Saturday, September 30, 2006

Sometimes PT is sooooooooo obtuse

PT admits it.

Sometimes I just don't get it. Take, for instance, last Saturday's Council meeting.

Bernice opened her post ("East Third/Richmond: The Process") this way:
"In A SPECIAL EMERGENCY MEETING Saturday (Sept. 23, 2006), the City Council approved both the East Third/Richmond Street “in need of redevelopment” study and a redevelopment plan that calls for high-density, multi-family construction.

There was no prior notice of the 9 a.m. meeting except a verbal announcement by Council President Rayland Van Blake at the end of the Sept. 20 meeting that it would take place. The council is relying on a Sunshine Law provision that allows for an emergency meeting with notice to follow."
Notwithstanding that PT has never heard of a 'special' emergency meeting, the statute (NJSA 10:4-9) very wisely gives the governing body leeway to hold meetings without adequate notice if:
Such meeting is required in order to deal with matters of such urgency and importance that a delay for the purpose of providing adequate notice would be likely to result in SUBSTANTIAL HARM TO THE PUBLIC INTEREST. . .
AND providing along with the later published written notice EITHER --
Here's where PT just doesn't get it.

What EXACTLY was the
SUBSTANTIAL HARM TO THE PUBLIC INTEREST avoided by going forward in such a hasty manner?

If you know, would you please enlighten this poor benighted soul?

-- Dan Damon

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Friday, September 29, 2006

HITS: Menendez, Overcrowding, Shouting, Strategies, and more...



MENENDEZ: IS HELP ON THE WAY? -- The media are swarming on the allegations of Menendez' role in strong-arming a Hudson County psychiatrist to split his take with a doctor on the staff of the agency renting its building from Menendez (itself already a subject of investigation).

The Ledger sub-head this morning is: "Democrats close ranks behind senator." Plainfield Democrats? Let's hope, but PT has not seen or heard any evidence of it yet. With things in such a stew it really behooves the local Dem chair, Assemblyman Jerry Green, to step up to the plate and issue a strong statement of support for Menendez.

PT MUST learn about the problems of writing for the LITERAL-MINDED, as witness the comment below on an earlier post about how this election is putting pressure on Plainfield and Union County Dems to deliver for Menendez:
I checked every single link in your piece and found no references to Green and DeFilippo. Not one.

And if you want to know whether or not gays are strongly supporting Menendez, check out NJ gay organizations like the Stonewall Democrats and Garden State Equality. What you'll find is that they absolutely are, and enthusiastically, too. There's no question, no doubt, no hesitation--none at all.

Well, at least SOMEONE is taking the lead!

HEADS-IN-SAND DEPT. -- Overcrowding was a subject of intense discussion at a meeting of neighborhood residents the other night at St. Mary's School. The meeting, sponsored by the Union County Prosecutor's CP Unit, gathered together representatives of various block associations and neighborhood watches from around the city.

The view in the trenches is at odds with the rosier view of the Administration, which persuaded the Council to overturn the SAFE HOMES ORDINANCE earlier this year, dissolving the program intended to monitor the situation. So, ON WHOSE HANDS WILL THE BLOOD BE when the inevitable fire results in deaths of innocent tenants?

AN EMBARRASSING PERFORMANCE -- Attendees at a S.H.I.E.L.D. meeting at Shiloh Baptist Church this week report they were mortified by the performance of an important local figure, who then continued it in a shouting match with the church's pastor, Dr. Gerald L. Thomas, out in the hallway. Out of sight, perhaps, but not out of hearing. This follow reports of an earlier rant at a recent Planning Board meeting. What IS going on?

MORE ON 'DEVIL IN THE DETAILS' -- PT is told that the Administration has reassured the Council that it will replenish the RAINY DAY FUND that it proposes to use to balance this year's budget -- next year. Question is, HOW? Mayor McWilliams used sales of city-owned properties to bolster the reserves. That lemon has been squeezed. Soooo....?

Meanwhile, past promises of a similar nature come to mind. Do you remember the $9M settlement for the sale of our sanitary sewers to the PARSA? (Never mind that it should have been a $36M sale -- we wuz robbed! by our 'friends'!) Well, you may recall that the money was used repeatedly to balance budgets -- always with the SOLEMN PROMISE that it would be replaced. I kid you not.

'AND MILES TO GO BEFORE I SLEEP' -- With regard to the assertions about how close the new $350,000 condos to be built at East 3rd and Richmond are to the Netherwood Station -- as touted by the Administration -- vs. the main station, PT went out and measured. Are you ready? Richmond Street to Netherwood Station entrance: ¾ mile. Richmond Street to Main Station: 2½ blocks, or one third of a mile. So.

ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST? -- In the Moody's rating letter, cited in yesterday's post, is a little gem:
"The new administration, elected in 2005, IS DEVELOPING A STRATEGIC PLAN, which is expected to give direction to finances of the city and in particular to future budgets..."
Wait a minute -- didn't we get the STRATEGIC PLAN at the Mayor's 100 DAYS REPORT at Washington School in April? Which occurred, as you will recall, on the 122nd day of her accession to office? Which report, by the way, has NEVER BEEN SEEN SINCE -- not in print, not posted to the website, not as a handout on the Information Desk, NADA... So tell me, is this a NEW strategic plan? Sometimes, PT just feels so CONFUSED...

BUT, TAKE HEART -- There is HOPE for the confusion. PT discovered that The Tri-County Journal, published by the City's new public information officer, has resumed publication and can be found at several sites around town -- including City Hall and the Senior Center. (That's right, it's a PRIVATE, FOR-PROFIT NEWSPAPER, published by a City employee.) The masthead contains the following statement:
The Tri-County Journal cannot be held responsible for any claims or typographical errors on the part of advertisers or columnists or typographical errors on our part.
COMFORTING, especially paired with the boxed item on the same page 'From the Publishers Desk'--

With all of my strenght, hope and determination, PT will rest easy tonight.

And so should you.

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, September 28, 2006

Financing Plainfield: The Devil is in the details


Put aside for a moment the appearance of incompetency in Mayor Robinson-Briggs' administration's NEAR DISASTER FOR THE CITY'S FINANCIAL RATING in not planning in a timely fashion for the rollover of millions in Bond Anticipatory Notes.

Put aside for a moment, also, the appearance of impropriety in City Administrator Carlton McGee's soliciting an old Jersey City contact to put together a quickie financial transaction.

Put aside for a moment, also, the deception that seems to have been involved in cutting a $25,000 check for her services BEFORE the resolution for same was even brought to Council.

Let's look at the upcoming Act II of this nascent telenovela (and there is an important difference between a telenovela and a soap opera):
  1. These notes are REALLY SHORT-TERM: The maturity date is 3/20/2007 -- six months.

  2. Does that mean Ms. Knight-Marshall gets ANOTHER BITE OF THE APPLE? At $25,000?

  3. What will it be: Bonds or BANs? If Robinson-Briggs goes with BANs (Bond Anticipatory Notes) AGAIN, they'll be due for a rollover -- at another 6 months or a year -- with ANOTHER ADVISER'S FEE. If she goes for Bonds, there is the work of preparing a bond ordinance and -- gues what -- the opportunity for more FEES.

  4. The Council breaks a sweat. Or if it doesn't, it should. The RATINGS LETTERS that accompanied the current BANs (both Moody's and Fitch's -- available for download from the City website) highlight IMPENDING DANGER SIGNALS.

  5. Robinson-Briggs proposes balancing the FY2007 budget (now under discussion) with $2.9M of the city's $3.1M RAINY DAY RESERVES -- essentially LEAVING THE FUND BROKE. That would be frittering away -- IN HER FIRST YEAR -- the reserves that Mayor Al McWilliams went out of his way to build up over the course of eight years. And we've got THREE YEARS TO GO?

  6. This will have TWO CONSEQUENCES: The rainy day fund will be gone AND that will NEGATIVELY AFFECT OUR FINANCIAL OUTLOOK for the next sale of bonds or notes. Can you say HIGHER INTEREST RATES, costing the taxpayers even more?
The Council needs to look at this situation very carefully. The Devil, as they say, is in the details.

-- Dan Damon

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Westward ho for the PMUA?


What can the PMUA do now that the City is poised to take its carefully assembled Cottage Place/East 3rd Street property?

Overcrowded at its headquarters, and with a growing fleet of vehicles to store, clean and maintain, the PMUA has quietly pursued a policy of assembling a parcel on which to build a new complex that would consolidate its operations (except for the transfer station) in one location.

A little too quietly, though, it seems. The agency patiently toiled for years to assemble the parcel, making sure that it was large enough that the Authority would not need to apply to the city for variances.

That is all well and good, but the downside was that there was no 'sympathy vote' for the PMUA when the Planning Board discussed -- and voted on -- the proposed East 3rd Street Redevelopment Plan.

The elephant in the room is that the PMUA is a guaranteed developer, ready to roll. How long will it take to get a deal with the PMUA so that the UCIA-anointed developer can get up to bat?

Though the planning process was rushed at best -- and perhaps flawed -- PT's money is on the plan going forward. Unless, of course, the ripping off becomes so egregious that Prosecutor Ted Romankow or US Attorney Chris Christie have their attention drawn to Plainfield.

So, what is the PMUA to do?

PT has a thought. The Planning Board did NOT see fit to include the ENTIRE BLOCK FROM RICHMOND STREET TO ROOSEVELT AVENUE in the Plan, leaving the western portion out. (One argument PT has heard is that the developer WAITING IN THE WINGS for the project doesn't have the resources to take on such a large redevelopment area.)

Well, nothing prevents the PMUA from resting its eyes on the WESTERN portion of the block, left out by the Planning Board, and starting the process all over again.

Unless, of course, the City decides that it needs a REAL developer, with REAL resources, ENOUGH to do the entire block as a coherent whole.

-- Dan Damon

Previous post on this topic: "Problems with the Cottage Place study area"

P.S. And this is being pitched as being close to the NETHERWOOD STATION? And SHUTTLES could be a possibility? Do these people ever get out of the office and out of the car and actually WALK AROUND? The area in question is about 2½ blocks from the Main Station and about a half mile from Netherwood. Yardstick-challenged, too?

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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Brush storm brewing?

You may have noticed -- as PT has -- a lot of brush piled up along the curbs throughout the city, placed there by residents after the recent series of storms.

As long as anyone can remember, the City has had a policy of picking up the brush residents put out after storms, no questions asked. (BRUSH that is. TREES have always been a different matter.)

This seems a sensible policy to PT, a reasonable use of taxpayer monies, and a benefit to the entire community.

Word in the street (literally), however, is that things may be changing. Citations are being issued. Are more to come?

Now, the City is perfectly within its rights to CHANGE a policy. But NOT WITHOUT LETTING PEOPLE KNOW.

So, what's the deal?

And even if the policy were being changed, wouldn't you tell people that this is the LAST TIME you're doing it and that the policy is being changed going forward?

Or is PT just being unreasonable? Again.

-- Dan Damon

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Monday, September 25, 2006

TW3 - 9/17 - 9/24: THE BOTTOM LINE on last week's Plainfield news



  • Menendez / Kean Race:

    With JUST SIX WEEKS TO GO, Menendez' lead has vanished. With Menendez' real estate dealings in the limelight, Lynch going to jail, Bryant and Sharpe under pressure AND investigation, Dems are worried about the CORRUPTION label. Kean made missteps with fake blog posts, but not of the same magnitude. PLAINFIELD TURNOUT is important, and pressure is on the local and County Dems to deliver the needed key votes. There are signs the local Dem establishment is at least reading PT -- ONE MORE Menendez sign was spotted this weekend, in front of Councilman Burney's home. Go Dems!

  • Development:
    Like it or not, DEVELOPMENT is coming. The trick will be to keep pressure on the make sure it's GOOD DEVELOPMENT, with QUALITY product, and as little PORK as possible. All the while, holding one's nose. It'll be quite a trick, and everything is quite a gamble, but if it pays off, the Mayoral Mentor wins big time. If it does not...

  • Administration:
    The big question is: When will this Administration wake up and stop disrespecting the Council. To PT, the reason for all the huffing and puffing seems to be that this Administration simply cannot take care of more than one task at a time, cannot think beyond today's sandwich platter, and gives evidence it doesn't even read its mail. And we have three more years of this?

  • Council:
    High marks to the Council for resisting the pressures of the Administration to take up half-baked business -- even if the resulting Executive Sessions and caucuses inconvenience the public. At some point in time, the Administration's sloppiness is going to end up costing the taxpayers big money, delaying or derailing projects or embarassing the Mayor and the Mayoral Mentor -- if not all three.

  • Crime:
    With any luck, Mayor Robinson-Briggs will only have to worry about potential white-collar crime now that the weather is cooling...

  • Connections:
    Hey! PT clips those stories because the subject matter relates to stuff going on around here. Are you connecting the dots?...

Dem State Convention: "Joint Dem/LGBTI statement" -- The meeting and statement were occasioned by an incident at the State Dem Conference, when officials removed posters for a LGBTI-sponsored Cher impersonator. Plainfielder Joan Hervey is one of the signatories to the statement. Also see The Auditor.

Plainfield Today: "Green and DeFilippo on hot seat with Menendez' lead loss"

Menendez / Kean Race - SL: "Menendez assails war and Kean"
..... - CN: "War critic helps spread Menendez's message"

Menendez / Kean Race - Courier-Post: "Latino activist blasts Menendez" -- Cordero of LLA says he's 'lost touch with reality'
..... - AP: "New Jersey Senate race remains a tie"
..... - SL: "Menendez receives Sierra Club backing"

Menendez / Kean Race - CN: "Senate race close in several ways"
.......... - SL: "Poll has Senate race still neck and neck"
.......... - AP: "Buoyed by poll, Kean seeks GOP help on cash"
..... - Menendez Lease - SL: "Ex-House lawyer sees no violation in Menendez rent deal"
.......... - AP: "Ex-ethics official sees no conflict in lease deal"
..... - Dirty Tricks - SL: "A Kean aide denies a hand in blog hits on Menendez"
.......... - NYT: "A Blog Suspects That an Aide to Kean Posted Jabs at Menendez"

Menendez / Kean Race: Quinnipiac Poll: "Kean inches ahead of Menendez" -- Independents hold the key?
..... - NYT: "BlueJersey’s Troll Hunt" -- Did Kean's campaign post as dirty tricks?
..... - SL: "Kean defends aide accused of trashing Menendez on blog"
..... - AP: "Kean campaign denies posting blog comments"
..... - AP: "Kean catches flak from anti-war group 'Military Families Speak Out'"
..... - AP: "Latest Menendez ad again links Kean to Iraq War"


Menendez / Kean Race: "GOP says Menendez got free ads; Dems call claim 'ridiculous'"

Menendez / Kean Race: "Kean Jr. leads Menendez in Gannett/Monmouth U. poll"
..... - Menendez Rental Deal: "How lease deal profited Menendez"
..... - At NAACP State Convention: "Battle for black vote may turn on Iraq"


9/17 Plain Talker: "Fancy Footwork With Redevelopment?"
9/17 Pay-to-Play: "Contractor funds circle back to Dems" -- Law restricts donations to county party, so money now flows through public officials. Coming soon to pols near you?
9/23 Plain Talker: "Planners Fret Over Process"
9/24 Plainfield Today: "Haste makes waste"
9/24 Plain Talker: East Third/Richmond - "The Process", "The Project", "RX for Development"
9/24 Council: "East 3rd Street Redevelopment Area approved at 'emergency' meeting"


Plainfield Today: "Administration has not learned Blanco's lesson"
Plain Talker: "Council Faults Late, Incomplete Submissions"

Council - CN: "In buzzer beater, Plainfield to vote today on flood program"
..... - SL: "City council moves on flood ordinance"
Plainfield Today: "Hot time in the old town tonight?" -- Loaded Council agenda, PLUS plenty of questions.
Plain Talker: "School Chief Seeks Council Spport" -- Go here if there are problems with link.

Plainfield Today: "Administration: The dog ate my homework"
Plain Talker: "Council Questions" and "Mayor Names Finance Director"
Council - CN: "Council outlines city's flood areas" -- and alternate version?

Plainfield Today: "Flood of questions continues"
Plain Talker: "Planners Endorse East 3rd, Richmond Plan" and "Seniors Rally For Center"


Crime - CN: "Reputed gang member charged with homicide"
..... - SL: "East Orange man arrested in East 6th Street slaying"
..... - SL: "Plainfield sex offender held in rape after party"
..... - CN: "Sex offender charged in assault"


Crime: "Police allege man robbed clothing shop"


Letter: Patty Bender: "Lawmaker's words smack of prejudice"


Council Races: "Republican, Independent join Plainfield council race"
Plaintalker: "Two To Challenge Gibson"
House Tour (Reprise): "The posh side of Plainfield"
Private School: "New Covenant Christian Academy opens doors at First-Park Baptist"
Schools: "Cell phones banned in city schools"

Council Races: "Pair enter Plainfield race for at-large council seat"

Schools - Editorial, CN: "Making the right call on cell phones in schools"

Plainfield Today: "Commercial Trash / Illegal Dumping: An Album With Commentary"
Muhlenberg: "Donations support hospital project"
Red Cross: "Red Cross chapter selects new officers"
Ethics - SL: Paula Franzese, Daniel O'Hern: "A statewide ethics standard"
Ramadan: "Jersey Muslims say their children find more spirituality in Ramadan"
9/24 National Starch Property: "Former National Starch property owner seeks subdivision"


Pay-to-Play: "Middlesex Co.: Campaign donors get local contracts" -- Surprised?
Planning Board: "City board advises new senior center plan" -- The Board did just what it needed to do, just when it was asked to do it, so what's with the attitude?
Sex Offender Bans - Editorial, SL: "Rethink sex offender bans"
Concert: "German brass to perform at Crescent Avenue Friday"


9/24 Connections? Food For Thought
..... - Development: "In Morristown, adding thousands of homes raises concerns"
..... - Cop steals files, evidence: "Irvington cop accused of stealing evidence" -- Incredible!
..... - High School Hit: "Students crush to sign up for forensic science course"
..... - 'Sullivan Rule': "3 Brothers Voluntarily Headed for Same Iraq Base"
..... - County Improvement Authorities - Editorial, SL: "No to bad government"
9/23 Connections? Food For Thought
..... - NY Waterways: "Takeover averts hike in fare on ferry route from N.J. to Wall St."
..... - Eminent Domain: "Township to use eminent domain at airport tract"
..... - Voter IDs: "Bill to require voter photo IDs upsets activists"
9/22 Connections? Food For Thought
..... - Dunellen: "Council OKs proposal for sex offender buffer, limits"
9/21 Connections? Food For Thought
..... - Operation CeaseFire: "Power of Prayer in Paterson"
..... - NY Water Taxi: "Steep ferry hike sinks riders' spirits"
..... - Pay-to-Play: "Pay-to-play reforms shift flow of campaign funds"
..... - 'Downzoning': "Montclair rushes to 'downzone'"
..... - Redevelopment & Conflict of Interest: "Town Attorney probed for property purchase"
9/19 Connections? Food For Thought
..... - Pedestrian Safety: "Initiative steps up efforts at pedestrian safety"
..... - Voting: "Voters testify official helped complete absentee ballots"
..... - Overcrowding: "Landlord protests overcrowding case"
9/18 Connections? Food For Thought
..... - Zoning official errors: "Zoning law blunders bring calls for reform"
..... - Budget Inconsistencies: "Edison spending plan draws scrutiny for errors"
9/17 Connections? Food For Thought
..... - Daylaborers: "Day Laborers’ Lawsuit Casts Spotlight on a Nationwide Conflict"
..... - HS Alums: "Weequahic Alums Help School Build Some Good New Days"
..... - Iraq War: "Summit protesters recall NJ troops fallen in Iraq"
..... - Development: "New residential life for factories rather than demolition"

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Haste makes waste

Development is all the talk.

And will be for the foreseeable future. You WILL want to read all of Bernice and Barbara's posts for today --
"The Process", "The Project", "RX for Development" -- think of it as your Sunday paper for today.

PT will be weighing in, too. Later.

But for now, PT is worried at the haste and sloppiness that is going on -- on the part of ALL the players.

Someone needs to explain to me the EMERGENCY that called for Saturday's Council meeting, and how it squares against the statutory reasons for emergency meetings.

Until they do, PT is highly skeptical.

-- Dan Damon

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Saturday, September 23, 2006

Commercial Trash / Illegal Dumping
An Album With Commentary
September 23, 2006

TRASH is a fact of life. Residential trash is hauled away by the PMUA in every Plainfield neighborhood on a twice-weekly basis, and recycles are picked up weekly.

But in Plainfield, trash resulting from stores, restaurants, large apartment complexes and other businesses is the responsibility of the owner and is disposed of by private trash haulers. Keeping trash from becoming an eyesore and a public health hazard (attracting rats, for instance) is a matter of cooperation and compliance on the part of commercial property owners and tenants and vigilance on the part of the City's Inspections Division.

Problems arise when the dumpsters businesses use either are not large enough, or are not scheduled for pickup frequently enough. The following photos illustrate trash conditions in downtown Plainfield on a single Saturday afternoon in late August. They are only intended to underscore that trash can quickly become unsightly and -- in the case of examples such as number 4 from a restaurant on Watchung Avenue -- highly odoriferous and a bummer for shoppers and those who must park nearby.

The solution to problems of unsightly trash require both the mobilization of merchants and property owners through peer pressure by organizations like the SID and the Chamber of Commerce, and the constant vigilance of code enforcement officers from the City's Division of Inspections.

(As always, click on any picture to enlarge)

Behind the Moshell's building.

Another view behind the Moshell's building.

Clothes are strewn around a drop-off bin
that is not serviced frequently enough.

Behind a restaurant a couple of doors down
from Assemblyman Green's office.

The trash is not the school's,
but the impression it creates is.

Illegal Dumping

Illegal dumping has always been a problem. In the years before the PMUA, when the City had not sponsored a bulky waste pickup for many, many years, construction debris and abandoned household appliances, furniture and other waste could be seen curbside and in vacant lots throughout many parts of the city.

All that changed dramatically in the early years of the PMUA, when residents were given multiple opportunities a year for several years to put out bulky waste to be hauled away by PMUA crews. Once the level of put-outs had dropped, the PMUA was able to move the program to scheduling on an appointment basis.

Recently however, illegal dumping has been noticed in various locations throughout the city. The pictures below are only illustrative of the kinds of issues encountered. All were taken on one afternoon, except for the mattresses and debris on West 6th Street.

Grace Episcopal Church's retired sexton, Joe Guinee, used to refer to the cases and bags of Corona bottles that would appear next to the church's dumpster after a weekend as 'bordello basura' -- whorehouse trash -- indicating they were left there by operators of bordellos who did not want to draw the attention of the authorities by putting the bottles out in the house's regular trash. These are in a lot behind East Front Street.

These mattresses and abandoned household items were dumped on West 6th Street, just three blocks from City Hall.

Some dumping appears to be done by property owners themselves, as in the rubbish behind the Strand Theater and adjacent stores in this picture.

Mattresses again, in an out-of-the-way spot in Lot 9 that is hidden from the street.

Some items that cannot be picked up by trash haulers -- as in these tires -- are simply dumped along the street as here, on Prospect Avenue. The County offers periodic tire and hazardous waste days, but many people are either unaware or too lazy to avail themselves of the FREE opportunity. Shame.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Flood of questions continues

$25K PAYOUT BEFORE COUNCIL APPROVAL? -- Rumors are swirling that TKG, the FINANCIAL ADVISER in the ANTICIPATORY NOTES brouhaha, was paid her $25,000 fee and that the check was ISSUED AND CASHED before the resolution even came before the Council. The Administration should produce the documents at once and put the matter to rest. Unless, of course, the rumor is true. In which case, maybe Ted Romankow would like to know more...

ALARM BELLS NOT GOING OFF OVER 'FINANCE & ADMINISTRATION' APPOINTMENT? -- PT's email is ringing off the hook on this one. Has the Council done its due diligence? There are many questions that should be answered about the qualifications of anyone to handle the responsibilities of managing the City's LARGEST department. As with ANY CANDIDATE, their qualifications should be intensely examined.

What IS their experience with large-scale government budgets? What is their experience managing people working in a variety of situations with widely different responsibilities -- from Health Officer to Senior Citizens program to Drug Rehab to Municipal Court to Purchasing, Audit & Control?

And making sure that the salary is justified by the qualifications and work history?

FLOOD OF QUESTIONS CONTINUES -- Though last night's Planning Board agenda did not include memorializing the new FEMA flood maps for Plainfield, the topic was still a buzz among several attendees who could not crowd into the Library. (Note: PT learned after posting that -- although memorializing this item was NOT on the printed agenda -- Chairperson Ken Robertson did indeed draw up by hand a memorialization, subsequently passed by the Board. Whew!)

Rumors swirl when the administration fails to put its cards on the table. Basically, kibitzers did not find the Monday or Wednesday performances "crisp and satisfying" to quote the Pepsi tagline. Two bits of gossip were shared with PT: that the FEMA communications were supposedly addressed to the City Engineer and that Jenny Wenson-Maier is said not to have even SEEN the FEMA correspondence before she was put on the hot seat.

Well, an interesting thing about blogging is that you never know who is reading -- or what their connections may be. In publishing there is the phrase 'over the transom.' Well, after PT's Wednesday post on the FLOOD ZONE ORDINANCE questions (
"Administration: The dog ate my homework"), someone with FEMA connections volunteered -- 'over the transom' -- that IN FACT, ALL OF THE FEMA CORRESPONDENCE HAS BEEN ADDRESSED TO THE MAYOR. Letters in March, July and August.

This points away from blaming Carl Turner, the City Engineer. And it might support the contention that Wenson-Maier was in the dark about the crisis. Was she told to 'fall on her sword'?

Which leads to the REAL burning question: Can it be that the Mayor's office dropped the ball and is the source of all the confusion and angst?

THE NEW & IMPROVED WEBSITE -- Whatever the City Administrator may think about the current iteration of the City's website, one thing is clear: the table of Boards and Commissions which John DiPane and I put up on the City's website after the passage of the Civic Responsibility Act at Ray Blanco's urging CAN NO LONGER BE FOUND THERE.

Of course, the real McCoy is found by going to the Clerk's office, (908) 753-3222.

But, to try and help, PT is posting a conversion of the Excel spreadsheet originally provided by the Citizens Action group (
"Table of Boards/Commissions"). The web page built by Excel's conversion is EXECRABLE, but the info is there. The info is taken by the group from the Charter, and betrays the compiler's lack of familiarity with the facts on the ground. But it's the best I can find. Just scroll down -- endlessly -- for the table. This will have to do until the City decides to take the Act seriously.

METHINKS THE LADY PROTESTS TOO MUCH -- As Bernice reports on last evening's Planning Board meeting, Jenny Wenson-Maier defended the simultaneous approvals of the East Third Street STUDY and PLAN. Methinks the lady protests too much. More on this later...

-- Dan Damon

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Thursday, September 21, 2006

Administration: The dog ate my homework


Illustration: Flood zones as seen in Spring 2006 DPW mailer.

High-resolution image here -- warning: 1/2 meg file.

Bottom line: The dog ate it.

That's about what the Administration's answers to questions about the
MC2006-30, the Flood Prevention Insurance Ordinance last night amounted to.

The Mayor was not on the field. City Administrator Carlton McGee Hail Mary'ed to Jenny Wenson-Maier.

Wenson-Maier, under repeated questioning, admitted FEMA had been in touch with the City at least six months ago, and that she and the City Engineer, Carl Turner, "never knew" that Council action by an ordinance was needed, thinking they only -- as employees -- could sign off on the new flood maps, OR that there was a deadline.

This is the best the Administration could come up with after it was clear from Monday's agenda-setting session that the Council was clearly not happy with the situation?

Let's look at Wenson-Maier's argument more closely.

"We didn't know Council action was required." -- NOT CREDIBLE. Wenson-Maier, in case you have forgotten, is City Council President in Rahway. Rahway, in case you have forgotten, was devastated a few years back by a flood which destroyed its Public Library as well as a bunch of other properties.

It took Rahway years to get back to normal, including building a brand-new Public Library. Rahway has had no dealings with FEMA over flood maps? And flood insurance for its property owners? And the Rahway City Council has not had to take any action?

Secondly, would Wenson-Maier, as Council President in Rahway, sit idly by and let a MERE EMPLOYEE think that they are going to bind the City with the EMPLOYEE'S SIGN-OFF? Not very likely.

So why would that song sing well in Plainfield? Because we're gullible?

And no one thought to include Bill Nierstedt, the City's Planning Director and in-house expert on land-use issues, in the conversations?

Thirdly, no one had a notion that DEADLINES were involved? If you were involved in a process that impacted people's ability to get or claim on flood insurance, it would never occur to you to ask whether there was a deadline?

Fourthly, the Mayor hands off to the Administrator, who hands off to a Department head, who hands off to the Engineer, and there is NO FOLLOWUP? No ACCOUNTABILITY?

If it had not been for a resident calling Bill Nierstedt in early September -- as Bernice pointed out -- any solution to the dilemma that McGee and Wenson-Maier may have been cooking up would have been deficient, no?

C'mon, folks. This is Administration 101. This is NOT rocket science.

"Challenging the flood maps..." -- Wenson-Maier made a great fuss about property owners' being able to challenge FEMA's flood maps which the City's ordinance memorializes. That might be important to a DEVELOPER if there were plans to develop in a flood zone -- and Wenson-Maier mentioned implications for developers. (By the way, another indication she is more savvy than she was letting on -- can you make a sentence including the words: Rahway, developers, flood zones?)

Hmmmmmmmmm... Now just where would DEVELOPMENT and FLOOD ZONES coincide in Plainfield?

UNSPOKEN throughout this whole mess has been the real nuts-and-bolts effect on the 95% of Plainfielders affected by the FEMA flood zone maps -- homeowner taxpayers.

Without the ordinance in place, homeowners in flood zones would be unable to get flood insurance. That is bad enough.

The kicker is that HOME BUYERS would also not be able to obtain the insurance -- and their deals would be run off the rails as LENDERS WILL NOT ISSUE MORTGAGES IN FLOOD ZONES WITHOUT PROOF OF FLOOD INSURANCE POLICIES BEING IN PLACE.

Uh oh. Voters impacted? Deep doodoo.

Trouble is, PT thinks VOTERS are the last thing on this Administration's minds.

Lastly, was PT having a paranoid moment last night, or did it seem the McGee/Wenson-Maier axis of administration was preparing to throw City Engineer Carl Turner under the bus?

Tsk, tsk. Remember Harry Truman, the buck stops AT THE TOP.

PT's grade: An 'F' for this assignment.

who's keeping track of the DROPPING SHOES? Can you let me know how many this makes?

-- Dan Damon

From the Dept. of Unsolicited Suggestions, to the Council: Next time the Corporation Counsel wants you to TAKE HIS WORD FOR IT on some action requested of the Council without the proper due diligence, GET IT IN WRITING.

From the Dept. of Apologies & Rectifications: My crack about 9-to-5er top dogs of a few days ago is hereby amended. Public Safety Director Marty Hellwig was indeed at the Hispanic Heritage opening night event. He came in a bit after things got started. And PT learned he is preparing to make himself a Plainfield RESIDENT. Nice news, huh? I told you he is a stand-up guy.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Hot time in the old town tonight?

Council business meeting is 8 PM, in the Council Chambers/Courthouse. Let's see...
  • We have all the issues and questions around the ANTICIPATORY NOTES mess (see yesterday's PT, "Administration has not learned Blanco's lesson" and Bernice's "Council Faults Late, Incomplete Submissions")

  • Then there is the NORTH AVENUE REDEVELOPMENT situation. Seem to be some missteps here. And a potential conflict if it's true that a powerful player told merchants they are an investor in the redevelopment, as PT has been told.

  • Was Carlton McGee TYSHAMMIE COOPER'S boss when he was in Jersey City and she managed grants? She is being put forward for Acting Director of Finance & Administration...

  • An INSURANCE CONSULTANT CONTRACT going to "Hale Insurance Brokerage - Cranford", the same people involved in forging the signature of a municipal official in April 2006 and denying an instance of same in 2004?

  • Contracts for various ATTORNEYS for REDEVELOPMENT and DEFENSE of City. Wisniewski? Would that be Assemblyman Wisniewski of Middlesex County? Follow the money...

  • The mysteriously vague approval of QUALIFIED VENDORS & SERVICE PROVIDERS. You will have to come early and read the list in the reso book to know WHO this involves...

Enough questions for one night?.... Come on out and ask 'em...

-- Dan Damon

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Administration has not learned Blanco's lesson

Despite promising Ray Blanco in July that it would do better, it is clear from last night's performance that Mayor Robinson-Briggs' administration has not learned Blanco's lesson.

In fact, the Administration's explanations RAISE MORE QUESTIONS than they give answers.

Take the SALE OF ANTICIPATORY NOTES that came up at last night's agenda-setting session. (You'll want to read Bernice's coverage, "Council Faults Late, Incomplete Submissions")

Thanks to a sharp-eyed and inquisitive reader, PT broke this story last Thursday, the 12th ("$12M notes sale today is a puzzle"). On Friday, PT followed up with reader feedback:
"BIG QUESTION: WHAT IS THE $900K FOR? -- Reaction to yesterday's post about the online auction by the City of $12.6M in Anticipatory Notes ("$12M notes sale today is a puzzle") centered mainly on two questions: 1) What accounts for the $900K difference between last year's and this year's auctions? What is the excess for? Is somebody trying to pull a fast one?... and 2) Why does the Council appear to be OUT OF THE LOOP?"
So what are some of the questions raised by the administration's performance at the Council's agenda session last night?

Why was the Council left out of the loop? -- The notice of sale was dated Thursday, September 7. That's the day of the previous Council business meeting. And the administration didn't brief the Council on -- how did Corporation Counsel Williamson put it -- the 'catastrophic' results of an impending default? Does this suggest the Administration didn't know about it BEFORE the Council meeting? Or that they knew and decided to KEEP THE COUNCIL IN THE DARK? An EMERGENCY MEETING OF THE COUNCIL would have been appropriate. Why wasn't one held? Instead, the administration -- evidently in a panic -- threw together a multi-million dollar deal without Council approval and involving three parties over which no DUE DILIGENCE was exercised.

What exactly did TKG do to 'EARN' $25K? -- So Ms. Knight-Marshall pulled Robinson-Briggs' chestnuts out of the fire. But what EXACTLY did she do for this handsome fee? And who are the other parties, that the Council should not have the skimpiest opportunity to exercise their due diligence responsibilities? This whole things smacks of a Zulima Farber type response to an urgent situation.

Numbers, schnumbers...who needs numbers? -- PT's original post noted a $900K discrepancy between last year's anticipatory notes ($11.7M) and this year's ($12.6M). Last night, Bernice reports, Corporation Counsel Williamson threw out a figure of $15M -- saying it would be catastrophic if the City defaulted on $15M in past debt. Now there are three numbers. So answer me this: If the city needs to cover $15M in debt with anticipatory notes, why was the issue only for $12.6M? Where IS my Excedrin???

Reality surprises the Administration. -- So, the City Administrator -- doubling as the Director of Administration and Finance -- has never sat down and gone over the books to review ALL UPCOMING FINANCIAL OBLIGATIONS? Instead, he's caught by surprise? And we're paying HOW MUCH for this level of competence?

What did the Mayor know and when did she know it? The Mayor is the chief elected official. The buck stops at her desk. Was she in the loop on the looming catastrophe? If she was, why didn't she insist on calling an EMERGENCY MEETING of the Council -- one of her prerogatives under the charter? If she wasn't, why wasn't she? How could the city, in a few short months under her leadership, be on the verge of default on its financial obligations? The city's credit rating would be ruined. Why didn't she exercise more appropriate leadership?

Are there more -- and MORE COSTLY -- surprises waiting?

Sooner or later, it seems, these people are going to cost the taxpayers REAL money -- and I don't mean for political hangers-on and catered treats for the Mayor's office.

And this is from the MAYORAL MENTOR's handpicked crew!?

Ray, KEEP CHANNELING. We need it.

-- Dan Damon

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Monday, September 18, 2006

Green and DeFilippo on hot seat with Menendez' lead loss


Menendez' lead against Kean has vanished and the pressure is on Charlotte DeFilippo and Jerry Green to deliver what may be the decisive votes if he is to win in November.

The margin by which Menendez wins in PLAINFIELD may settle whether the Democratic party nationally is able to pick up the necessary seats for a majority in the US Senate this fall. Yes, Plainfield.

Because if the Dems pick up the six Senate seats they might elsewhere in the country and LOSE the race in New Jersey, they will have let control of the Senate slip from their grasp. Are they anxious?

You bet. Menendez' lead disappeared after US attorney Chris Christie entered the fray by announcing a federal investigation into Menendez' leasing of a building he owned to a nonprofit for which he advocated in Washington.

In the face of this change of fortune, can Charlotte and Jerry deliver the margin needed?

That is the burning question. In the nearly two months since Ray Blanco's untimely death, Green has made NO PUBLIC COMMENT about how he is going to replace his point person for getting out the Menendez vote.

With GAYS MIFFED over the treatment they received at the state Dem conference last week and threatening not to work on the Menendez campaign, things were in even more turmoil.

In Plainfield, with Van Blake and Burney considered shoo-ins for City Council, many Democrats still smarting from the displacement of Al McWilliams by DeFilippo and Green last year see LITTLE INCENTIVE to come out to the polls in November.

Add to this the RESENTMENT IN THE LATINO COMMUNITY Green has stirred up over his rough treatment of Christian Estevez in filling Blanco's empty Council seat, the shabby treatment of merchants and property owners in the North Avenue redevelopment area, AND his inflammatory remarks about Latino merchants reportedly made at the August 1 Senior Center meeting.

Meanwhile, with just SEVEN WEEKS TO GO to election day, the only Menendez signs seen in Plainfield are on the lawns of Latino homeowners in the Fourth Ward.

Have Green and DeFilippo painted themselves into an impossible corner in Plainfield?

We'll only know on November 9th.


The oddsmakers:
A lot is riding on a Menendez victory:
Will gays work on the campaign?:
-- Dan Damon

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