Monday, September 10, 2018

My Position on the Proposed Plainfield Administrative Re-organization

I will not be in attendance Tuesday night for the vote on MC - 2018 - 22, the ordinance to re-organize city halls departments and set salary ranges for Directors.  So I want to make my position on the ordinance clear. 

I regret not attending or calling in for the Council meeting but as CEO of Bridgeway Rehabilitation Services, I must attend a Board of Trustees meeting in Fords.  This schedule conflict is a rare occurrence since most Council meetings take place on Mondays. 

The proposed re-organization will benefit the city.  Three departments may have worked in simpler times, like the 1950s.  But for many decades Plainfield has been forced to operate with a hodgepodge of offices and bureaus under the Public Works and Administration/Finance departments.  Increasing the number of departments is a long time coming and create a more efficient and cohesive city hall.  Public Safety will also benefit by splitting Police and Fire into separate departments.

For 2018, there is no budget impact. For the future, the re-organization does not need to incur a cost increase if the administration is sensitive to the property tax burden and Council is vigilant and committed to lean annual budgets.  Ultimately it is up to City Council to approve an annual budget and a property tax rate.

Although I support the ordinance, I proposed changes at the last meeting.  I am convinced that council could improve this ordinance and better protect the financial interests of taxpayers in future years.  Here's how:

1. Combine the positions of Director of Communications and Public Information Officer.  Nothing was presented by administration officials or the Mayor to justify having both positions.

2. Eliminate the 8 bureaus under Public Works.  This is existing language no longer relevant to delivery of city services (example - a bureau for sewer and waste management that was needed prior to the creation of the PMUA).  Administrations argument for keeping this language was "just in case we need to revert to the previous way of service delivery".  A weak argument at best.  We can make the changes if the need arises.

3. The appointment and supervision of the City Clerk should reflect what every other municipality calls for - the Clerk is nominated and approved by the governing body and works for the governing body.  Some have called Plainfield's government a strong City Council government because the Council has to vote on nearly every action of the administration.  That does not take into account that the administration and Mayor have staff to delegate work to and the City Council has only the Clerks office, which has many responsibilities beyond assisting the Council.

The benefits and concerns as I see them are not just in relation to the current Mayor, Council and administration.  I am concerned about future Mayors, Councils and administrations.  We are poised to approve a new ordinance that will affect Plainfield for years to come.  I predict it will be approved Tuesday night as proposed by administration.  Whether it does or not, the role of City Council is to balance the actions of other branches of local government and to approve budgets that the tax payers can live with.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

I Support Expansion of Plainfield's Historic Districts

The Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) has been working on a plan to expand two of our historic districts:  Netherwood Heights and Van Wyck Brooks.   I commend their work and urge Plainfielders to get behind this initiative.

Historic homes and neighborhoods have been advantageous to those living and near them.  Preservation preserves the integrity of architectural assets, stabilizes neighborhoods, improves quality of life and increases property values (which is a benefit to the whole city). 

Some residents are concerned about government telling them how to renovate their homes and the increased financial burden they think comes with it.  I can speak from experience.  I was told by my insurance company to install a railing on my front steps.  The  HPC requested I use the simplest (and least expensive) design available so as to not have the railing detract from the other features of my homes front side. 

I have heard many examples of HPC rulings that balanced the financial concerns of the applicants with historic preservation.  Of course there are some property owners who were told that they improperly replaced original windows with plastic frames which were out of compliance with the preservation standard or used aluminum siding.  Property owners should be aware of the historic district regulations so they do not labor under common misconceptions such as:
  • HPC approves the colors of your house paint.  HPC does not.
  • HPC regulates building interiors.  They do not.
  • HPC regulates exterior work regardless of whether it can be seen from the street.  HPC regulates only that which can be seen from the street. 

There is an HPC meeting tonight.  Unfortunately I have an unavoidable work schedule conflict and will be late.  But I encourage you to come out and learn about Plainfield's latest historic preservation imitative.  This is one of the positive aspects of the overall Plainfield improvement process.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Gordon Fuller, A True Public Servant in Plainfield, Will Be MIssed

I learned yesterday that Gordon Fuller had passed away.  Sincere condolences go to Barbara, his children and his whole family.  Gordons extended family included many friends in the Van Wyck Brooks Historic District and throughout Plainfield.  Gordon was active in many local causes and truly instrumental in the success of duCret School of Arts and the Plainfield Planning Board.

I knew Gordon best through our work together on the Planning Board.  I was appointed in the late 1990s and Gordon had already been serving for many years.  I soon realized that Gordon was the person in the room with the most knowledge of the many facets of the municipal planning process - zoning, engineering, etc.  He was a person to listen to.  Not only that but the way he conducted himself at the meetings.  Professional, objective, polite, diplomatic when not agreeing with an applicant or another board member.  He was the historian when reference was made to the past.  In short, Gordon was a valuable asset to the city for many, many years.

Until I joined the Planning Board, I didn't fully understand how important it is to the well-being of a city, how in subtle and not so subtle ways it can influence the future and impact every resident.  Gordon understood this well and was a model that the rest of the board learned from at every meeting.  His influence on Plainfield has been as substantial as any elected or appointed local official.

I also got to know Gordon and Barbara at social events in town.  He was always fun and interesting to talk with and a gracious host for parties.  He was very committed to the DuCret School of Arts and served on it's board.

His families loss is also Plainfield's loss.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

I support Linda Carter for Assembly

I enthusiastically support Linda Carter as the Democratic candidate for Assemblywoman in District 21.  Linda is a seasoned legislator who knows the needs of Plainfield and the legislative district.

I know from experience about Linda as an elected official.  We served together on the Plainfield City Council before she became a Freeholder. In fact, we ran our campaigns for City Council and were elected together as allies of Al McWilliams. I appreciated her for her intelligence and common sense.   Linda has the temperament and people skills to advance Plainfield's agenda and the heart to stand strong for her constituents.

Plainfield finally has the local, county and state levels of government working together for us.  Linda is the right choice to keep the progress going and help make government even more responsive to the needs of Plainfield.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Union County Dems Need a Leader, Not a Boss

The competition for the next chairperson of the Union County Democratic Committee has some positives once you look beyond the usual politicking.  My view is that each of the three candidates brings a refreshing and less traditional style to politics.  Yes Nick Scutari was associated with the previous chairpersons who did operate from the "boss" model of government that has not served New Jersey well.  But Nick was a supporter of Al McWilliams when the "boss" basically cut Al off at the knees politically.  Bosses expect loyalty above integrity and that time must not have been easy for Nick.

Colleen Mahr as Mayor of Fanwood has been a friend to Plainfield through her Raritan Valley Rail Line advocacy and the contract for PMUA services that increases employment of Plainfield residents.

I am voting for Nick Scutari. He is in the best position to help Plainfield and he has shown himself to be an independent thinker in the state legislature. But I will feel good regardless of who comes out on top when county committee men and women cast their votes for county chairperson on February 21.  I believe that both of these candidates would bring positive energy and a more inclusive style to the Union County Democratic Party.  We need it. 

We also need to get beyond the perception that county government is run by a boss.  This perception is based on experience and wont be changed easily.  But a vote by secret ballot for county chair will go a long way to mending the past.  Too bad we are leaving this decision up to a judge.

Regardless of what happens on February 21, I urge the county committee leadership to do a complete review of the by-laws towards increasing transparency and inclusion.  And the new leadership would do well to find an important leadership role for the third candidate for county chair: Anthony Salters.  He is a long shot but his message is respectful of the democratic process and positive. 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Illegal Conversions of Residential Buildings

Notice to Property Owners  - Plainfield Will No Longer Tolerate the Illegal Conversion of a Home or Apartment Building to Add New Apartments that Are Not Permitted by Within Their Zone.

I saw with my own eyes the City condemning a home in the Crescent Avenue Historic District that was illegally converted into a four unit building.  The property owner did what so many have done before - adding apartments or just rooms for rent - in the basement or the attic or wherever they could be squeezed in - with little regard for zoning regulations, safety concerns or lack of parking. For many years, Plainfield City Hall was not up to the task of regulating residential conversions.

Not any more.  The building mentioned above is now vacant.  All tenants were relocated at the expense of the owner.  The owner has to come back to City Hall and propose how this building will be made compliant with our building codes and zoning ordinance.

The city has also hired an inspector to work on weekends to enforce our regulations for the weekend renovators who seek to do illegal conversions when the city is not watching.

Illegal conversions are bad for our city.  They are bad for the tenants who unwittingly rent unsafe apartments that have inadequate or no means of escape in the event of a fire.  Or whose plumbing or electrical wiring poses a health or safety problem. Tell tale signs of illegal conversions are a lot of mailboxes and/or PMUA trash receptacles at a residence that appears too small for so many people to warrant it. 

If you think there is an illegally occupied residence in your neighborhood, please contact the city inspections office at 908 753 3386 or public works directors office at 908 753 3375.  It wouldn't hurt to copy your City Council representatives either.  I am best reached at corys37@gmail.com or cory.storch@plainfieldnj.gov

Monday, August 21, 2017

Welcome to the New Alcoholic Beverage Commission

Plainfield City Council has served as the local Alcoholic Beverage Commission (ABC for short) for many years.  The ABC reviews and renews liquor licenses annually.  Earlier this year this responsibility was handed over to a citizen commission appointed by the Mayor and Council.

I was reluctant at first to give this up but the wisdom of this decision is already clear.  I've spoken to the commissioners and their plans are encouraging. The chairman, Oscar Riba, is a retired bar owner and with his fellow commissioners, have begun to draft new ordinances to improve enforcement of ABC laws.

There are two major issues facing Plainfield's liquor license approvals and renewals.  Some of our bars have all too frequent calls for police to deal with disorderly conduct.  The ABC can impose conditions on a bar that has disorderly conduct problems and/or is not complying with the law.  This can include hiring security staff and installing video surveillance cameras.  Ultimately the ABC can deny a license but needs to use a progressive discipline approach to avoid having the state ABC overturning a local decision on appeal.  When the ABC was under our City Council, it has imposed conditions on occasion but not often enough.  It seems that some city council members were susceptible to influence by liquor license holders.

The state law has a limit on licenses allowed in each municipality based on population.  Cities like Plainfield over the limit when the state law went into effect were allowed to grandfather the licenses in effect at that time. Now we want new restaurant licenses to stimulate downtown development and, Plainfield being over the limit, they are hard to come by. Plainfields' licenses rarely come up for sale.  Not long ago, a bar owner purchased one to prevent a competitor from taking away his clientele. He just pocketed the license.

There are bills in the New Jersey legislature to allow new licenses in redevelopment areas but the bar and restaurant lobby opposes measures to create new licenses.  They are protecting the financial interests of their constituents who have invested significant dollars for their licenses. 

I urge our new ABC Commission to research this problem and draft a resolution for the Council so we can advocate in Trenton for what Plainfield needs.