Friday, April 30, 2010

Arbor Day 2010

Veterans, seniors, preschoolers, city officials and members of the Shade Tree Commission were among those attending the Arbor Day celebration Friday at the Woodland Avenue monument. The Plainfield High School ROTC presented colors for the flag salute.

Enthusiastic youngsters from the Plainfield Biligual Day Care Center enjoyed the event.

Lamar E. Mackson, Commander of American Legion Post 219, spoke on behalf of the veterans.

Members of the Plainfield Senior Center were among those welcomed by Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs and Public Works & Urban Development Director David Brown II.

The mayor's special gospel singer, Gloria Spence, was among the senior guests.

After descriptions of the 2010 historic and specimen trees by Shade Tree Commission Chairman Dr. Gregory Palermo and myself, veterans helped plant two Kwanzan Cherry trees.

Children added buckets of dirt to the planting site.
The first tree was planted in memory of all men and women who served in the military and made the ultimate sacrifice, and the second was planted in honor of all who have served in the past or are currently serving in the military.

Others in attendance included members of the Union County Youth Corps; the doyenne of Plainfield beautification, Barbara Sandford; YMCA Board Chair Pat Turner Kavanaugh; Fire Chief Cecil Allen; Plainfield Cable Television Advisory Board Chairman Lamar Mackson; Public Works Superintendent John Louise and numerous city staffers.
The 2010 Historic Tree is a century-old Black Walnut on Sandford Avenue and the 2010 Specimen Tree is a very large Sycamore Tree on Brook Lane.
--Bernice Paglia

North Avenue Work Continues

More than a month after the demolition of a North Avenue building, work continues at the site.

Above, workers are stabilizing a party wall that connected the 1886 building to one next door. The wall included fireplaces on both sides with a shared chimney. The exposed fireplaces and other voids had to be filled in with concrete.

From the rear of the site, vaults under the sidewalk can be seen. A similar situation existed with a building at North Avenue and Gavett Place that was demolished several years ago.

The buildings were in the North Avenue Commercial Historic District and formed part of a streetscape directly across from the main train station. No plans have been announced as yet for the gap created by the demolition. Preservationists had hoped that the facade could have been saved, but it was deemed too unstable to preserve.

Demolition costs of up to $200,000 were approved by the City Council last month and will be paid out of the FY 2011 budget. Although liens will be placed on the property, the owners could not be found and the building was considered abandoned.

--Bernice Paglia

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Joseph Yates Obit

For a glimpse into the city's past, take a look at the obituary of Joseph W. Yates. His family home is now a six-family apartment building where I live in the smallest apartment:


From the July 30, 1904 Courier-News:

“Sudden Death of Joseph W. Yates”

Contracting a Cold on His Outing with His Family, He passed Away at Minnewaska

Prominent in Plainfield

As an Orphan Boy He Took to the Sea and Finally Founded a Large Exporting Firm

Joseph W. Yates, one of Plainfield's oldest and best known citizens, died suddenly last night at Lake Minnewaska, New York, where he, with his family, had gone for the summer, as had been his custom for many years. His wife and daughter Margaret were with him at the last.
He went to Lake Minnewaska a month ago, and suffered from a severe cold, which was not thought serious until it developed with fatal results.

Mr. Yates was born in Bristol, Maine, January 30, 1826. He received such an education as could be obtained in the public and private schools in that vicinity. When he reached the age of ten years, he lost his mother, and four years later his father. Soon thereafter he commenced to earn his own livelihood by following the sea, and developing considerable ability in this direction, he was early placed in command of a vessel, which position he continued to fill until about 1854. During his life at sea, he improved his spare time by reading and study, thereby adding to his knowledge and education.

In 1854 he settled in New York city and formed a partnership with Robert Porterfield, a firm which, until within a few years, carried on an exporting and importing business with the West Coast of Africa and a general freighting business to most parts of the world. The founders of the house retired in 1884.

In 1855, Mr. Yates married Susan Gray Jackson, a daughter of Samuel R. Jackson of Providence, R.I., and in 1865 moved to Plainfield, where he continued to reside for the remainder of his life.

He took an active part in public affairs, serving the city as a councilman and the State as legislator. He was among the first to organize the city government and secured for it much favorable legislation. He was one of the original trustees of the Plainfield Public Library and continued to act in that capacity up to the time of his death.

For many years he was a trustee in the New York State Colonization Society, and was one of the oldest members of the Chamber of Commerce, with which he became identified in the early part of his business career. In 1875 Governor McClellan appointed him a visitor of the State Agricultural College of New Jersey, and for many years he had been Consul in this country for the Republic of Liberia.

Mr. Yates always took an active part in the politics of his city, State and county, and was conservative in the expression of his views and consistent in his adherence to his principles and to what he believed for the best interest of the people. Although urged by his friends several times to accept the nomination for Mayor of this city, for Congressman from this district and for other offices in the state, he never felt that the time had come when he would be able; if elected, to do full justice to the public and at the same time to those dependent upon him in private life. He was up to the time of his death, a close student, keeping fully abreast of the age and was considered one of conservative, deep-thinking, well-read men of the present time, notwithstanding his advanced years, and his loss will be deeply felt.

He leaves a wife, three daughters, Mrs. C. Dudley Holman, of Pittsfield, Mass., Mrs. Harry V. Borden and Miss Margaret G. Yates, of Plainfield, and two sons, Sam J. Yates of San Francisco, Cal., and Frederick W. Yates, of Plainfield.

--Bernice

Artifact Found in Yates House

Workers repairing windows found this lead sash weight dated 1869, the year original owner Joseph W. Yates became one of the first council members and Job Male became the city's first mayor.

By coincidence, as I was looking up information on the building online, so was a relative of J.W. Yates, who saw my 2007 blog post on the house and wrote from Florida to share information. He later sent a New York Times obituary for J.W. Yates and other family documents. In turn, I am attempting to get a copy of the Courier News front-page story on Mr. Yates' death, which tells more about his early life as well as his contributions to the community. He died on July 30, 1904.

The Yates house is now a six-family apartment building. In the early 20th century, the story goes, it was lifted on steel girders and turned sideways on the lot. A late 19th century map in the library's Plainfield Room shows its original placement with a circular driveway, dominating the block across from Grace Episcopal Church.

Once I get more information, I will share it with readers and also with the library.

--Bernice

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Outsourcing in FY 2011?

Because my newspaper was missing today, I logged on to the New Jersey Press Association web site to check for legal notices. There were two Request for Qualifications, or RFQ, notices for a wide range of professional services. Besides five legal specialties on one notice, there was a variety of engineering and planning services on the other.

The notion of outsourcing a planner's part-time job came up in talks on layoffs. Some speakers doubted the ability of an outside consultant to replicate the work of the in-house principal planner who was facing layoff.

These notices appear to be setting the stage for outsourcing a lot of work. Curiously, in past discussions of how RFQs and Requests for Proposals (RFPs) are made public, officials last year said they were posted on the city web site and vendors knew to look there, but none of the professional services RFQs in the Courier News are on the city web site today.

As Plaintalker has often noted, a small legal notice is sometimes the first clue to a news story. The NJPA format is much easier to read than the fine print in the newspaper. To see the NJPA's Public Notices page, click here.

And stay tuned as the possible expansion of outsourcing unfolds.

--Bernice Paglia

Monday, April 26, 2010

Official BOE Counts, Upcoming Meetings

Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi has posted the official results of the April 20 school board election. No surprises, just confirmation that the Grand Slam team won big.

For three three-year seats:
Wilma Campbell, 1,455; Rasheed Abdul-Haqq, 1,130; Renata Hernandez, 1,021; Mahogany Hendricks, 765; Martin Cox, 652; Danielle Fletcher, 641; Mary Burgwinkle, 627; Jaclynne Callands, 593; Christian Estevez, 585; Catherine Crittendon, 349.

For one one-year unexpired term:
Keisha Edwards, 1,059; Clayton Tucker Sr., 679; Carmencita Pile, 494; Denise Riley, 187.

The only quirky thing about these numbers may be the spread among the winners, with the top vote-getter receiving 30 percent more than the running mate with the lowest tally. Don't know what it means.

Tonight's special meeting is an executive session starting at 6:30 p.m. in the Administrative Building, 1200 Myrtle Ave. There may or may not be any action taken.

Next up is the Reorganization Meeting, 7 p.m. on May 4 at the same location. At this meeting, the school board will choose a president to serve until next April and will designate official banks, newspapers, attorneys and such for the year.

The new board's first work and study session will be at 8 p.m. May 11 at 1200 Myrtle Avenue and its first business meeting will be held at 7 p.m. May 18 at the same location.

The new board will have, by all accounts, a 5-4 majority of like thinkers. It remains to be seen whether these members will act as a juggernaut toward the beleaguered current administration or whether there will be a measured approach to change. Except for interim Superintendent Peter Carter, the last several chief school administrators have been people with no prior experience as superintendents. Tossing out the incumbent, if possible, may just put the district in a holding pattern again while a search is made for a new superintendent.

The turmoil at the top is working against positive moves such as the K-8 configuration to retain students in district schools. The quest for accountability has, in some ways, become conflated with the wish of some to see Dr. Steve Gallon III personally humiliated. The language of the attacks on Gallon goes to extremes that could make any possible successor wary of setting foot into the district's well-known revolving door.

There is much to be done in the weeks ahead. How it will be done and what tone will be set is up to the new majority.

--Bernice Paglia

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Closed Meeting Tuesday: Another Mystery?

The Board of Education will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday at 1200 Myrtle Avenue for a closed session on personnel and legal matters. (Correction: Although the district web site says the time is 6 p.m., the agenda and the legal notice both say the meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m.)

Although it is a public meeting, it may be deja vu all over again for those who attended a similar meeting in January. Click here for Plaintalker's post on that meeting.

The exact topics for Tuesday's meeting are not indicated. People could spend hours waiting for an outcome that may not be made public.

My advice is, if you go, bring a project like crocheting an afghan or cleaning out all your cell phone addresses and messages, because it is not bloody likely that you will get any news on the spot. At least you will have something to show for your time.

Have patience and sooner or later all shall be revealed. Me personally, not sure I will volunteer to endure another evening of tedium (not that it wasn't fun to chat with folks).

--Bernice

Yoo Hoo, Inspections!

This broken window is in the former Thomas Furniture building, a highly visible spot near Park & East Second. If I am not mistaken, it is part of the North Avenue Commercial Historic District. A developer received approvals to put apartments and retail space in the building.

Here's how the same window looked in November 2009. Someone decided it was a good place to put up posters, never mind the broken glass.

And here's how it looked in August 2009.
Development experts have told city officials many times that a city is less desirable to developers if there are obvious signs of neglect, like weed trees, trash and broken windows downtown. Can it be that the city and this developer think the opposite?
--Bernice

Saturday, April 24, 2010

What Happened to Parking Plan?

The owner of this building won city approval in July 2008 to use 45 parking spaces in Municipal Lot 7 and the permit fees were to go toward fixing up the parking lot.

Click here to read Plaintalker's post on the subject.

However, time has passed and nothing has changed at Lot 7, which has dozens of permit-only spaces and only a couple of permit holders. Meanwhile, parking lots at the refurbished building
at Cleveland Avenue and East Fifth Street are full.

It is disappointing that the plan to gain revenues and fix up Lot 7 did not happen. The municipal lot is full of potholes and really needs improvement. It is heavily traversed by high school students and people taking a shortcut to the Plainfield Public Library. The current six-year capital improvement program only includes two other parking lots..

The proposal to receive revenues for 45 parking permits sounded so promising in 2008. Maybe employees of the agency didn't want to walk two blocks to park for the day or maybe other conditions put them off. If the plan is still viable, perhaps the public could receive an update from the City Council.

--Bernice Paglia

Friday, April 23, 2010

Is "The Board" a Monolith?

Image with 2008 board election results.

All this talk about getting rid of "the board" made me go back and look at past results.

Since 2008, there have been many faces on the Board of Education, with some appointees having only a brief tenure. For example, Vickey Sheppard resigned after winning re-election for a three-year term. Joseph Ruffin Sr. was appointed to succeed her and ran in the 2009 election, but was defeated by Katherine Peterson for the two-year balance of the term. So three people have held that seat over three years.

In 2009, Bridget Rivers resigned after winning a City Council seat and Sandra Chambers was appointed to serve until the April 2010 election. Chambers did not seek the unexpired term, which was won this year by Keisha Edwards, who will have to run again in 2011 for a full term. Again, three people have or will have occupied this seat.

Next April, incumbents Peterson, Edwards and Agurs Linward "Lenny" Cathcart Jr. may face challengers. But how can voters heap blame on "the board" when some members have had only short tenures?

So right there, four new people have served or will serve in two of the board's nine seats. It is unlikely that appointees had time to take the mandated board member training or to understand their roles.

Of the 2008 original slate of Rivers, Sheppard and Cathcart, only Cathcart remains an incumbent to run in 2011. Peterson and Edwards would be the two other incumbents.

Another new face on the board is Brenda Gilbert, who won a full three-year term in 2009, and of course Renata Hernandez will be serving for the first time.

So where is this implacable, monolithic board?

--Bernice

TV Board Plots Improvements

Members of the Plainfield Cable Television Advisory Board envision lots of positive changes for local channel programming, a meeting Thursday revealed.

Among the projected changes are a new logo, more up-to-date programs, increases in funding fees and a new approach to staffing.

The city formerly had one community access channel, Channel 74 on the Comcast of the Plainfields cable system. A conversion to digital broadcasting expanded offerings and put local programming on Channel 96. Verizon’s state franchise has provided Channel 34 now that FiOS penetration in the city has reached 60 percent. The same programs are now available both to Comcast and Verizon subcribers. The new logo will have the city’s colors, blue and gold, and will include both channels.

Viewers used to seeing re-runs of events that took place months ago will soon see more current programming, although consultant Parris Moore cautioned that there must be a flow of new content to avoid stale re-runs. Late in the meeting, PCTVAB Chairman Lamar Mackson introduced Les Wormack, whose documentary “Personal Stories: Walk to Live” may just be the harbinger of more interesting local content. Wormack gathered stories of people who walk or run at the Hub Stine track, including a cancer survivor and a nonagenarian.

“Our stories are magical,” Wormack said, calling them “stories of transformation.”

Wormack, a photographer for 30 years, said he will be submitting more of his video work to the cable station on the theme, “the journey, whatever our journey is.”

Charles L. Smith III, Comcast’s area director for community affairs, explained system changes and answered board members’ questions Thursday. Now that FiOS has reached the 60 percent capacity mark, he said, franchise fees will likely double in 2011. Comcast’s 2 percent franchise fee for 2009 was $92,197, paid in January.

Comcast has a 10-year franchise, with a five-year automatic renewal. The city is now in the renewal period and next year will begin a three-year “ascertainment” process toward a new franchise agreement. Verizon does not have to negotiate with the city, as it has a statewide franchise.

Board members expressed interest in having Comcast provide more programming, but Smith said, “I’ll respond by saying Comcast is not in the production business.”

At present, the city may seek use of a mobile truck with one Comcast staffer to record events such as parades, concerts and sports. Volunteers may receive training in use of equipment, but the single truck serves Union, Essex and parts of Middlesex County and its use must be booked far in advance of an event.

Meanwhile, the city’s only television station employee is facing a layoff by May 26. The city has had two rounds of layoffs due to budget constraints. But Chris Payne, the city’s new IT director, said the city is “aggressively working” on an alternate plan that may involve bidding for services. Payne said the city guarantees “no loss in service” to viewers.

Smith’s parting words to the board were an invitation to join in “Comcast Cares Day” from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, when employees and others will work on the city’s community garden on Berkeley Terrace.

--Bernice Paglia

Bard's Birthday, Shakespeare Garden Paired

The Philadelphia Inquirer today features an article on Plainfield's own Shakespeare Garden. Click here to see it.

And make sure to visit the garden in June, when it is at its peak!

--Bernice

Thursday, April 22, 2010

About "The East Enders"

This is a message for the person who wanted to get hold of "The East Enders" by A. J. Wood. I can't find your request for information in any of my e-mail. Perhaps you left it in a comment.

Anyway, I am working on it, but now I need your contact information. Please respond to bernice.paglia "at" gmail.com

Thanks.

--Bernice

Mercury Retrograde

Communication is affected when Mercury is retrograde.

In memory of the late Pepsi Charles, I am noting an astrological condition that she felt was significant. Whether it was a projector that wouldn't work while a roomful of people waited or just a phenomenal mixup in communications, Pepsi would attribute the lapse to Mercury being retrograde.
She would have understood the current air travel shutdowns in that context, because the condition affects transportation.
So let us agree with Pepsi that sometimes there are unseen forces that can affect our daily life and we just have to accept them or work around them. For one explanation of Mercury retrograde, click here.
I miss Pepsi and her outlook on life. She was attuned both to worldly and other-worldly influences like no one else I knew. She herself was a great communicator, as a WBAI programmer and as a friend and colleague to many in Plainfield. I never once saw her try to do emotional harm to another person. I wonder what she would make of the vitriol that passes for public discourse these days.
Pepsi didn't say goodbye, she said, "Peace."
--Bernice

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Budget Clarification

"Voters rejected the budget, 942 to 1027, according to City Clerk Laddie Wyatt. However, under terms of the School Funding Reform Act of 2008, the district is mandated to accept annual increases until it reaches 33 percent."

Some readers found this part of my blog post on the election confusing. My apologies.

Here is how I responded to one reader by e-mail:

"Up until the School Funding Reform Act of 2008, the proportion of state aid to the local school tax levy was about 80/20. The goal is to get more like 60/30, although the funding formula is highly complex. In most districts arround here, taxpayers come up with 80 percent or more and the state only kicks in 20 percent or less.
Christie accelerated the projected 4 percent increase per year by imposing a 10 percent increase on the school tax levy."

From 1992 to the 2007-08 school year, the school tax levy was unchanged. For the 2008-09, it was increased from $17,683,906 to $18,391,262. In 2009-10, it was $19,862,563. For the coming year, it is $21,848,819.

To see the School Funding Reform Act of 2008, click here.

To see former Department of Education Commissioner Lucille Davy's article on the legislation for the League of Municipalities, click here.

Here is a list of frequently-asked questions answered by the New Jersey Education Association.

Sorry if I summarized this complex issue incorrectly.

--Bernice

Grand S.L.A.M. Team Wins BOE Election

A school board slate that proclaimed itself the winning team in campaign rhetoric proved to be just that when unofficial results came in Tuesday evening.

The Grand “S.L.A.M.” team, or School Leadership Advocacy Movement, came in with four-digit numbers, while two other slates and two independents garnered only three-digit totals.

Unofficial results Tuesday put incumbent Wilma Campbell at the top with 1,455 votes, followed by former board member Rasheed Abdul-Haqq with 1,068 and parent group activist Renata Hernandez at 1,025 for three three-year terms. Former district teacher Keisha Edwards won 1,057 votes for an unexpired one-year term.

Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi will release certified results next week.

The Grand S.L.A.M. team ran a vigorous campaign, with door knocking, several campaign events, T-shirts and other paraphernalia and a blog.

“I think that we just made history,” Hernandez said, in that an entire slate won.

Hernandez said the slate thanked all of their supporters and added, “We hope to have their continued support as we work to move the district forward.”

As for other slates, the “Change Our Schools, Change Our City” slate candidates’ unofficial totals for three-year terms were 762 for Mahogany Hendricks, 639 for Danielle Fletcher and 590 for Jaclynne Callands, who sought three-year terms. Running mate Clayton Tucker Sr. received 677 votes for the one-year seat.

The Coalition for Better Schools slate received 650 votes for incumbent Martin Cox, 626 for Mary Burgwinkle, 584 for incumbent Christian Estevez, all for three-year terms,
and 441 for Carmencita Pile for a one-year term.

Of the two independent campaigners, Catherine Crittendon won 347 votes and Denise Riley won 186.

Voters rejected the budget, 942 to 1027, according to City Clerk Laddie Wyatt. However, under terms of the School Funding Reform Act of 2008, the district is mandated to accept annual increases until it reaches 33 percent. (Please see clarification in post above.)

The turnout was about 12 percent, according to Wyatt’s staff.

To make his choices among the many candidates, resident George Smith said, “I was thinking two things, vote for the right person and make sure that the one that I vote for is for real.”

Another voter who declined to be named said he included local blogs in gathering information about the candidates. He said his primary interest in choosing candidates was “changing the current situation with the superintendent” and selecting “people who were going to commit time and energy to turning round the schools here.”

The district has been rocked by a state report that found Schools Superintendents Steve Gallon III recommended hiring former Florida colleagues when they were not qualified for the administrative posts they sought. The state Department of Fiscal Accountability and Compliance called for a “Corrective Action Plan” which was adopted last week.

--Bernice Paglia

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

North Avenue Cleanup Continues

Oveter's Construction was still excavating the basement of 187 North Avenue last week. The 1886 building was demolished after bricks started falling from a parapet. The city allocated up to $200,000 for the emergency demolition, but the amount of debris makes one wonder what the disposal cost will be.

The party wall with the building to the east still has to be sealed off and stabilized.
This is the second building to be lost from the North Avenue streetscape between Watchung Avenue and Gavett Place. The site is directly across from the main train station and has been the subject of several redevelopment schemes, none of which materialized.
But North Avenue is no stranger to failed plans. The doorway to the Chotola building is flanked by two beautiful terra cotta figures that were vandalized back in the 1980s. A New York developer had converted the building to condos, but basically walked away after a long dispute with the city. The building became infested with squatters and fell into ruin until another developer fixed it up. But the figures were never restored.
If you get a chance, take a close look at these figures before they are further destroyed. The details are exquisite.
--Bernice

Have Your Say Today

Coin purse from Sausalito Ferry Co.

Polls are open from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. today for the school board election. Voters will pick three people for three-year seats on the Board of Education and one for a one-year unexpired term. The $21,848,819 school tax levy is also up for a vote.

Ten candidates are seeking the three-year term and four are vying for the one-year seat. The winners will be serving at a very crucial time for the Plainfield school district and for education in New Jersey, so choose thoughtfully.

--Bernice

Monday, April 19, 2010

$22M School Tax Levy on Ballot

Voters on Tuesday may reject a 10 percent increase in the school tax levy, from $19,862,563 last year to $21,848,819 this year. If that happens, the budget will go to the governing body, but under terms of the School Funding Reform Act of 2008, state Commissioner of Education Bret Schundler must restore any cuts made by the City Council.

From 1992 to 2007, the local tax levy was always the same: $17,683,906.

The new legislation meant the district had to increase the school tax levy for 2008-09 by 4 percent as a start toward taxpayers shouldering more of the burden of school costs. Previously, Plainfielders paid about 20 percent of school costs and the state paid 80 percent.

From previous Plaintalker posts:

March 11, 2008
The $5 million shortfall is due to a state mandate that Plainfield, one of 31 needy Abbott districts, must begin to pay its “fair share” of property taxes toward school costs. The district has paid only $17,683,906 annually in local school taxes since 1992, even as state aid increased to $99 million. In most suburban districts, the proportions are opposite, with property owners paying most of school costs.
For 2008-09, the state is requiring Plainfield to increase the local tax levy by 4 percent, to $18,391,262, as a step toward contributing about $33 million for a fair share.

May 4, 2009
State Education Commissioner Lucille Davy met with the City Council Monday to discuss the council's role now that voters have rejected the 2009-2010 school budget.

The bottom line: The council can attempt to study the budget and make cuts, but Davy is statutorily obligated to restore them to the amount of the mandated local school tax levy that appeared on the ballot on April 21, namely $19,862,563.

Polls are open from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday. Voters will also choose board members to serve three three-year terms and one unexpired one-year term. Look at your ballot ahead of time to study the 14 choices. You may review Plainfield League of Women Voters questions and candidates' responses here.

--Bernice Paglia

Sunday, April 18, 2010

No More Comments

Plaintalker will post no more comments on the school board election.

It is interesting that the three posts drawing the most comments in Plaintalker's history have all been about the school board.

The Star-Ledger Plainfield forum seems to be exclusively about the school district, so I expect to see more comments there before Election Day. May the best four people win!

--Bernice

Comments Will Be Cut Off

Sometime this afternoon I will stop taking comments on the school board election. I will pick an arbitrary time and that's it.

All y'all can continue your back and forth on the forum.

I hope readers will review the comments and think about what board service means. It is not a mission from God nor is it carte blanche to settle scores or foment insurrection. Whoever gets elected will have to abide by terms of the School Board Ethics Act, which is a state law. Think about what you have heard and seen in recent days and consider the same in the light of the code below:

18A:12-24.1 Code of Ethics for School Board Members.

A school board member shall abide by the following Code of Ethics for School Board Members:

I will uphold and enforce all laws, rules and regulations of the State Board of Education, and court orders pertaining to schools. Desired changes shall be brought about only through legal and ethical procedures.

I will make decisions in terms of the educational welfare of children and will seek to develop and maintain public schools that meet the individual needs of all children regardless of their ability, race, creed, sex, or social standing.

I will confine my board action to policy making, planning, and appraisal, and I will help to frame policies and plans only after the board has consulted those who will be affected by them.

I will carry out my responsibility, not to administer the schools, but, together with my fellow board members, to see that they are well run.

I will recognize that authority rests with the board of education and will make no personal promises nor take any private action that may compromise the board.

I will refuse to surrender my independent judgment to special interest or partisan political groups or to use the schools for personal gain or for the gain of friends.

I will hold confidential all matters pertaining to the schools which, if disclosed, would needlessly injure individuals or the schools. In all other matters, I will provide accurate information and, in concert with my fellow board members, interpret to the staff the aspirations of the community for its school.

I will vote to appoint the best qualified personnel available after consideration of the recommendation of the chief administrative officer.

I will support and protect school personnel in proper performance of their duties.

I will refer all complaints to the chief administrative officer and will act on the complaints at public meetings only after failure of an administrative solution.

--Bernice

Go See Mattson Exhibit

If you were not among people who attended Saturday's reception for the Jean Mattson photography exhibit at the Plainfield Public Library, you still have until June 30 to see it. The exhibit will be open to the public during library hours until that date.

The reception coincided with Jean's 83rd birthday and those present sang "Happy Birthday" and shared a cake.

Asked to say a few words, Jean described her amazement when she saw her first photo develop.

"Photography really represents to me the best thing I did in my life," she said.

The exhibit includes photos taken in Ireland and a large number of informal portraits of Plainfielders. Longtime residents will recognize the names: Mills Barnes, Anne Louise Davis, Freeman Whetstone, Ruth Dobson, Victor King, Dr. Merton Griswold and Mary Vic, O'Celia Nevels, Malcolm and Flora Dunn, Julia Russell, Harry Ailster, Nellie Dixon, Mayor Paul O'Keeffe,, Barbara Sandford, Oliver Anderson, Westry Horne and a group shot with Dan Damon, Nancy Piwowar and Sonny Wood.

If you go soon, you can enjoy the library's beautiful cherry blossoms, an annual spectacle worth taking time to see.

The masses of flowers send pink drifts of petals down before all the foliage emerges.
The library is also facing deep cuts that will affect services. Learn more and let your legislators know how much you value the library.
--Bernice

Friday, April 16, 2010

Commentary on School Board Election

As if there was not already enough brouhaha preceding Tuesday's school board election, somebody called my attention to a flier from a New York-based union that endorses one of the four slates, while disclaiming any connection with the candidates or their supporters.

I had not really looked at the flier and had to fish it out of a wastebasket for a closer look. It was followed by another one today, both with the disclaimer in a box below the recipient's address. It says, "Paid for by Service Workers United, 330 West 42nd Street, Suite 900, New York, NY 10036. This expenditure was not made with the cooperation or prior consent of, or in consultation with, or at the request or suggestion of, any candidate, or person or committee acting on behalf of a candidate."

The primary message to voters appears to be criticism of Gov. Chris Christie's tough stand on education costs. The cure is portrayed as sending Christie a message on election day by voting for the indicated slate.

At the LWV forum Wednesday, candidates were asked whether they had received contributions from any political organization or union and members of the slate in question said they were not. That may well be true, because Service Workers United put the wrong polling hours on the fliers and also told recipients to bring them to the polls, where campaign literature is not allowed.

A call to the union was not answered today, nor was an e-mail to the slate pictured on the fliers.

The only link Plaintalker could see here was that workers for the district food provider, Sodexo, are members of the union.

Whatever the union's intention, the net effect was to roil further the turbulent waters of this election.

This election has 14 candidates, with three slates and two independents. The level of accusations, name-calling, derisiveness and incivility is unprecedented in this writer's memory and echoes what seems to be a nationwide trend affecting discourse. Even the children are perplexed.

My post on the forum resulted in a flood of comments, only a couple of which called for moderation. I am letting them stand so far as a mirror of the situation, but plan to cut them off at some point over the weekend. The fray can continue on the Star-Ledger forum, if that's what people want.

I am hearing that people are having a hard time deciding who should get their vote among the 14 candidates. Three three-year terms and one unexpired term are up for election on the nine-member board. Whatever you decide, remember to go to your polling place between 2 p.m. and 9 p.m. Tuesday and cast your votes.

--Bernice Paglia

Just DoIT

The city's new information technology manager set forth an ambitious agenda Thursday for the new Division of Information Technology, cleverly dubbed DoIT.

At a mayoral forum at Washington Community School, Chris Payne said objectives for the next three to six months include creation of one central network to connect all departments and divisions, overhaul of the city's web site, migration to a "plainfield.gov" address instead of "plainfield.com," an auto attendant for the city's phone system, a citywide telephone notification system and more.

Payne left the Plainfield school district to take the new city title this year. He is in charge of media and communications, meaning he also leads operations of the city's original Comcast local Channel 96 and a new Verizon FiOS Channel 34. Payne called on Lamar Mackson, chairman of the Plainfield Cable Television Advisory Board, to comment on new television initiatives.

Mackson said the board has reorganized and now has its own web site at http://www.pctvab.wordpress.com/ with updates. He said the new Plainfield Academy for the Arts and Advanced Studies has a television production program and has submitted work for viewing on channels 96 and 34.

The board wants to update the channels' bulletin board functions, upgrade its production studio equipment and expand the program schedule, he said.

The forum was also slated to provide updates on roadway projects and public safety crime prevention tips, but this writer decided to call it a night and walked home.

--Bernice

Thursday, April 15, 2010

BOE Candidates Meet Public at LWV Forum

In less than a week, voters will choose four school board members from a field of 14 to deal with issues that have catapulted the district into scrutiny by print media, radio, television and most recently, the governor’s office.

Not only has the district lost hundreds of students to charter schools, it has been rocked by controversies over certification of top employees and doubts over Superintendent Steve Gallon III’s leadership. This week, Gov. Chris Christie said he will direct Education Commissioner Bret Schundler to look into the situation, which was already the subject of a report by the state Department of Education’s Office of Fiscal Accountability and Compliance.

Of the 14 candidates, 10 are seeking three three-year terms. They are incumbents Wilma Campbell, Martin Cox and Christian Estevez and challengers Rasheed Abdul-Haqq, Mary Burgwinkle, Jaclynne Callands, Catherine Crittendon, Danielle Fletcher, Mahogany Hendricks and Renata Hernandez.

Those seeking a one-year unexpired term are Keisha Edwards, Carmencita Pile, Denise Riley and Clayton Tucker Sr.

The election will take place on April 20. Polls will be open from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. All registered voters should have received ballots by now indicating their polling place.

The candidates took part Wednesday in the traditional League of Women Voters of Plainfield Candidates’ Forum at Emerson School. Each candidate was permitted an opening statement and then questions from the audience were presented by moderator Louise Ballard of Hillside before closing statements from the candidates. Organizers said 135 people attended the forum at Emerson School.

Among the themes that emerged Wednesday were a need to bring more accountability to the board and superintendent, as well as more dialogue with the Plainfield Education Association, which is still without a contract after many months of talks. The district also lacks a curriculum, speakers said. In addition, the district is losing students to charter schools and is using programs such as specialized schools and a new K-8 configuration to draw them back.

Candidates formed three slates of four, with two independents. Groups included Abdul-Haqq, Campbell, Edwards and Hernandez; Burgwinkle, Cox, Estevez and Pile; and Callands, Fletcher, Hendricks and Turner. Riley and Crittendon are the independents.

Among quotes from Plaintalker’s notebook on the forum:

Denise Riley: “Stop the corruption that has been going on too long.”

Rasheed Abdul-Haqq: “The biggest problem is that the superintendent does not want to be held accountable, the board does not want to be held accountable.”

Danielle Fletcher: “As a community, we need to demand a curriculum now.”

Renata Hernandez: “A curriculum is the infrastructure of a district and the lifeblood of the children.”

Catherine Crittendon: “Our schools need to be as attractive for learning as the charter schools.”

Keisha Edwards: “The concerns were out there and people just didn’t listen.”

Mahogany Hendricks: “At this point, their questions are not being answered.”

Clayton Tucker Sr.: “I will not make promises I can’t keep.”

Mary Burgwinkle: “We grownups in Plainfield have a responsibility to see that children graduate with the tools they need in the workplace (and beyond).”

Christian Estevez: “Prior to the OFAC report, I knew we had a problem with our hiring practices.”

Carmencita Pile: “I have fresh ideas and can add to an already improved Plainfield school district.”

Jacylnne Callands: “As a wife, mother and youth mentor, I know the value of a good education.”

Martin Cox: “With PEA and PASA (unions), we need quarterly meetings to discuss collaboration.”

Wilma Campbell: “Yes, I took part in the hiring (of Gallon), but I didn’t have a crystal ball.”

--Bernice Paglia

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

City Owns Two Condos


Now that Dornoch has called in the condo fees for the senior center, let us contemplate the other city condo situation.

In December 2004, the city took ownership of a basement in the former Tepper’s department store building, which was redeveloped with commercial space on the first floor and with 75 affordable housing apartments on floors above.

The basement had been proposed as a possible senior center, but seniors were having none of it. Seniors had also rejected politicians’ suggestions that they occupy the former armory at Leland and East Seventh Street. They wanted a brand-new center of their own design.

The problem was that politicians had sought a nearly half-million dollar grant sponsored by Sen. Frank Lautenberg for the senior center, but it was tied to the Tepper’s site. After seniors rejected the site, alternate plans called for a police communications center, city offices, an alternate City Council meeting site and more. To date, nothing has been situated in the basement, but the grant was expended just before it expired to create what former City Administrator Marc Dashield called “a plain vanilla box.”

Meanwhile, condo fees were accruing.

Asked about the situation now, developer Larry Regan said the amount owed was not that much, but payment would help the company accomplish certain city requirements, including improvements to a grassy lot on Somerset Street.

“We both have objectives we need to fulfill,” Regan said.

At Monday’s City Council meeting, Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson said the city was at an “impasse of sorts” with the developer.

More than five years have elapsed since the city took possession of the basement. The city has committed another $345,000 to improving the space, yet years of talks have not led to payment of the condo fees.

Even if the developer does not want to make an issue of it, the condo fees represent a debt that at some point must be paid.

The fine points of the city being a condo owner deserve further discussion. As Councilwoman Linda Carter pointed out Monday, condo fees can be increased or may even double.

“And we’re right back where we started,” Carter said.

After the city’s 10-year lease on space at 305 East Front Street expired in 1999, the rent began to escalate from $66,333 annually to more than $100,000. The condo fees at the new location will be $33,000 annually.

--Bernice Paglia

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Yum, It's Almost Wednesday

A new restaurant, The Family Soul Spot, opened last week on my block at Park & Seventh. It features traditional favorites such as fried whiting, chopped BBQ, smothered pork chops and sides of collard greens, yams, string beans and macaroni and cheese.

I found myself dropping in often for some of its tasty specialties. In our household, we seldom cook meat, and vegetables tend to be blanched, steamed or lightly sauteed, with little or no seasoning (thanks to a late '60s-early '70s foray into spartan vegetarianism - for years, we never even had salt or pepper in the house). The wonderful panoply of flavorings in soul food, so close at hand, became an irresistible temptation.

But after Sunday's take-out dinner, I had to drop back to the usual at home, because the restaurant would not be open again until Wednesday.
The owner wants to wait a while before doing an interview for Plaintalker. But they are there, and they are dishing up some really, really good food. I ordered the fried whiting with collards and yams Sunday before I realized there was a special of the day, pot roast and mashed potatoes, a family favorite of my childhood. Stop in at 108 East Seventh Street and check out the menu and daily specials. No steamed broccoli here.
--Bernice

Monday, April 12, 2010

Council Tables Dornoch Resolution

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One Primary Race Emerges from Filings

Candidate filings today point to a three-way Democratic primary contest in June.

Incumbent Councilman Rashid Burney will face former Councilman Don Davis and veteran campaign organizer Rebecca Williams in the June 8 primary for the Second & Third Ward at-large seat. The winner will go on to the November 2 general election.

Republican James Pivnichny, a 2009 mayoral candidate, filed for the Second & Third Ward at-large seat today and will face the Democratic primary winner in November.

For the First Ward seat, incumbent Democratic Councilman William Reid is unopposed in June, as is Republican Sean Alfred. The two will be on the November ballot.

Independents may file on June 8 to be on the November ballot.

Winners in November will receive four-year terms starting Jan. 1, 2011.

--Bernice Paglia

Senior Center Costs: More Than $1

Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs visits the Senior Center Nov. 10 after winning re-election.

The City Council will vote tonight on paying Dornoch $287,371.97 for various costs associated with the new senior center on the ground floor of the condo development, The Monarch.

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

The item was added to the agenda on April 5, but not discussed. According to the resolution up for a vote tonight, costs include $30,250 in payments broken down as follows:

-$16,500, representing $2,750 per month in common fees for November 2009 through April 2010
-A non-refundable three-month maintenance charge of $8,250

-$2,750 security for payment of common fees

-$2,750 for a full-month assessment payment in advance.

In addition, Dornoch is requiring $257,121.97 in costs to build out the center, which were approved by the governing body.

Together, they make the total of $287,371.97.

The resolution states that the city took occupancy before ownership transfer. The $2,750 common fee will obviously be ongoing, for an annual rate of $33,000.

Perhaps there will be a fuller explanation tonight of the costs.

--Bernice

BOA Approves 25 Apartments

Corrections: The approval was for a use variance only. The applicant must return for site plan approval. Apartments are permitted, but not at the density proposed, therefore the need for a variance.

Not only did I miss the Feb. 20 legal notice about a proposal to build 25 apartments on South Avenue, I missed last week's Board of Adjustment meeting where it was approved.

TJC & BVR LLC received approval for the 25 two-bedroom apartments with 38 parking spaces at 916-926 South Avenue. The "Netherwood Pointe" project is in a mixed-use zone where residential uses are not permitted, thus the need for a variance. The site is a former nursery.

Despite the view that the city has too many renters, several recent proposals for apartments have received approvals from the land use boards. They include four separate projects on Park Avenue and one on West Front Street. A proposal for 100 apartments on the PNC Bank block has also been floated, but the developer has not yet applied to land use boards.

At the same meeting Wednesday, the Barack Obama Green Charter School received approval to locate in the Boys & Girls Club building on West Seventh Street. Click here for Plaintalker's report from last month.

--Bernice

Update on PayPal Experiment

A dear reader nudged me into setting up a PayPal account for donations in February. So far, three donations have totaled $110, including one check sent by mail.

Jim Hopkins has resumed publishing Gannett Blog and is also taking donations. As a former Gannettoid, I find his blog very interesting and I have sent him money in appreciation.

If you are so inclined, you can send donations for Plaintalker via PayPal to bernice.paglia "at" gmail.com or inquire there for a mailing address.

There is a small controversy in the blogosphere over whether aggregators should get paid for assembling other folks' original content. I tend to come down on the side of originators over aggregators, but both are here to stay, so let all monetize as they wish.

--Bernice

Seen Around the City

It's good to know that hopscotch lives, even in these times of video games and texting.

It's not your nonna's pizza at Ferraro's - broccoli, spinach, BBQ chicken, chicken parm - creative and colorful.

This guy was just singing his heart out on North Avenue. Starlings are among the funniest of the invasive bird species, full of enthusiasm and joie de vivre.

A lovely tree in bloom by the main train station. Check out the cherry trees at the Plainfield Public Library, too.

These are trout lilies or a close relative, on the grounds of City Hall.
What interesting sights have you seen lately around the city?
--Bernice

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Don't Miss Mattson Exhibit

Jean Mattson is one of Plainfield's cultural assets. Plaintalker urges all to take time to see her photographs, either at the opening Saturday or when visiting the library through June 30.

--Bernice

From Plainfield Public Library Director Joe Da Rold:

A retrospective exhibit of the works of Plainfield photographer Jean Mattson will open on April 17, 2010, at the Plainfield Public Library, with a reception from noon to 2:00 p.m. in the Room 2 Gallery. The exhibit will run through June 30, 2010.

Thirty black & white portraits have been selected to showcase the people of Ireland and Plainfield. Her photography captures the essence of each person as an integral part of his or her culture, family, and town. Every face holds a story.

Through her portraits of Irish children and families in Dublin, she illuminates the texture of the city’s substructure with its vibrant street life and people of all ages.

Her Plainfield images document the city changing from the old guard to the African-Americans who rose to prominence in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Jean Mattson, photographer, genealogist, and college professor, was born in Plainfield in 1927. She holds two Masters degrees, one from Columbia University in African History and the other from Temple University in Educational Media. She became interested in photography when working at Kean in their Media Department. She taught at Kean until her 80th birthday.

In 2008, she donated 52 of her Plainfield portraits to the Plainfield Public Library. Those images not in the exhibit may be seen by appointment by calling the Local History Department at 908-757-1111, ext. 136.

The library is located at 800 Park Avenue at the corner of 8th Street in Plainfield. The exhibit and reception are open to the public. All areas are handicapped accessible. Call 908-757-1111 for open hours, or go to the library’s website at www.plfdpl.info.

Read BOE Candidates' Responses to LWV

The Plainfield League of Women Voters has compiled answers to three questions posed to school board candidates in advance of the April 14 candidates' forum.

Click here to read the questions and candidates' responses.

There are 14 candidates this year. Those vying for three three-year terms are incumbents Wilma Campbell, Martin Cox and Christian Estevez, and challengers Rasheed Abdul-Haqq, Mary Burgwinkle, Jaclynne Callands, Catherine Crittendon, Danielle Fletcher, Mahogany Hendricks and Renata Hernandez. Candidates for a one-year unexpired term are Keisha Edwards, Carmencita Pile, Denise Riley and Clayton Tucker Sr. Tucker did not meet a LWV deadline for submission of responses.

The candidates' forum is from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. April 14 at Emerson School, 305 Emerson Ave.

--Bernice Paglia

June Primary Filings Due Monday

Candidates for two City Council seats must file by 4 p.m. Monday for the June 8 primary election.

At a Democratic City Committee meeting on April 2, Chairman and Assemblyman Jerry Green announced support for incumbents William Reid and Rashid Burney and acknowledged two contenders for Burney's seat. Reid represents the First Ward and Burney holds the Second & Third Ward at-large seat. Rebecca Williams and former Councilman Don Davis announced their intention to challenge Burney at the meeting. The council term is four years.

Davis formerly represented the Third Ward and could have been an appointee to that seat if the current incumbent, Adrian Mapp, had accepted a position as the city's chief finance officer. However, an April 1 deadline set by Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs passed without the hiring of a CFO. The mayor said she expects to hire one soon. The city has been without a permanent CFO since Peter Sepelya retired in December 2007.

Councilwoman Linda Carter has Green's support to run for a three-year Union County freeholder seat. Incumbent Rayland Van Blake, also a former City Council member, did not get the county party's support for re-election.

Petitions for council seats must be returned to the City Clerk's office in City Hall, while freeholder petitions must be filed with the Union County Clerk. Winners of primary contests will go on to the Nov. 2 general election.

--Bernice Paglia

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Can FY 2011 Budget Be Early?

Monday’s City Council meeting included a discussion on how soon the FY2011 budget can be adopted and whether foregoing extraordinary state aid would speed up the process.

The city’s fiscal year begins on July 1, but budget adoptions have consistently occurred as late as the third quarter, meaning most of the money has already been spent through temporary or emergency appropriations, and savings can only be eked out in the last quarter of the year.

The process is that department and division heads make known their budget needs early on, and the administration then may modify them. The City Council introduces the budget as presented by the administration, and then may make more changes before adoption.

But then there is the question of extraordinary state aid. The city usually asks for millions of dollars, but may only receive thousands. In the last round, the city requested $3.5 million and received just $250,000. Under Gov. Chris Christie, extraordinary state aid may not even be available as he works to meet a huge state budget gap.

Councilman Adrian Mapp, a certified finance officer with experience in dealing with Trenton, said Monday he strongly recommended not relying on state aid. Mapp said the benefits of early budget adoption “far outweighed” the state aid benefits.

The wait for notice of state aid flies in the face of a state-recommended timeline for budget introduction and adoption.

Although some council members supported early adoption of a “draft” budget, Councilman William Reid is one who wants the budget in place at the beginning of the fiscal year, at least by early September.

Councilman Cory Storch also said he thought there should be a draft budget by early August. As it was this year, the council had just three or four months to deal with budget cuts and Storch said, “That’s a disaster.”

But City Administrator Bibi Taylor said there were documents such as the annual financial statements from city auditors that were necessary before a budget statement could be produced, and also noted that once a budget is adopted, it cannot be amended (thus making the idea of adopting a draft budget unfeasible).

Still, a council majority agreed to urge early adoption, while also noting the lack of a chief finance officer and a finance director are hindering fiscal accountability.

The city has not had a CFO since 2007 and has had many directors of the Department of Administration, Finance, Health and Social Services in the past four years. Taylor was the last one in 2009, and was to continue to Jan. 31, but no successor has been named.

--Bernice Paglia

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Beijing Comes to PARSA

Photo credit: PARSA

Plainfield Area Regional Sewerage Authority Director Rob Villee accepts a gift - a commemorative paperweight from the Beijing Opera - from Beijing Drainage Group Senior Engineer and Manager Kuang Nuo.

Photo credit: PARSA

Visitors from Beijing came to the PARSA offices in Middlesex Wednesday to learn more about a flow monitoring system that revolutionized billing for the eight Central Jersey municipalities served by PARSA.

Sewerage from Fanwood, Watchung, Scotch Plains, Plainfield, North Plainfield, South Plainfield, Green Brook and Dunellen passes through the PARSA system on its way to the Middlesex County Utilities Authority for treatment. Villee said the new flow monitoring system settled several questions of flow costs both from the participating communities as well as what was received by the MCUA.

The meeting Wednesday with a translator was facilitated by Teledyne Isco, manufacturers of the flow meter software which is so sophisticated that Villee said a system alarm can be received on his cell phone.

Villee, the authority's director since 1996, said PARSA , with a staff of only seven, was flattered at being selected for the visit. Other sites the group will visit include Atlanta, Orlando, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Teledyne Isco translator Leo Cho facilitated Wednesday's visit.

Villee said PARSA was proud to be selected.

"We're kind of this little, small agency," he said.

Beijing has a population of 13 million, in contrast with Plainfield's struggle to get up to 50,000 in the 2010 census. The information sought in the delegation's five-city U.S. tour is for a new project, Villee said. China is currently facing multiple challenges to modernize.

PARSA is the successor to the Plainfeld Joint Meeting, which formerly served the municipalities for conveyance of sewerage to the MCUA treatment plant. In Plaintalker's eyes, it is remarkable for being a very lean organization in contrast to other authorities.

--Bernice Paglia

Shakespeare Garden

Shakespeare Garden Undergoes Renovations

Grant awards are fueling improvements to one of Plainfield’s stellar attractions, the Shakespeare Garden in Cedar Brook Park.

A $3,000 grant from a division of the Garden Club of America and a September 2009 grant of $7,250 from the Plainfield Foundation are funding improvements including a new picket fence, a new boulder retention wall, a new pergola and many new plantings.

The Olmsted-designed park echoes Shakespeare Gardens around the world that feature plants mentioned in works of the Bard. For the renovation, Plainfield Garden Club members, who maintain the garden, studied hundreds of plant mentioned in Shakespeare’s work to come up with selections for the garden’s renewal.

On Wednesday (April 7, 2010), staff from Union County could be seen improving the grounds, erecting the new pergola and cleaning up the site. Plainfield Garden Club members were busy weeding and preparing planting beds.

Incoming president Mandy Zachariades said it was in her first week as a member that she noticed the main crossbeam of the old pergola was completely cracked, necessitating its removal for safety reasons. The new construction will feature a composite, rot-proof material that should last indefinitely.

The old pergola was covered in Trumpet Vine, not a Shakespearean species, but the new one will be planted with vines of Eglantine Rose, Honeysuckle and Hops, all mentioned in Shakespeare's works.

On June 5, the Plainfield Garden Club will host a “Shakespeare in Bloom” event beginning at 10 a.m. It will be a “working day” where members, guests and the community will install both hundreds of new plants along with annuals grown from seed by members.

Zachariades said the knot garden will feature boxwood, lavender and lilies and the club will plant poppies to “blanket the garden.”

Cedar Brook Park is on the National Register of Historic Places and so is the Shakespeare Garden, in a separate nomination.

Zachariades urged attendance on June 5, saying, “”You’re going to see a lot.”

Click on http://www.plainfieldgardenclub.org/ to learn more about the group and its work.

--Bernice Paglia

Addendum to Demolition Story

New director of Public Works & Urban Development David Brown II told the City Council Monday that the cost of the North Avenue demolition could be as much as $200,000.

Councilman Adrian Mapp pointed out that although the resolution states that amount, the agenda item's wording is "in excess of $21,ooo."

"The public needs to know how much it is costing," Mapp said.

(At agenda-fixing sessions, members of the public can take a printed agenda to follow along with the council's considerations, but the actual resolutions and ordinances are contained in one large binder that is set out for public viewing. A copy of the agenda and the background material is also supposed to be on file at the reference desk of the Plainfield Public Library by Saturday morning preceding the Monday meeting. The binder is also available for viewing in the City Clerk's office on the day of an agenda-fixing session. Plaintalker customarily checks the resolutions and ordinances, as the agenda items are just summaries.)

City Administrator Bibi Taylor said it was a "three-part resolution," first to declare an emergency, then to award a contract and last to make an emergency appropriation for FY 2011.

The work was done by Oveter's Construction Co. of Plainfield and East Orange.

Councilman William Reid asked if anyone else was contacted and Taylor said due to the emergency, there was no time for quotes.

In a previous emergency demolition on North Avenue several years ago, Oliver Brown of Oveter's and a representative of Mazzocchi Wrecking looked at the site before Brown's company got the job. That building, at the corner of Gavett Place and North Avenue, was owned by the city, but deteriorated in a similar fashion to the one at 187 North Avenue that was privately owned.

--Bernice Paglia

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Council Discusses Demolition


The cost of demolishing a 19th century building on North Avenue now stands at $140,000, but could rise to $200,000, officials said in a City Council meeting Monday.

Built in 1886, the building was an integral part of the historic streetscape directly across from the city’s main train station. City officials declared it an imminent hazard after bricks fell off a parapet on March 23 and it was torn down two days later. Attempts to reach the owner were unsuccessful. Although a lien will be placed on the property, the city will bear the immediate cost, which will show up as an emergency appropriation in the FY 2011 budget.

City Administrator Bibi Taylor explained the events that led to the demolition, but Councilman William Reid said, “Someone should have been looking at buildings like this in the past so we wouldn’t have to demolish them.”

Reid said the building’s deterioration took a number of years and questioned the role of the Inspections Division, saying the administration should set up a team to study similar buildings.

Councilman Rashid Burney agreed, saying, “Enforcement – early, often and hard – is the answer.”

Burney noted another building in bad shape about half a block west. The façade is boarded up, but the rear is open to the elements.

Water damage over many years was also a factor in the demolition of the 1886 building, as it had no roof and floors had collapsed. It had been marked by the Fire Division some time ago as unsafe to enter. Although it had liens dating back to 1994, Taylor said, there was some thought that redevelopment would take place.

As Plaintalker has reported, former NBA star Jayson Williams promised in the 1990s to redevelop the North Avenue Commercial Historic District, between Watchung and Park avenues, but nothing transpired. In 2006, Landmark Developers agreed to redevelop the district and the Union County Improvement Authority was to oversee the plan.

Councilman Cory Storch asked whether the administration was aware of an abandoned property ordinance passed in 2005 that allowed the city to take property if an owner neglected it despite warnings and timelines for action.

“We have to get the clock running,” he said.

But Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson repeated the notion that someone was going to come in and redevelop the entire tract.

At this point, the main concern is to stabilize walls of adjoining buildings, one of which has a “party wall” that had been structurally connected to the demolished building. Part of the demolition cost will be to shore up both walls.

Council President Annie McWilliams asked why the façade could not be saved, but Remington & Vernick Engineer Wendell Bibbs said it was a question of “competing interests” and who would pay for preserving a façade on private property. Bibbs also noted that due to wear, the façade was essentially just a stack of bricks. This comment was borne out in the demolition, when just the tap of a machine’s claw brought down entire walls.

Reid disagreed, saying “Any façade can be reproduced with modern construction methods.”

--Bernice Paglia

Blowin' in the Wind


A clanking sound made me look up as I passed Pingry Arms on my way to City Hall Monday.

It was a large piece of metal, dangling from the exterior of the third floor. Thinking it would be a hazard if it fell, I called Inspections to report it.

Later I wondered whether it belonged to the cell tower installation on the roof, as it appeared to be a cover for some wires or pipes. If so, it might take longer to sort out who should fix it.

Just be careful on windy days at East Seventh & Crescent.

--Bernice

Meeting Notes

Redbud on East Sixth Street.

The City Council covered enough territory for several blog posts last night. Plaintalker will post separately on the demolition issue. Late into the meeting, the mention of having six horses used for a campaign event was enough to stop folks from nodding off. The permit with details is not yet on file in the City Clerk's office, but the concept seems curious, given what comes to mind when thinking of horses. City Administrator Bibi Taylor recommended that a council resolution granting permission for the use of horses should include a "pooper-scooper" clause. Councilman William Reid also wanted a clean-up required, as well as the customary liability insurance and reimbursement for any extra police presence. The applicant, former Councilman Al Hendricks, wants permission granted at the April 12 meeting for the April 16 event.
As Dr. Yood noted, Councilwoman Linda Carter took part via a phone connection and gave a report from the City & Neighborhood Services committee. Reports of council committees will be posted on the city web site. As previously noted by Plaintalker, these reports are a bit cumbersome to cover on a blog, so check www.plainfield.com for full reports.
The City Council is still looking for a free, local site for a retreat, since new rules from the state preclude out-of-town stays. Council President Annie McWilliams is leading plans for the retreat.
Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson gave statistics that, he said, show the city is not in violation of a residency requirement. Members of the Plainfield Municipal Employees Association questioned why workers who live in the city were laid off while outsiders kept their jobs.
Williamson said of 209 regular employees, 134 live in the city and 75 are non-residents. When the ordinance was passed in 2002, he said, six employees were given waivers and 15 others were exempt because they possessed special skills. Fire and Police division employees are exempt from residency requirements, he said, but of 100 firefighters, 53 live in the city and of 145 police officers, 57 are Plainfield residents.
"It appears the city of Plainfield is in good shape" regarding the ordinance, Williamson said.
There was also a discussion of the budget timetable for FY2011, which will require a separate post.
More later.
--Bernice

Monday, April 05, 2010

Revised Health Fees Coming Up for Vote

Proposed Health Division fee increases that shocked merchants and others in January have been revised and will be up for a city Council vote on April 12.

The new schedule phases in many increases over three years and a couple have been dropped altogether. In seeking increases, Health Officer Mark Colicchio said fees had not changed in 16 years. But after the outcry over the original schedule, city officials met with business groups to hear their concerns.

In contrast to earlier proposed increases as much as 300 percent, the new schedule has many fees phased in at 30, 20 and 10 percent hikes over three years.

One section of the new schedule will retain increases proposed earlier, hiking $5 fees for certificates of birth, marriage or death to $25. Additional copies of such documents will be $5. Burial permits will go from $10 to $15 and a certificate of burial fee will change from $5 to $15 upon adoption of ordinance amendments. Marriage licenses will stay at the state-mandated fee, $28, and the city will add the same fee for Domestic Partner certifications.

Gone from the new schedule are fees for self-service laundries, including extra fees for each machine. But pharmacies and newsstands that sell snacks will be in for a new, phased fee starting at $50 in 2011 and rising to $78 by 2013.

Mobile food trucks were facing a new $250 fee under the old schedule, but will now start with $150 in 2011 and increase to $234 in 2013. New fees will be imposed on body art establishments, tanning salons, barbershops and massage parlors, but they are much lower than the original proposed fees. For example, the proposed fee for an establishment offering tattoos or piercings was reduced from $500 to $150 and will not take effect until January 2011.

Church and school kitchens will face a new fee of $75 in 2011, rising to $117 in 2013.

The proposed fees for food establishments without seating were compressed, so that places ranging from zero to 299 square feet, which now have three separate fees, will all be assessed at the top fee of $125. Similarly, those ranging from 300 to 599 square feet will face the highest of three former fees. But changes will not begin until 2011.

Dog and cat licenses will be increased, from $11.20 to $15.20 in 2011 for non-neutered animals and from $8.20 to $10.20 for neutered or spayed animals.

The full schedule may be obtained at the City Clerk’s office.

To see Plaintalker’s previous reports on the proposed fees, click here.

--Bernice Paglia