Friday, June 30, 2006

Off to the 'burned-over district'!


Off to a family reunion for the weekend. Expect to be back online Tuesday. WITH the state budget issue settled? We hope.

The map above is of the HOLLAND PURCHASE, a section of Western New York bought as speculative real estate by a consortium of Dutch bankers at the beginning of the 19th century, and sold off to American land speculators to develop and settle what was then part of America's western frontier.

I hail from Fredonia, a village the Town of Pomfret in Chautauqua County, the left-most county on the map.

Settled in 1809, the village probably saw its heyday in the late 19th- and early 20th centuries.

In 1825, it was the first community in the United States to light its streets with gas lamps, and did so to honor the visit to the community by Gen. Lafayette, the aged Frenchman who was a hero of the American Revolution.

The bustling little community also saw the founding of the Women's Christian Temperance Union [my paternal grandmother was a teetotaler, and 'took the pledge'], and hosted the hatchet-toting, saloon-battling Carrie Nation many times.

As well, it is the site of the first Grange in the US. The Grange was an organization of farmers who came together to lobby for the interests of small family-owned farms and against the domination of the banks and railroads they perceived as holding their fortunes hostage. To this day, the politics of the area is deeply populist.

All of the religious enthusiasms and controversies of the 19th century swept over the entire region of the map, so intensely that this part of New York state is forever known as 'the burned-over district.'

Among other fruits of the religious enthusiasm of the era are the Free Methodist Church, the Church of the Nazarene and the Chautauqua movement, which led to the founding of America's most famous summer religious gathering on the eponymously named lake further south in the county. Spiritualism was another fruit of the era. Followers from around the world still flock to their summer camp in the tiny village of Lily Dale on Lake Cassadaga a few miles away.

The county also gave the world Concord grapes and Welch's grape juice. Welch was a Methodist minister who was obsessed with developing a stable non-fermenting grape juice that teetotaling churches could use to replace wine in the Holy Communion. And thus a world-class product was born.

I saw, tied, picked and ate enough Concord [and Fredonia, a similar though less travel-hardy variety] grapes to have had my fill for a lifetime. And the only way I think now grape juice should be drunk is as wine. Which is now one of the products of the area. Plus ça change, plus c'est la mȇme chose!

-- Dan Damon

Not getting your own CLIPPINGS email daily? Click here to get started.


Thursday, June 29, 2006

DeFilippo 'underwhelmed' by Green... Two unreported beatings... Hometown kid in runoff...



The rumors about Charlotte DeFilippo, Union County Dem chair, weighing in on the budget crisis and Assemblyman Jerry Green via Politifax were true.

Yesterday's issue of the weekly faxed newsletter focused on the budget kabuki theater Corzine is going through for the first time, with a sidebar devoted to Assemblyman Green -- whom Politifax identifies as Gerry. [After all these years people still can't get his name straight?]

We quote the entire sidebar:
Who's Hot: Gerry Green
The Assemblyman was the northern member of Steve Sweeney's trio that suggested state workers come to the table voluntarily to offer some givebacks. We don't know why he was in that mix. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that South Jersey sources sent him a bunch of money when he was challenged last year. But Union County Chair Charlotte DeFilippo was "underwhelmed" by the participation of an Assemblyman from her county. We just wonder where he'll be on the budget.
As Gov. Corzine pointedly noted yesterday, Friday will be the 100th day since he submitted the budget to the Legislature. He has met almost non-stop with various members and is holding fast to his "recurring revenues for recurring expenses" mantra. Translation: No gimmicks.

He has now reached out, as Politifax reports, to County chairs, of whom DeFilippo is one -- and one of the most powerful. Her "underwhelmed" comment reminds PT of another powerful political leader, whom if "underwhelmed" by an associate would simply have them shot. In America, they just don't return your phone calls...

HOMETOWN KID IN BISHOP RACE -- The Very Rev. Michael Barlowe, who served as Rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Plainfield from 1986 through 1991, is a finalist for the office of Bishop of the Diocese of Newark. A North Carolina native, Fr. Barlowe had been an executive with Citibank before entering the priesthood. He served as an assistant at St. Paul's Church in Westfield before coming to Plainfield. Subsequent to leaving Plainfield, he was elected Dean of the Cathedral of St. Paul in Des Moines, Iowa, where he served for ten years. He is now the director of congregational development for the Diocese of California, which covers the San Francisco Bay area. Clergy and lay delegates of the Diocese of Newark will meet in September to elect the new bishop. Full disclosure: DD is a member of Grace Church, and served on the Vestry -- the governing board -- during Fr. Barlowe's tenure.

PT's community network reports that there have been two beatings in recent days. Late Tuesday afternoon a woman was attacked and severely beaten with a hammer on Madison Avenue. She was medevaced to RWJ's trauma unit from Hub-Stine field. Her condition is unknown. Another woman was beaten so badly by her boyfriend -- allegedly a Plainfield cop [7/16/2006 - it has been learned the boyfriend is NOT a Plainfield police officer; apologies to our fine, hardworking and underappreciated cops -- DD] -- that she had to be taken from Muhlenberg to Newark Beth Israel for treatment, which may need to include reconstructive surgery. The weather, of course, has pushed these stories off the pages of the papers...

-- Dan Damon

Not getting your own CLIPPINGS email daily? Click here to get started.


Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The $32,000 Misunderstanding?*


As Friday's deadline for the state budget approaches, the pushing and shoving is reaching dramatic levels.

Rumors were flying yesterday that Union County Dem chair Charlotte DeFilippo was going to weigh in -- on the side of Gov. Corzine.

Could that be bad news for Assemblyman Jerry Green?

The media have concentrated on the maneuvering and posturing by the governor and various Assembly and Senate members over the past few weeks, but there has as yet been no mention of the powerful Democratic county chairs, the sources of power and cash who stay mainly out of the limelight.

You will recall PT has wondered what led Assemblyman Green to join with Assemblyman Moriarty and Senator Sweeney, both from Gloucester County in South Jersey, in the campaign against both the state unions and a sales tax increase. It is so uncharacteristic of the Assemblyman to be involved at the head of such a public fight. And especially to attack the state workers' unions.

Some have suggested that the Assemblyman was pressured to join in this fray as the first installment of the payback for the decisive financial support -- $32,000 -- he received from the Norcross team for his candidate -- now Mayor -- Sharon Robinson-Briggs. What!? You thought these things were done for principle? Of course they are, but what's the principle?

And why did the Green/Moriarty/Sweeney trio pick on the unions? That was the question hanging over the debate until the Bergen Record broke the story last week that the Governor had apparently filched the Assembly's ace-in-the-hole in this summer's expected legislative session on property tax reduction: a sales tax increase.

The Assembly's worry, as the Record reports it, is that the public would be REALLY teed off if there were to be TWO sales tax increases in one year. So Speaker Joe Roberts, another South Jersey pol and pal of Assemblyman Green is ready to go to the mat against Corzine's sales tax increase.

Corzine, they say, is hopping mad. And, so the rumors go, has put the word out that Green must be brought to heel.


The whispers are that today's Politifax -- a weekly, subscription-only political insider newsletter that is still faxed [how quaint!] to its recipients -- will contain the bombshell from DeFilippo.

If true, you'll hear more today and tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the rumors continue, DeFilippo is so impressed with Council President Ray Blanco's delivery on the UCIA agreement [you do recall that she is also head of the UCIA] that he is being considered as Green's replacement in the Assembly, the race for which is only a year away.

Stay tuned...

-- Dan Damon

*Title of today's post refers to Robert Gover's 1961 novel. Read more on Glover's website and a British review here.

Not getting your own CLIPPINGS email daily? Click here to get started.


Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Parking lot finished, problems remain


The newly refurbished parking lot behind City Hall was open for business -- er, parking -- yesterday. It is handsome indeed, as compromises made during the construction process eased many of the concerns voiced by the Planning and Historic Preservation boards.

Those concerns included islands and landscaping, Belgian block curbing , trees, and replacement of temporary fencing along the 5th Street side. All were addressed [the DPW will submit a request for funding the fencing in FY2007].

The chief remaining problems as outlined to the Administration by the Planning and Historic Preservation boards are lighting and buffering. [One board member commented to PT that night lighting in the lot was reminiscent of that at a high-security prison -- way brighter than regulations call for.]

However, there is another, larger problem that remains: the paucity of parking at City Hall generally. It is just too tight, and many people have to find other spots than in the City Hall lot when visiting the building. And that with the lot paved absolutely edge-to-edge [which was one of the gripes of the two Boards].

A possible solution lies close to hand: the Salvation Army parking lot across East 6th Street from City Hall.

When the Salvation Army purchased and demolished the dilipidated dwelling on the corner a number of years ago, Capt. Thibault approached the city saying the SA would be interested in making arragements for the City to use it during the week. For a fee, of course. Which is only fair.

What would be the harm in the Administration revisiting that conversation, with an eye to adding space and making parking at City Hall less of a hassle?

-- Dan Damon

Not getting your own CLIPPINGS email daily? Click here to get started.


Monday, June 26, 2006

TW3: Jun 19 - 25, 2006 - Digest of past week's news


COUNCIL: UCIA AND OTHER MATTERS -- The Council caught an earful Wednesday from the public about the process by which the Administration's proposed interlocal services agreement with the Union County Improvement Authority got to the point of a decision with so little public notice. Both the Plaintalker and Plainfield Today got word to residents ahead of time, helping to ensure the public took part in the process. The Courier and Plainfield Today recapped the meeting on Thursday, with the Plaintalker weighing in on Friday. Also on Friday, the Courier editorialized about the haste with which the resolution was introduced and adopted, as well as publishing a letter from resident and business owner Vicky Griswold about the 'reckless' haste of the Council in acting.

Plainfield Today went over the ground again in some detail in the Friday and Saturday posts, also pointing out some opportunities and challenges with regard to the four areas covered by the UCIA resolution, as well as process-related questions. With regard to the expansion of the North Avenue redevelopment area, Bernice reprinted her year-earlier take on that discussion in her Saturday
"Deja Vu Downtown" post.

Note: Dan fretted over the failure of the Council to convene as the local Alcoholic Beverage Control Board in renewing the liquor licenses were granted in blanket resolutions, and whether that meant the renewals were defective. Not to worry -- if the Council's action contravenes state statute, it will be easy to just construe the statute as merely advisory and not normative...

THE GREEN/MORIARTY/SWEENEY PROPOSAL & THE STATE BUDGET -- The numerous articles from the week on the contentious State budget talks are posted on a separate page. But note that the Bergen Record broke the story that one possible angle for the Assembly opposition to Corzine's sales tax proposal is that Assembly leaders were holding a sales tax increase in reserve as an out for their own difficullties when they meet later this summer to wrestle with property tax reform.

CLIPS posted a link to a report by NJ Policy Perspective, "Making the State Sales Tax Pull its Weight". This is an important, thorough and thoughtful review of how sales taxes are put to work state-by-state and category-by-category across the country. It's an eye-opener. While a couple of things they propose might be taxed might make your blood boil, you will be surprised by some of the things that are NOT currently taxed in New Jersey. Overall, a valuable contribution to the current debate about resolving the perpetual budget crisis.

SCHOOLS -- After breaking the story that Plainfield High School athletic director John Ahern had failed to mention previous terminations on his job application five years ago, the Courier editorialized on Monday that the district needs to address its policy on employee background checks. Bernice noted in the Plaintalker that apointments were up for renewal at the Tuesday meeting -- including those of Superintendent Paula Howard and the curriculum, human resources and security directors.

Friday's Courier reported that Assemblyman Jerry Green is asking the County superintendent of schools to investigate how Ahern could have gotten hired without his previous work history coming to light. In the same story, it was revealed that the Board of Ed suspended Ahern. On Saturday, the Courier editorialized that Green was right to demand some answers about Ahern's hiring.

CRIME -- Police made an arrest within minutes in the city's 5th murder of 2006, as reported by both the Courier and the Ledger. The victim, Lonnie Phillips, was allegedly stabbed during an argument at the corner of East Front and Church Streets by Dennis Thomas late in the afternoon of Sunday, June 18.

Coming after a daytime shooting on the steps of the Public Library, residents are justly worried about safety downtown in the daytime. PT has received several emails from readers who have stopped bringing their children and grandchildren to the library and are now using the Fanwood or Scotch Plains libraries. Sources at the Plainfield Public Library report that there has been no outreach from the Mayor or the Administration about the incident and its impact on library users. One would think city officials would be concerned to hear residents' concerns and reassure them that the City was on the case. Wouldn't one?

ODD 'n ENDS -- The opportunity to respond to the City's Request for Qualifications for numerous professional services was pointed out by Plainfield Today on Tuesday, with links to the online forms and details. Though the website gave the Purchasing Agent's phone for contact, several readers wrote that the voicemail at that number was full when they called. I am told it is a problem with the antiquated phone system. OK, but shouldn't the public then be given another number that WILL always be answered? Meanwhile, the responses will be opened at 10:00 AM this morning. Will there be any surprises?

Bernice, hamstrung by landline telephone problems all week, managed to get several timely posts out on assorted items of interest:
"GOP Reorg, SID Expansion,Working Conference" on Tuesday, and two posts on Friday, "July 4 Concert Rejected" and "Comcast Offers Station Advice".

Sunday's Ledger ran a story on government jobs, noting that state and local jobs had increased by nearly 60,000 since 2000. Not to worry -- they weren't all in Plainfield, though we certainly have had our share since January 1.

Also on Sunday, Plainfield Today posted
"A beautiful day in the [online] neighborhood? Not!" on the interesting discussion thread in the Ledger's Rahway community forum. Someone identified as 'Mayor Kennedy' said that new luxury townhouses in that city have 'English-only' clauses in the leases, and also reported that the Rahway PD has a squad dedicated to rounding up illegal immigrants. Interesting, if true. And doubly so if the poster is really Mayor Kennedy.


Links to all COMMUNITY stories are posted on a separate page.


Links to all
CONNECTIONS - FOOD FOR THOUGHT stories are posted on a separate page.


Though rumors had swirled for weeks about ex-governor Jim McGreevey and his partner Mark O'Donnell buying a home in Plainfield, and PT had slyly hinted a deal being in the works, it was the AP that broke the story on Wednesday afternoon. I actually heard it on NPR as I was talking with Chad Weihrauch of the Courier, who was telling me it had just come across the AP wire. Both the Courier and the Ledger ran the story in Thursday's editions. Plainfield awaits the arrival of their new residents breathlessly.

"TW3: June 12 - 18, 2006" With Plainfield's 5th homicide of 2006, CRIME unfortunately leads off... followed by the 'Green team' struggle with Gov. Corzine over the budget... the Schools Construction forum... and the Master Plan meeting... as well as clips of other articles of interest from 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.

"HITS: June 23, 2006" and "HITS (part 2, Saturday)" --New kids on the block... UCIA dustup... Unraveling the Green/Moriarty/Sweeney mystery?... More Council questions...

Sunday, June 25, 2006

A beautiful day in the [online] neighborhood? Not!

Would an elected official really behave like this online? For all the world to see? Read on.

Online forums such as those of the Star-Ledger are popular hangouts for gadflies, kibitzers and assorted others. The posts can be funny, informative, or caustic. The posters can be people who use their own name, hide behind an alias, or pretend to be others to spread disinformation.

So, what's the case with the following conversation, sent to me by a PT reader browsing the Ledger's Union County forums?

One Father Ted in Rahway, began a thread -- or conversation -- with this entry about Luxury townhouses being built in Rahway. If you visit the link, you will see several people have chimed in on the conversation -- here are their profiles and their posts:
  • OneDumbDem and his/her post

  • Pebbie [who shares no personal information] and his/her post

  • Hildegarde [who also is bashful about personal info] and her [homophobic?] post

  • New2This2 [also info-shy] responds to Hildegarde with this thoughtful post

  • RedNotebook [anonymous also] is surprised at the prices - half a million - in his/her post

  • RHS72 [no info, is there a trend here?] cites schools serving the townhouses in his/her post

  • And then comes the kicker, MayorKennedy responds with a post that seems outrageous on its face

  • which garners a response from 339NBroad [who at least has a sense of humor] and his/her post

  • and, lastly, the anonymous BlueLaws and his/her post
Here is the complete post of 'Mayor Kennedy':
by MayorKennedy, 6/21/06 17:11 ET
Re: Luxury Townhouses by FatherTed, 6/21/06
The new luxury apartments are designed for individuals, not families with children. We have also built 300 age restricted units, so there will be no influx of children to impact upon our schools.

ALSO... the apartments have an 'English Only' clause in every lease, so no residents who primarily speak foreign languages will be permitted to rent the new housing in Rahway.

This was measure adopted by the planning board in 2003, despite opposition by local Republicans who were trying to curry favor with immigrant groups at the time.

Rahway police also have a squad assigned to taking action against illegal immigrants. This is a low key operation, but it has had great success. In just five weeks, 235 foreigners have been arrested and turned over to the Homeland Security agency formerly known as INS.
Lots of towns are concerned about the burden new apartment or condo construction may put on their schools and other social services, which 'Mayor Kennedy' echoes. Plainfield's chance may come.

Where it gets outrageous is the English-only comment -- which, on its face, seems to fly in the face of US and NJ civil rights laws. Or am I mistaken?

As for the Rahway PD having a squad targeting illegal immigrants, there has been no coverage of same in the media. Has the Ledger missed one here? This is aside from whether local PDs should be enforcing federal laws in this regard -- which is the subject of a heated debate in public safety circles.

Now, is 'Mayor Kennedy' really Mayor Kennedy? That is where forums get interesting. The profile seems genuine enough. But it is easy as 1-2-3 to sign up under any screen name one wishes [providing it's not already taken], without providing any confirmable information, and say anything one wants in the name of that persona.

If this post is by the real Mayor Kennedy, you have to wonder what's going on in Rahway. If it's not, you have to wonder who wants to trash the Mayor's reputation. I, for one, can't believe it is. No elected official would be this insensitive.

In any case, it's certainly NOT a beautiful day in the neighborhood for everyone!

-- Dan Damon
Not getting your own CLIPPINGS email daily? Click here to get started.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

HITS (part 2): Odds 'n Ends... Unravelling the Green/Moriarty/Sweeney proposal...

HITS: Heard in the street... (Part 2)

MORE ON THE UCIA RESOLUTION -- Just whose proposal was this interlocal services agreement [ILSA] with the UCIA? That is, in reference to presenting it to the Council for approval? The resolution was submitted by the Administration, per the agenda. Yet, when Councilor Storch asked if anyone would give a brief presentation explaining the ILSA to the public, neither of the Administration's point persons -- Corporation Counsel or City Administrator -- responded. Instead, it was left to Ed Boccher, the UCIA's attorney. Now, he did an excellent and fair-minded job in PT's humble opinion, but wouldn't you think the Council would want to hear the City's take on the agreement from a City spokesperson? Nitpicking? Maybe, but important nitpicking. Just as Councilor Storch's 'fretting' was important fretting. Just consider nitpicking and fretting part of due diligence. If the Administration doesn't perform it in small things, how can it be trusted to perform it in large ones?

The Council did express some concerns also about timelines and performance questions. Concern has also been expressed in the community that four studies at once may be a lot to bite off -- even for a sizable and successful operation like the UCIA. Can't the Council set a date certain for the submission of a prioritized list and designation of the first study area and a timeline for completion of the first study?

COUNCILOR DAVIS emailed me that he felt he was "misquoted" in yesterday's HITS. Here is what I wrote in reply:
"I did not quote you directly. Here is what I wrote: "The eloquence of Councillor Don Davis in arguing for speedy passage did not trump other Councillors' concerns that it be discussed."

"I believed I heard you say that you felt comfortable with the agreement and that it would be good to get on with it. If I misinterpreted you, please feel free to send me an email stating your recollection and I will post it -- exactly as you put it -- on the blog to clarify."
The offer stands.

North Avenue -- The expansion makes sense, especially since PNC has expressed interest in developing its property, which accounts for the bulk of the expansion area. Potential issue: The fate of the historic building at the western edge of the area, most recently incarnated as United National's community education center.

The Marino Tract [West Front Street] -- Hopefully, this time around the entire area will be included, including the properties along Plainfield Avenue from Front Street to the railroad tracks. While they're at it, why not expand the study to include the immediate surrounds to the Drake House? And address the issue of the Geraud Avenue bridge -- closed for years, but neither demolished nor rebuilt.

The Macy's Tract -- Hopefully the planners will draw on the wisdom of other communities [San Antonio, TX and Naperville, IL come to mind - click on the links] that have turned their downtown 'waterfronts' into lively shopping, dining and entertainment spaces -- which is what the proposed Green Brook Walkway would lend itself to very well...

East 3rd/Richmond Street Area -- This coyly named area appears to target the property the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority has patiently assembled over the past several years on which to build its new headquarters, maintenance shop and vehicle storage areas. This will be real interesting for several reasons: the PMUA is already in development; there is an existing ILSA in place between the city and the PMUA; and this could end up being an Authority vs. Authority mano à mano.


As getting the state budget passed gets down to crunch mode, there are stories galore in the papers. But none seem to be going after what makes Jerry and Steve and Paul run. Except, that is, the Bergen Record, which reported Wednesday that high-ranking state Democrats told it that a sales tax increase is an option that legislators might consider as a method of offering property tax relief in the special session they will be having over the summer. So, sacrificial lambs? stalking horses? both?

Mayoral Security -- Several readers have contacted me about seeing police cruisers apparently stationed in front of the Mayor's home in the evening. Word in the street has it that the Mayor is under police protection, though no public announcement of same has been made. PT is reminded of an appearance by the Mayor at a Senior Center meeting where Rasheed Abdul-Haqq questioned the presence of three police officers who arrived and left when she did. Isn't it ironic that a Mayor who campaigned on such a strong anti-crime platform appears to have a police guard without informing the public of its necessity and has found it inconvenient to speak out publicly about the wave of murders -- 5 now, and we're only in June -- the city is experiencing?

Mayoral Communications -- A reader emailed a post they made to the Courier in response to yesterday's editorial:
Haste makes waste! This practice of the Mayor bringing names for appointment and resolutions to the Council that are not on the printed agenda gives the appearance of a 'fast shuffle' to me. The Plainfield Council would have done better serving their City if they had tabled the resolution to allow themselves and their constituents time to study and understand the ramifications of an interlocal agreement between the Mayor and the Union County Improvement Authority. They should do whatever is necessary in order to make informed decisions. The resolution itself is broad in that it designates UCIA the redevelopment entity for redeveloping 'areas' in Plainfield. That sounds like all redevelopment to me. Not just the four areas verbally mentioned. Does this mean that the citizens of Plainfield are now at the mercy of Charlotte DeFilippo and her minions? The way our elected Council members have been rubber stamping the Mayor's wishes (can't say agenda because often her items aren't on the agenda), it looks like we are.
PT has noticed before the Mayor making her communications verbally to the Council or handing papers directly to them. With all due respect, in New Jersey official communications and acts by elected officials must be in writing and submitted properly [in the case of the Council, to the Secretary to the Governing Body, the Municipal Clerk]. You may have noted the Clerk's agenda was changed from the traditional 'none submitted' to 'none submitted by deadline' for some time.

Charter 'residency' requirement -- In PT's humble opinion, the $17,000 voted to study the question of the validity of section 3.2 of the charter [a residency requirement], would have been better spent elsewhere -- even if only for eats at some City meeting. I'll bet a fish sandwich at Pete's that there will never be a lawsuit. We're all adults. We all understand the Charter is only a rough guide to the way it would be desirable for things to be done. This is NOT Sunday School.

Chad Weihrauch bids farewell -- Lastly, Chad Weihrauch, the Courier's Plainfield reporter for the last three years, will be leaving the Courier for other journalistic opportunities, effective July 7. PT wishes him well and thanks him for his fine coverage of Plainfield since Bernice retired. Best of luck, Chad!

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.
-- Dan Damon

Not getting your own CLIPPINGS email daily? Click here to get started.


Friday, June 23, 2006

HITS: New kids on the block... UCIA dustup... Unraveling the Green/Moriarty/Sweeney mystery?... More Council questions...


Yes, Jim McGreevey and his partner Mark O'Donnell are moving to town. And I've already gotten emails from the neighborhood about people driving by to take a gander at the house. 1332 Prospect Avenue. Drive by now. Get it out of your system before the tour buses start coming, you don't want to look rude...

While we're welcoming new kids on the block, you should be watching the Ledger for stories from the new Plainfield reporter, Alexi Friedman. He is beginning to make his way around town, but since he is still learning the lay of the land, be sure to reach out if you have anything you feel would be of interest to him and the Ledger readers. Phone: (908) 302-1505. Email:

The dustup over the Council's adoption of an interlocal services agreement with the Union County Improvement Authority [UCIA] started out being about the process -- as PT said earlier and members of the public stated at the mike on Monday: What's the rush? Vicky Griswold's letter in today's Courier captures the spirit of the comments and questions from the public on Monday evening. But the Courier's editorial goes even further than PT: "marionette-like," "powerless to do anything but vote 'yes'," "a cloud over anything the Authority proposes." Wow! That's more than process to me. Who knew!?

...But the kicker may actually be that with the "new and improved" Council schedule, this was only the first of many such surprises to come. As Council President Blanco said in response to resident Keith Biddulph's question on the timing,
"That's what we do on a regular basis." And as Bette Davis said in All About Eve, "Fasten your seatbelts, we're in for a bumpy night"...

[Aside: Bernice noted Councilor Cory Storch "fretted" over the process. The residents of the Second Ward -- the whole city, truly -- should thank their lucky stars they have a Councilor such as Storch who will fret aloud over things and precipitate at least SOME discussion on the momentous moves coming down the pike.]

There were a couple of other items concerning the Council this week that intrigued PT: Besides the UCIA resolution that had been put on as a 'consent' item, there were two others: resolutions to study expanding the North Avenue Historic District Redevelopment Area and to initiate a study of the discreetly named East 3rd/Richmond Streets area. PT understands items must be unanimously agreed to to go on as consent items. But we can not recall items of such moment being given the 'no further discussion' treatment -- especially since it appears to thwart public participation in the process and make a mockery of the notion of transparency. Then there is the odd item concerning the resignation of Nathaniel Davis as the city's prosecutor. The letter was dated May 25, to take effect immediately. No explanation. No comment from the administration. No big deal...except that yesterday there was a story in the Ledger about the tiff in Hillside between the Planning Board chair, the Council and -- ultimately -- County Dem chair Charlotte DeFilippo over the firing of Nathaniel Davis as the Board's attorney. Would this be the same Nathaniel Davis? Was DeFilippo behind his demise in Hillside? Are there dots to connect here?...

Of cheatin' hearts and stealin' hands: OK, maybe just stealin' hands.. News of busts and pleas and sentences for thievery and official misconduct have been in the news this week -- in Old Bridge, South Amboy, Union County -- but nary a peep in Plainfield, where the $3,000 missing from the Tax Collector's office is still missing as far as the public knows, and as far as the public knows the Prosecutor dreams on, unaware... some say do I.

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.
-- Dan Damon

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Public presses Council on conduct of the public's business

As expected, the circumstances surrounding the resolution entering into an interlocal services agreement [ILSA] between the city and the Union County Improvement Authority [UCIA] took center stage at last evening's Council meeting.

Public comment underscored concerns with the process by which the agreement was moved along. To the public, it appeared to come from nowhere in the middle of Monday evening's meeting, and then was slated for passage on the immediately following Wednesday. It was not noted on Monday's public agenda. No copies were made available to the public on Monday.

At the end of the day on Tuesday, the Clerk's office was confused about whether the resolution was available for public perusal as they believed the Council had not yet seen it.

Perhaps most remarkable of all, it appeared on Wednesday's agenda as a consent item -- meaning that it would be passed in a blanket vote with a host of other items, without discussion. As resident Barbara Kerr pointedly noted in her comment, the Council was prepared to discuss waiving the residence requirement for summer lifeguards and NOT to discuss this redevelopment resolution which could involve millions upon millions of dollars in projects.

Yet Council President Blanco stated that the resolution had gone out -- in a second packet -- to the Council on Friday, and that the item was known to the Council before Monday's meeting. The eloquence of Councillor Don Davis in arguing for speedy passage did not trump other Councillors' concerns that it be discussed.

Councillor Storch in particular bristled at the way things were done. He said that he had not seen the resolution until Sunday, and that he was disturbed "mostly about the process," noting that he was going to vote for the resolution "not because the administration has earned a favor, but because it's good for Plainfield."

PT learned that the negotiations between the city and the UCIA have been going on for months, with at least some of the Council privy to the details. So why was its introduction so poorly managed?

Everyone is in favor of development projects. There is a widespread belief that new stores, homes and offices will add to the city's ratables and relieve the never-ending pressure on residential property owners to do the heavy lifting. [More on that another time.]

There is much to be said for an agreement with the UCIA since the city -- thanks to the recalcitrance of past Councils -- has no redevelopment agency of its own, unlike the similarly-sized New Brunswick. Charlotte DeFilippo is said to run a tight ship. She uses smart people. The UCIA has a proven track record. Projects move along. That is all to the good.

The Council has shown it wants to reserve its rights of review and refusal. That is also to the good. Let's see how this unfolds.

OTHER ITEMS OF INTEREST -- There were two other items that caught PT's eye.

The mysterious $55,000 that was proposed to be transferred between two budget lines had a brief moment in the spotlight. Though the item was a non-consent one, presupposing at least some discussion, it appeared to be going down to defeat without any comment, when Councillor Storch -- evidently distracted by something else -- asked President Blanco what they were voting on. Council President answered that it was the question of "the money for the July 4th parade entertainment." Whereupon Councillor Storch voted no. The final tally was 5 - 2 against the transfer. $55,000 for entertainment, beyond the regular parade budget?!

PT was somewhat surprised by the manner in which the renewal of liquor licenses took place this year. All of the licenses were grouped into batch resolutions covering those licensees in each category: bars, retail stores, clubs, etc. They were then taken up as non-consent items and passed with roll-call votes. All this seems to ease the traditional June crush of liquor license renewal which has been such a long tradition. That's a good thing. But two things puzzled PT. Aren't all liquor license matters supposed to be handled by the Council sitting as the local Alcoholic Beverage Control Board? Which means adjourning the regular Council meeting, convening as the ABC, conducting the ABC business, closing the ABC meeting and reconvening as the Council. Aren't licensees supposed to face a hearing in which the public may challenge the renewal of the license. [Given the enduring problems with such establishments as La Bamba and Pueblo Viejo, this seems like a not unimportant point.] Neither of these things happened last night, far as PT could tell. Does that mean the renewals are defective in any way? Would it be good to hear from the Corporation Counsel [or is it Corporation Council?] that there is no defect here?

Finally, as for the way the people's business is conducted under the new, compressed regime of Monday agenda settings followed immediately by the Wednesday business meeting, the exchange between resident Keith Biddulph and Council President Blanco was revealing.

When Mr. Biddulph asked why the redevelopment resolution was introduced in the manner it was on Monday evening and then slated to be voted on so hastily on Wednesday, Council President Blanco replied, "That's what we do on a regular basis."
-- Dan Damon
Not getting your own CLIPPINGS email daily? Click here to get started.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Tonight: Council sells out Plainfield?

Led by President Ray Blanco, City Council will be faced tonight with deciding on a proposal which only saw the light of night at Monday's agenda session and would change Plainfield forever. That course of action? To designate the Union County Improvement Authority [UCIA] the "developing entity" for four named redevelopment areas -- and potentially unlimited others.

Bernice gives a review of the presentation to Council and sketches the areas proposed in her post today, "UCIA May Redevelop Four Sites", which you should check out if you have not already done so.

There will be plenty to watch and discuss as this unfolds, and designating the UCIA does not automatically have to mean Plainfield has been sold out. However, we have been down this primrose path before and caution is definitely in order. [Think teenage boys hustling their dates to get to 'third base' -- you get the idea.]

For now, the most important question seems to be What's the rush?

Either the Council has been privy to the development of the proposed interlocal services agreement [ILSA] which would bind the parties or it has not. Or some Councillors have been involved and others not. And the reactions Bernice reports from Monday: Were they feigned or real? Don't you hate having to be so cynical? But what option are you left with when faced with this kind of 'transparency'?

That this all would transpire between a Monday and a Wednesday, with no thorough public discussion and without any coverage by the mainstream media, makes one wonder about whether the shift of Council meetings to this new scheme had more to do with shutting the public out of the process than it did with accommodating Jenny Wenson Maier. You would not even know the details of the proposal if you did not go into the Clerk's office to inspect the resolution--and who has time for that between essentially Tuesday and Wednesday?

Judging from Bernice's quote, Council President Blanco is on fire to get this passed tonight. Looks like someone is taking a page from Sharpe James' playbook [I am thinking of the night Sharpe introduced, and the Newark City Council passed, the infamous 'slush fund' ordinance -- all in one evening].

You may want to check this one out. Council's business meeting is tonight at 8:00 PM in the courthouse, Watchung Avenue and East 4th Street.

"Marry in haste, repent at leisure."

Stay tuned...

-- Dan Damon
Not getting your own CLIPPINGS email daily? Click here to get started.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Pork4U? Maybe -- but you better hurry


The city has posted a list of RFQ's [Requests for Qualifications] on its website. See the list at the end of this post, and be sure to visit the web page if you are interested in either the details or in submitting your own qualifications in expectation of getting some work from the city. But you better hurry -- the deadline is before 10:00 AM next Monday.

On the website, each link will open a Word document with all the specifications required to submit a Response for that particular category.

There is, however, some interesting language in the explanatory paragraph, reserving to the City the right to "
waive any informality in the RFQ process" and "to accept any qualifications which, in their judgment, are most advantageous..." You will probably want to understand what those statements mean -- beforehand.

Under the "fair and open process" requirement, the RFQ's must be opened at a publicly announced time and place to which the public is explicitly invited. That would be next Monday, June 26, at 10:00 AM, at City Hall -- presumably in the Library, but check with Purchasing Agent Craig Smith at 753-3211.

You will, of course, be interested in who submits and -- eventually -- in to whom any contracts are awarded as a result in the future.

Public Notice
Request for Qualifications...

Notice is hereby given that the City of Plainfield will receive qualifications on June 26, 2006 at 10:00 a.m. in City of Plainfield, City Hall, 515 Watchung Avenue, Plainfield, New Jersey for the following professional services:
Qualifications are being solicited through a Fair and Open process in accordance with N.J.S.A. 19:44A-20.4. Requests for Qualifications (RFQ) may be obtained at the City of Plainfield, 515 Watchung Avenue, Plainfield, New Jersey 07061, Attn: Craig Smith, Purchasing Agent, between the hours of 9:00 A.M. and 4:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. Qualification Submissions may be mailed upon request by calling the Purchasing Agent’s office (908) 753-3211. All questions regarding the RFQ must be made in writing and directed to the Purchasing Agent. Questions may be faxed to (908) 753-3500. Submissions must be made in the form required by the specifications and one (1) original and five (5) copies must be delivered to reach the Purchasing Agent prior to the time for the receipt of Qualification. All information requested in the Request for Qualifications must be provided or the submission may be disqualified. Qualifications must be sealed and plainly marked on the outside of the sealed envelope to the services for which the qualification is submitted. The City of Plainfield reserves the right to reject any and all qualifications, to waive any informality in the RFQ process, and to accept any qualifications which, in their judgment, are most advantageous, price and other factors considered, and will best serve the interest of the City of Plainfield. Proposers are required to comply with the requirements of N.J.S.A. 10:5-31 et seq and N.J.A.C. 17:27.

N.B. -- I just can't resist the screen shot of the web page. Where to start? The background which makes some type nearly illegible? The fact that John DiPane's email address is still on the page--four months or so since he's gone? The reference to Mr. Williamson as the 'corporation council'? Maybe you can find other items of interest....

-- Dan Damon
Not getting your own CLIPPINGS email daily? Click here to get started.

Monday, June 19, 2006

TW3: June 12 - 18, 2006: Digest of past week's news


Sadly, 'crime' must take the lead this week, since Plainfield's fifth homicide of 2006 happened yesterday -- a fatal stabbing in broad daylight on a busy downtown street. There was a brief in today's Courier; full stories are sure to follow tomorrow. Wasn't the new administration supposed to rescue us from this continuing bloodshed?

The FBI released its preliminary 2005 UCR data, and it was widely noted in the media that violent crime is up in small cities across the country (they consider small to start at 100,000 -- not to deflate our hometown pride). The New York Times ran a regional story and included a tri-state stats chart. With last year's record number of homicides, and now five this year, Plainfield is reflecting that national pattern.

Plainfield police cooperated in a nationwide roundup of immigrant gang members and sexual predators, as noted in the Courier, the Ledger, and the New York Times.

A young woman faces weapons charges for bringing a knife into the High School building through an unlocked door, apparently in search of a romantic rival, as reported by the Courier. The point here is that she was able to avoid the guarded entrances. This is the flip side of the Library's problems that students are getting out of the building unnoticed during the day to rendezvous in apparent drug transactions on College Place near the rear of the library building. What gives? Meanwhile, the school district is under the spotlight for the hiring of the High School's athletic director, where it seems there was an insufficient background check, as the Courier brought to light. The matter is editorialized in today's Courier.

Operation CeaseFire, the state's pilot anti-gang effort is expanding to another round of cities. Inexplicably, Plainfield is not one of them. Is that because the administration doesn't think the anti-gang program is worthwhile? Or because the administration didn't apply to be included? Or because this administration lacks clout in Trenton? Or because admitting Plainfield has a problem would embarass this administration? Whatever the reason, not being in the program leaves us without another tool to fight gangs and crime.

Check out the state's online resource:
"New Jersey's 'Gang Free' website"

Cold cases are unromantic and underreported, but police doggedness can pay off, as in the case of the 1983 murder of Marcus Jones on the corner of South Second Street and Clinton Avenue. Tracked down in Florida, where he had been living for yearrs, a former South Plainfielder admitted his guilt in court this past week. The Courier and the Ledger covered the story.

Lastly, news of a new tool that Plainfield police are expecting to get through a Urban Enterprise Zone grant: Segways. The Ledger gave quite an extended story to the two-wheeled contraption's introduction into gingerbread-studded Ocean Grove, complete with a photo gallery illustrating the Segway team at work.

GREEN / MORIARTY / SWEENEY PROPOSAL & STATE BUDGET -- Assemblyman Green's budget team was at the center of a swarm of reporting and comment on the state's budget situation throughout the week. On Wednesday, the Ledger's Tom Moran wrote a column reporting on the rough time Sen. Sweeney got at the AFL-CIO convention.

The press war between Corzine and the Green team continued: on Thursday, the Ledger reported Corzine telling the state worker unions to "never mind" the legislators' ideas for givebacks. The Green team replied by pressing the Gov again about the contracts, as reported in Friday's Ledger.

The Courier reported on Saturday that lawmakers were eyeing cutting the state's pension contribution as a way to ease the budget crisis. The same day, the AP wire carried the results of the Quinnipiac poll showing voters oppose Corzine's sales tax proposal by a considerale margin. Meanwhile, the Ledger reported on a stormy Friday afternoon meeting between Corzine and his staff and Assembly leaders, who told him the sales tax hike was dead before arrival.

On Sunday, the Ledger posted a large chart for keeping watch over the budget process (which I intend to scan and post), and the Courier reported on the developing complexity of the budget negotiations.

Writing on the PoliticsNJ website, the highly respected David Rebovich tried to tie all the loose ends together in a piece titled
"Campaigning for and against the budget." Which I am sure he will try again this week. Good luck! More to come...

SCHOOLS CONSTRUCTION -- Though ground was broken Tuesday for the new Emerson School, the Plainfield school district is hardly out of the woods on the construction front. The Courier reported on the groundbreaking. On Thursday, the New Dems political club sponsored a forum on the issue at the Unitarian Society, with co-sponsorship by the church's Social Justice committee. The forum, which Dan promoted in Plainfield Today, featured Joan Ponessa of the Education Law Center, who is charged with monitoring the state's construction efforts in response to court rulings. More than 40 people listened attentively and joined in a Q&A afterward. Bernice reported back in detail in the Plaintalker.

MASTER PLAN -- Thursday was a busy evening -- with the schools construction forum, the Plainwood Square outdoor concert, AND the public hearing to kick off the Planning Board's review and rejiggering of the 1998 Master Plan. Dan gave it two boosts on Plainfield Today and the Courier did a nice 'pre-' story. Over 40 people turned out for the presentation and Q&A period -- about a third of them chugging along from the earlier school construction forum. The Ledger's new Plainfield beat reporter -- Alexi Friedman -- was seen busily taking notes. Dan's 2¢ worth about what this all may mean were in his Friday HITS post on Plainfield Today.

Last Friday's H.I.T.S.:
"HITS: Friday, June 16"
More on $$$ missing from tax office... Parking... Schools construction... Master Plan...
Last Monday's TW3:
"TW3: Jun 5 - June 11, 2006"
Guns & gunplay... the missing $41,000... Plainfield Health Center on a roll?... Green vs. state workers...

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.


Film Festival: "Pride Film Festival running this weekend" -- and a link to films being shown
HIV Health Fair: "Health Center, Muhlenberg will sponsor HIV fair"
Internet Café to the rescue!: "Still No Phone" -- Bernice logs in at the Internet cafe...where you can, too!
Park-Madison Office Building: "County honored for Park Madison complex"
Plaintalker: "Plaintalker At One Year" -- Happy Birthday, Plaintalker! And many more...
Plainwood Square Summer Concerts: "Summer concert series launches tonight at 6 PM"
Pride Picnic: "Plainfield pride"
Red Cross: "Singing at Carnegie Hall? Unbelievable!"
Speaking Out: Joan Hervey: "Same-sex couples relegated to second class"
Obituary: "Daniel Gilbreth, 88, one of the 'Cheaper by the dozen' kids"
..... - The Gilbreths originally lived in Plainfield, moving to Montclair ca. 1922


Abbott Schools: "Preschools fail to clear teachers"
Abbott Schools: "Advocates demand Abbott school reform"
Accessibility: Joan Whitlow: "An obstacle course for the wheelchair-bound"
Animal Charity Fraud - SL: "Jersey court shuts down abused-animal charity"
Animal Charity Fraud - CN: "State slams alleged faux fundraiser with fine"
Attorneys: "Office of Attorney Ethics releases annual 'Good lawyers gone bad' report"
Code Enforcement: "Mayfair getting luxury makeover" -- Code violations used to drive renovation
Crime Stats: "Violent crime rate grows in large cities"
Crime Stats: "UCR - 2005 Preliminary - New Jersey" -- Spreadsheet as a graphic, click to enlarge
Daylaborers: "NYC to Consider Job Centers for Day Labor"
Dems: "Distancing Dems from Lynch, municipal chairman ousted"
Development: "New Brunswick high-rise short 25 parking spaces, must remedy"
Development: "Builder let go in Devils arena flap over cost"
Development: "Compromise sought over South Amboy development plan"
Disaster Planning: "NJ cities aren't ready for disasters; Evacuation plans faulted"
Drugs: "More than 100 drug abusers have died from J&J's synthetic narcotic Fentanyl"
Drugs: "Newark officer arrested in Oxycontin prescription drug scheme"
Dual Officeholding: "Advocates demanding end to double-dipping"
... - Full text of the NJPP report "One To A Customer" [PDF file]
Emergency Rooms: "ER care in critical condition, study finds"
Eminent Domain: "Property owners gain a shield in reform bill"
Eminent Domain: "Assembly panel weighs state eminent domain reforms"
Eminent Domain - Editorial, CN: "Eminent domain should be tough sell"
Eminent Domain - NYT: "Battle to Revise Eminent Domain Law Escalates"
Foster Care: "Advocates serve as voice for kids in foster care"
Guns/Gunplay: "Ex-grid star shot to death after New Brunswick party"
Human Trafficking: "Judge wants 11 deported Hondurans back in N.J."
Immigrants: "Danbury Mayor Cuts the Noise on Immigration"
Immigrants: "Dollars and Dreams: Immigrants as Prey"
Liquor Licenses: "Montclair tables action on 'parking' liquor license at garage"
Lynch, John: "Cash took same route as building interests"
Medicaid: "States' Changes Reshape Medicaid"
Official Misconduct: "Newark construction official stripped of license"
Pay-to-Play: "Opponent of limits on donors backs off"
Philanthropy: "Scholars Hatch From Former Professor's Nest Egg"
Planning Boards: "Bound Brook board member removed over 'racist' letter"
Preschools: "Preschool director indicted with 2 others in theft case"
Preschools: "Preschool stole funds from kids, state says"
Privatizing Toll Roads: "Strapped States Try New Route, Lease Toll Roads to Foreign Firms"
Same-sex partner benefits: "Montclair workers to reap benefits for same-sex mates"
School Cell Phone Ban: "School Phone Ban Stirs, Yes, a Lot of Talk"
Students: "Teens take a stand to aid Rwanda genocide survivors"
Superfund Sites: "Senators assail EPA for laxity in cleaning up Superfund sites"
Tax Increases: "Perth Amboy residents decry huge tax hike"
Teacher Contracts: "With no contract, teachers wearing their gripes"
Terrorism Drill: "Terrorism drill sparks alarm in Westfield"
Union County Parks: "Boulders and plants to cut pollution at Warinanco"
Vas Campaign: "Consultant says Vas campaign owes her $4,000"
Wal-Mart: Tom Moran: "Don't let the prices fool you: Wal-Mart is no bargain for N.J"
Williams, Jayson - CN: "Williams loses bids on two retrial motions"
Williams, Jayson - SL: "Supremes to decide if Williams retrial will see cover-up evidence"
World Cup: "A little bit of Costa Rica in Bound Brook"
Zoning Board 'Special Meeting' fees: "Fees increasing for nearly everything"