Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Memorial Day - 2006 - An Album of Plainfield's Ceremony

A crowd of about 70 gathered with representatives of Plainfield's veterans organizations and Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs on Monday, May 29th, in the annual Memorial Day service at the War Memorial at East Seventh Street and Watchung Avenue.

With bright sun, ample shade and mild temperatures, the day was perfect. The service was better organized and paced than it has been for several years.

Mayor Robinson-Briggs spoke simply and directly to an attentive audience. Her remarks captured very well the essence of this day: its roots in reconciling North and South and then as a day of remembrance for all those who have made the supreme sacrifice for their country.

She called on everyone to visit the graves of veterans later in the day and to honor them by placing flags or flowers.

In a welcome -- and moving -- departure from the customary moment of silence, the Mayor invited all present to call aloud the names of those they particularly wished remembered. Many participants responded and names were heard softly on the wind -- now from here
in the crowd and now from there -- over the course of the period of silence.

Remembering the valor and sacrifices of those who served in the past and are serving today, the only thing missing was how many more could have gathered to honor the day.

A selection of photos is below. (As always, click on the photo for a larger view.)

-- Dan Damon

The Veterans' Color Guard

The Veterans' Rifle Squad

Plainfield High School Jr. ROTC Color Guard

Mayor Robinson-Briggs addresses the veterans and attendees

A view of the attendees

Another view of the attendees

TW3: May 22 - May 29, 2006: Plainfield-centered news digest of the past week

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


(Photo, Courier News)

RESPONSE TO CRIME. Oddly enough, the administration missed two opportunities to speak to the issue of crime in the community this past week. Wednesday's daylight shooting on the steps of the Public Library sent shock waves throughout the community. I received several emails over the past few days from parents who take their small children to use the library and park on College Place and are justly worried about what the city is doing to prevent this kind of incident from happening. Residents are puzzled that Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs remained utterly silent on the incident, especially since crime was such a major part of her election platform.

The other missed opportunity came with the sentencing of O'Shea Clarke in the June 2004 beating of Oscar Romero-Figueroa of North Plainfield, covered by both the Ledger and the Courier. The incident, which spawned a rush of high-profile media coverage of the wave of assaults on Hispanics in both Plainfield and North Plainfield and which also brought the launch of a local Guardian Angels group (where are they now?), may now fade from the public's mind as the perpetrator goes to prison. For Mr. Romero and his family there will be no forgetting. And do we know that the same sort of spree is not going to happen again? Why miss such a good opportunity to reaffirm a get-tough-on-crime stance?

COUNCIL. Bernice reported on the Council's election hiatus, but aficianados will get their fill when the Council returns with its June 19 agenda session, a conference meeting scheduled for June 20, and a regular business meeting on June 21.

URBAN ENTERPRISE ZONE. What should we make of the talk of taking the state's Urban Enterprise Zone pot o' gold to use in plugging various budget and mandated funding gaps? It may not come to anything in the current budget situation -- especially since Corzine's team seems cool to the idea. However, there is an undercurrent of suspicion at the way the program has been run and talk of 'reforming' it. Do we have an SCC-type scandal brewing here? I hope not, but the program has been treated more like a sugarbowl than a way to invest in and grow a local community's economic potential. Watch for more sparks on this front.

HOPE FOR THE WEST END? Both the Courier and the Ledger reported on the awarding of a $100,000 planning grant from the Wachovia Regional Foundation to POWER (Plainfield Organization for West End Revitalization). Working with Rutgers' National Brownfields and Neighborhoods Center and Homefirst (formerly Interfaith Council on the Homeless), the neighborhood-based organization is to develop plans for a wide-ranging series of improvements to the 44-block area. The open question is whether the efforts will truly be guided by a neighborhood-driven agenda or whether the effort will provide a smokescreen for politically-allied developers to make a killing at the expense of Plainfielders in general and West End residents in particular. Keep your eyes on this one.

SCHOOLS. Abbott School funding is much on people's minds these days. The ruling by the NJ Supreme Court freezing funding at current levels leaves local districts to ponder how they will handle the expected 4%-5% annual increase in costs without extra funding from the state. Neither trimming programs nor increasing the tax levy is a palatable option. However, the state is signaling that tax increases must be considered. By insisting that some districts increase their levies now, a clear message is being sent to all districts -- some of which, like Plainfield, have not had a school tax increase in over a decade -- that levies will be on the table as a discussion item going forward. Though the Supremes left an opening for more funding if new schools were impacted by the freeze, this does not seem to apply to Plainfield at the moment. (Our proposed new schools are caught up in the SCC funding mess, which is currently being sorted out.) Dan went to a conference on school funding last week, mostly learning about the history of funding and funding issues at the state level--interesting, but not directly helpful to our current problems. Bernice reported on a citywide gathering sponsored by the Nubian Cultural Center to discuss school issues. Sparsely attended, the meeting probably suffered somewhat from 'dive bombing' -- participants who stay briefly, launch their sound bites, and depart without having to answer the full range of questions that might be on an audience's mind.

Last Friday's H.I.T.S.:
"HITS: A daytime shooting... Employee treatment mean-spirited?..."
Court reinstates Chief Santiago.. Seniors on fire over perceived slights.. Charlotte's story on Web thanks to Dan
Last Monday's TW3:
"TW3: May 15 - May 21, 2006"
Mondays, PLAINFIELD TODAY is a digest of Plainfield-only news from the past week: That Was The Week That Was -- or TW3 -- with links to the online stories.


Bernice reported on changes for the July 4th Parade promised by Recreation Director Dave Wynn -- a more patriotic emphasis, and correcting poor pacing, inappropriate displays by dancers and general disarray evidenced in the past -- that will be much welcomed by those who feel this longstanding Plainfield tradition ought to be a better draw for a Central Jersey audience.

Homestead Rebate: "Seniors gain extension on deadline for rebate"
Housing Authority - SL: "Plainfield housing panel taps executive director"
McGreevey - AP: "McGreevey, partner may nest in NYC" -- but Plainfield may still be in running?
... - If you've been folllowing the ex-Gov's meanderings, you may now have some insight into
... - why one of the (politically incorrect) Spanish slang words for a gay male is mariposa (butterfly).
Memorial Day - A Plainfield Today Series
... - "Memorial Day I - Early History"
... - "Memorial Day II - A Remembrance of all who have fallen"
... - "Memorial Day III - Plainfield's War Memorial Flagpole"
Toni Morrison: "Honoring 'Beloved' author Toni Morrison"
Newark Airport Flight Paths: "Port Authority pans plan to shift flights"

Obituary: "Elizabeth Coates Morse, Plainfield Public Schools librarian"

Plainfield Pride Picnic: "Pride picnic planned in city"
PSE&G Rates: "PSEG keeps rates steady -- for now"


Add-on Fees for Commercial Development: "Affordable housing fees rankle builders"
... - If towns assess a locally-determined affordable housing fee on commercial
... - development, would Plainfield make itself more desirable by touting it doesn't?
Abbott Schools - Editorial, SL: "Get back to building schools"
Abbott School Irregularities - JJ: "Jersey City's Super's British junket detailed"
ABC Issues: "ABC board focuses on bar license in Hillside"
Booker and Newark: "Can Cory Booker transcend the politics of race?"
Budget 'Games': "Perth Amboy revenues still don't add up"
Campaign Funds: "Ex-Kearny mayor gets probation, fine for diverting funds"
Community TV: "Hour After Hour, One Station Is Devoted to Pulse of New York"
Conflict of Interest - APP: "Court reverses townhouse OK in Red Bank"
Conflict of Interest: "Court bars Red Bank housing development plan"
Corruption: Al Faiella: Joan Whitlow: "His own economic development came first"
Crime Fighting: Cellphone Photo: "Witness uses phone to get photo of attack"
Drug: "Reputed Essex, Union narcotics king goes on trial"
Drugs: "Trial gives insider's look at infamous drug ring"
Dumping: "Inquiry unearths laxity by County employees on dumping"
Eminent Domain: "New Brunswick goes after part of senior parking lot for condos"
Eminent Domain - NYT: "Eminent Domain's Pre-Eminence"
Eminent Domain: "His property, his business: His campaign"*
Gangs: "Attorney general aims federal funds at gangs in Pa."
Gang Legislation - Record: "Package of bills targets gangs"
Gang Legislation: "Anti-gang package passes Assembly"
Guns: "3 ordinances would help Jersey City curb gun violence"
Flood Insurance: "Flood insurance bill could boost premiums for 40,000 in Jersey"
Immigrants: "Teens fleeing the gangs of Central America"
Land Use: "Montclair planners seek new limits on lot coverage to curb 'McMansions'"
McGreevey Book Sneak Peek: "'I knew I would have to lie for the rest of my life'"
McGreevey? - NYT: "McGreevey Says Political Career Was Pursued as Painful Lie"
Parking Meters - High-tech: "Big changes for Newark's parking meters"
Pay-to-Play: "Architect is generous with Dems"
Pedestrian Safety: Paul Mulshine: "State to pedestrians: Take a hike"
Politicians & Web: "Politicians flocking onto Web more than ever"
Property Tax Revaluation: "Meeting on Montclair's first property revaluation since 1989"
SCC: "School agency admits past, looks to future"
... - Suspended projects to stay on shelf if it can't spend more than $8.6B
School Fights: "Orange HS fight spills outside; Neighboring cops called in, 16 arrested"
School Fights: "After-school brawl triggers call for civility in Orange"
Surveillance Cams: "Rutgers trains camera's eye on student safety"
Tourism: "Camden conjures poet Whitman to boost tourism"
Verizon Cable?: "Assembly likely to allow phone company to offer new service"
... - Does this mean Plainfielders will be getting a choice?
Verizon vs.Cable Companies: "Assembly OKs Verizon's bid to offer cable"
... - The municipalities' franchise rights have been deftly swept away. Will cable sue?
Veterans: "Personal data for 26.5 million vets stolen"


Bank Robber lost nerve: Both the Courier and Ledger covered the arrest of a Plainfield man who attempted to rob the Unity Bank branch on Somerset Street in North Plainfield, but fled after losing his nerve. The Ledger reported Thursday on the arraignment of Kevin Baxter, 40 in the robbery attempt.

Drug Arrests - CN: "Plainfield area drug raid nets four arrests, 5 ounces"
January Mugging, East Front Street:
"Suspects arrested in January mugging"
Pipe Stolen from East 3rd Street House: "Pipe thieves cause gas leak, police say"
Plainfield Red Cross: "Ex-Red Cross staffer charged in service theft"

-- Dan Damon

Monday, May 29, 2006

Memorial Day III - Plainfield's War Memorial Flagpole


The placing of a bronze plaque in 1922 in the rotunda of City Hall honoring those who served and died in World War I seems to have been the genesis of the idea of a monument honoring Plainfielders who had given their lives in all past wars.

In June 1925, the Common Council organized a War Memorial Committee with the purpose of drawing up a proposal for such a memorial, to be submitted to the Council at a future date. A number of town notables, as well as several Councillors and veterans of past wars were appointed.

The War Memorial Committee made its report to the Common Council in January of 1926, and in May of that year, a contract was awarded for the construction of a flagpole to be mounted above a bronze sculptural base, the whole sited on a granite plaza.

Crescent Avenue Presbyterian Church, which owns the triangular plot at the intersection of East Seventh Street and Watchung and Crescent Avenues, drew up an agreement permitting the city to "erect and maintain" a War Memorial on the site, providing only that the city "keep the plot in good order," and indemnify the church against any liability.

Although the contracts were let, and the manufacture and construction appeared to get under way in a timely fashion -- with dedication set for Armistice Day, November 11, 1926 -- an enormous brouhaha broke out between the central council of the veterans' organizations and the Common Council, dragging into it the minister and trustees of Crescent Avenue Presbyterian Church.

The source of the controversy? The inscription.

The inscription proposed for the sculptural base is the underlined portion of this selection from the prophet Isaiah:
Isaiah, Chapter 2
2 And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD'S house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.
3 And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
4 And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

The controversy, its resolution, and the eventual dedication of the monument will be the subject of a post to celebrate its actual, belated dedication.

The Memorial Day series--
Memorial Day I - Early History
Sunday: Memorial Day II - A Remembrance of all who have fallen
Monday: Memorial Day III - Plainfield's War Memorial Flagpole

Online resources:
The US Memorial Day Organization website
The Memorial Day Foundation website
The VA's Memorial Day Resources website
Beliefnet's Memorial Day Resources website
Waterloo, NY - Birthplace of Memorial Day
The Buddy Poppy: "Moina Michael adopted poppy to memorialize soldiers"
Moina Michael Stamp: "3-cent commemorative stamp honoring Moina Michael"

-- Dan Damon

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Memorial Day II - A Remembrance of all who have fallen

Childe Hassam, Allies' Day - 1917

Originally known as Decoration Day, from the practice of strewing flowers on the graves of those fallen in the Civil War, by the turn of the 20th century, this day of observance had become known as Memorial Day.

Days before the armistice for World War I was signed, a Georgia woman named Moina Michael, who was serving at the training headquarters for overseas YMCA workers at Columbia University in New York, read John McRae's poem in which the poppies of Flanders figures prominently.

Moved by the poem, she that very day purchased several silk poppies and began to wear one and encouraged her friends to do so likewise, in memory of those fallen in the Great War.

She also taught a class of disabled veterans when back at the University of Georgia, and began to spread the idea of selling poppies as a way of raising money for the rehabilitation, training and care of disabled veterans.

At the same time, Memorial Day was beginning to be observed as a day of remembering those who had given their lives in all wars, and not just the Civil War.

By the early 1920s, the American Legion had adopted the poppy project, naming it the Buddy Poppy, and sold the handmade flowers on Memorial Day. This is the origin of the poppies now offered by many different veterans' organizations which we buy at events in which veterans participate.
Observers of the day would pledge to aid not only disabled veterans, but also the widows (and later, widowers) and orphans of the fallend.

By the time of Moina Michael's death in 1944, over $200 million had been raised through the sale of Buddy Poppies. She was honored in 1948 by the Post Office with the issuance of a 3-cent commemorative stamp.

People often forget that John McRae was a Canadian. He was a physician and fought on the Western Front in 1914. He was eventually transferred to the medical corps and served at a hospital in France, where he died of pneumonia in 1918. His poem, known both as "In Flanders Fields" and "We shall not sleep" was probably the best-known poem from the Great War.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

The Memorial Day series--
Memorial Day I - Early History
Sunday: Memorial Day II - A Remembrance of all who have fallen
Monday: Memorial Day III - Plainfield's War Memorial Flagpole

Online resources:
The US Memorial Day Organization website
The Memorial Day Foundation website
The VA's Memorial Day Resources website
Beliefnet's Memorial Day Resources website
Waterloo, NY - Birthplace of Memorial Day
The Buddy Poppy: "Moina Michael adopted poppy to memorialize soldiers"
Moina Michael Stamp: "3-cent commemorative stamp honoring Moina Michael"

-- Dan Damon

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Memorial Day I - Early History

A GAR postcard citing "Bivouac of the Dead"

What we know as Memorial Day began as a tradition of decorating the graves of soldiers fallen in the Civil War -- in both the South and the North.

Memorial Day was proclaimed officially in 1868 by an order of the Grand Army of the Republic (the organization of Union veterans of the Civil War), as a day of reconciliation and remembrance, and flowers were placed on the graves of both Confederate and Union soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.

A popular poem linked to the 19th century celebrations of Decoration Day, as the day was also known, is Theodore O'Hara's "Bivouac of the Dead," written to commemorate Kentuckians fallen in the Mexican War in 1847.

Here are two of the most cited stanzas:
The muffled drum's sad roll has beat
The soldier's last tattoo;
No more on Life's parade shall meet
That brave and fallen few.
On fame's eternal camping ground
Their silent tents to spread,
And glory guards, with solemn round
The bivouac of the dead.
. . .

Rest on embalmed and sainted dead!
Dear as the blood ye gave;
No impious footstep here shall tread
The herbage of your grave;
Nor shall your glory be forgot
While Fame her record keeps,
For honor points the hallowed spot
Where valor proudly sleeps.

Decoration Day Parade, Shawnee, Ohio - 1910s

The Memorial Day series--
Memorial Day I - Early History
Sunday: Memorial Day II - A Remembrance of all who have fallen
Monday: Memorial Day III - Plainfield's War Memorial Flagpole

Online resources:
The US Memorial Day Organization website
The Memorial Day Foundation website
The VA's Memorial Day Resources website
Beliefnet's Memorial Day Resources website
Waterloo, NY - Birthplace of Memorial Day

-- Dan Damon

Friday, May 26, 2006

HITS: Another daytime shooting... Employee treatment mean-spirited?... Supporters having 2nd thoughts?... Scoring the communications quiz...


Is anything going on at City Hall these days an argument for Intelligent Design?

Lots of new furniture being assembled when I dropped by on Wednesday. Then I noticed that my old office was jammed full of boxes and files from someone's overflow. I mean jammed, as in you can't get around. And what was the outer office of the old DPWUD offices in the basement is also jammed full of boxes, piled willy-nilly, left behind from the Director's move to the second floor. Add to that the copiers waiting to be picked up by the old vendor (that's another story), and you have a royal mess. The kind of mess fire officials would never let you have if it were YOUR business. Hmmmmmmmmm........

There is more to be said about the Inspections Division and I'll be getting to that over time, but what I was pointing out last week was the treatment of employees. If there is a plan of action, why not make it known to all instead of letting things look like they're capricious and mean-spirited? Unless of course either there is no plan, or the times have become capricious and mean-spirited...

In any event, morale has sagged throughout both City Hall and the Annex.
The institutional memory is being unplugged. Everyone is keeping their head down. Engines fire up in the parking lot at 4:59:59 as it if were a NASCAR event.

But there was a meeting of the Managers' union (PMMA) on Monday, and it looks like some actions will be emerging from that. Stay tuned.

Word has it that a lot of the middle level employees who worked so actively to get the new Administration in place are now having second thoughts. The bloom, as they say, is off the rose. Or in the words of the old saw, "Marry in haste, repent at leisure..."

While I was at City Hall, word arrived of the daytime shooting on the steps of the Public Library. When I dropped by the Library later in the afternoon, I got a lot of feedback about an apparent lack of truant officers attending to the students who get out of the High School building and gather at the rear of the Library on the College Place side. Library employees report lots of stop-and-go vehicle traffic. . .the kind of thing you would expect with drug dealing.

To be fair, I have often enough seen police in the area, but it seems to be an enduring problem (we had it when I was working at the Library ten years ago) that is still in search of a solution. So what is the Administration's plan?

...As mentioned last week, work on the roof at City Hall is moving along. And you can see Star of The Sea trucks working away over at Pemberton Avenue and Lakeside Terrace. The pools are on schedule for being finished in plenty of time for this year's swim season. Trees have been planted. And next week, work will get under way on the renovation of the City Hall parking lot.

This is a bit more complicated than you might guess, since there are drainage problems to be resolved. The lot is expected to be off-limits for three weeks while the work is being done. Question for you: How will handicapped taxpayers get in the building if they cannot park in the back, where the accessibility elevator is?

Once these projects are done, all the work in the pipeline from the McWilliams administration will be completed.

Next up? There don't seem to be any new projects.

I hear there is a lot of guessing over who is feeding me tidbits, with some individuals being singled out for special mention (or suspicion). The initials of my informant? N.E.**

The score on the 3-part communications quiz? 33%. Which is still a flunk, far as I know. You can now get a real voicemail message on PCTV-74's number (753-3301). After five rings, which is reasonable. But a peek at the website (www.plainfield.com) and the cable channel itself show that the message seems still not to have been received. Realtors, you have been warned! Again.

Is anything going on at City Hall these days an argument for Intelligent Design? You tell me.

DISCLAIMER: In the interest of fairness, any person identified in a HITS post who believes he/she has been portrayed unfairly or that the information about him/her is untrue will have the opportunity to respond in this space.
**N. E. = Nearly Everyone
-- Dan Damon
Keyword: HITS

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A burning question from the school funding conference

The conference on school funding at Princeton on Tuesday surprised and enlightened me, but ultimately left me with a disturbing question.


Several things were not clear to me before arriving and getting the one-page handout outlining the event. First, it was billed -- accurately enough as it turned out -- as a "conversation" on school funding. A roundtable, rather than the conference which I somehow had been led to expect. (The difference being that in a conference one would expect several sharply focused presentations on various aspects of a topic, and a roundtable would be expected to be a "conversation," which accurately describes this particular event.)

Secondly, the sponsors listed -- the Public Education Institute, ETS (Educational Testing Services), the NJ School Boards Association, and the Institute on Education Law and Policy -- indicated that the audience and presenters would be geared toward policy questions involving public schools more than toward fiscal matters.

Together, these revelations made for my surprise, since I had expected a wonkish discussion of fiscal policy and various proposals for solving the problem of funding the "thorough and efficient education"
guaranteed to all by the state constitution.


My enlightenment came in learning from another attendee just how historic this gathering was. Rounded up in one place at one time were most of the major players in public school funding over the last forty years.

From ex-Senator Ray Bateman (a sponsor of New Jersey's first statewide public education funding law, the Bateman-Tanzman bill of 1965) to David Sciarra (the bulldog strategist of using the courts to enforce the constitutional mandate), to Cecilia Zalkind (chief strategist of the preschool mandate), this was an unprecedented assemblage of the movers and shakers -- elected officials, justices, lawyers and education advocates -- who have been in the trenches on this issue over the last forty years.

Their easy manner with and obvious respect for
one another, even though they had often enough found themselves on opposite sides of various struggles, was refreshing in times like these where public discussion at the national level has taken on a poisonous tenor that we haven't seen since the era of Richard Nixon.

The seesaw history of the last forty years that they sketched was instructive to this non-native Jerseyan and leavened with humorous quips and asides, as well as barbed comments -- many of the sharpest directed at educational bureaucracy at the state level.

One thing I learned from an attendee was that Plainfield's re-inclusion in the list of Abbott districts was at the instigation of Sen. Donald DiFrancesco, who is said to have signed an executive order while acting governor (when Christie Whitman was out of state) which ordered the inclusion. Whether or not it is apocryphal, the story neatly underscores the kind of jockeying that goes on behind the scenes of the often Kabuki-like public discussion.

The event was ably moderated by Dr. Henry Coleman of Rutgers, who focused and sometimes prodded the participants. And Plainfield's own Herb Green introduced the participants. Though I spotted four Plainfield attendees -- out of perhaps 150-175 -- there seemed to be no representation from the District. That was surprising to me, given the importance of state funding to Plainfield as an Abbott district. But then maybe they knew better than I what the "conversation" would really be about.

What struck me as an outsider at this insider event -- most of the attendees seemed to be school board members, superintendents and educational policy professionals -- was the makeup of the roundtable. Of the twelve participants, only one was a person of color and one a woman. So the meeting had its ironic aspect, since one could hardly envision moving a major public policy question forward in today's New Jersey on such a narrow base of actors.

And this leads me to what may be the real issue.


Given the participants at the roundtable, it is no accident that most of the day focused on the long and tangled history of trying to fund public education in New Jersey equitably.

Its strength as an historic gathering seems also to have been, to me, its weakness. What I expected was representatives of the new, more diverse generation of players who must eventually displace these honored but aging warriors. What I expected was today's equivalent for what must have been a young, energetic and creatively open-minded Assemblyman Ray Bateman in 1965.

What I was expecting is the equivalent on the educational front of a few Cory Bookers: young, energetic, informed and charismatic. What I saw and heard was the generation of Sharpe James (if not somewhat earlier).

As Sharpe made way for Cory, the time has come for these largely superannuated warriors to make room for the next generation of those who will find creative solutions to keeping New Jersey at the forefront of the national struggle for a
"thorough and efficient education."

That is the burning question.

And that will be another roundtable. Soon, I hope.

-- Dan Damon

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Can you solve THIS math problem?


School funding...

Even though the NJ Supreme Court only 'froze' spending at this year's levels, the decision destabilizes the fiscal situation for Abbott School districts.

Consider this: Contractual obligations and fringe benefits go up at least 4% annually. If state funding remains flat, local districts either have to find the extra money or cut services or staff.

I'll be attending a conference in Princeton today on the issues facing school districts as a result, sponsored by the ETS Policy Information Center
and Rutgers Public Education Institute Forum.

More on all this later. Much more.

-- Dan Damon

Monday, May 22, 2006

TW3: May 15 - May 21, 2006 - Plainfield-centered news digest of the past week

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


Last week's big hit webwise was the guesstimate of the cost to the taxpayers of the new hires at City Hall which was in Friday's HITS. A few readers pointed out that some of the positions named definitely clocked in under $50K/year. That's true, and some are over. I wasn't trying to be scientific as much as to point out the scale of what's going on -- no matter how you slice it, it adds up to many hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars with no end in sight...

Right up there in popularity was the ongoing crisis in the Inspections Division. On Thursday, I reported on the revolt in the Division which broke out into the open during a PMEA union meeting. And on Friday, I covered the rough treatment Inspections head Jocelyn Pringley has received from the administration. The crisis continues: an anonymous email over the weekend said there will be another union meeting today (Monday). I'll be reporting on that as soon as I have word.

The City's communication outlets -- the website and PCTV-74 -- continue their downward spiral. After I was led to report on the website at the suggestion of a realtor, it seems realtors are now hesitating to give the address to prospective buyers for fear of embarrassing everyone. As for PCTV-74, people haven't even been able to get a recorded greeting or leave a voicemail. No wonder the community groups that had regular programming under the previous administration are upset.

In reporting on the Council's probing the administration over these matters, Bernice quotes City Administrator Carlton McGee as saying, "Basically, you want us to go from the Stone Ages to the Jet Ages." While he argued the city could use fancy-schmancy equipment, he totally ignored that there was a perfectly serviceable and attractive website until the new administration tinkered with it.

As for PCTV-74, it also had an attractive presentation and popular programming based on local organizations right up to the day Rebecca Williams was sacked. It remains to be seen whether we will ever recover from these missteps.

In covering Monday's Council agenda-setting session, Bernice highlighted the proposed UEZ funding of surveillance cams to watch city streets. Dan seconded this move as positive -- after years of talk -- only asking that Mr. Billups contributions not be slighted. I also pointed out t
here will be plenty to discuss about this initiative: cost, deployment, monitoring, evaluating and more. How prescient! The item was withdrawn on the initiative of Council President Ray Blanco "for further research." The questions? Deployment and staffing.

Monday's conversation also brought out that only one in six of eligible businesses are qualified UEZ businesses -- and Plainfield is one of the original UEZ communities! In fairness, we should be compared to the penetration rates in other UEZs. Wonder if that data is available...

On Wednesday, Bernice went into some detail about proposed changes in organizing the 4th of July Parade, one of the last still functioning in the state. Keep your eyes on this year's parade. Will more resources spent make for a better event?

Arguably, thousands of Plainfield teens have held summer jobs through the City's summer youth employment programs over the years. The program continues, even though government funding has steadily shrunken. For worthwhile results, one need look no further than our Tax Assessor, whose first exposure to city government was through a summer job. (Tracy, your secret is safe with me -- I'll never say when it was! - Dan) So, it comes as something of a surprise that a councillor would be unaware of the program...

The news of an apparent scam run by a preacher out of the local Salvation Army saddens all who work with immigrants, as well as those who have counted on the Salvation Army as being above reproach in its social services. It is to be hoped this mess gets straightened out quickly and the SA does what it needs to to restore its reputation. The story was broken on Saturday by the New York Times and the Ledger. The Courier, asleep at the switch, published the AP feed today -- in print only.

Damning-with-faint-praise Dept.: On Friday, the Ledger ran a story based on a County news release of a new fiber optic network planned to link the county's farflung offices. Buried in the story is the nugget that only in Plainfield will the fiber optics run underground -- along the North Avenue industrial corridor. That it will do so is thanks to the foresight and hard work of former mayor Al McWilliams and his economic development team headed by Pat Ballard Fox. Like they say, the winners write the history books. (But now anyone can blog.)

It sounds like the Plainfield schools have a winner in Ernest Caldwell, Jr., a new teacher for its Alpha Academy profiled in Saturday's Courier. Everyone wishes him and the district well in this important endeavor.

Lastly, Bernice reports that the West End planning process that has been simmering for a couple of years is now getting mobilized. Thanks to $100K in seed money from the Wachovia Regional Foundation. Rutgers University's National Center for Neighborhoods and Brownfield Redevelopment continues its advisory role. Keep an eye open for neighborhood-driven plans to improve the 44-block West End neighborhood.

Last Friday's H.I.T.S.:
"HITS: Phone games... Workplace harassment?... New hires: number & cost?..."

Last Monday's TW3:
"TW3: May 08 - May 14 - Digest of Plainfield-centered news"


Exhibit, Library: "Plainfield In Focus - Contemporary Photographs at the Library"
Exhibit, Library: "Rail sites prized in Plainfield exhibit"
Exhibit, Library:
"Photo Contest Winners Revealed Saturday" (Plain Talker)

FOSH Community Yard Sale: Gone FOSHin' . . .

Exhibit, Plainfield Students: 3rd Annual Meet the Masters exhibit at Swain Galleries.

Drake House: "Drake House restoration full of history, suprises"
Drake House: "Courier: Photos and audio"
Interfaith Council: "Interfaith Council changes name but keeps its mission"
Park Dedication: "Park planting perpetuates leader's works in Plainfield"
Plainfield Public Library: "Many ways but one goal: County human rights awards"
Plainfield Schools: "Plainfield, Senegal students make a difference"

Police Detective Honored: "Police Det. Francis Wilson honored by Prosecutor"
Red Cross,
Tri-County Chapter: "A rescuer needs a bit of help"


McAllister Murder - SL: "Suspect arrested in Plainfield murder"

..... - CN: "Shaun 'Wafi' Long charged in fatal Antwine McAllister shooting"
Pemberton Avenue Chop Shop?: "Device helps collar 4 with a stolen car"
Concerned Citizens/Grace Church: "Candlelight vigil to honor Antwine McAllister, slain in Feb."


Addiction Services: "Addiction service group gave grants to its own, state finds"
Anti-Immigrant Initiatives: "San Bernardino Rejects Anti-Immigration Legislation"
Artist Live/Work Space: "Creating a Sanctuary Where the Bell Tolls"
Banks: "As banks saturate communities, some want to restrict their presence"
Bike Tour: "Elizabeth dresses up for 3rd annual tour's anticipated 300 riders"
Booker & Council: "Booker adds Payne to team"
Booker Transition: "Pastor M. William Howard will guide Newark transition"
Budget 'Games': "Perth Amboy told to take $8 million from spending plan"
... - "Perth Amboy pleads case on budget"
Cultural Money, Raising When Times Are Tight: "Partners in Culture: The Conn. Model"
Daylaborer Muster Zones: "Mamaroneck Seeks to Settle Lawsuit Filed by Laborers"
Developer scam?: "Development czar, now broke and claiming bankruptcy"
... - "Faiella's 'cozy deal' strips city of $35M in assets"
Developer Promises?: "Old Bridge seeks balance that developers promised"
Developers, Politically Connected: "Builders fined for failure to register"
Development: "The Lofts, a Landlord and a Battle to Remember"
Douglass College: "Women of Douglass promise to hold onto their special identity"
Educational Foundations: "Districts turning to foundations for aid"
Eminent Domain: "A Redevelopment Scuffle in Queens"
Green Brook Flood Control: "House panel OKs $5M for flood control"
Guns: "Lawmakers target illegal gun peddling"
Guns & Bars: "Gunfire outside bar spurs emergency ABC meeting"
Immigration - Editorial,SL: "Jersey needs a new approach"
'Labor Peace' Ordinance: "Hartford's Redevelopment Hinging on Unique Ordinance"
Litter Laws: "New Brunswick rewrites litter law to satisfy courts"
John Lynch: "Veteran political boss leaving exit from public life ajar"
... - "King of politics is full of sound and fury, signifying his decline"
... - "Head of PAC Lynch created will resign"
... - "Consultants with ties to Lynch get contract"
M&E Railway: "Freight rail project runs out of track"
Mt. Laurel Housing: "Fed-up judge strips Carlstadt, East Rutherford of zoning powers"
McGreevey - SL: "Tales of torment: First look at McGreevey book"
... - CN: "Summer debut for McGreevey portrait" (Sat.) Yeah, but where's he gonna live?
Misconduct: "Newark records clerk indicted for selling phony identification"
Newark's Teen Deaths: "'We won't die' is youth battle cry at Newark march"
NJ Orators Club: "Competition empowers them to communicate with confidence"
Patronage: "Chicago Patronage Will Be in Spotlight as Prosecution of Aide Begins"
Photo Radar Speeding Tickets: Ledger editorial: "Reject the photo radar plan"
Police, Funding: "Los Angeles Doubles Garbage Rate to Expand LAPD"
Police Pay: "Bloomberg blames Police Union for Low Pay of Recruits"
Police Training - CN: "Film teaches cops on Arab-American ways"
.. - SL: "Video to close gap between cops, Arabs and Muslims"
Real Estate: "Jersey: High prices, rising rates cool down home sales units"
SCC: "Turner Construction warned for balking at orders to remediate Trenton site"
School Aid: "Hillside parents, board claim state aid diverted while buildings fall apart"
School Integration thru 'Academies': "State criticizes Englewood on integration pace"
School/Town Cost Sharing: "New panel looks to cut costs in Cranford"
Showcase in Morristown: "Farmhouse inspires designers in annual benefit"
Student loans: "Loans turn into an albatross, steering grads away from teaching"
Stun Guns: "N.J. police clamor for stun guns"
Tax Revaluations: "Inspector's call"
Teen Deaths: "A Bleeding City, Seeking More Than a Band-Aid"
UEZ: "Lawmakers Eye UEZ Funds in Budget Crunch"
Women Firefighters: "Fire crews looking to recruit women"


Plainfield Today: "Getting a human being on the (corporate) phone"