Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Ledger: Police Chief blames suspension on questions

Chief blames suspension on questions
Plainfield mayor denies the action was tied to question on applicant


When the Plainfield mayor put the police chief on paid leave two weeks ago, she said it was because she didn't want her criticism of the department to land her a role in a lawsuit the chief filed last year.

Now a lawyer for top cop Edward Santiago claims his client was booted hours after voicing concerns about the promotion of a department employee.

The employee, dispatcher Cynthia Crawford, is married to the president of the police union, which last week publicly supported Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs's removal of Santiago.

"He raised questions and questioned the qualifications of that person," said Santiago's attorney Todd Shea. Two hours later, Santiago received a letter that he was being put on leave. "The timing of it certainly gives the inference of retaliation," Shea said.

Robinson-Briggs said she was not aware Santiago had been consulted on the promotion. "There was no retaliation," she said.

Crawford filed for an open position as dispatch supervisor shortly before Santiago was removed, said her husband, Andre Crawford, president of Plainfield Policemen's Benevolent Association Local 19.

Santiago was perceived as an ally of former Mayor Albert McWilliams, who fought with the union over a new contract. In the November election, the union endorsed Robinson-Briggs, who beat McWilliams.

Andre Crawford dismissed Shea's claim that the two incidents were linked.

"They're just trying to cloud the issues," he said. "All of this is really irrelevant." Crawford deferred further comment to the union's vice president, William Tyler.

Civilian employees in the police department and police officers are promoted by the safety director in consultation with the chief, said personnel director Karen Dabney. Employees are ranked by their scores on a state test, which factors in military service and seniority for cops. The chief and safety director must choose from the top three scores, Dabney said.

Robinson-Briggs names Lt. Ron Lattimore acting chief. Lattimore is the brother of former safety director Michael Lattimore and ranks lower than several captains on the force. The mayor said she chose Lattimore on the advice of safety director Martin Hellwig.

"I followed his lead as an expert in that field," she said.

Santiago's leave stems from a lawsuit he filed against the city in August, claiming his reputation was tarnished after former safety director Michael Lattimore suspended him for a day in 2003. He has been with the department for 30 years. Santiago was appointed acting chief in 1998 and chief a year later, making him the first Latino to hold the job.

Julia M. Scott covers Plainfield. She may be reached at jscott@starledger.com or (908) 302-1505.
This article appeared in the print edition only of the Star-Ledger, Tuesday, February 28, 2006, Union County section, page 25.

New contact info for Dan

Thursday will be my last day at City Hall.

After that I enter the twilight zone of the charmingly named 'terminal leave' -- meaning using up my unused sick time as per the City's agreement with its unions -- and accrued vacation time, with an actual retirement date of 5/31/2006.

Please change my contact information as follows:
Add as only email: dandamon@comcast.net
As of Thursday, the following City contact information should be deleted:
Dan Damon
Public Information Officer
City of Plainfield (NJ)
(908) 226-4905 voice
(908) 963-5142 cell
Answers to some questions I have been asked recently:

Q: Who do I contact at City Hall regarding press or public information matters?
A: No decision has been made to replace me with a person with these duties. Queries should be addressed to the Mayor's office, (908) 753-3227.
Q: Will you be leaving the area?
A: Absolutely not. I'm in the process of re-establishing old relationships with individuals and organizations that were put aside for the years that I served as the City's spokesperson. I recently joined the Chamber of Commerce, and look forward to many more years of active service to the community.
Q: How can you be retiring, you're not old enough!
A: The State has set up a special 'Junior Retirement Program.' Anyone who is at least 39 years of age and has 40 years of service is qualified. In Plainfield, each year of service counts for five calendar years, so I am qualified to retire at the young age of 39. Along with Jack Benny.
Q: Would you considering running for public office?
A: An interesting idea, but I really haven't given it any thought.
-- Dan Damon
Keywords: Retirement

Monday, February 27, 2006

TW3: # 02 - February 20 - 26, 2006

Monday's posts will take the form of a digest of Plainfield-only news from the past week: THAT WAS THE WEEK THAT WAS -- or TW3 -- with links to the online stories.


Santiago imbroglio: Mayor Robinson-Briggs' putting Police Chief Ed Santiago on paid leave continued to be the top story this past week, with a demonstration by the PBA, and a report by the Courier of a rally of support planned by the Latin American Coalition. The Mayor's appointment of Lt. Ron Lattimore as acting chief came out of the gate as something of a fizzle: When was the appointment to take effect? The prepared release said 'immediately,' then a spokeswoman for the mayor said a formal announcement had been postponed. Though it was scooped by the Courier, the Ledger managed to get a couple of whacks in in its story: an intimation that Santiago's attorney is viewing the leave as retaliatory, and a reassurance from PBA president Andre Crawford that there is 'no political axe to grind' since former mayor Al McWilliams is gone. On Sunday, the Courier editorialized the game was not worth the candle: there are reasons why police chiefs are hard to remove, and the Administration's strategy is likely to be costly to the taxpayers, they opined. As the old saying goes, once they call in the lawyers, everybody else loses.

Council meeting dates: Trailing, but not by far, is the drama over the proposal by the Council to change its time-honored meeting schedule. The proposal, the Courier points out, would certainly benefit Public Works Director Jenny Wenson-Maier who is also a Rahway councilperson and cannot attend all Plainfield's meetings as currently set. The plan drew flak at the Council meeting, which the PlainTalker pointed out, as did the Courier on Saturday. Perhaps most interesting is the observation by Bob Darden that many churches have their Bible study groups on Wednesday evenings. Will the Council force the voting public to choose between exercising their religion and attending Council meetings?

le Parti, c'est moi?: But perhaps the biggest bombshell of the week came with Bernice's coverage of Friday night's Democratic City Committee meeting, where chairperson Assemblyman Jerry Green announced he, and he alone, would pick the candidates for the Democratic primary in June. The PlainTalker leaves the dailies in the dust. . .

On other fronts, Bernice covered a joint meeting of the Planning, Zoning and HPC boards, honed in on the Council's own committee structure, and the expected Council action on the Mayor's nominations to various boards. Question for you: Does the Council appoint? Or does it merely give its assent to the Mayor's appointments?

Last, and least, Dan's piece on the email adventures of the new Administration,
pfld = Plainfield? Whatever!


No murders this week, but there was a drive-by shooting on Liberty Street, reported by the Courier and the Ledger. And a Plainfield man led cops on a three-town chase...

Everyone in the Prospect/Kensington/Hillside/Putnam area is still waiting for the papers to pick up on the rash of daytime burglaries and whether the police have caught anyone...


Stories from other NJ towns that may bear lessons for Plainfield
..... - Banking: "In banking, small is the new big"
........... With PNC taking over United Trust and Plainfield only a place to exploit, this resonates
..... - Code Enforcement: "East Orange apartments called unsafe; large fines could result"
..... - Commercial Vehicles: Letter: Commercial Vehicles in Residential Driveways
..... - Parking, On-Street: "Nutley defends its decades-old limits on parking"
..... - Pay-to-Play: "Maplewood eyes 'pay to play' ban that Plainfield shelved"
..... - Taxes: "Value of Short Hills Mall at issue; residents question tax settlement"
..... - Zoning: "Montclair Mile: 'Prohibited use' pits established businesses against new"


Plainfield Today: "Charlie Brown's: A Plainfield success story cut short"
Plainfield Today: "FOSH invites you to do good by eating out"
School Board [2nd item]: "David Graves appointed to school board"
Plain Talker: "Board of Ed Filings Due Monday"
Plainfield Today - Amended Information added: "Library's photo contest has cash prizes"


Book Signing: "Mohawk Lodge hosts a book-signing featuring black authors"
Plainfield Today: "Paying for influence: Charts accompanying press on lobbyist filings"
Obituary: "Ella M. Bryant, formerly of Plainfield, mother of Eloise Bryant Tinley"
Obituary: "Antwine L. McAllister, shooting victim"
Picture Story - CN: "Boys & Girls Club's 'Father-Daughter' Dance"
Indoor Track 'Meet of Champs': "PHS' Reginald Dixon races to 55-meter victory"
PHS Basketball:
..... - "Plainfield returns to county title tilt; 1st time since 1984"
..... - "Boys Basketball: Disappointed Plainfield falls to St. Patrick"
..... - "Section-by-section glance at the state tournament"
..... - "Players to watch in the state tournament: Jerrell Thompson"

-- Dan Damon
Keywords: TW3

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Rick Taylor's letter to the editor: "4 women of color made a difference"

4 women of color made a difference
It has been my happy privilege to have met and known four uniquely gifted women of color: namely Rosa Parks, the mother of the modern civil rights movement; the honorable Nellie F. Suratt, a Plainfield pioneer; Coretta Scott King, the first lady of the civil rights movement; and finally, the bon-vivant quintessential democrat, Helen Miller.

Each of these women had one significant trait. They were women who were indefatigable, relentless and undaunted. When history books look back at this four-month period, October 2005 to February 2006, it is worth noting that superb fruit comes in bunches in order to savor the sweetness.

Much has been written about Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King because of their international celebrity. Quite frankly, very few people outside the City of Plainfield know about the political exploits of either the late Nellie F. Suratt or Helen Miller.

Suratt was the first woman of color to occupy the coveted position of city council president. The youth of Plainfield need to know that when the city was awarded the distinguished "All-American Award for Civic Excellence," it was Suratt who led this delegation in the 1970s. Additionally, when Plainfield was facing some of its riotous moments, she became a calming spirit.

When I served as a youthful mayor of Plainfield in 1985, Helen Miller was city council president. When the city launched its determined effort to convince then-Gov. Thomas Kean and the state legislature to make Plainfield New Jersey's fifth Urban Enterprise Zone, we were contested by many cities, but Miller was indomitable.

And when I faced moments of despair and doubt, it was Miller whop picked up the baton as we faced the state's indifference.

She also worked to build a senior center in Plainfield and was a staunch supporter of the Second Street Youth Boxing Team.

In closing, Mrs. Miller was the hardest-working elected official whom I have ever had the privilege to meet and work with. She was an absolute role model.

--The Rev. Richard Taylor, Plainfield
--Transcribed by Dan Damon
Published in the Star-Ledger, Union County section, Sunday, February 26, 2006

Paying for influence

Both the Ledger and the Courier ran stories in the Saturday editions on the revenues and expenditures of New Jersey lobbyists. Both were accompanied by tables based on data from the Election Law Enforcement Commission that did not appear in the online editions of the stories. I have recreated same below, with links to the original stories. As always, you can click on the image to see a larger version.
The chart below illustrated the story in the Courier News, which can be found here.
The charts below illustrate the story in the Star-Ledger, which can be found here.
-- Dan Damon
Keywords: Lobbyists, charts

SL: "Cable fight ups tab for lobbying; brawl reruns this legislative session"
CN: "N.J. lobbyist spending hit record high in 2005"

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Courier: Council to vote to change meeting date

[I am posting the following story from today's Courier print edition which is not in the online edition. -- Dan]

The City Council has moved a step closer to moving regular council meetings from Monday to Wednesday nights.

The six council members in attendance at Monday's regular meeting voted unanimously to approve an ordinance amending the council's set schedule. Currently, council members meet each Monday -- alternating agenda session switch regular meetings every other week.

Under the planned schedule, agenda sessions generally would be held every other Monday, regular meetings would follow on Wednesday of the same week, and there would be a week off in between.

Several residents asked questions about the move, since it would alter a long history of Monday meetings.

"That's why nothing's getting done -- too many people trying to make changes," George Smith said, objecting to the change.

The proposal must pass on a second vote before it is finally adopted.

-- Chad Weihrauch in the Courier News, Saturday, February 25, 2006

Friday, February 24, 2006

W's Adventures with Cow Pies - A Selection of Editorial Cartoons

Visit the home page for Darryl Cagle's larger collection of topical editorial cartoons here.
Click on an image to enlarge it.

Chan Lowe, The South Florida Sun Sentinel

Mike Keefe, The Denver Post


Pat Bagley, Salt Lake Tribune

Drew Sheneman, The Star Ledger

Don Wright, The Palm Beach Post

John Branch, The San Antonio Express-News

Bob Gorrell, National/Syndicated

Scott Stantis, The Birmingham News

Thursday, February 23, 2006

FOSH invites you to do good by eating out


Eat your way to good works? With Lent approaching, that's an intriguing idea. And the Friends of Sleepy Hollow [FOSH] and Freshwaters are making it possible. Here's how.

In A TASTE OF PLAINFIELD, a new program of dinner events to introduce people to Plainfield restaurants they may not have tried or may not have visited recently, FOSH is teaming with Freshwaters next Tuesday, February 28th, to promote a 'dinner event.'

Here's how it works. You dine at Freshwaters and leave a form indicating you are participating in the FOSH Dinner Event. The good works? Freshwaters will donate a portion of the proceeds to FOSH to benefit its scholarship program for Plainfield High School seniors, and other community initiatives.

Haven't eaten at Freshwaters yet? Come and see why critics rave about the 'down home' food -- BBQ ribs, fried chicken, crab cakes and more. And if you haven't tried Sharon's special desserts, you owe yourself this real treat.

Here's what to do:
  • Email FOSH at fosh@foshnj.com to let them know you are participating (FOSH will give Freshwaters an idea of how many are coming, but is NOT making reservations for you).
  • Click on the form at the bottom of this page to enlarge it or get it from the FOSH website here, print it out, fill it out, and bring it with you so FOSH gets credit for your visit.
  • Make a reservation with Freshwaters if your party is six or larger (561-9099).
  • Show up.
  • Enjoy!
Visit the Friends of Sleepy Hollow website here. And Freshwaters website is here

Tuesday, February 28th
Dine between 5:30 PM and 9:00 PM
1442 South Avenue, Plainfield
(908) 561-9099

(Click on this image to enlarge. Print it out. Fill it out and take it along.)

-- Dan Damon
Keywords: Food, fun, FOSH

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

pfld = Plainfield? Whatever!


pfld = Plainfield? Yup!

That's what email correspondents discovered earlier this month as new staffers got their email addresses assigned and started to get the word out that they were 'connected' at last.

Except that for many people, there was no connection. Instead people whose fingers instinctively typed p-l-f-d as an abbreviation for Plainfield got bounced messages and were left to try and figure out what was wrong.

Actually, nothing was wrong. But nothing was right, either.

It seems that since the advent of email -- now about ten years for many of us in the public sector -- correspondents in a hurry have adopted p-l-f-d as shorthand for Plainfield. At least that is my experience from the email addresses of many at City Hall and the thousands of emails I have received over the years.

But it's not written down anywhere, which is why you can't say it's either right or wrong. No spelling police for Plainfield -- yet!

But now confusion has entered the tidy little world that plfd had all to itself, and it sure is gonna be inconvenient.

Word has it that the 'mistake' will be corrected in a couple of months. Email addresses are supposed to be adjusted and new business cards printed. (Your tax dollars at work.)


Except that by that time we'll all have the new addresses in our address books, and everyone will have forgotten about this post. It'll be like Sid Ceasar and Imogene Coca all over again.

There's an old saying: "It doesn't matter whether the stone bumps the jug or the jug bumps the stone, it is sad for the jug."

-- Dan Damon
Keywords: communications

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Charlie Brown's: A Plainfield success story cut short

Well, it was actually What's Your Beef, which is how it was known before it became Charlie Brown's. And it was a Plainfield success story. Emphasize was.

The Courier ran a story in the print edition on Sunday (February 19) in recognition of
Charlie Brown's 40th anniversary. Reading it brought back memories of one of Plainfield's roaring successes during a less than auspicious time in our history.

The day we moved in from Brooklyn in the early 1980s, we were tired and hungry after lugging boxes around. Without a working kitchen or the desire to cook even if there were one, we set off in search of a place to get something to eat. Shouldn't be hard in a town of 45,000, right?

Not knowing the town at all, we drove around aimlessly looking for a restaurant. Front Street didn't turn up anything that seemed open. (Turns out there was Lily Greenleaves, but it was so low-key that we missed it entirely.) Eventually we stumbled on What's Your Beef, on Roosevelt Avenue at East Third Street, nestled up against the railroad tracks and a block from the train station.

This was clearly a happening place! It was packed with a noisy, friendly crowd. The bar was jammed. There was a wait at the door for a table. The food was ample and edible, and the service was friendly and efficient. What more could you want?

Turns out that we ate there nearly nightly for the six months it took us to get our kitchen organized. And frequently thereafter as we made friends in the community and found that it was everybody's favorite hangout.

It was at
What's Your Beef that I first met Rick Taylor.

Rick would always arrive with an entourage and stop at every table to say 'Hi' on the way to his own. He always stopped at our table, spoke or shook hands with everyone and made small talk. Everyone with him always seemed to have a good time.

It seemed that everyone who was anyone in Plainfield came to the restaurant -- to eat, to drink, to see or be seen.

We fell in with a group that ate there at least once a week, among whom were Chris Larew and Jerry Clark, Allen Mintzer and Randy Phillips, and other friends, including Joe.

Kathleen, an Irish waitress with a quick wit and a thick brogue, adopted us all and would make a beeline for our table as soon as we were seated. She was great fun and made the place feel like being at a friend's as much as at a restaurant.

Once, we took along as part of our party Joe's mother, who was visiting from his Alabama hometown. Joe's nickname was 'Precious.' I don't know where it came from, but just about everyone called him by this handle rather than Joe.

However, in preparation for this particular night, with his mother coming along, Joe had sternly instructed us all in advance that it was to be strictly 'Joe' that night -- no 'Precious.'

We arrived and after a brief wait at the door were seated at a large round table. True to form, Kathleen bustled over to give us our menus and take our drink orders. We went around the table and she ended with Joe. When it came his turn, she put her elbow lightly on his shoulder, order pad and pen poised in mid-air, and said, "Well, what'll it be tonight, precious?"

Everyone was mortified and froze in place. I think we were all sure Joe would believe we had put
Kathleen up to it. But Joe's mother immediately chirped, "Why, Precious (dragging it out as only a Southerner can), she knows your pet name! Isn't that sweet?"

We all laughed until the tears ran down our cheeks. But I don't think Joe ever believed it was a complete accident, which it was.

The fun times at
What's Your Beef were not to last. Without any evidence that the business was off, the place was shut down on relatively short notice and the staff moved lock-stock-and-barrel to a new Charlie Brown's on Plainfield Avenue in Metuchen, next to the Metuchen County Club.

We went a few times and got
Kathleen as our waitress. But eventually we drifted away. Kathleen was still there when we went a few years ago, but the atmosphere just wasn't the same and we've not been back.

I did ask, though, about why the restaurant had moved when they had such an obviously successful location in Plainfield. The reason, I was told, was that there was a problem acquiring space for parking. Now parking had been something of an issue, and we often had had to park half a block away. But, hey, in New York City, finding a parking space that close would be considered rare good luck, so we thought nothing of it. Ours was not a suburban point of view, I quickly learned.

J. Pierpont Morgan, one of the robber barons, once remarked, "A man always has two reasons for the things he does: a good one, and the real one." Suspecting there was more to the story of the restaurant's move than the parking situation, I asked
Kathleen what the real scoop was.

"Too many shootings in the neighborhood," she said with a shrug that indicated the move wasn't her idea.

What's Your Beef/Charlie Brown's should consider coming back. The old space is vacant. Or maybe near the new County office building. There is plenty of parking. And we don't have shootings on the streets downtown any more. Right?

-- Dan Damon
Keyword: Business

Monday, February 20, 2006

That Was The Week That Was: # 01 - February 13 - 19, 2006

Mondays, PLAINFIELD TODAY will take the form of a digest of Plainfield-only news from the past week: That Was The Week That Was -- or TW3 -- with links to the online stories.


Plainfield's (and New Jersey's) first Hispanic police chief, Ed Santiago, was put on administrative leave by Mayor Robinson-Briggs (Courier and Ledger) Wednesday. By week's end, Santiago had decided to fight the forced leave, while the mayor had yet to name a replacement. The Courier maintained editorial silence.

Bernice reported the Council is considering changing its decades-old meeting schedule. Whether or not it makes life easier for the Council or residents, it does help out Public Works Director Jenny Wenson-Maier, who this year is president of the Rahway City Council, and will not have conflicting meetings under the new arrangement.

Finance Director and former City Administrator Norton Bonaparte was (finally!) confirmed as the Topeka, KS, manager. Quite a step up and we all wish him well! Norton's last day at City Hall is Friday, March 3.

Other items: Bernice sees unanswered questions about the Senior Center, the Ledger notes the Council will review the North Avenue Historic District redevelopment area, while the Courier noted the get-together of the Planning, Zoning and HPC boards.


Murder No. 1 of 2006: Antwine McAllister became the city's first homicide victim of 2006 on Thursday. The Ledger pointed out that it was about three weeks ahead of 2005's first murder. The Courier quoted activist Terrell Alston as saying there had been previously unreported daytime gunfire in the same area on January 17th. At week's end, there was no news on a suspect. I noticed that by Thursday afternoon a makeshift memorial of candles and flowers placed on a blue bandanna against the light pole at the corner had taken shape. On Saturday, a similar memorial had sprung up on the corner of Arlington Avenue and Laramie Road -- a known drug hangout. Connection?

This was followed by the shooting of two men at an East Front Street apartment complex, noted by the Courier.

Other: Plainfield man indicted for robbing man of cell phone. . .A jury faults Plainfield cop's arrest of a man for 'disobeying an officer.'


Long-time community activist and former City Councilperson Helen Miller passed away Feb. 9. The Courier profile was first out of the gate, with the Ledger profile on Valentine's Day. Bernice Paglia posted a personal remembrance, and PLAINFIELD TODAY suggested the new Senior Center, for which the money is in the bank, be named after her.

PLAINFIELD TODAY details some surprises at the PMUA's 10th Anniversary celebration.

The Courier does a top-notch profile of Plainfield artist Maria Mijares, whose public art for NJT will be unveiled next week.


Dan's photo essay on the Blizzard of '06
Amateur photo contest at the Library has cash prizes
Muhlenberg joins the Aetna insurance network
Where New Jersey newcomers come from
Boys & Girls Club - CN: Father/Daughter Dance Stories:
..... - "Plainfield teen, father share big night at annual dance"
..... - "Looking good: Guys and dolls prep for fun night"
..... - "A Photo Gallery"
Letter: Joe Gutenkauf: "Enough! Just let the mayor serve"

Letter: Allen McPherson: "Plainfield athletes need ways to show pride"
Letter: Shell Sullivan: "Take steps to protect your pets"

-- Dan Damon
Keywords: TW3

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Using blogs: Posting a comment


Many, if not most, blogs are set up to encourage readers to post comments and give feedback.

Plainfield Today and the Plainfield Plaintalker both allow comments, though in different ways. Clippings, since it only contains links to online articles is not set up to receive comments.

Posting a comment to Plainfield Today is elegantly simple. Just click on the comments link at the bottom of the post and fire away.

You may disclose your name and/or email address if you wish, but you do not need to. I would be delighted if people feel free to do so, but can understand some may wish not to, or may wish not to on a particular topic.

Once you finish the comment, hit 'submit.' The comment is forwarded to me as an email. After I review it -- mostly for naughty words -- it is either posted or rejected.

One caveat, though: watch your spelling! I can post or reject, but I cannot correct lapses in grammar or misplaced fingers on the keyboard. What you type is what we all will get!

Until I start my 'terminal leave' on March 2nd, all corres- pondence sits in my inbox until I get home in the evening and have some supper. So, if you wonder what's happened to your comment, check back in the evening. The time lag should be shorter when my time is my own.

Commenting on Plainfield Plaintalker is different and more restricted. In order to post on Bernice and Barbara's blog, one must register as a blog member, which involves giving your email address, though there is freedom to craft a username of one's own choosing. Even though a person registers, though, the comments are (I believe) still subject to review and/or rejection.

I hope readers will feel free to join in with comments and turn Plainfield Today into a conversation -- for and about Plainfield.

Other posts on USING BLOGS are:

"Understanding Permalinks"

"Searching a blog, or all blogs"

"Emailing posts to a friend"

-- Dan Damon
Keywords: Blogs, comments

Saturday, February 18, 2006

PMUA's 10th Anniversary dinner had surprises for some

About 150 guests crowded the banquet room at the Spain Inn on Friday evening for a dinner celebrating the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority's 10th anniversary.

Known to many as a PMUA watering hole since Plainfield's Lily Greenleaves restaurant closed a number of years ago, the popular Piscataway restaurant lived up to its reputation for bountiful food and conviviality last evening.

Besides the obligatory remarks from past and present Board members and dignitaries such as Assemblyman Jerry Green, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs and former councilpersons Liz Urquhart, Joe Montgomery and Malcolm Dunn, one of the two surprises of the evening came from a guest who was not even present.

A letter from former Commissioner Phil Bartlett, who was unable to attend, was read to the audience by a staff member and brought the house down.

Bartlett used the opening words of Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities -- "It was the best of times. It was the worst of times." -- to set up his review of his eight years on the Board of Commissioners.

The audience laughed uproariously at his retelling of the attacks on the PMUA in its early years by members of the City Council, the lawsuit brought by
some of them which cost the taxpayers nearly a quarter of a million dollars, and the wrangling by a tiny handful of residents who wanted special treatment.

There were some unusual seatings noted in the room.

Former Councilman Bob Ferraro and PMUA Commissioner-designate Alex Toliver and his wife Diane shared a table with myself, Councilman Cory Storch, PMUA Commissioners Nat Singleton and Joanne Sloane and Housing Authority Commissioner and former school board member Roni Taylor. Ferraro excused himself and left immediately after Bartlett's letter had been read.

Freeholder Adrian Mapp and his wife Amelia shared a table with former mayor Rick Taylor and his wife Gloria.

And early PMUA supporter Frank D'Aversa and his wife Liz, both Democratic City Committee members, sat with acting Director of Public Works and Urban Development Jenny Wenson-Maier at a table that also held Assemblyman Jerry Green, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs and Oliver Brown of Oveter's Construction.

Some members of the audience were also surprised by guest speaker Wayman J. Pearson's talk of 'succession planning' as an item of business that needed to be on the Commissioners' agenda right away.

Pearson, of Charlotte, North Carolina, said at least three times that Executive Director Eric Watson was a desirable commodity and presumably would not be present at a celebration of the agency's next ten years -- at least not as its executive.

Rumor has it that Watson is in the running for executive director of Baltimore's utilities authority.

When I left at 10:30 p.m., dessert and coffee were being served and it looked like the party would last a good while longer. It would be safe to say a good time was had by all -- or at least almost all.

-- Dan Damon
Keywords: PMUA

Friday, February 17, 2006

Library's photo contest has cash prizes

'Plainfield In Focus' is the title for a contest for the best new photos of Plainfield being sponsored by the Plainfield Public Library. With cash prizes, no less.

Photographs must be of Plainfield subject matter. A list of possibilities includes Plainfield people at work and play, homes, buildings, parks and gardens, sports and cultural activities, and shopping areas, including downtown, South Avenue, and neighborhood shopping.

The purpose of the contest is to enhance the quality of the Library's collection of Plainfield photographs (many of which go back to the 19th century) by adding contemporary material which will greatly facilitate the work of future researchers. Translation: Even if you don't think you're much of a photographer, give it a try. You'll be helping keep a record of today's Plainfield -- and you just might win that prize!

The contest is open to amateur photographers only, of any age.

Entries are due by April 17, 2006, and may be submitted in several formats.

Submissions will be judged and prizes will be awarded at an exhibition of the entries to open in the Library's Community Room on Saturday, May 20th.

Funding has been made possible in part by a grant from the NJ State
Council on the Arts, Department of State, a partner agency of the National Endowment of the Arts, through a grant administered by the Union County Division of Cultural and Heritage Affairs. and financial support by the Friends of the Plainfield Public Library.

Flyers with details on the contest are available at the Library's information tables or on its website at

For more information, call the Library's Local History department at (908) 757-1111 x136.

This post amended 2/24/2006. Updated information, concerning due date and opening date are highlighted in bold above.

-- Dan Damon
Keywords: Library, photography

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Great Blizzard of '06

So how much snow did we actually get in the 'Great Blizzard of '06'?

Time was when Plainfield was one of the meteorological stations of the National Weather Service, and the news would include how much rain or snow fell here, or how fast the winds were.

But that is long gone. When? Why? Does anyone know the story? Would be interested in hearing about it.

Meantime, some real people must have been measuring somewhere to get the New York Times map below (click on map to enlarge it). You will note that Rahway gets an entry.

My highly unscientific method was to measure the snowfall on a picnic table on the patio. Twenty-five inches.

Cacti get a look at the snow

My 'scientific' measure- ment lab

At any rate, the birds enjoyed a snack in the snow

Somehow it didn't seem like much of a storm. No driving wind. No whiteouts. Just endless flakes lightly piling up. And with the warm weather the next couple of days, it will just be a memory.

On to Spring!

-- Dan Damon

Here's the New York Times story:
"As Monsters Go, This Storm Had a Lighter Tread"

Keywords: Weather

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Where new New Jerseyans come from

Having made a living in real estate for many years, I am always on the lookout for information helping to understand the patterns of people moving about.

Sunday's Ledger had a series of tables headed 'Nomadic New Jersey' exploring three patterns of moving: within New Jersey, into New Jersey, and out of New Jersey.

Below is the information on where people are coming from who move into New Jersey, listed by county. The colors are coded to the five regions into which the state is divided for marketing purposes. A map showing these is at the bottom of the page.

Data is gathered by the IRS from tax returns, this being for the change from 2003 to 2004.

As the Ledger points out, the data does not account for people with incomes below the filing threshold.

As always, click on the graphic to see it full size.

-- Dan Damon

Keywords: Statistics

Monday, February 13, 2006

Recall or resignation the talk of Hillside - Star-Ledger

Hillside mayor urges her critics to come forward

By Jason Jett, Star-Ledger Staff

Not since Barbara Rowen introduced tax-cutting reforms after dismantling a Byzantine township committee government a decade ago has there been so much tension at Hillside Town Hall.

Mayor Karen McCoy Oliver, who took office when Rowen abruptly resigned in late 1999, now finds herself as isolated as her predecessor.

Talk persists of a mayoral resignation or recall, but Oliver insists it stems from a few critics "saying bad things about me."

The comments started shortly after Oliver began her second term in July, having narrowly won re-election over real-estate broker Joseph Menza on the strength of votes from predominantly black neighborhoods.

In response, she has tied her mayoralty to the majority of residents who voted for her, stating "when people attack me, they are attacking the people of Hillside."

The mayor initially said she did not want to respond to comments regarding her departure, adding that instead she would put forth objectives for her current four-year term.

However, she has failed to articulate any goals, with postponement after postponement of stating her objectives for the past six months.

In addition, she has antagonized some administrators. Police chief Robert Quinlan said she overstepped her authority in attempting to reinstate a police detective he demoted to patrolman more than a year ago.

The officer filed a grievance in January 2005, and Oliver approved it in August. But Quinlan has not reassigned the officer.

"The authority to assign individuals in the police department rests with the police chief and not the mayor," Quinlan said.

Council members acknowledged the mayor is confronting problems, but they consider them more political than issue-oriented. None is openly critical except Gerald "Pateesh" Freedman, the lone remaining ally of Rowen.

"I was in the forefront of not being so pro-mayor because she's just not productive," he said. "They (department heads) covered for her a long time, and now they are tired of covering for her, and there's a rift."

Freedman, a frequent critic of the Hillside Democratic Municipal Committee, said the mayor seems to have fallen from favor with party leadership.

In November, Democratic Committee Chariwoman Charlotte DeFilippo said there was no problem between the party and the mayor. Since then, however, she has not returned calls seeking comment.

Last year, the Municipal Alliance, a group of town hall administrators that organizes community activities and is headed by the mayor, dissolved with the membership resigning en masse.

The members included Township Clerk Janet Vlaisavljeciv, Assistant Clerk Diane Rowe and Health Officer Eliabeth Geminder, all longtime employees and Democratic Party loyalists. Oliver appointed two other administrators to reorganize the panel, but they subsequently resigned, too.

In another example, 1st Ward Councilman Joseph Pinckney, the mayor's staunchest ally on the council, was removed from the municipal planning board and replaced with a party favorite.

For her part, the mayor says she senses there is a problem but does not know what it is.

"If there's something, it's not on my end," she said. "And how can you correct anything if you're not aware of it? They need to let me know. That's how issues get resolved.

"I would love for them to come to me and state what the issue is," she added. "That's what would happen if everyone had the interest of the township first and wanted this issue resolved. Nothing can happen when people are at loggerheads.

"Be adults and come to me and say 'Karen, we have this issue,'" the mayor continued. "Obviously, this is being done behind the scenes, and it's not productive."

Oliver emphasized that she is the elected mayor and said those attempting to undermine her are in effect trying to disenfranchise the voters.

"I don't attack any of them," she said. "There are people who have an agenda, and they are not being fair to the rest of the people of Hillside."

Councilman-at-large Jerome Jewell, who was elected last fall and is the newest member of the council, said political maneuvering is occurring but he's not involved.

"I am a supporter of the mayor," he said. "I have to support her; she's the first black mayor. We were elected on the same ticket. It would be crazy for us to attack and destroy each other."

Third Ward Councilman John Kulish added, "There is speculation on a lot of different things. I heard she was leaving for another job at one time. But that was just a rumor. She never told us personally that was going to leave office."

Kulish stressed that residents are not complaining about the mayor, but that the criticism is coming from people in town hall.

"A recall is normal when there's friction between the mayor and departments, or when a mayor is performing what she feels are her duties and rights and someone disagrees," said Kulish, the only member of the GOP on the council. "The only option is, don't vote her in or have a recall."

"But they don't tell me anything," Kulish added. "I'm a Republican."

Published in the Star-Ledger, Sunday, February 12, 2006, page 39.

Many thanks to reader JK, who spent some time on a snowy afternoon typing this up for all to read.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Plainfield Today has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is Plainfield Today endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Belafonte's film masterpiece 'Odds Against Tomorrow' shows at Library

Harry Belafonte's film noir classic 'Odds Against Tomorrow' was edgy in 1959 and still today casts a bright light on racial discord.

All the more reason to take advantage of the opportunity of this free screening of this black-and-white gem in the state-of-the-art Anne Louise Davis Community Room at the Plainfield Public Library, Thursday, February 16th at 7:00 p.m.
"Slater (Robert Ryan) is a hard-bitten, racist ex-con given to impulsive acts of violence and fits of depression and self-doubt. Less criminal than the rest of his gang, Ingram (Harry Belafonte) still exudes moral ambiguity. The organizer of the robbery, Burke (Ed Begley) is an ex-cop, ruined when he refused to cooperate with State Crime Investigators (a pointed reference to the Blacklist). Broke, bitter and disaffected, the trio band together for the purpose of pulling off a bank heist, but their resolve is threatened by uncontrollable racial tension."
Plot summary from a Human Rights Watch film festival.

"There are so many interesting components to this film, on-screen and off," says Rebecca Williams, who is curating this showing. "It appeared toward the end of the so-called 'golden age' of film noir, and is one of the few in the genre with an African-American in a leading role."

Produced by Belafonte's production company and shot in gritty locations, including New York City and several upstate down-on-their-luck towns, the film was directed by Robert Wise from a screenplay by blacklisted writer Abe Polonsky. African-American novelist John Oliver Killens, a friend of Belafonte's, received the onscreen credit.

"Harry Belafonte's social consciousness is quite evident in the movie, whose underlying theme of racial discord coincided with the rise of the civil rights movement in the 1950s," Williams notes. "The film directly confronts the racial tension that exists among the three main characters, all of whom are forced to find ways to overcome their prejudices and work together to achieve their mutual goal."

The screening will be followed by a short question- and-answer period, if time permits.

'Odds Against Tomorrow' is a Black History Month presentation of the Plainfield Public Library, and is sponsored by the Plainfield Cultural and Heritage Commission.

The Plainfield Public Library is located at Park Avenue and Eighth Street. There is onsite parking, and the building is barrier-free. For Directions, call the Library at (908) 757-1111.

-- Dan Damon

Keywords: Film, Black History month

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Helen Miller's perfect memorial: A new Senior Center

Helen Miller will be greatly missed by Plainfield's Seniors, and rightly so. But there is something that can be done that will ease the loss.

Helen was driven about seeing to it that the Seniors got their new center and she made no secret about it. She could be direct. She could be cagey. She was wily and she was relentless.

Resistance was futile. She was what the French call une dame formidable. Our English word 'formidable' is but a pale cousin of that French word-image, one that connotes at the same time an unstoppable force and an immovable object.

She didn't wan't to hear about the Tepper's building. She didn't want to hear about the Armory. She had her eye on a site. And don't you know, with her prodding, the City acquired that site -- on East Front Street.

Helen had known disappointment in getting a new Senior Center.

Rick Taylor had not been able to deliver the goods. Harold Mitchell had not been able to deliver the goods. Nor had Mark Fury. So why would Al McWilliams be any different? She didn't believe he would, and that is the key to understanding both her persistence and her victory.

Like the woman in Jesus' parable who wears down the judge with her incessant pleas, Helen wore down the McWilliams administration. Whether or not Jayson Williams was ever going to get a new Center built, having his interest in the project moved Helen's piece many squares down the board.

An architect was selected and plans drawn up. The only thing remaining was the money. After many negotiations and false starts, finally even that came through.

A bond ordinance, including money for the Senior Center, was proposed by McWilliams. The Council in its deliberations decided to split the ordinance into separate pieces so, as one Councilman remarked, the money for the Senior Center could be authorized and set aside for no other purpose than building a center.

That ordinance passed and in early November, the City sold the notes in an online auction to the highest bidder, Zions Bank, the investment banking arm of the Mormon church. (That auction was actually the genesis of this blog, as the story was not considered newsworthy by one of the daily papers. The announcement was posted here, and the results of the auction were posted here. Click on the screenshot to see a larger version.)

The $4.3 million received was put into the budget and banked under an account (# C-04-55-822-001-901) designated "Construction of Senior Building." And there it sits.

Helen Miller could have no better memorial than this: to build the Center, as she envisioned it, where she envisioned it -- and to name it after her.

-- Dan Damon

Keywords: Seniors, bonds