After City Administrator Carlton McGee's swan song performance at City Council last night, maybe Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs should thank her lucky stars he is leaving for Atlanta.
[It's not true that PT goes out of his way to find fault with the Administration. This Administration seems capable of shooting itself in the foot even if the gun has been taken away. Witness last night's Council meeting, which I almost decided not to go to. The fix is in on the East 3rd Street redevelopment -- or so PT thought-- and the proposed budget has been around for a few weeks now, so what was to go for? Plenty, it turns out.]
At the request of Council President Rayland Van Blake as part of the budget hearing, McGee gave a brief narrative overview of the budget which has to be the low point in PT's many years of following the annual budget games. PT was dumbfounded. What kind of an overview only talks about the EXPENSE side, and has nothing at all to say of the INCOME side. You know, the side that comes out of the TAXPAYERS' HIDES.
But let's not get sidetracked -- the budget hearing was only the APPETIZER. The MAIN COURSE was far more interesting.
That would be the PUBLIC HEARING at the second reading of Ordinance MC2006-32, the adoption of a REDEVELOPMENT PLAN for the East 3rd / Richmond / Cottage Place tract.
This is the tract that was the subject of a presentation at Monday's agenda-setting session, previously discussed by Bernice HERE and PT HERE.
Four PMUA commissioners were in attendance -- Chairperson Carol Ann Brokaw, and Commissioners Dave Beck, Nat Singleton and Alex Toliver. Also present was Larry Thul, president of Thul, Inc., a Plainfield family business success story for 93 years.
Thul was first to the microphone.
He had TWO QUESTIONS: Will the developer be purchasing the ENTIRE TRACT at one time or LOT BY LOT as the project phases unfold; and Supposing the developer CANNOT SELL the condos, will he be able to ABANDON THE PROJECT? -- in other words, what protections will the present property owners have?
Council President Van Blake invited Administrator McGee to respond, which he did.
In rambling remarks that were so condescending the audience gasped, McGee lectured one of Plainfield's most successful businessmen about the role of risk in achieving the American dream. This from a person about whose successes as a businessman we know very little, if anything at all. People throughout the room were mouthing disbelief to each other throughout McGee's remarks.
When he concluded, Council President Van Blake, in an even tone that did NOT mask his evident displeasure, said, "With all due respect, Mr. McGee, I appreciate your response but you didn't touch on EITHER of Mr. Thul's questions."
Commissioner Toliver followed with an impassioned admonition to the Administration, the Council and the audience that 'this is no place for condominiums, up against the railroad tracks...'
Next up was Ms. Brokaw, the PMUA chairperson. She seconded Mr. Thul's concerns, which are also those of the Authority, which is NOT ONLY a property owner, but has PLANNED ITS OWN DEVELOPMENT of the area in question for several years.
In fact, Brokaw bristled at the notion that the area was rundown -- a precondition of declaring it 'in need of rehabilitation' -- and noted that the PMUA had invested at least $2M in its properties to date, on behalf of consolidating its headquarters and operations and IN BENEFIT OF THE PLAINFIELD TAXPAYER.
In response to her question about when the PMUA and the City would be able to get together to discuss plans for the area -- which had been a recommendation of the Planning Board -- McGee said the opportunity would come when the CONTRACT (meaning the REDEVELOPER'S AGREEMENT) was up for discussion. This created a minor hubbub in the room as people realized he was REALLY saying there would be NO meaningful discussion until it was TOO LATE. [An aside: We learned on Monday evening that Ms. Wenson-Maier -- apparently acting on her own initiative? -- had not acted on the Planning Board recommendations that a) the redevelopment area be expanded, and b) that the PMUA be included as a party to further discussions. The recommmendations, she said were "ON HOLD."]
Commissioner Singleton then came to the mike with TWO FURTHER QUESTIONS: Where did this plan suddenly come from? and Who is the negotiating agent -- the County, the UCIA, the City? As he was about to step away from the mike, he said, "Oh yes, thirdly I want to thank you, Mr. McGee, for INSULTING Mr. Thul and DISMISSING his business' 93 years in Plainfield OUT OF HAND.
The room erupted in applause.
Among several other speakers was Robert Wilson, community activist and Latin American Coalition board member, who responded to McGee's suggestions the developer would not put the City in a predicament by warning the Administration and the Council that we had just such a developer in the recent past. And that that developer went to a bank and BORROWED MONEY ON PROPERTIES HE DID NOT OWN, leaving the City in a difficult position.
[PT recalls the developer -- AND that they were INTRODUCED to the Administration of Mayor Al McWilliams by ASSEMBLYMAN GREEN. PT also recalls talk that their behavior in borrowing on the properties they did not own was so egregious that a prosecution for fraud was being considered by the County Prosecutor. Whatever happened?]
The ordinance to rezone the parcel on which the new Senior Center is to be built COULD NOT BE INTRODUCED, owing to there only being four Councilors present (Burney, Carter, Gibson and Van Blake. Storch is out of the country on business. Davis and Simmons were not present.). Five yea votes are needed for zoning changes. This means it will not be considered until the next Council meeting, after the Election hiatus. The Dornoch delegation, who had sat patiently through the whole meeting, rose and left after it was made clear the ordinance could not be introduced.
In one further surprise, Council President Van Blake announced early in the meeting that the resolution CONDITIONALLY DESIGNATING Capodagli as the redeveloper for the East 3rd Street parcel had been WITHDRAWN. Presumably by the Administration. Yet ANOTHER false start?
Commentary in the hallway outside the meeting was so salty that PT blushes at the thought of repeating it, even in this ADULT-ORIENTED blog.
Dept. of Unsolicited Advice: COMMUNICATIONS SKILLS should be high on Mayor Robinson-Briggs' list as she begins looking for a new City Administrator.
How the budget process unfolds should also be a concern -- of EVERYONE.
-- Dan Damon
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