, telephoned, telegrammed, or hand delivered to at least two newspapers which newspapers shall be designated by the public body to receive such notices because they have the greatest likelihood of informing the public within the area of jurisdiction of the public body of such meetings, one of which shall be the official newspaper, where any such has been designated by the public body or if the public body has failed to so designate, where any has been designated by the governing body of the political subdivision whose geographic boundaries are coextensive with that of the public body and (3) filed with the clerk of the municipality when the public body's geographic boundaries are coextensive with that of a single municipality, with the clerk of the county when the public body's geographic boundaries are coextensive with that of a single county, and with the Secretary of State if the public body has Statewide jurisdiction. For any other public body the filing shall be with the clerk or chief administrative officer of such other public body and each municipal or county clerk of each municipality or county encompassed within the jurisdiction of such public body. Where annual notice or revisions thereof in compliance with section 13 of this act 10:4-18 set forth the location of any meeting, no further notice shall be required for such meeting.

10:4-9. Notice of meetings; exceptions.

a. Except as provided by subsection b. of this section, or for any meeting limited only to consideration of items listed in section 7. b. (10:4-12) no public body shall hold a meeting unless adequate notice thereof has been provided to the public.

b. Upon the affirmative vote of three quarters of the members present a public body may hold a meeting notwithstanding the failure to provide adequate notice if:

(1) such meeting is required in order to deal with matters of such urgency and importance that a delay for the purpose of providing adequate notice would be likely to result in substantial harm to the public interest; and

(2) the meeting is limited to discussion of and acting with respect to such matters of urgency and importance; and

(3) notice of such meeting is provided as soon as possible following the calling of such meeting by posting written notice of the same in the public place described in section 3. d. above (10:4-8), and also by notifying the two newspapers described in section 3. d. by telephone, telegram, or by delivering a written notice of same to such newspapers; and

(4) either (a) the public body could not reasonably have foreseen the need for such meeting at a time when adequate notice could have been provided; or (b) although the public body could reasonably have foreseen the need for such meeting at a time when adequate notice could have been provided, it nevertheless failed to do so.

10:4-9.1. Electronic notice of meeting of public body; terms defined.

In addition to the notice requirements of the "Open Public Meetings Act," P.L.1975, c.231 (C.10:4-6 et seq.), a public body may provide electronic notice of any meeting of the public body through the Internet.

As used in this section, "electronic notice" means advance notice available to the public via electronic transmission of at least 48 hours, giving the time, date, location and, to the extent known, the agenda of any regular, special or rescheduled meeting, which notice shall accurately state whether formal action may or may not be taken at such meeting.

As used in this section, "Internet" means the international computer network of both federal and non-federal interoperable packet switched data networks.

O tempora! O mores!

Remember, the meeting notice that was delivered but not published is just as good as the one that gets in the paper!

--Bernice

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Don't Skip Steps on Sunshine Notice

As I write, a City Council closed session on budget amendments should be just about concluding.

The meeting was the subject of a Courier News article yesterday and a notice posted on the city web site.

There is no doubt that the meeting was necessary, as an executive session after Monday's City Council meeting apparently did not produce a consensus on budget amendments and it is past time for the budget to be passed. If tonight's session results in agreement on amendments, budget passage could come as early as next week.

The problem may be that the meeting was perhaps not called with sufficient notice. (Clarification from Deputy Municipal Clerk A. Jalloh: "To clarify, I have confirmation from both the Courier News and the Star Ledger of the 48 hour notice they recieved. ") The New Jersey Press Association's public notice search did not turn up any Plainfield City Council meetings this week. Normally, a special meeting requires 48-hour notice in two newspapers, as the school board found out the hard way a few years ago when the state Department of Education's Office of Fiscal Compliance and Accountability cited such a lapse in a special meeting where an interim superintendent was hired.

Luckily for officials in the OFAC case, no complaint was filed by a stated deadline, so the issue became moot.

Back to the city. If budget amendments come out of Thursday's meeting but the meeting itself did not meet the Sunshine Law, should it have to be a do-over? Does it matter? Could it be challenged?

All these questions could be avoided in the future if those who follow City Clerk Laddie Wyatt, now on the verge of retirement, will uphold the goal of meeting the rules on various kinds of public meetings.

The validity of decisions made Thursday remains to be seen. (Comment Friday a.m. from Bernice: If all that is needed is submission of a notice and not publication, then there was no problem.) Let the public Let's hope decisions that follow will be equitable, high-minded and fiscally viable.

--Bernice Paglia

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Cabinet: Half Empty or Half Full?

Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs launched her second term with a patchy cabinet.

On Jan. 1, Bibi Taylor was named acting city administrator and also acting director of Administration, Finance, Health & Social Services, with a departure date of Jan. 31.

The City Council's approval of David Brown II to head Public Works & Urban Development on Jan. 1 turned into a deferment to April 1, leaving rejected director Jennifer Wenson Maier in place until that date.

Public Affairs & Safety Director/Police Director Martin Hellwig was approved for the full four-year term concurrent with that of the mayor, but his proposed demotions of police captains have resulted in a Police Benevolent Association recommendation of a vote of no confidence.

Now Taylor is up for the permanent title of City Administrator, but Wenson Maier is leaving in two weeks for a post in Hoboken.

Is Taylor still acting director of AFH&SS? Who will be director of PW&UD until Brown's supposed advent April 1?

The city also still lacks a permanent Chief Financial Officer, despite state mandates to hire one.

The bottom line on cabinet posts must be known soon, so an effective transition can take place.

The exit of Wenson Maier means someone must pick up on vital though not exciting follow-through on things like brownfields remediation for future development. Let's hope there will be an exit interview or report in which she outlines the loose ends to be tied up.

The new roster of City Council committees may play a significant role in clarifying administration functions and conveying their roles to the public. In difficult economic times, the administration must show what it is doing with taxpayer dollars.

--Bernice Paglia

Flash! JWM Moving on!

The mayor of Hoboken announced yesterday that Jennifer Wenson Maier will become director of Environmental Services in two weeks.

http://www.hobokennj.org/

There is a boatload of other articles on this announcement. Nothing that I know of at this end to say how Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs will bridge the gap until April 1, when David Brown II was supposed to start as director of PW&UD.

More later.

--Bernice

Mayor: Take Part in Census

Image: Jeanette Crawford knits a shawl at senior center.

Saying she believes an accurate 2010 Census count would turn up 52,000 residents, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs made a presentation on the process the centerpiece of her monthly visit with seniors Tuesday.

The city's 2000 count was 47,829 residents, short of the 50,000 needed to receive federal funding directly for community purposes. The city now must submit Community Development Block Grant requests to Union County for an allocation of federal funds.

The mayor urged all to fill out a short 2010 Census survey that should arrive in the mail next month. Where no response is received, Census workers will visit an address in person up to five times to get the count. An accurate count has many ramifications for residents and officials have deemed reaching 50,000 or more as a prime goal for Plainfield.

Also visiting Tuesday was Peter Patel, who will open a C-Town supermarket soon on South Avenue in the former Drug Fair building. Seniors grilled Patel on his proposed hiring practices, asking whether he would hire seniors and African-Americans specifically. Patel said he expects to hire 60 full- and part-time employees and said hiring decisions will be made not on the color of a person's skin, but on character as a worker. City residents will receive preference.

Adjustments are still being made in the large new center as seniors conduct their activities. A card room is proving to be too cramped, so that activity may be swapped with a larger "media" room that has a large-screen television set and several couches. An employee who lost his private office in the transition will get it back. Currently, a stack of boxes labeled "Colin's Office" is all he has to work with. In addition, a thrift-shop space may be taken over by the Community Oriented Police, newly moved in from 305 East Front Street, and the shop will go in the smaller space which only has room for two police desks now instead of four.

The great tablecloth debate continued Tuesday. Seniors want something better than the flimsy plastic ones, but the pros and cons of vinyl vs. cloth have not led to an outcome yet. Plants were also requested to make the large meeting room more homey.

While the old center was on a street corner at East Front & Roosevelt, the new center is in the middle of a very long block between Roosevelt Avenue and Richmond Street. Seniors have found it hard to cross East Front Street to get to the center. The mayor pointed out a bright new sign and a crosswalk marked out in chalk that will soon provide extra safety for pedestrians.

Another senior wish, outdoor space for cookouts, will come true now that the city has purchased an adjacent lot that will also be used for extra parking, the mayor said before concluding her visit.

--Bernice Paglia

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Captain Shuns Demotion


Take a demotion at the pinnacle of his career?

Plainfield Police Captain Siddeeq El-Amin says he will leave and retire immediately rather than have his rank reduced to lieutenant.

“I won’t take the demotion – I’m in a position where I don’t have to,” he said.

El-Amin is one of three captains targeted by the administration for demotions to save money in the FY 2010 budget, now in its third quarter of spending without final passage. He is on the verge of retirement after more than 29 years with the Plainfield Police Division and had planned to leave the post July 24 on final leave until coming off the payroll on Jan 24, 2011.

Rather than give up his title, he said, he will take a lump sum payout of $15,000 and be gone.

Of the other two captains slated for demotion, Captain Anthony Celentano is eligible for retirement but has not applied and Captain Michael Gilliam is a couple years shy of eligibility to retire, he said.

El-Amin believes the new money-saving ploy of demoting public safety staff came out of workshops at the League of Municipalities a couple of years ago. Each November, the League holds a convention with seminars and workshops on how to increase government effectiveness and cut costs. Police and fire budgets in many cities have been the elephants in the room at budget time for many years. Even though they tend to reflect the largest salary and wage expense, governing bodies have been loath to make cuts in public safety costs.

The idea of shaving costs through demotions may be especially unsettling. One of the attractions of a career in public safety is the ability to rise through the ranks and become chief someday.

“That is true,” El-Amin said – at least it was in Plainfield until discussions came up on how to get former Police Chief Edward Santiago to “retire, leave or whatever,” El-Amin said.

Starting in 2006, Santiago and new Public Affairs & Safety Director Martin Hellwig appeared increasingly at odds over management of the Police Division. Santiago was sitting in City Hall Library one night in the summer of 2007 when a slide on Hellwig’s Power Point presentation popped up the recommendation, “Eliminate the rank of chief of police.”

A 2008 layoff plan was aimed at just one person, Santiago, who then faced the choice of dismissal or being demoted to captain. Ironically, due to a lapse in non-union salaries keeping pace with union settlements, Santiago stayed on and ended up making more as a captain than as chief.
Meanwhile, demotions have caught on to the point where several New Jersey cities cited them this year as necessary to balance budgets.

El-Amin disputed the administration’s claim that demotion of three captains could save $400,000 or more in the FY 2010 budget year. Captain Keith Lattimore retired in December and the post will not be filled, he said, so there may already be savings for the year. But the difference between a captain’s salary and that of a lieutenant will yield maybe only $10,000 to $15,000 through the mid-year demotions, he said.

El-Amin, 64, joined the Plainfield Police Division in September 1980. He has been a captain since April 1999. During Mayor Mark Fury’s tenure, he served for a time in one of the same posts Hellwig currently holds, director of Public Affairs & Safety. A daughter, Mahasin, has followed him into law enforcement with the PPD and his wife, Faheemah, served on the Plainfield City Council. El-Amin has served in several capacities with the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and is presently the organization’s Region One vice president, representing New Jersey, New York and six other Northeast states.

El-Amin sees many post-retirement opportunities for continued service in either the private or public law enforcement sector after leaving as captain. He still thinks the demotion tactic is a bad approach to solving local budget woes. Lacking a permanent chief, he said, the city has “no secure advocate” for police.

In recent days, Police Benevolent Association President Andre Crawford announced a union “vote of no confidence” in Hellwig. Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs and members of the City Council countered with a press conference Monday in support of Hellwig.

As for El-Amin, the fray will soon be behind him.
--Bernice Paglia

Amendments May Cut Tax Increase by 2 Percent

The City Council's Finance Committee has come up with amendments that could slash about 2 percent off a looming 9.6 percent tax increase.

The 12-page list was handed out to council members at Monday's meeting, but not made public.

"This reflects the best effort of the Finance Committee in consultation with the administration," Councilman Adrian Mapp said.

Total amendments were $1.66 million, (Correction: $1.066) he said, but the city was also required by the state Division of Local Government Services to take out some projected revenues, such as payments in lieu of taxes. The $73.3 million budget for the year that began July 1, 2009 was introduced in November with $49.3 to be raised in local taxes, up from $45 million in 2008. The council formed a Citizens Budget Advisory Committee which also studied the budget and gave input.
Click here to add your comments for the CBAC.

By the time amendments are finalized and approved, there will likely be only a month and a half in which to seek savings, as salaries - the biggest cost in the budget - have been paid out while awaiting budget resolution. Councilman William Reid asked about possible layoffs, but Acting City Administrator/Finance Director Bibi Taylor said if the council reduces salary lines, the administration has to do a layoff plan and submit it to the state. The state would have 30 days to complete a mandatory review of the plan and affected employees would have to receive 45-day notice.

If the budget is adopted Feb. 8, the city would have to meet with the unions and ask for concessions. If not successful, a layoff plan in March would take effect May 15. The budget year ends June 30.

Savings established this year will have a full-year effect next year, City Council President Annie McWilliams said.

Among points in the discussion:

--The Plainfield Public Library was originally up for a $300,000 cut, but it was cut to $150,000 both in consideration of its value to the community but also to show it must share the pain. The library will be asked to pay the costs for its employees' benefits, Council Adrian Mapp said.

--The Corporation Counsel's office saw its funds increase, in recognition of the need to hire highly skilled attorneys.

--Salary and wage reductions had to be considered in closed session Monday.

When asked for her thoughts on the budget, Taylor, now up for a four-year term concurrent with the mayor, said she was not in favor of any amendments.

"I'm in favor of the budget as introduced by the mayor," Taylor said.

But McWilliams said the council had gone through each item and asked what effect it would have. The amendments held "no cut that seemed detrimental," she said.

--Bernice Paglia