Sunday, December 21, 2014

Dave Beck - it was an honor and pleasure to know him

My deepest sympathies go to Terri and the whole family.  Their loss is also felt by neighbors and the whole Plainfield community.  For Dave was a man who understood the importance of community and put himself completely into the betterment of the public schools and local government.  Family obligation will not permit me to be a part of the celebration of Dave's life Sunday at the Netherwood Bar and Grill but I want to share my memories of Dave through my blog.

Lois and I met Dave and Terri at Cook School in the mid 1980's.  Our daughter was starting kindergarten there and we wanted to get involved in the parent- teacher organization.  Everyone said "speak with Dave".  Dave and Terri had a leadership role at the school and they generously shared their knowledge of school doings with us.  It was obvious that Dave was a committed and savvy Cook School parent organizer. 

It was not long before Dave's children moved on to Plainfield middle school and Dave became a member of the Plainfield Board of Education.   The Board was deeply divided at that time and many people felt that the Board's conflicts caused a revolving door of Superintendents.  At one point I recall counting 7 Superintendents in 10 years.  No wonder Plainfield schools were not providing a good educational program to our children.  The way Dave dealt with this challenge has been an example for me to as I followed in his footsteps later on.  He did not get sucked into the public arguments at Board meetings. He was a voice of reason, offering practical solutions while others engaged in finger pointing.  The two Board factions ultimately battled over the future of then Superintendent Annette Kearney and while Dave was on the side that won, he always kept lines of communication open with the Board members he disagreed with. Few others did.

Our terms on the Board of Education did not overlap but I took advice from Dave on numerous occasions.  When Dr Kearney stepped down as Superintendent, there was still a split Board and we had to do a national search for a qualified candidate.  Dave advised that, during the search, the Board of Ed have most of its arguments in private in order to not scare away the best candidates.  This we did and were able to attract and recruit Dr Larry Leverett.

Dave was a member of the New Democrats and held the 2nd ward - 10th district male committee member seat for many years.  He was part of the team that helped elect Al McWilliams as mayor.  He helped me with my elections as well and gave generously of his time to all New Democrat candidates.  McWilliams appointed him as a PMUA commissioner early in the life of the PMUA and he served as we all expected - with integrity and responsibility.  He was an independent thinker, not a rubber stamp.  I wish he  was a commissioner over the last few years when the PMUA lost sight of its direction and intended purpose.

Dave was a great neighbor, a family man and a great partner in life for Terri.  I remember how Dave got behind Terri's downtown venture into the book-selling business, how he graciously accepted boxes of books from Lois and me even though he had a whole basement of books to sort through at Terri's orders!

Lois and I will sorely miss Dave.  I know there are a lot of people around town, around Plainfield, who feel as we do.    

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Dear anonymous commenter

I get a steady stream of blog comments, almost all of them anonymous.  Some are biased political or personal diatribes.  Some are interesting issues based comments.  I do not publish any of them.  If you want me to share your comment, share your full name.

I put myself out there in public and as an elected official I should but the blogging is not obligatory, just something I want to do.  If I put my views out in public through my blog, why can't blog commenters do the same?

I appreciate the feedback at council meeting public comment periods and during door to door election campaigning.  I find people in these face to face encounters behave more civilly and generally want to advance the conversation.  The blogosphere seems to have galvanized one category of people to make rude and cowardly attacks. 

I have been wondering: what are these people afraid of?  I believe that some of them know they will embarrass themselves by disclosing their identity.  They know their comments are not defensible. 

Some people are "letting off steam".  All elected officials deal with this in face to face encounters.  At least then, an attempt at dialogue can be made.  Listening to constituent frustrations can lead to constructive actions. 

One group is the anonymous commenters who are issues based who work for local government.  Some of these commenters clearly have inside information that cries out for action.  But there is a limit to what can be done with their information unless they come forward.  I hope they are using the resources available to them including employee protections under the law (whistle blower laws, etc) and their labor unions.

Unfortunately, many anonymous blog commenters are merely trying to stir the pot.   I don't expect them to be persuaded to change their behavior.  As long as my fellow Plainfield bloggers continue to give them an outlet, cowardly and rude behavior will be part of our local public discourse.  But not on my blog.  And no unsupported or personal attacks on my allies and adversaries.

Monday, December 15, 2014

City Council Report - getting ready for 2015

On Monday night, December 15, the Council will set the agenda for the 2015 re-organization meeting.  Re-organization will take place on January 5 at 7 pm at the municipal court/Council chambers on Watchung Avenue.  While there are numerous routine matters of business to conduct at the beginning of each year, a few things stand out as important.

The overall priorities and direction of city government - in 2014 the Council discussed having a retreat.  I was one of several Council members asked by President Bridget Rivers to organize the retreat.  We decided to have it early in the new year when Diane Toliver takes over the 1st ward seat from Bill Reid.  Additionally, a retreat usually focuses on major goals for the new year and this is best done in conjunction with a new budget.  So I hope my colleagues are still committed to a retreat.

The retreat would also include the Mayor and members of his cabinet.  The purpose is to reach agreement on what is most important for city government to work on.  Priorities should be reflected in the 2015 budget.  The Council would work with the Mayor and his administration to provide the resources to meet our goals.  The Mayor and administration would be responsible for developing action plans to make progress towards agreed upon goals and for carrying out these plans.  That is the way it should work.  It is the responsibility of Council members and the Mayor to provide the leadership to assure that all branches of government work together, on behalf of Plainfield residents.

What are Plainfields priorities -  public safety is always right up there at the top of the list.  The excellent turnout at the community forum at Shiloh Baptist Church last Tuesday indicates that public safety and particularly police-community relations (and especially concerning young people of color) is a major concern in Plainfield.  Public safety is much more than good police enforcement.  Education and employment are intimately connected to it. 

I am hoping for a better year for City Council.  My wish list is for an improved relationship between the Mayor and Council.  We did not get off to a good start in 2014. Mistakes were made by Council and Mayor and can be learned from.   I want city hall to bring in more resources like grants and partnerships with other organizations that have a stake in Plainfield. Our taxpayers carry too heavy a burden.  For the same reason, the PMUA needs to significantly reduce rates.  This can happen if the Council allows the Mayors PMUA nominees to be approved.  Transit oriented development and the one seat ride to NYC must be supported.  Local government plays a key role in making economic development progress happen in 2015.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Report on the December 1 Council Meeting

PMUA nominations - Wilbert Gill's name resurfaced as a Mayor Mapp nominee.  He did not have the votes to move his name to the December 8 meeting for advice and consent. He joins a growing list of mayoral nominees blocked by the City Council.  Council members are not giving reasons for their lack of support.  When Mayor Robinson-Briggs PMUA nominees were blocked, reasons were given.  For example, when Charles Eke was interviewed (in public), I asked him what he would change about the PMUA.  He did not indicate any need for change so I did not support his nomination.  I stated my reason for the record. 

To be clear, some Council members are saying " the time is not right", the nominee "is not experienced" or "the PMUA is getting new contracts so lets keep our current commissioners".  These comments lack substance and credibility.  I can recall only two PMUA nominations that had prior experience: Bill Reid and Tom Crownover.  Bill Reid, of course, is a Council nay-sayer on PMUA nominees and Crownover is a Mapp PMUA nominee who was rejected by this Council.  Irony! As for new PMUA contracts, Corporation Counsel Sias-Hill pointed out that contracts are the responsibility of management, not commissioners.  On the other hand, the commissioners that Mapp wants to replace were responsible for the $1 million gift from Plainfield ratepayers to the retired PMUA executives, the ones who saw little action on new service contracts during their time at the helm.  More irony.  "The time is not right" needs no rebuttal.

Forensic audit - there was a lot of debate on the need for a forensic audit.  I am in favor.  The debate should be about the scope and cost of this audit, not whether it is needed.  There is one compelling reason we need it.  It was obvious to elected officials and the public that there were improprieties in the recreation division  prior to 2014 and many legal and ethical questions were unanswered during the Robinson-Briggs era.  It appeared that the Mayor was stonewalling to protect a favored employee.  I heard reports of low staff morale because of this problem.  Bringing the facts to the light of day will dispel anonymous and second hand reports about the recreation division.  It will send a message to city workers and residents that Plainfield will no longer sweep its governmental problems under the proverbial rug.

These are agenda items that need more background information so the public can make more informed judgements about local government.  Of course others will not see things exactly as I do.

Updates:   a new nominee to the Housing Authority will be put up for discussion.  I do not know Bernard Horner but his resume appears to meet the requirements for the position Joanne Hollis had.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Notes from the League, part 2

workshop:  A Spirited Discussion - Municipalities and State ABC Laws

The Plainfield City Council is the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission for local liquor establishments.  The Council has struggled over the years to effectively regulate the local bars that are selling to minors and overselling drinks to customers who've had a few too many. This year the Council scored some enforcement victories and for all the complaints against this City Council, this is an area of governance where the Council has done better than any year in the last two decades. But more enforcement is needed.  Also, the lack of available liquor licenses for new restaurants is a barrier to downtown and South Avenue development.  So I was definitely going to this session.

Presenters were in agreement that the state law, created after Prohibition ended, needs to be replaced.  But there are competing interests, especially from the well funded Restaurant trade association, represented by high powered lobbyists.  They want to protect the investments made by current liquor license holders.  That means that change will come slowly and step by step rather than by comprehensive reform legislation.

A good place to start is with redevelopment areas.  Most urban municipalities are maxed out with licenses because of the state imposed per capita license formula.  Plainfield is one of these.  Since we want a walkable downtown with a variety of restaurants, we need a few new licenses for our downtown. I am referring to licenses for restaurants, not liquor stores. This will take state legislation.  I plan to write a resolution in support of such legislation.  Reform of outdated laws will stimulate investment and development in Plainfield.

On the enforcement front, there is hope for the future in Plainfield.  The Council has had a few enforcement advocates over the last 10 years - yours truly being one of them.  So is Bill Reid, although Bill's voting hasn't always been in line with his public statements urging for enforcement action. I called for several bars to be required to hire off duty police officers for weekend and late night duty.  My requests were approved by the Council.  The reason we scored enforcement victories in 2014 is that the Council has been able to get the cooperation of the police department.  With police enforcement that is well documented, Council actions against Alcoholic Beverage violators  will stand up under appeal.  So thank you to Police Director Carl Riley, his officers and Mayor Mapp  and City Council for pulling all the pieces of the puzzle together.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Notes from the League of Municipalities Convention

Workshop:  Your Role in Overseeing Authorities

Governing bodies have the power to create authorities, appoint members to their commissions, review their budgets and dissolve them.  This latter point was mentioned over and over by the presenters - Thomas Neff and Ann Zawartkay from the Division of Local Government, Dept of Community Affairs (DCA).  In other words, the state can't replace the city council's authority for these responsibilities.

The most interesting information from this session for me was obtained after the session ended.  Speaking with Ms Zarartkay (Chief, Bureau of Authorities and Auditing), I learned that DCA's investigation of complaints from Plainfield about the $1 million payment to retired executives was taken up by the state Comptrollers office at the request of the Governors office.  DCA officials have been waiting for the Comptrollers office to do what they do and  last summer they called to find out when this part of the investigation would be completed.  They were told some time from September to November. 

This may not be news to local insiders but others have been wondering if and when this investigation would be concluded.  I was worried when, last year, my calls to the Governors office were not returned.

Ms Zarartkay also shared that when the investigation is completed, a report will be copied to the PMUA and the city.  Mayor Mapp confirmed that he was told he would receive the report.

Whatever the conclusion, it will be good for the city to get beyond the lack of resolution we are experiencing.  And I hope the conclusion is that the ratepayers will get our money back.

I have my blog back

After being frustrated by password complications for many months, I figured out a way back to my blog. 

Having just returned from the New Jersey League of Municipalities Convention, I have plenty to share and will do soon.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Primary Election Thoughts

I've had time to get some perspective on my disappointments about the local primary election results. I am happy and relieved about Rebecca Williams' victory but concerned that we have a status quo Council. That is not good for Plainfield.

Charles McCrae was an excellent candidate who fell just short of winning the 3rd ward seat. That he was in column E meant he had a huge hill to climb. And he still came close to winning. Should he choose to run again some day, he will be formidable.

It is a good sign for the future of Plainfield government that people like Emmett Swan were willing to step up to the plate. Emmett is a class act. With 200 votes in the 1st ward, he didn't come close to the winner but Emmett is a newcomer to politics and he won those votes going door to door, doing his best to counteract his lack of name recognition and isolated ballot position on column E.

Some would want us to believe that the New Democrats have been damaged by this election. That is wishful thinking on their part. Here is why:

1. Ballot position was a real factor in this election. Candidates running in isolated columns need more time and money, have to work extra hard to educate voters that they are in the Democratic Party primary. In some cases voters don't even notice the candidate names over to the far right side. Ballot position is improved when state and county candidates are part of your campaign team. A lesson learned for the New Democrats.

2. Also related to isolated ballot position, Williams, Swan and McCrae would have done better if they started the voter education process earlier and McCrae might even have won. A lesson learned.

3. Candidates in column A benefited from Cory Booker at the top of the ticket. They benefited from Bonnie Watson in column A as well. Next year's primary there will be a less popular candidate in the top group of the Regular Democrats column. The ugly and personal campaign literature that was sent under the banner of Regular Democrats to selected local districts was not good for Plainfield and will be especially detrimental for Assemblyman Green's candidates in the future

4. The column A candidate for the 2nd ward came surprisingly close to Rebecca Williams. Lets give credit to the Regular Dems for getting out their voters. Lets also recognize that neither Rebecca or I campaigned door to door in the 2nd ward. Rebecca spent her time in the 3rd and I campaigned with Emmett in the 1st. That will not be the case for me next year.

My seat is up for next years election. City Committee seat elections always coincide with the 2nd ward Council election. This will be another battle between the Regular and New Democrats.  Its really an election about whether Jerry Green controls the local political process.  I am disappointed in the 2014 primary election results but related to the reasons above and in spite of anticipated ugliness from Assemblyman Green, I look forward to an opportunity in 2015 to improve the political leadership in Plainfield.

Monday, June 2, 2014

I Support Rebecca Williams, Emmett Swan and Charles McCrae

Finally back from blog limbo due to password problems.

Williams, Swan and McCrae are Democrats in column E.  Jerry Green did not have the good sense to support them.  These candidates are people of integrity who are running for City Council for the right reason - to serve the residents of Plainfield.  I should say "serve the residents first and foremost," which sets them apart from their opponents in column A. 

As a life long Democrat, I am disappointed in my party leaders at the state and local levels.  Certain top leaders seem to continually put the party (or is it themselves) above serving the people.   Jerry Green's selections for City Council must be embarrassed by the alternating silliness and ugliness coming from Green's printing press.  Why don't they denounce his personal attacks?  Why don't they publicly disavow the distortions associated with their candidacies?  That they don't makes me question whether they serve Jerry Green first or the residents of their wards.

Those of us who have been around Plainfield politics for a while are not surprised that Green is doing last minute distortions and personal attacks.  He has been consistent about this but often didn't put his name on the attacks.  What is different this election season is that his behavior is on display for all to see, thanks to the David  Rutherford video.  The re-emergence of this video appears to have spurred Green on to an unusual amount of ugliness and distortion.  I hope enough voters have tuned in.

Even in a relatively calm (should I say "normal") election contest, Williams, Swan and McCrae would be well worth supporting.  Plainfield will be fortunate if the voters select them to represent us.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Donna Vose - a Remarkable Person

Donna's passing was a great loss for me and my family.  Our deepest sympathies and positive thoughts are with Greg, who was such a good match to an awesome person.  We will always remember her as a true friend, a dedicated Plainfielder and a savvy public servant.  It was my privilege to have Donna as an advisor and sounding board for three areas of my life most important to me:  the health and well being of family, my career in the mental health field and public service to Plainfield.  In each of these areas, Donna would offer unsolicited feedback unsparingly.  Whether I agreed with her or not, she was always worth talking to.

Donna had a sophisticated view of Plainfield politics that was pragmatic and decidedly not emotional or ideological. Although she moved back to Martha's Vineyard two years ago, she continued to follow Plainfield through the blogs. I can imagine her amusement at a recent, well meaning but naive blog post describing certain New Democrats as sell outs for trying to work with Jerry Green.  I had many talks with her about how I needed to make compromises or choose my battles carefully so I could live to fight another day.  She was a mentor for me and her approach to service on the City Council would serve all Council members well, both current and future ones.

In her last years on Council, she was the only Republican.  Her independent thinking led to some surprising collaborations with her Democratic colleagues.  And it led the local Republican party to ultimately withhold its support of her - because she was independent and not strictly driven by party politics.

Donna's life had many interesting facets.  She was an Advanced Practice Psychiatric Nurse.  I had the benefit of working with her because our employers, Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center and Bridgeway Rehabilitation Services, had clients in common.  She also worked for Union County Psychiatric Clinic (now UCPC Behavioral Health) in Plainfield where one of her assignments was treating residents of the Park Hotel.

She was a true friend to my family in times of need, an example of which follows, in the words of my wife Lois:

"Our very dear friend Donna Vose passed away on Saturday May 17.  She will be greatly missed.  She was one of the most principled people I have ever had the opportunity to know.  She was a great advocate for people who had challenges and gave her time selflessly and without fanfare.  When my father had severe dementia and was hospitalized in Muhlenberg I was lucky enough that Donna was working there and she took complete charge of his care so we could rest easy that he was in good hands.  When he was hospitalized unexpectedly on a snowy December night Donna and Greg came to our house at 11:30 p.m. to be with us.  She called the hospital to check on him and was a great source of strength for me.

When our kitchen was remodeled she made sure to invite us for a home-cooked dinner once a week, often quite exotic fare. We had so many wonderful times with Greg and Donna, visiting on the Vineyard, restaurant reviews, politics, Plainfield parties, watching the Sopranos together every Sunday with a typical Tony Soprano dinner of spaghetti and meatballs to start, the list is endless.  I will always appreciate her wit, her many strong opinions, her lack of hesitance to tell me my ideas were dumb!  I am very proud to have had her as a close friend and will celebrate her contribution to our lives forever."

Friday, April 18, 2014

Liberty Village

What follows is an insiders view of events relating to the Liberty Village pilot in lieu of taxes and proposed sale of the property. It is not meant as an objective account and I certainly don't have all the facts.

Last fall I was called by Assemblyman Green and asked to speak with prospective Liberty Village buyers Tryko, Inc.  Their attorney, to be specific.  During a three way call, I stated that in order for me to better understand the merits of this transaction, I would need to meet the prospective buyers and learn for myself about their track record.  It was agreed that I would arrange a meeting and ask two other Council members to join.  I invited Adrian Mapp and Bridget Rivers, the members I thought would have the most interest and knowledge to meet the challenge. And they agreed to the meeting.  Adrian had already been called by the Assemblyman before me.   Although one blogger wrote that the meeting took place at Assemblyman Greens office, he was not present and it took place in the Liberty Village community room.  The current owner was also represented at the meeting.

During the meeting, I learned that the property and the apartments were not in good condition as the current owner was not committed to maintenance and repairs.  Tryko owners stated that they had already been hired to begin improvements and would continue once they became owners.  They also stated that the residents' housing subsidies would only remain in place if the Tryko sale included a City Council resolution approving the continuation of the subsidies as required by HUD.  Without Council support, Tryko would walk away and the current owner would sell the property on the commercial market and then the subsidies would go away and the residents who could not afford market rate rents would have to move out!

Tryko were encouraged to put their stated commitment to property improvements in writing, work with our city administration to evaluate the proposed sale and move a resolution onto the Council agenda.

I did not hear anything from the previous city administration (not a surprise for I was not one of Mayor Sharon's favored Council members) and assumed that the proposed sale was either dead in the water or would come up in 2014.  So it has.

Some of my Council colleagues have complained they didn't have enough time to evaluate this proposal and are being pressured to make a quick decision.  But Tryko has been advocating for this project with the previous administration since mid 2013 or earlier.  Did the previous Mayor tell no-one on Council about it?  I spoke with Plainfield Housing Authority Executive Director Randy Wood about this in fall 2013 (he had serious concerns about the transaction).  Did he not tell anyone on Council about it?  Did Assemblyman Green not tell anyone on Council besides me and Adrian Mapp? 

The way this has played out at Council meetings is puzzling to me.  The bottom line is that Tryko is the only entity proposing to fix the problems at Liberty Village, the only entity that has come forward with the ability to purchase Liberty Village with the intention of preserving the affordable housing that is needed for the 95 families living there.  They are proposing to make all the improvements the Council has ever wanted when these payment in lieu of tax transactions come before us.  In fact this is the only time that an increase in payments to the city has been agreed to in the 10 years I have been on the Council.

What's the problem!!!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Rebranding Plainfield

Last night, at the Gateway Chamber of Commerce Mayors Dinner, a sign of things to come took place.  Five awards were given out in front of 250 Union County business owners and elected officials.  Can you guess who was honored from Plainfield? 

I won't divulge the answer.  That will be left to others as to not steal their thunder.  All I will say is that Plainfield was presented in a very positive light at the Chamber dinner, in great contrast to image we have created for Plainfield , and city hall in particular, in recent years.

We will have to be consistent and relentless in rebranding Plainfield.  And the facts we share with our community and with surrounding communities, will have to be real, not hype.  Last night was a good beginning.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

What's Really Happening with the Temporary Budget

At a special meeting last night, the Plainfield City Council passed a temporary budget for the month of April.  This action allows the city to continue operating while the 12 month budget is under review by the Council.  This temporary budget, proposed by Mayor Adrian Mapp's administration, was approved unanimously.  There was a motion to reduce the section of the budget for the Mayors office by Councillor Reid but it failed on a 4 - 3 vote against.  Voting to support the Mayors office budget line "as is" were Rebecca Williams, Tracey Brown, Bridget Rivers and me.  Joining Reid were Gloria Taylor and Vera Greaves.

Here is some background on the voting:

1.  no-one wanted to voted down the temporary budget because without it, city operations would begin to shut down.  However, there are some Councillors who are upset with the Mayor and want to send him a message.

2.  on the Mayors office budget, the 4 - 3 losing faction are trying to cut positions that Mapp supports because the funding for some positions were previously reduced or cut from Mayor Robinson-Briggs budgets by a previous Council.  We're talking about a Public Relations position, the Recreation Director position and a Media position.  Here is what is wrong with that thinking:
  •  Mayor Robinson=Briggs came into office making major personnel changes and got the full support of City Council, including me and other Council members who had opposed her in elections.  That's just good form - you give the incoming administration what they need and hope that they can help the city.  We questioned and challenged some Mayoral actions (like the police security detail surrounding the Mayor, supporting the Recreation Director when he refused to answer the Councils questions, using the media office primarily for Mayoral photo opps but not providing information to the public) but we did not try setting her up to fail. 
  • Years into her term, when some Councillors (me included) saw that more and more staff were being misdirected for purposes not beneficial to our residents, we said enough is enough and took action through budget reductions.
  • Mayor Mapp was in his first month of office when similar actions were being proposed by some Councillors.  Now in his third month, this is playing out through the temporary budget. 
I want to express gratitude to Councillors Rivers and Brown.  They did the right thing last night, just as members of previous Councils (me, Adrian Mapp, Annie McWilliams and Rebecca Williams) did during the first four Robinson-Briggs years.  I hope that continues as we begin the annual budget deliberations. 

Adrian Mapp will be judged by the Council and ultimately the voters for his track record.  But first the Council has to provide the building blocks - the funding, his team - so that he can sink or swim (as the saying goes) based on his performance and not the intransigence of the governing body.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

One Seat Ride

March 3 was a big day for communities along the Raritan Valley Rail Line. The first "one seat ride" train rolled into Plainfield around 9 am (9:05 at Netherwood Station).  I boarded and walked forward to the first two cars where I found the Plainfield, Somerville and Somerset County contingents of Raritan Valley Rail advocates.  Mayors and friends boarded at Fanwood, Westfield, Cranford and Roselle Park.  This truly is a coalition.

Mayor Adrian Mapp with Freeholder Betty Jane Kowalski and RVRC advocate Marty Robbins
When the train left Newark Penn Station, all the riders applauded.  Now the push is on to get peak hour one seat service.  This will benefit commuters and property owners alike.  If you haven't signed the petition to New Jersey Transit, do so now!

   On the platform at Penn Station New York

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Raritan Valley Rail Coalition Report

The coalition meeting was well attended in spite of poor road conditions and lack of parking anywhere near the Westfield municipal building.  That was due to the featured speaker, a NJ Transit representative, who spoke about the one seat ride to Manhattan.
You will find better images for the new schedules elsewhere but I couldn't resist putting these on my blog.  After all, this is part of local history.
The top image shows the four off peak hours one seat ride trains in-bound and the second is for out-bound trains.  These trains begin service on March 3. 
The coalition meeting had excellent representation from Plainfield.  Besides yours truly, Mayor Adrian Mapp, City Administrator Rick Smiley, Deputy City Administrator Carlos Sanchez, Chief of Staff John Stewart, City Planning Director Bill Nierstadt, Netherwood Neighbors stalwart Jim Spear and Jeff Dunn were in attendance.  We missed you Pat!
NJ Transit is still calling this a pilot because they have not yet worked out the details for phase two and three.  These phases will entail weekend and evening one seat service to and from Manhattan.  They will be monitoring ridership for each phase and the number of riders will influence future decisions.  I am hoping that some Plainfield commuters are able to adjust their work schedules to take advantage of the one seat rides. We will see beginning in March.
Much of the discussion centered on publicity so that people know about the one seat ride.  I urged Plainfield officials to begin a publicity campaign.  We will need to get the message out in many ways so residents hear it over and over from different sources.  Word of mouth is important as well as print media the city website, television and social media.  I hope to see banners at the train stations.  You are invited to show up at the Netherwood station March 3 for the 9:08 train - to be photographed at this historic moment.
The Raritan Valley Rail Coalition is about improving rail service in many ways.  Other subjects discussed at coalition meetings include triple tracking, the Hunter Fly-over and the future of the new tunnel.  These projects need our advocacy for future action but now is the time to keep pushing towards our first priority  - peak hour one seat service to and from Manhattan.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Economic Development Report

Netherwood Bar and Grill, previously Vivace, on South Ave, is doing good business and I like the remake.  Lois and I went last night and it was full, with people of all ages. I like the age diversity, reminds me of the Antone's crowd in Cranford, before the family closed the restaurant.  Antone's was replaced by a so called Irish Pub.  Many of the new Irish Pubs only resemble the real thing with the imported woodwork, stripped from neighborhood pubs in Ireland.  The Netherwood's new menu includes a decent selection of craft beers, something Plainfield has been lacking for many years. Live music will be featured in the near future.

Just Turkey is opening soon on South Ave, where the old Natale Bakery was.  The inside has been updated and turkey based menu items will be featured.  Good food, less cholesterol, a sound idea.

Dunkin Donuts received site plan approval and we should soon see construction of a new location on West Front St. West Front is ripe for development and a site plan was just approved in the 700 block for a mixed use building - retail and 20 apartments.

If attendance at Planning Board meetings is a leading indicator for development, take note of the fact that all 11 board members were in attendance.  Welcome new members Emmett Swan and Sean McKenna.

I expect we will be hearing soon from Plainfield's new Economic Development Director.  Carlos Sanchez brings a track record of successful development in Elizabeth. 

The Raritan Valley Rail Coalition will be meeting Tuesday morning at 8:30 am at the Westfield municipal building. This is open to the public.  I will give an update on my blog.  Meanwhile, do your part for the one seat ride by signing the petition at

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Appointments for Cabinet, Boards and Commissions

Leadership is the most important variable that will determine the future of Plainfield.  In our town no-one gets more so say about that than our local party leader and our Mayor.

The former has a huge but not sole influence on who gets elected as Mayor and council members. The Mayor has huge but not sole determination for appointment of cabinet members, Planning and Zoning Boards, the PMUA and the like.

Monday is a crucial day for deciding the quality of leadership in city hall.  The Council will interview the Mayors candidates for Planning and Zoning Boards and the PMUA.  These are usually done in private.  If a majority of Council members are favorable to a nominee, his/her nomination will be moved to the Special Meeting agenda for advice and consent.  If not, that name will not appear on the agenda.

The Special Meeting agenda also has nominations to the Hispanic Affairs Advisory Commission, the Library Board, Human Relations Commission but these positions are not traditionally interviewed by the Council.  They are given consent by the Council unless there is a valid objection stated by Council members voting in the negative.

Carl Riley, the Mayors nominee for Police Director, is also back on the agenda.  This deserves some comment.  Many of my constituents have expressed the belief that the City Council will not work with Mayor Mapp.  But the re-appearance of Riley's nomination is an indication that an agreement has been reached.  Am I saying that every Council member will be co-operative on Monday night and also going forward?  The realistic answer is no. However, those that are concerned about a 5-2 Council are premature in their judgement.  I do not believe the Council President would allow Riley back on the agenda if she was a puppet or an automatic anti Mapp vote.  I do not believe that Gloria Taylor or Tracey Brown are closed minded about Mayor Mapp's agenda.  For example, the Council wisely consented to the appointment of Carlos Sanchez as the cabinet member in charge of economic development and to Joylette Mills-Ransome on the Plainfield Housing Authority Commission. 

Time will tell, beginning on Monday.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Entrepreneurs in Action

Being part of a "foodie" family (Lois is an outstanding cook, caterer and restaurant critic and my son Matt is an up and coming chef and caterer), my interest was sparked by an article I read on food incubators.  It turns out they are sprouting up in major cities across the country.  One that caught my eye is Union Kitchen in Washington DC and it just happens to be in walking distance of the hotel I was staying at during a recent business trip.

I emailed the principal owner, Jonas Singer, and he invited me for a tour.  What I heard and saw was exciting and offers a glimpse of what we can have in Plainfield if we are creative, smart and lucky.

First, what is a food incubator.  People starting out in the food business face daunting business challenges like financing equipment, complying with health department regulations and many other business requirements.  And that is on top of developing winning recipes and producing and marketing food products.  Enter Union Kitchen.  They will take care of all your business needs for a monthly fee.  You can put your energy and creativity into your catering job, your pastries, your smoked sausage or whatever you want to pursue.  They provide you with storage space, a kitchen with commercial equipment (health dept. licensed) and an opportunity to work alongside other up and coming chefs and caterers.

Union Kitchen is an unassuming warehouse building from the outside.  But a fascinating assortment of activities is taking place in the various spaces of Union Kitchen.  The sausage makers, evidently selling their product successfully, were building a smokehouse in an upstairs room.  There was a large stainless steel vessel holding the ingredients for root beer.  One room held tents, inside of which a tea called Kombucha was fermenting for 3 days before bottling.  At work tables, a chef was making what looked like Greek pastries.  Another was making a salad for a catering job.  In another room, a small group was planning floral arrangements and invitations for a wedding.

I saw all this on my tour but there were more surprises to be revealed.  I saw synergies between the members as the people renting space are called.  The floral arrangement company offers reducing pricing for the members who are catering special events.  The Union Kitchen owner(s) were providing the space for the smokehouse in exchange for an equity share in the sausage business.  The owners also offer to market and staff the catering jobs of their members.  The caterers can opt to simply print menus and the owners will solicit the jobs for them, deliver the food and provide the on-site food assemblers and wait staff.

Then I sat down with the principal owner and more surprises followed.  Jonas obtained government job training fund to connect people with disabilities and those re-entering the community from prison to career opportunities in the food industry. Participants are working for Union Kitchen and also for some of its members. 

Jonas wanted to know about Plainfield and our downtown development plans.  I told him what he already knew, that there is a tremendous demand for "craft" food and beverage products in the NYC metropolitan area and what he didn't know, that Plainfield is well positioned and very interested to welcome food entrepreneurs.  He expressed interest in consulting with or franchising new food incubators.  He said the incubator business is challenging, not a guaranteed money-maker.  That was confirmed by a news story I found on an internet search which stated that sometimes it's a good deal for the members but the owners struggle to earn a profit.  From what I saw, however, Union Kitchen is thriving.

I offered to exchange business cards upon leaving but it seems that in some circles, business cards are old-fashioned.  You can guess which one of us didn't have one.  Happily, Jonas does have an email address.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Plainfield Planning and Zoning Board Report

Dan Damon and Bernice Paglia both weighed in today on their blogs on this subject.  And Dan is right when he says that developers will be concerned if the Mayor and Council cannot fill vacant positions very soon.

The Planning Board will need a city employee (1 year appointment) and has two citizen vacancies (4 year appointments)   They will still easily have a quorum for tonights re-organization meeting.  The Council seat (1 year appointment) on the board is assigned by the Council President.  I requested this seat and Bridget Rivers has agreed to my appointment.

The Zoning Board is another matter.  They have a bare minimum of seats filled so one absence means the next meeting may not take place.  I will be urging the Mayor and my Council colleagues to expedite these appointments. 

The Council will want to interview candidates for these boards so Mayor Mapp will need to make his nominations without delay.  Nominees could even be interviewed next Tuesday.  Or they could be interviewed at the February 5 agenda fixing session and voted on that night in a special business meeting.

The only problems would be if Mayor Mapp hasn't recruited all the necessary nominees (some nominees in February are better than none) or if the Council continues its unprecedented way of blocking some nominees and suggesting alternative names.  The Council's job as the legislative body is to vote yea or nay and not negotiate for their own candidates.  The people elected Mapp as our Mayor.  The Mayor, as the leader of the executive branch of government, has the responsibility for nominations.  Imagine if members of Congress demanded that their own candidates be appointed to cabinet and judicial positions instead of voting on President Obama's nominees.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Why I voted no on Monday

Maybe my microphone wasn't working properly.  Maybe some people didn't understand my explanation.  But it never hurts to explain yourself again, especially speaking as an elected official.

Before  new items can be voted on, they must be moved onto the agenda with a super-majority of five votes.  On the new resolutions to move Adrian Mapps nominees Carl Riley and Sideeq El-Amin to the agenda, I voted no.  In executive session it was clear that the City Council was not ready to give consent to these nominees.  Moving them to the agenda for advice and consent meant their nominations would be defeated, that the door would close on these nominees.  I believe that for at least one, the door could remain open if the Council has more time to deliberate.  That is the Councils right and its duty. My vote was to give the Council more time, to not close the door. A resolution can be brought back if the Council is willing.

I've heard that my vote was interpreted as a lack of support to the Mayor.  I support Adrian Mapp.  It is accurate to say that I am a very enthusiastic and strong supporter of Adrian and have been throughout his political career.  I will do everything within my power to work with the City Council to reach a positive resolution on the two nominees in limbo, one that the Mayor and Council can live with.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Mayor Mapp Needs Your Support Monday 6 PM at Plainfield High School.

At Mondays re-organization meeting, Mayor Adrian Mapp will present his nominees for cabinet positions for City Council approval.  Five days into his new position as mayor, I still can't say for sure that the Council will support his nominees.  This is a disservice to all residents.  His nominees should be a slam dunk.

Our previous Mayor presented her cabinet nominees to the Council and received City Council support regularly, even though we had a lot of turnover and candidates had to be presented many times in her 8 years of service as Mayor.  The Council votes on her nominees never, I repeat never, went along the lines of political division between "regular" and "new" Democrats.  Why?  Because we all felt it would be a disservice to the city not to give the Mayor a chance to "sink or swim" (as the saying goes) with the team she was building.

That's the way it should work at all levels of government.  We can see how in Washington DC obstructionist Republican congress members are doing all they can to prevent President Obama from succeeding.  And it hurts everyone.  Chief executives of governmental units, whether they be Mayors, Governors or the President deserve to build their leadership teams. 

Adrian Mapp's nominees are qualified.  The Council interviewed them.  The last round of interviews was done this past Monday.  The candidates for Police Director and Deputy Director for Economic Development answered all the Councils questions.  I am convinced they can have a significant impact in Plainfield if given the chance.  I have not felt so good about Mayoral nominees in the 10 years I've been on the Council.

And yet, the day before the Council vote I cannot say for sure what will happen.  Because of this uncertainty, this re-organization meeting will be the most important Council meeting of the year.

We do not want to look back on Monday four years from now and say "why don't we have progress on economic development"?  "Why don't we have more community policing and a lower crime rate"?  "Why don't we have talented leaders in city hall to carry out the Mayors campaign promises"?

It is critical that citizens attend and express their views on this subject.  Monday 6 PM at Plainfield High School.