Thursday, August 31, 2006

R. F. What?

Check back...have an early morning meeting. -- Dan

-- Dan Damon

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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Decree blots Plainfield reputation

I was incredulous the first time, and after that settled into being simply mystified.

Mystified about why once a year, like clockwork, I would be asked to work on a diversity recruitment campaign for Plainfield's Fire Division that included ads, press releases and flyers. The annual campaign was part of adhering to a consent decree, I was told.

I worked closely with Plainfield's Fire Division over the years on public relations efforts ranging from fire safety education to capital equipment purchases, from shabby firefighter quarters to the Division's treasure-trove of memorabilia.

In my experience, Plainfield's Fire Division is a model of diversity, so why was Plainfield subject to a consent decree?

Light was shed on that question by the Ledger with Monday's story ("N.J. fire squads still not diverse") on the consent decree and its history. And today, the
Ledger editorialized on the subject ("Diversity program has yet to catch fire").

It must be noted that the 'diversity' sought by the decree only refers to Blacks and Hispanics -- women and other minority groups were not on anyone's radar in 1977, the year the original suit was filed or in 1980, the year the consent decree was issued.

But my question remains. Consider the following charts for Plainfield and some of the other parties to the decree, comparing the years 1996 and 2005:

Someone has to explain to me why Plainfield STILL needs to be included in the consent decree, though it is perfectly clear why others should be.

Wouldn't the city be better off making an effort to remove this blot from its reputation?

-- Dan Damon

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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Muhlenberg's new nursing school

Muhlenberg's new School of Nursing. Construction proceeds apace.

-- Dan Damon

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Monday, August 28, 2006

TW3 - Aug 21 - 27: Digest of past week's Plainfield news

Mondays, a digest of Plainfield-only news from the past week.


BLANCO SEAT FILLED, CAN PLAINFIELD MOVE ON? -- City Council met Monday in Agenda session to set the stage for filling Ray Blanco's vacant seat at its Wednesday business meeting.

The Monday meeting ITSELF -- where Rayland Van Blake was elected president pro tem -- became the news in both the
Courier ("Plainfield council picks new president in Monday meeting") and the Ledger ("Council selects Van Blake as leader"). Because of the vague way in which mention was made of how Van Blake got to be president pro tem, PT raised the question of adherence to the Sunshine Law in Tuesday's post ("First, violate the Sunshine Law?"), prompting a visit with Clerk Wyatt and a clarification in Wednesday's post that all had in fact been done 'according to Hoyle.'

Ray's surprise legacy (
"Blanco's surprise legacy") was to have the seating arrangements revamped for the Council's agenda-setting sessions in City Hall Library. It was a surprise indeed, but PT wondered if there might not be a better solution to the perennials problems with meetings in this room -- create a TOTALLY NEW COUNCIL CHAMBER on the ground floor of the old Tepper's building, using the $460,000± on hand from the feds to be used on the building OR LOST.

On Wednesday, at the appointed time, JUST ONE CANDIDATE for the empty seat was present, as noted by PT (
"A shocker at Council"). You'd have thought the Dem City Committee would have seen to it that their candidates were ALL there, ON TIME. Oh well... Nevertheless, the show went on, as reported by the Courier ("Blanco's Plainfield council seat filled") and the Ledger("Plainfield replacement for council irks Latino activist Flor Gonzalez").

As noted by the
Ledger, activist Flor Gonzalez was not pleased with the selection or the way in which it was made. She has called for a meeting to form a new Hispanic political action group for this Wednesday at 6 p.m., at Los Faraones, 111 East Front Street.

Underscoring the demographic changes that seem to be accelerating all around us, the New York Times ran an important story (
"Suburbs: The New Crossroads of the World") this past week on how important the suburbs (read Plainfield) are in the new immigration patterns of the 21st century. The included map indicates Plainfield is experiencing an immigrant growth rate of up to 15%. One thing is certain: As the Latino population increases and becomes property owners, the inevitable trend toward participation in the political process will guarantee important changes in how things are done. Demagoguery can only make the process more fraught, not prevent it...

COUNCIL ACTION & BEHAVIOR -- The Administration seemed to have second thoughts (or may be just first thoughts?) about items that were put on the agenda. Besides proposing increases in fees landlords would pay for inspections, as noted by Bernice (
"Code Compliance Fees Increasing"), there was a proposal that Plainfield take part in COAH regional contribution agreements. The Administration also presented resolutions and ordinances associated with four proposed projects (Marino's, North Avenue, the new Senior project, and the East 3rd/Richmond study area).

As noted by Bernice (
"Council Doings"), both the COAH proposal and the code compliance fees were withdrawn. (PT's view on this matter is that all the sugar-coated language does not hide the ugly truth that these regional agreements allow wealthy towns to shovel their moral obligation to provide a broad spectrum of housing choices off onto urban communities.)

PT thought the proposed East 3rd/Richmond study area suffered (
"Problems with the Cottage Place study area"), mostly in respect of the SIZE of the proposed study area, and the destabilizing of ongoing projects by the uncertainty cast over everything by the study. Possible solution? -- Expand the study area, swap the PMUA and the Health Center and move the Health Center downtown to the study area, along with whatever 65 King Street has in mind.

A P.S. to the Cottage Place post incorrectly indicated that LIZ URQUHART had been one of the three Councilors who sued to prevent implementation of the PMUA. (Mid-term memory the first thing to go?) Liz had stuck by the idea of getting the PMUA up and running as she reminded me by phone. My apologies. The real gang of three Councilors was: Joe Scott, Helen Miller and Bob Ferraro. Only Bob remains and he has made his peace, resting safely now in the bosom of the PMUA...

S-E-X always gets attention. And the proposal of Councilors Burney and Davis for establishing restricted, pedophile-free areas was no exception. The Plaintalker mulled it on both Monday (
"City Council Wants Pedophile-Free Zones") and Tuesday ("Ban On Pedophiles Mulled"), with the Ledger ("Plainfield weighs law to bar sex offenders") and the Courier ("Plainfield calls for housing limits on child predators") subsequently weighing in. Today's Courier had an editorial ("Pedophile restrictions provide illusion of safety") pointing out some shortcomings of this type of legislation.

Bernice set off the Aretha record permanently embedded in PT's brain with her thoughtful Sunday piece (
"R.E.S.P.E.C.T.") on the behavior of various players and the amount of respect that is -- or isn't -- expected and shown. As for taking items off the consent agenda after previously assenting to it -- it has happened many, many times before. Perhaps the real issue is having such momentous items put on as CONSENT items, meaning there will be no further discussion before committing the City and its resources....

DEVELOPMENT & DEVELOPERS -- Bernice outlined the bunch of items covering proposed development on Tuesday (
"Developers Gear Up"). Though much of this is discussed above, there were several stories feeding into associated issues this past week. ONE SEAT TO NYC? Both the Courier ("Hybrid trains may mean nonstop trips to NYC") and the Asbury Park Press ("NJ Transit studying hybrid trains") reported on NJT studies of using hybrid diesel/electric trains to provide one-seat commutes to the Big Apple. This would sure make all these TRANSIT-FRIENDLY developments more attractive, wouldn't they?

To complete the yin-and-yang of the discussion, news on the real estate front continued to be troublesome, as pointed out by PT on Friday in HITS, as well as a SLEW of real estate stories found in this week's CONNECTIONS links (below), and topped off with an area survey by the Courier on Sunday (
"Housing market tough on sellers, a boon to buyers"), from which Plainfield data is NOTICEABLY missing.There were also stories dealing with REZONING (Montclair) and COAH OBLIGATIONS (Clark), both of which are issues facing Plainfield.

CRIME-FIGHTING -- While Plainfield waits for the new Operation Cease-Fire to be put in place, you can bone up on what it's all about with this story from the New York Times (
"Oakland, Cal. Fights Crime With Talk"). Both the history of the concept and its implementation in Oakland are gone over.

MIT SCHLAG -- Those Austrians! You have to love them. They put SCHLAG on everything. Well, PT put some SCHLAG on the end of the week with two posts ("Grace Church's Carillon concert") and ("'Ghosts' - An Album of Old Plainfield").

One reader emailed that the GHOSTS post made her very sad. That was not PT's intention, but the images did underscore that MUCH has changed in Plainfield the last 30 years or so -- what the admixture of good and bad is, I will leave, gentle reader, to your discretion...

The CARILLON CONCERT was also somewhat provocative. Though overcast and drizzling -- how English, PT thought -- upwards of
forty - make that seventy -- people ventured out. Some sat under a small nylon tent pitched on the church's lawn, others stood in the doorways, a few in the street with umbrellas, and some inside the tower. PT and several others enjoyed the concert from their cars, parked midway down the city lot across the street -- the perfect location from a SOUND point of view.

The concert broke the mold for this listener in TWO regards -- the music and the style. First, the music. A John Phillip Sousa march? A Joplin rag? Rogers & Hammerstein's Carousel? Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata? Yes, and more. This was definitely NOT your father's carillon concert. The other surprise was stylistic. Trevor Workman's touch was so light that this enormous instrument, played much of the time on its upper register, sounded as much like a music box as a carillon. Secondly, was that an actual VIBRATO I heard? No, but it came close. It seemed that Workman was able to TRILL two adjacent bells in unbelievably rapid alteration in a way to elicit a shimmer. Schlag, I tell you, pure SCHLAG.

Ah, but you would have had to have been there...

Last Friday's H.I.T.S.:
"HITS: Shock and awe... Lights under bushels?..." -- Cubicle wars... Watching watchmen... Council health benefits..."
Last Monday's TW3:
"TW3 - Aug 14 - 20" -- Blanco and his replacement... Police staffing... Tax snafu... Development...


Carillon Concert [last item]: "Free carillon concert set for Sunday"

Housing Authority (2nd item): "Housing agency begins building new offices"
Library: "Library giving books to children as bonus"

Plainfield High School: "Supplies for success"

Seniors: Nice pictures of the Seniors' barbecue in CN, can't find online
Sports, Jay Williams: "Jay Williams invited to Nets camp"

United Way 'Del Raudelunas Award': "Nun's work for the poor is honored"
YWCA: "YWCA set to open child learning center" -- Well, at least they got the gender right online!
Letter: Bob Darden: "City's blacks are being leapfrogged in achievement"
Letter: Rev. Rick Taylor: "Veterans' treatment is an outrage"

Letter: Rob McConnell: "Dems, like James, fleecing residents"
Letter: Herb Kaufman: "Bush closes door on open access"
Speaking Out, CN (Sun): "Incorporate conservation into our daily lives"


Budgets: "Budget crunch looms for Franklin Twp."
Charter Schools: "Charter schools' pupils lagging a bit nationally"
COAH Obligations: "Request to fill quota with age-restricted units denied"
Corzine - OpEd, CN: Bob Ingle: "Corzine has plenty more to clean up"
'Downzoning': "Montclair's Debate on Growth Goes On"
Drugs: "Crosses of Bedford Park Are Still Waging War on Drugs"
Elected Officials' Benefits: "Roseland Council cuts health benefits for selves, others"
Free Speech: Joan Whitlow: "Free Speech, Online Forums & Public Employees"
Immigration: "Suburbs: The New Crossroads of the World"

Immigration - AP: "Riverside's illegal immigrants ordinance sparks protests"
Immigration - Bergen Record: "Riverside: Dueling campaigns"
- WP: "'They Must Leave,' Mayor of Hazleton Says After Signing Tough New Law"
Juvenile Justice: "Cop's death prompts look at jail for teens"
Pay-to-Play: "Woodbridge pay-to-play ordinance targets redevelopers"
Pay-to-Play: "Proposed limits on contributions to county committees unsettles reform"
Police at Schools: "Paying for cops in schools still a hurdle"
Police Vehicles: "A Police Car With Plenty of Muscle" -- coming soon to NJ?
Political Style: Tom Moran: "Mayor's urban-style politics rile rustic town"
Real Estate: "Housing market tough on sellers, a boon to buyers"

Real Estate: "Is The Bubble Collapsing? 10 Indicators To Watch" (PDF)
Real Estate: "Seller Gimmicks May Disguise Fall of Prices"
Real Estate: "Practice hides the real deal on homes for sale in Jersey"
Real Estate: "Toll Bros. 3Q profits decline"
Real Estate: "How to Profit From a Cooling Real Estate Market"
Real Estate: "Housing sales continue slide"
Schools: "'Stealth' Students Test Tolerance of the Affluent"
Spanish-Language TV: "Univision-Televisa split may force program shift"
Sunshine Law: CN Editorial: "Prosecutor did well in upholding meeting law"
Tax Assessments: "Philadelphia's aerial photo service manages tax roll" -- and Pictometry's site.
Tax Revaluation: "Smaller homes hit harder by revaluation"
West Nile Virus: "State confirms West Nile in elderly Union County woman"
Williams, Jayson "Lawsuit against Williams is reinstated"


Annual 'No Child Left Behind' Reports:
.. - SL: Statewide: "Review increasingly snared suburban as well as urban districts"
.. - SL: Union County: "One in 4 public schools in county fail test; But performance is better than in'04"
.. - CN: "Schools improve federal test scores"
.. - AP: Statewide: "More N.J. schools not meeting standards"
Teach & Employee Contracts: "120 districts still hammering out teacher contracts as fall nears"

Plainfield Abuse Case: "Appeals court rules teacher abused 2nd-grader in 2002" -- NOTE: This took place BEFORE the current Superintendent or Board was in place; neither the teacher nor the school is disclosed.


Sunday, August 27, 2006

'Ghosts' - An album - August 27, 2006

'Ghosts' - An Album - August 27, 2006

'Ghosts' refer to faded advertisements painted on building walls,
often referring to firms that are no longer in business. In deciding
to record our 'ghosts,' I discovered that many of the buildings
where you might expect to find these artifacts have been covered
with shiny coats of paint. But not all. And some are not painted at all.
Do you know where these are?

(As always, click on any picture to enlarge)

Before it was the Courier News,
it was The Plainfield Courier-News

G. O. Keller Cleaners

Gloria Frocks

Fantasy Warehouse

Universal Furniture

1st Atlantic Savings

Thomas Fine Furniture

Discoteca Night Club

Youth Town

L. Manning Monuments

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Free Carillon Concert & Peach Festival

Free Carillon Concert & Peach Festival
Sunday · August 27
Grace Episcopal Church
East 7th Street and Cleveland Avenue
6 PM · Dessert
7PM · Concert

The 47-bell carillon, a gift of the Pittis family in the 1920s, is one of the largest in the eastern US, and admirably suited to the performance of the carillon repertoire.

A demanding musical instrument, the carillon is played by striking wooden baton 'keys' with the edge of the fist. The 'keys' resemble a piano keyboard -- with several inches between each key, giving room for the fist to depress it without rubbing against its neighbors. Though the keyboard appears formidable, a well-tuned carillon's keys will strike its bells with a minimum of effort.

The Pittis Carillon also includes a foot pedal keyboard, meaning that three bells may be struck at one time, adding to the richness of the musical effect.

The carillon keyboard is located on a platform in the tower, just below the bell chamber which is at the level of the tracery openings at the top of the tower.

The bells, which range from more than a ton to just a few pounds, are struck by a clapper when the 'key' is struck by the carilloneur.

(The carillon tower was restored in 2001)

Although historically its roots are in its service to cathedrals and other large churches, carillons in the US are as likely to be found on the campus of a large university -- as at Princeton or the University of Pennsylvania, whose carilloneurs have also served as Grace's.

The music for carillons also reflects the broad interest of today's audiences, including transcriptions of popular orchestral works and even riffs on popular music. There will be enough variety in the program to delight -- and perhaps surprise -- the listener.

An instrument as large as Grace's, in a community the size of Plainfield, is rare indeed, making the Pittis Carillon one of Plainfield's cultural treasures.

The concert is being presented by Trevor Workman (bio), carillonneur to the Bournmouth Village Trust in England.

The peach festival and the concert are free and open to the public, a gift of Grace Church to the community.

Cleveland Avenue will be closed to traffic between 7th and 6th for the dessert hour and concert. Bring a folding chair or a blanket to sit on. Parking is available in the city lot across 7th Street from the church.

-- Dan Damon

Links of interest--

Robin Austin: "The Carillon From Antiquity to the Present" -- an essay by Robin Austin, formerly at Grace Church and Princeton University, now carillonneur at the University of Pennsylvania.

GCNA: "The Guild of Carillonneurs in North America" -- the professional organization of carillonneurs in America.

Keyboard & Mechanism: "The Carillon Keyboard and Playing Mechanism" -- an illustrated explanatory article.

Wikipedia: "The Carillon" -- includes history and illustrative photos.

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Friday, August 25, 2006

HITS: Shock and awe... Lights under bushels?... Cubicle wars... Watching watchmen... Council health benefits...


'SHOCK' AND AWE OVER 'CANDIDATE' BEHAVIOR? -- A reader emailed PT that Thursday's post about two of the three 'candidates' for the open Council seat failing to show at the appointed time for their interviews generated a lot of babble on the Ledger forum. What's to babble about? 7:30 PM was the stated time. Only one showed at that time. Council president commented on fact. Interview proceeded. PT 'shocked.' And now awed?...

POLICY: KEEP LIGHT UNDER BUSHEL? -- When the City has a good story, why keep it from the public? Yet that seems to be the case with the story of Plainfield's FEMALE POLICE OFFICERS. When PT put together a partial table (Plainfield and its contiguous communities) from this past Sunday's
Courier story about police staffing, we noticed that Plainfield absolutey SHINES in terms of the ratio of female to male officers. At more than 13%, Plainfield was nearly double runner-up Piscataway, where the rate was under 7%. The following had NO FEMALE COPS whatsoever: Dunellen, Fanwood, Green Brook, Watchung. Scotch Plains and South Plainfield each have 2, while North Plainfield has 1. So why is the Robinson-Briggs administration hiding this light under a bushel?...

Plainfielder Gordon Fuller's private railroad car excursions got a nice segment on NJN News last night (8/24/2006). Over the years, Gordon has devoted countless hours to the community's betterment as a member of the Planning Board. Nice to know he has a way to let off steam. Way to go, Gordon!

CUBICLE WARS CONTINUE -- The Administration's determination to continue the cubicle wars seems unabated. Word has it City Engineer Carl Turner is the latest victim -- and no, don't punish him for this, he didn't tell me about it! -- having been downsized yet again, the second time since the guillotines were installed in January. Meanwhile, others are complaining they suspect their computers have been tampered with. Creating a hostile workplace environment? Hmmmm........

-- Which, as everyone knows, means "but who watches the watchmen?" (see Juvenal's interesting quatrain.) An apt question evidently. PT hears one of the newspapers is having trouble getting a straight answer from the Administration about two police officers who are supposedly assigned as Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs' personal guards. Or is it 'escorts'? Are they actually assigned? If so, by whom? When? If they are not, why is at least one ALWAYS in attendance upon Her Honor? The newspaper's editors, PT hears, would like to know...

COUNCIL GIVES UP HEALTH BENEFITS IN BUDGET CRUNCH -- Roseland's Council, that is, not Plainfield's. At least, not yet. (See Ledger story here.) Yes, the Roseland municipal governing body is giving up what for many is a nice perk indeed -- their health benefits plan. But Plainfield's Council CAN'T EVEN CONSIDER IT -- because the BUDGET, which would be the appropriate place to have such a discussion, hasn't even been introduced yet. Notwithstanding NJ law, the deadline for which is past...

HORNET'S NEST AVOIDED...FOR NOW -- What on earth possessed the Administration to bring to the table the notion of Plainfield letting other towns sell us their COAH obligations? (That's Council On Affordable Housing, the group charged with monitoring the implementation of the Mt. Laurel housing decision.) Been there, done that, as Nancy Piwowar pointed out to the Council. The very mention of other towns selling their obligations sends PT's blood pressure skyrocketing. In my humble opinion, this weaselly practice has done NOTHING to help New Jersey communities get in touch with their inner diversity by making sure that all sorts and conditions of people can buy and live in every community in the state. The last time a Council here looked at the idea they got an earful from the public. Has the lesson been forgotten?...

-- Councilors Burney and Davis have sponsored an ordinance to put specified parts of the community off-limits to certain registered sex offenders. PT looks forward to a speedy passage of the ordinance with the hope that everyone has done their homework and that it will be bulletproof and the taxpayers won't be hauled into expensive litigation over any oversights in its construction... By the way, one wag notes that the joint sponsorship has lent new meaning to the phrase "B&D"...

SAVING THE WORST FOR LAST DEPT. -- News on the REAL ESTATE front this past week has been absolutely chilling.** Which causes PT to wonder aloud, again, about what is going on with all these proposals for residential development with which we are being flooded? (Full disclosure: DD has been a licensed real estate professional for over twenty years.)

All through the sharpest sustained market increase in decades, Mayor McWilliams' efforts to get going on such projects as a supermarket for the Marino's site and mixed retail-professional-resdential development on North Avenue were stymied by Councils taking their cues from other officials -- elected and unelected.

So now that the stars of the REAL ESTATE HEAVENS are no longer aligned with us, these shadowy forces are ready to make things happen?! What kind of things now? $400K condos which become Section 8 rentals?... THAT why the COAH idea was brought to the table? Aw, PT, you're WAY TOO CYNICAL.

But look at THE BRIGHT SIDE of a real estate downturn: You can look forward to the contractors and plumbers returning your phone calls...

**Some recent articles:

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, August 24, 2006

Problems with the Cottage Place study area

(Click on image to enlarge. Set printer to 'Landscape' if printing.)

The Administration is proposing that the Planning Board study whether an assemblage of properties stretching along Richmond Street from the railroad tracks north to East Second Street is "in need of redevelopment," a designation that would allow the UCIA to begin moving forward in the area.

You can bank on it: the fix is in. The only question is how long it will take the Planning Board to complete the study.

There have been murmurings of developer interest in the area ever since a Lesniak operative cased the town a ways back.

With a new, pliant Administration in place, 65 King Street is ready to roll. And roll we will.

Whatever the powers that be want put up there -- that card hasn't been played yet -- PT is NOT arguing that development per se is a bad thing.

But PT does have two concerns: the DISRUPTION this land grab will have on plans already made, and the SIZE of the area that will be declared in need of redevelopment.


Quietly, but in full public view, the PMUA has for the past several years been acquiring properties in the proposed study area with an eye to consolidating its operations -- headquarters offices, truck maintenance shops, and fleet parking -- in one location.

The proposal for a study area has already thrown a monkey wrench into those plans. Though the PMUA will have to be paid for its property at a 'fair' price, it will not be compensated for any improvements made after the study gets under way. That screeching sound you hear is their plans coming to a halt.

PT is NOT one of those who wishes the PMUA would go away. Plainfield is cleaner and our sewer system is in better shape for having it. No Council in the past has had the political stomach to fund the work that needed to be done, but the PMUA has done so mostly without fuss and bother.

And it should continue to. But it NEEDS to consolidate its operations. What is the point, though, if every time it patiently assembles a parcel, the UCIA comes along and takes it? If Charlotte De Filippo would govern Plainfield wisely, she would cut them some slack -- or maybe even help them out. But will she?


PT's main kvetch is the SCALE of the study area. Why so small? (This is going to be one of PT's mantras; see "Viagra for Plainfield planning?")

If the city and the UCIA are going to bother at all, why not study an area with boundaries that make sense. Like the ENTIRE block between Richmond and Roosevelt? And why is the corner section on Richmond and East Second Streets not included?
(See a larger version of the study area map here.)

Does this mean that what the UCIA will bring to the table is another underscaled project like South Avenue, with a long list of gimmes for the City to kick in?


  • Expand the study area to include the green sections. Complete the study as quickly as possible and do the declaration so the UCIA can grab the PMUA parcel and the PMUA can get on with its life.
  • Swap the PMUA and the Plainfield Health Center.
Such a swap would have several advantages:
  • The PMUA would be moved over to the Transfer Station area, away from the more desirable downtown location;
  • The Health Center would finally be located where it SHOULD be -- near the center of the population it serves;
  • More opportunities for those feeding at the public trough to get another slurp.
So, will the next three and a half years be about Plainfield or just about paying back the Assemblyman's political debts for having his fat pulled out of the fire last year?

-- Dan Damon

P.S. Has anyone noticed the irony that TWO of the three former Councilors who sued to prevent the establishment of the PMUA -- costing the taxpayers a cool quarter of a million on the way to having their case thrown out as without merit -- are BACK IN THE MIX? Former Ward 2 Councilor Bob Ferraro is now a part-time employee of the PMUA, the very agency he tried to strangle. And former Ward 1 Councilor Liz Urquhart is getting a seat on the Zoning Board.

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A shocker at Council

The appointed hour came and only one of the three persons recommended by the Democratic City Committee to fill the vacancy created by the untimely passing of Council President Ray Blanco was present for the 7:30 PM interviews.

Nevertheless, about 7:40 PM, the drama proceeded, WITHOUT the missing candidates.

As Capt. Renault said to Rick in Casablanca, on 'discovering' gambling was going on in the Blue Parrot, "I'm shocked, shocked."

Is PT the only one who finds it unsatisfying when a burlesque is not played out in full?

-- Dan Damon

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Blanco's surprise legacy

(Sketch: New Council seating plan. By Ray Blanco. 6/28/2006?)

To the surprise of the general public and -- rumor has it -- the chagrin of the Administration, Ray Blanco's new Council seating plan debuted on Monday evening at the Council's agenda-setting session.

Let's face it, this wonderful room has real problems as a venue for the Council agenda sessions -- though it seems to have served as such for many decades.

  • It is not a very "bright" room.
  • Hearing speakers is always a problem, especially with the wretched air conditioning units running full blast.
  • Seating is always problematic -- people have sometimes been excluded because of occupancy limits.

For these good reasons, Council President Ray Blanco sketched a new layout for the room, reproduced above.

(PT is reminded of the quip by robber baron J.P. Morgan, "A man always has TWO reasons for the things he does: a good one, and the real one." Rumor has it that the Council President was roused to action by his pique at the Mayor and Administration for continued slights against Council prerogatives and abuse of proper procedures.)

Whatever the merits of the redesign, it perhaps raises more questions than it answers.

Ray's sketch of the seating for the public is overly optimistic, not taking into account the actual amount of the room filled by the Council's various tables and gear.

The press, if sequestered as in the sketch, would neither be able to see nor hear anything. And of course NOBODY would want that! Would they?

The bulky antique tables -- original to the chamber -- work perhaps less well in this configuration than in the "T" which is replaced.

The public can neither see nor hear those at the guest table, and visuals like renderings end up having no place that works for everyone in the room.

The small desk lamps for each Councilor underscore the need for better lighting, but would ruin the tables if affixed to them and otherwise become a chore for the maintenance crew if they have to schlepped back and forth every time there is a meeting.

While care was taken to ensure mikes for all who need, these are NOT for an amplification system -- which is desperately needed -- but to guarantee that all speakers are picked up on the Clerk's tapes.

PT doesn't think this layout is going to work as a permanent solution. BUT...

We should be absolutely thankful to Ray for having put the issue squarely on the table.


About 17,000 square feet on the lower level of the old Tepper's building has been dedicated to the public use rent-free in perpetuity as part of the development agreement.

An already existing ample courtyard can be adapted for direct entry from the outdoors. There is plenty of off-street parking.

There is more than enough room for a capacious Council chamber -- which can be designed from scratch to meet the needs of everyone -- Council, presenters and public -- with adequate and modern lighting, cooling, seating and audio-visual resources. There is even room for the individual Councilors to have office space.

AND there is already more than $460,000 sitting in the bank** -- courtesy of Sen. Frank Lautenberg -- which can ONLY be used on the Tepper's project, and which will be lost to the city if not spent by June 30, 2007.

New Council digs would be as good a way as any to spend the money.

So what's not to like?

-- Dan Damon

** The money was obtained by the efforts of Mayor McWilliams during Sen. Lautenberg's FIRST Senate career. It has been frequently discussed by past Councils and
in her transition memorandum Pat Ballard Fox reminded the new Administration of both its existence and the danger of imminent loss if unspent.

N.B.: The fog over Monday's selection of Council officers has been lifted, and PT has been enlightened -- by Clerk Wyatt. Proper procedure was followed. The election took place in the (brief) public meeting required by law which ALWAYS precedes the Council's executive sessions. The fact perhaps could have been made clearer, but everyone will survive. You WILL want to come out tonight, when Clerk Wyatt will conduct the opening of the meeting until the new permanent officers are elected. And besides, IMPORTANT BUSINESS is being acted upon.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

First, violate the Sunshine Law?

Can it be that the very first act of the City Council post-Ray Blanco was to violate the Sunshine Law?

Seems that may be the case.

After the crowd of sixty or so were made to wait in the rotunda until about 8:30 PM for the beginning of yesterday's Agenda session, attendees found that the meeting began with the new Council officers ALREADY IN PLACE.

(Bernice reported on this in her Courier story (
"Plainfield council picks new president in Monday meeting") this morning, without further comment.)

It was announced that Rayland Van Blake had been elected "President pro-tem" and Linda Carter "Chair pro-tem of the commmittee of the whole."

PT was thunderstruck. That meant the Council had taken action to elect officers DURING THE EXECUTIVE SESSION, OUT OF SIGHT OF THE PUBLIC?

Wouldn't that be a violation of the Sunshine Law (Open Public Meetings Act, NJSA 10:4)?

Let's see.

The Sunshine Law lists nine categories of business that can be discussed out of view of the public:
  1. those considered confidential by law or court ruling;

  2. those where release of information would impair receipt of federal funds;

  3. material constituting an unwarranted invasion of privacy;

  4. those relating to collective bargaining agreements;

  5. those relating real estate matters, banking rates or investments using public funds

  6. matters regarding protecting the safety and property of the public;

  7. matters of litigation and attorney-client privilege;

  8. personnel matters;

  9. deliberations after a public hearing that may incur a fine, suspension or loss of license or permit
That's it.

PT's understanding is that election of officers by the governing body is PUBLIC business. So why wasn't it done in front of the public? Or maybe PT is mistaken, in which case enlightenment is awaited.

Interestingly, this morning's Courier also included a story (
"Prosecutor chides Bedminster committee") about the Somerset County prosecutor lambasting the Bedminster township committee over possible Sunshine Law violations -- for conducting business out of sight of the public.

PT doesn't blame the Councilors for this lapse, if it is one. But who is advising them?

And what is the "pro-tem" business about? Usually, it means the officer in question is not present for the meeting and a member of the body is serving FOR THAT MEETING in the officer's place.

Does that mean the Council will reorganize itself on Wednesday, after they wrestle with selecting someone to replace Ray Blanco from among the three names submitted by the Dem City Committee?

And who will conduct the opening of Wednesday's meeting if there truly is no legitimate chair? The Clerk, acting as Secretary to the governing body -- as she does at the annual reorganization meeting?

Are we living in a world-class community or Rubesville?

As Mother Teresa said, "Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies."

-- Dan Damon

For reference, you may want to bookmark these useful links:

Sunshine Law: Vernon Township's "Guide to the Open Public Meetings Act" online (PDF).
Parliamentary Procedure: "Parliamentary Procedure Resources"

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Monday, August 21, 2006

TW3 - Aug 14 - 20: Digest of past week's Plainfield news

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.


BLANCO & HIS REPLACEMENT -- Ray Blanco and his legacy continued to reverberate throughout Plainfield this past week. On Tuesday, the Courier published (
"Reader erred on council nomination") a letter from Dottie Gutenkauf answering Dr. Inez Durham's letter of dismay at the way the Dem City Committee arrived at the three names to be submitted to the Council to fill Ray's vacant seat.

PT thinks what is bothering people about the WAY in which the names were selected is a) no one had any indication before the meeting that ONLY SLATES would be allowed to be nominated and only learned it when the Chair said that's the way it would be (which is NOT the way the McWilliams meeting she cites was conducted), and b) that of the three names proposed by Mr. Mitchell -- one of which he had trouble pronouncing -- ONLY ONE had submitted a resumè, which others had been led to believe was the sine qua non of being considered at all.

The background to all of this, of course, is whether the Dem City Committee recognizes the growing importance of Plainfield's Latino community. The NY Times ran two important stories ("Immigrants Swell Numbers Near New York" and "New Data Shows Immigrants’ Growth and Reach". Census data is here.) about the immigrant influx in the NY metro area as measured at the midpoint between two censuses. As reported by an attendee at the August 1 meeting of the Assemblyman and the mayor with the Seniors and written of in a letter to the Courier which has not yet been published (PT may if the Courier does not), the Chairman played the race card with reference to Hispanics and Hispanic businesses downtown. Civil rights legend Andrew Young felt obliged to resign his job as Wal-Mart's image builder after a similar rant against Jews, Arabs and Koreans. Remember Canute (or Knut, if you're so inclined).

Resident Laura Stevens reflected the concern in a letter ("Plainfield Council shut out Latinos in considering Blanco replacement") published by the Courier on Monday (referring incorrectly to the 'council' in it headline). On Wednesday, Bernice's post ("Who Is Christian Estevez?") gave background on several things -- including information about Christian Estevez, who had submitted his resumè for consideration. Resident Patrick Torborg's assessment of Ray's legacy ("Blanco's empathy lives on in spirit") was published on Tuesday, and Bernice pointed readers toward Ray's blog ("Ray Blanco's Blog"), which is still up at this time. PT reported Friday ("Faithful bid Blanco farewell") on the final, tender service, a Spanish Mass at St. Mary's Church.

Tonight, the Council will meet (7:00, City Hall Library) for the first time in a month, and will deal with filling Ray's vacant seat as well as other matters, as pointed out by PT (
"Council - Double, double toil and trouble?") in Saturday's post...

MEETINGS, MEETINGS, MEETINGS -- Speaking of meetings, you can be out of the house just about all week if you want, from tonight through Thursday. Bernice outlined the schedule -- and the roadblocks in even getting it -- in her Saturday post ("Board, Council Cram Schedules"), and the Courier covered ("School board schedules three meetings this week") the Board of Ed's schedule on Sunday.

THE ASSEMBLYMAN & THE YM -- When the YMCA got some press from the Ledger on Tuesday for its proposed renovation and upgrading of its housing space (
"Plainfield Y seeks upgrade for its housing"), the Assemblyman was quoted as having some rather unflattering views of the YM's clients. His views elicited comments at the New Dems picnic that evening -- as reported by PT ("New Dems picnic: Politics the main dish") -- underscoring that these clients are simply people who are out of work, or who have lost their living space or are victims of domestic violence. The very sort of people Jesus urged his followers to care about. Interestingly, one of these persons was highlighted in a Courier story on Friday ("Slain homeless man's generous legacy: Insurance policy to SHIP"). This was a man who had been homeless at one time (I have been told he was a familiar figure in Plainfield in those days) and was killed in Frenchtown by a drifter he lent a helping hand to, but who managed to scrape together an $11,000 life insurance policy of which he made Somerville's homeless program, SHIP, the beneficiary. For Jesus' view on generosity, read the story of Dives and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31).

CRIME & POLICE STAFFING -- With the recently released Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) showing a drop in crime -- except for homicides -- in Plainfield in 2005 over 2004, people beat feet to make news.

Public Safety Director Martin Hellwig, who strikes PT as a thoroughly professional, cop's-cop type guy, got some nice ink in Tuesday's Courier (
"City wants crime dip to be a lasting trend"). Sensibly avoiding crowing over the fact that murders are down -- so far -- in 2006 over 2005, he focused on the close cooperation between the local police and the prosecutor's office as well as the hoped-for benefits of the Operation CeaseFire program coming to Plainfield. PT was quite struck there was no quote from the mayor. What gives?

Prosecutor Romankow, while generally supportive of Plainfield police work, did point out that TWO OUT OF THREE of this year's homicides have been GANG-RELATED, in contrast to the state average of ONE IN EIGHT. That is definitely NOT good news. The Courier editorialized on Wednesday (
"No crime news is good news in Plainfield") that the drop is good news, as is the lack of apparent acrimony over policing strategy. The reason the Courier hasn't been hearing much about crime trends in Plainfield is more likely the change in their coverage (time was when Bernice reviewed the incident reports DAILY, a practice long since abandoned by the Courier's editors) than a lack of crime to report. (For instance, not a mention of the almost nightly gunplay in all parts of the city throughout the late winter and early spring.)

Resident Colleen Cattafe took on some of the assumptions in the editorial in her letter (
"Editorial on city ignores [Democratic] machine") published on Saturday. While evenhandedly giving the editors credit, she underscored that the changes Hellwig has implemented are basically those McWilliams pushed for. And her concern, as a long-time Plainfield resident, is over just the condition the Courier praised -- the apparent amiability without contention.

As for the assertion that there are five more officers than a year ago, where did they come up with that? The table the Courier published on Sunday ("Police forces, 2005 vs 2004") show a net increase of ONE officer in 2005 -- this is spite of the fact that Mayor McWilliams swore in several in late 2005, who then went to Police Academy, and were subsequently counted as 'new' officers by the new administration. Part of the trouble with assessing the strength of the police department at any given moment is what's going on with retirements and disabilities. Even Mr. Hellwig is vague about the exact number, as reported in the story.

PT wonders why no one is talking about MORE police officers now? That was the mantra on everyone's lips last year. How can a mere five more -- which may or may not boost the actual number above last year's -- do the trick? And then, of course, there are the two officers assigned as the Mayor's 'escorts.'

Sidebar on police-prosecutor cooperation
: A story yesterday (
"Does Prosecutor Insure Local Cops?") highlighted a situation where a person suing the police over her arrest in a joint operation targeting prostitution sued both the local police and the prosecutor. Turns out the prosecutor's office apparently was NOT insuring the local police in the operation and they were caught with their pants down, so to speak.

On Wednesday, PT heard from a taxpayer-reader that there were problems ("Tax bill headache yours?") with the recent tax bills. Seems the mortgage companies were not sent copies. Too bad for the several thousand or so taxpayers whose taxes are paid by the mortgage companies out of escrow? So, who's fixing the situation?...

DEVELOPMENT -- All this talk about TRANSIT-FRIENDLY this-and-that reminded PT of Plainfield's near-brush with fame and success several years back. When we were one of three possible sites for the NJ Rail and Transportation Museum. Made me dig up the old proposal and post it online ("Time to make tracks to Plainfield?"). One of the hoped-for advantages was to be the extension of the long-planned light rail connecting Ellizabeth and Plainfield all lthe way to Rock Avenue. Plainfield's chances for the museum were scuttled by GOP AND Dem legislators as PT was told at the time "because no one is going to put a museum in a minority town." The county Dems soon thereafter scuttled the light rail proposal, and here Plainfield sits, the tail bone. Not connected to any other bone. Unless, miraculously, our current leaders will be able to make these dry bones dance again. We live in hope...but not TOO much hope, after reading ("Housing sales dive 16.3% in Jersey") that New Jersey housing sales dropped precipitously. Now, about those $400,000 condos on South Avenue that people are getting into hair-pulling matches over...


FARBER FALLOUT -- The resignation of Attorney General Zulima Farbe dominated the news for a cycle (see week's links below), but two important points were made on Sunday. Gannett's snarky Bob Ingle pointed out (
"Corzine has plenty more to clean up") that Corzine is also under the microscope, especially now that he has to replace Farber and has others with issues...and the NY Times pointed out ("For Menendez, Being an Ally Could Haunt") that Menendez' closeness to Farber could come back to haunt him in the Senatorial race, where his early lead has shrunk greatly. Seems like there'll be plenty of mud to go around this fall...

PAY-TO-PLAY PEEK -- Gannett gave a peek ("Hovnanian made quick $3M after selling 44 acres to Cherry Hill") into how pay-to-play works on Sunday. Seems big-time Dem contributor Hovnanian made a quick $3M after selling Cherry Hill some acreage they decided not to build on because of environmental and other issues. That's nice. But the zinger is that Cherry Hill had to borrow some money to complete the purchase, and turned to -- who else -- George Norcross' Commerce Bank, where they were able to get an EXPENSIVE loan. Aren't friends nice? Rest assured though, Plainfield pols won't have the same chance, since all the donors here will be lining up to contribute to the Union County Dems, which is the OTHER hat that UCIA director Charlotte De Filippo wears...

GREEN ANTI-UNION OR NOT? -- Though the Assemblyman protested at the recent Dem City Committee meeting that he was being unfairly maligned as 'anti-union' for his stance with Moriarty and Sweeney during the state budget wrangle, the unions seem not to have gotten the word. As PT reported on Friday (
"Unions challenge Green..."), there was a union flyer being circulated outside St. Mary's after Mass on Thursday evening. And believe me, it was NOT friendly toward the friend-of-labor Assemblyman... All this after one of the legislative committees announced ("Property tax panel wants early contract offer to state unions") they wanted to get involved in state employee negotiations earlier rather than later...

ON A LIGHTER (WHITER) NOTE -- PT posted an album (
"Signs of the Times - White Fences") on Sunday of the new -- and expensive -- white fences that have begun to crop up around town in the past couple of years. Got some IMMEDIATE feedback from people interested in doing fences, but afraid of the tax implications, etc., so I'll be doing a follow-up after a little research...

SAVING THE BEST FOR LAST DEPT. -- Bernice's Tuesday post (
"Random Notes") was a number of items of interest from her notebooks, which included this gem...
"Chairman Jerry Green states, 'There is no such thing as an independent thinking person in the state of New have to be part of the structure.'"

Last Friday's H.I.T.S.:
"HITS: Faithful bid Blanco farewell... Unions challenge Green..." -- Market realities and condo proposal... Woodbridge reforms fit for Plainfield?...
Last Monday's TW3:
"TW3 - Aug 07 - 13" -- Blanco memorial... Council vacancy... Gangs & Crime stats... Pensions: Plainfield costs... Developer tricks...


Bike Rodeo (Sun): "Kids learn bike safety at Plainfield police annual program"

Bike Rodeo (Fri): "Annual bicycle rodeo set for Saturday"
Bike Rodeo (Wed): "Plainfield police pushing bicycle safety"
Boys & Girls Club: "Positive peer pressure; Youth learn in club's leadership program"

Financial Planning: "Unitarians offer financial planning seminar for all"

Housing Authority: "Groundbreaking set at Housing Authority"
Housing Authority: "Federal grant funds addition to Plainfield's Richmond Towers"

Junior Police Academy: "Junior Police Academy teaches cadets public service"
Letter: John Caminiti: "Politicians' true nature revealed"

Letter: Stephanie Payne: "Good news does happen in Plainfield"
Letter: Mariam Shastri: "Pallone giving Bush a free ride"

Park-Madison Office Complex: "Union County honored for Park-Madison complex"
Public Schools: "Plainfield ponders space for disabled pupils"

Senior Center: "Plainfield Board decision pushes senior center plans forward"

Seniors: "Senior annual barbecue will be held Thursday"
Seniors: "Farmers market vouchers available"

Sign Vandals: "Sign vandals poke holes in ad strategy"
Summer Reading Programs: "Celebrating super summer readers"

Union County College: "With class set to start, UCC lacks contracts"

Walkathon: "Cancer support group holding walk-athon"


Crime: "Cool-handed thief swipes cash, cigarettes"
Crime: "Ex-Plainfield man given life sentence in HoJo robbery"


Angioplasties: "Procedure Off the Charts in Rust-Belt Ohio City" -- includes chart.
Bail Source Hearings: "The money behind bail"
Bilingualwear: "Nueva generación clothes"
Canada Geese: "New rule makes it easier to kill winged nuisance"
Churches & Development: "Churches, towns clash"
Development: "Hurting for Tax Revenue, Town Ponders a Freeze on Churches"
Eminent Domain: "Edison to field eminent domain ballot question"
English: "Voters to consider making English official language of Bogota, NJ"
Homeless: "Slain homeless man's generous legacy: Insurance policy to SHIP"
Joblessness: "State's jobless rate increases to 5.1%"
Language: "At the end of the day, that phrase is used too much"
Libraries: "Welcoming the world, Libraries serve immigrant populations"
Litter, QOL Issues: "Littering poses dirty job ahead for Ironbound"
Manufacturing: "Manufacturers Struggle to Fill Highly Paid Jobs"
Pay-to-Play: "Interim mayor's reform focus includes pay-to-play"
Policing, Joint Task Forces: "Does Prosecutor Insure Local Cops?"
Public Employee Misconduct: "Perth Amboy employee stole $37K in tax collections"
Public Records: "State owes woman's lawyer fees"
Rabbits in Suburbia: "Rabbit baby boom: Hungry nibblers feeding on Jersey terrain"
Real Estate Market: "Housing sales dive 16.3% in Jersey"
Segways: "Segway update makes scooter an easy rider"
Substance abuse education: "Puppets give kids a hand with expressing emotion"
Taxes, Property Valuations: "Bayonne companies balk at city assessments"
'TownTastes': "Visitors get 'Taste' of Clinton Town cuisine, restaurants"
Toxic Sites: "1,800 sites cut from DEP list with no notice"
Toxic Sites: "After Mercury Pollutes a Day Care Center, Everyone Points Elsewhere"
Trains: "Morristown line offers luxury train trips in vintage cars" -- ¡Salud, Gordon!
'Transit Village': "Irvington transit village designation could aid redevelopment"
Tuskegee Airmen: "Months Later, Still Waiting for Medals"
Wachovia: "Wachovia allots $8 billion for loans in Jersey"
Young, Andrew: "Wal-Mart Image-Builder Resigns After Statement Against Jews, Arabs, Koreans"


Legislature's Tax Reform Website is here.
Overviews of each committee, and a feedback link for your comments

Mon - 8/14
Abbott Funding - Editorial, CN: "Abbott fund changes key to reforms"
Legislative Committees: "Tax reform push led by pols who double dip"
Pace of Work: "Lawmakers promise methodical pace in reform hearings"
Taxes, Rising: "Higher bills, flat incomes deflate the American Dream in Jersey"

Tue - 8/15
Editorial, CN: "Self-serving legislators won't help reforms"

Tax Hikes - APP: "N.J. sets pace for 2006 tax increases"

Wed - 8/16
Union Contracts: "Property tax panel wants early contract offer to state unions"

Thur - 8/17

Fri - 8/18
Amending Constitution: "The perils of constitutional tax reform"
Multiple Tax Rates?: "Property tax panel ponders differing tax rates"

Sat - 8/19

Sun - 8/20
Editorial, CN: "Shifting tax burden to business is bad business"


Wed - 8/16
Report: "The Special AG's Report"
Resignation, SL: "Farber resigns under fire; Broke 3 ethics rules aiding boyfriend"
..... - Analysis: "Failure to steer clear of trouble left the AG no margin for error"
..... - Editorial: "Farber's resignation is the right move"
..... - Farber Fallout: "Report criticizing Farber also questions freeholder Estrada"
Resignation, NYT: "Attorney General Quits After Investigation Finds Ethics Breach"
Resignation, CN: "Attorney general resigns"
Resignation, BergenRecord: "AG out after probe shows ethics lapse" -- with links to every story they have run
..... - Text of Corzine, Menendez statements and other comments: "Farber resignation - from PoliticsNJ blog"

Thu - 8/17
AG Candidate - SL: "Corzine's counsel Rabner leading AG race"
AG Candidate - CN: "Stuart Rabner, Anne Milgram considered front-runners"
Analysis, CN: "Rough time for Corzine"
Editorial, CN: "Corzine's next AG pick can't be political"
Farber Resisted - NYT: "Attorney General Put Up a Fight Before Relenting and Resigning"
Corzine - Analysis, NYT: "Corzine Is Loyal, to a Fault, With Friends and Colleagues"
Transition - SL: "As the resignation dust settles, Farber starts work on transition"
Freeholder Estrada Role: "Estrada's favor for Farber examined"

Sun - 8/20
Menendez / Kean Race: "For Menendez, Being an Ally of Farber Could Haunt"
Letter: John Caminiti: "Politicians' true nature revealed"