Monday, November 23, 2015

League of Municipalities Report - payments in lieu of taxes

I was at a well attended session on PILOTs, redevelopment and related recent court rulings.  Here are some of the highlights:
  • PILOTs (payments in lieu of taxes) are a financial arrangement that encourage development in distressed areas for projects that otherwise would not happen
  • they give negotiating leverage to cities for jobs, minority contracts and affordable housing
  • there are long term PILOTs (up to 30 years) and 5 year PILOTS.  Parameters are set by state law (40A:20-1 and 40A: 21for those who want to go to the source)
  • Every PILOT is effectuated by a financial agreement that must be approved by the governing body of the municipality.  It must give reasons for the PILOT and method of payment.
  • Payment is calculated by one of two methods
    • a percentage of the project cost
    • a percentage of the annual gross revenues  (Sleepy Hollow/South Ave Gateway agreement proposes this method)
  • Project construction can only begin when the agreement is signed by all parties
  • each member of the panel of experts stated that public schools are not shortchanged under a PILOT.  School board members should know this - every penny of the school district approved annual budget is collected by the city and paid to the Board of Education.  If the city doesn't collect enough taxes to cover all expenses, state law requires that the BOE gets paid first.  Any shortfall is the city's problem. 
PILOTs are commonly used by cities in New Jersey.  Examples were given for the following towns:
  • Carteret
  • Asbury Park
  • Elizabeth
  • Jersey City (now that the waterfront is built up, PILOTs are being targeted for other sections of the city)
  • Newton
  • this is not meant to be an all inclusive list, just examples
Why does Plainfield need to use PILOT agreements?  If you drive along the Raritan Valley rail line, you will see development in places like Fanwood, Garwood, Cranford, Dunellen and Somerville.  In Cranford, for example, the rents are high enough to cover the developers costs such as construction and financing.  In Plainfield the rental market is lower priced, leaving a financing gap.  The PILOT fills the gap, allowing a project to happen.  As distressed areas of Plainfield develop and rents increase, the need for PILOTs and other tax breaks decreases and goes away - as is happening in Jersey City.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Post Election Thank You

I am very grateful to the many people who supported my re-election campaign.  Being a Councilman has its ups and downs but the volunteers and donors who were a part of our team are a main reason I want to continue on the City Council.  I have not been near a computer since Wednesday and there are so many acknowledgements to make.

Special thanks go to Lois who worked her vast network to get out our vote.  Adrian Mapp and Rebecca Williams once again were instrumental in our success.  Barry Goode campaigned harder than anyone I have ever seen in Plainfield, both in the primary and general elections.  I look forward to our working together on the Council.

Work obligations limited my door to door campaign and I had to depend on others more than ever, namely:
Dan Damon
Nat Singleton
Bob Bolmer
Mike Pyne
Mari Bonini
Anthony Howard
Carol Bicket (rumor is she left town but I don't think so)
Peter and Libby Price
Jeanette Criscone
Jim Spear
Belinda Smiley
Inez Durham
Mary Burgwinkle (among many roles, she's treasurer for Storch-Goode)
Greg Haworth
Bob Gregory
Ron Scott Bey
Charlie Weltner
Carmencita Pile
and many others

There is new hope for progress in Plainfield and I will do my utmost to help make it happen.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Support the Storch Goode team for City Council

Election day offers a real choice for City Council candidates.  Barry Good and I represent the possibility of local government working together for progress in Plainfield.  For too many years, the Council - Mayor relationship has held our city back.  I know - from frustrating, painful first hand experience.  A vote for Barry Good in the 1st and 4th wards and for me in the 2nd ward indicates that you want progress.  The option, our opponents, do not have a plan.  They merely state generalities. 

This election matters for anyone concerned about local affairs.  No - there is no mayoral, gubernatorial or presidential election.  But the fate of better city services and development in Plainfield is at stake.  That means your property taxes and your desire for a more diverse and vibrant downtown.

Barry and I are in column B on the Democratic ticket.  We need your support on November 3.  The polls open at 6 AM and close at 8 PM.

Monday, October 26, 2015

How My Council Opponent and I Differ

PMUA Rates
At last nights NAACP forum, John Campbell Jr stated that he has no problem with the PMUA rates.  But there is a problem:  many people, including seniors that Mr Campbell claims to sympathize with, can't afford the rates.  
I have held a consistent position on PMUA rates.  They must be lowered significantly.  Not just for homeowners but for businesses.  Our combined sewer and solid waste disposal rates are higher than almost anywhere.  That is a disincentive to businesses to locate in Plainfield. 
There are a number of ways that PMUA rates can be lowered:
  1. give residents the option of once a week pick-up
  2. arrange for the PMUA bill to be included in property taxes so the expense is tax deductible
  3. keep marketing PMUA services to other towns.  This option works best in combination with the two above.  Otherwise the PMUA rates are not competitive, unless rates offered for out of towners are lower than for our residents.
I have strongly advocated for replacement of PMUA commissioners with ones who understand they are responsible to the ratepayers, not politicians motivated by patronage appointments and million dollar retirement payments.  Now we have new people in place.  Lets not settle for the small rate reductions recently made.
Mr Campbell is a nice young man who aspires to a future in politics.  But he needs to do more research on the issues affecting his would be constituents.  We cannot afford City Council members who like the PMUA rates where they are today. 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

South Avenue Development

How My Council Opponent and I Differ

I am a strong advocate for the proposed apartment complex on South Avenue.  Here's why:
  1. Adding more than 200 apartments will invigorate the businesses along South Avenue.  Many are struggling for lack of customers.  These apartments are designed for middle income residents and particularly young people and recent retirees.  People with money to spend.
  2.  This project will help stimulate the creation of new businesses along South Avenue.  A complex this size, added to Netherwood Pointe (recently opened and fully occupied) and the renovation across from the Netherwood train station, brings a total of 300 new apartments to the area.  More residents means more customers for new businesses. 
  3. This is what 2nd Ward residents want.  Community input from our vision study, done in conjunction with NJIT, clearly pointed to development around our train stations.  The study specifically called for the apartment complex now proposed.
  4. Towns along the Raritan Valley railroad are creating apartments.  Look at Cranford especially and also Fanwood, Somerville, Dunellen and Garwood.  Now that Plainfield is becoming more business friendly, developers and investors are ready to go to work here.
  5. This development, called the Gateway development, is being proposed by a reputable firm that has done good work in Maplewood and South Orange.  I have seen these apartments.  They are nice and have nice amenities.  Plainfield's Planning Board (of which I am a member) made sure that the Gateway will have these amenities.
My opponent in the 2nd Ward City Council election, John Campbell, has stated his opposition to the Gateway complex.  He doesn't understand development.  Here is what he is saying:
  1. Gateway wont rent up because we haven't created a climate for this type of residential occupancy.  He is wrong.  The proximity of two train stations is a draw.  Look at Netherwood Pointe.  It rented up quickly and fully.  And it doesn't have the amenities that Gateway will have.
  2. A 30 year payment in lieu of taxes is bad deal for the city. He is wrong again.  Comparing the tax payments for Gateway to what the city will get from the current property owners, Plainfield will actually gain $5 million over the 30 year period.
  3. The school system will be hurt by the influx of more school aged children.  Campbell is wrong again.  These are one and two bedroom apartments.  Netherwood Pointe is not hurting the school system.  This type of apartment is going up all over New Jersey in urban areas, near train stations.  There is no sign of significant school enrollment increases.

My opponent is opposing a project that brings a real opportunity to Plainfield.  We can talk all day about wanting Starbucks but ideas without financial backing have led us to nowhere.  We have a developer who wants to make an investment in a $50 million project in our city.  An investment significant enough to stimulate more businesses along South Ave, to bring more customers to the existing businesses, to create jobs and add vitality to one of Plainfield's neighborhoods.  An investment that will attract young people to move to Plainfield.  It's ironic that young Mr Campbell is opposing young people moving to South Ave.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Best Practices in Public Safety

Plainfield is engaged in two initiatives that will address community concerns about police use of force and accountability.  These initiatives, Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) and body cams, are welcomed by our Police Division because they increase officer safety as well as the safety of our residents.

Lets take CIT first.  This is an evidence based practice that started in Memphis, has spread across the nation and has taken root in Union County.  Plainfield police join officers from other municipalities alongside mental health practitioners and advocates in a week long, 40 hour training program.  Police and mental health stakeholders teach each other what they do so the can better collaborate to handle mental health crises.  Officers completing the course are certified  and become the "go to" people in their departments to respond to mental health crises. The lead agencies are the Prosecutors Office, Linden PD, Trinitas Medical Center and Bridgeway Rehabilitation Services (where I work).  Results are less use of force by police and less police and citizen injuries and deaths resulting from response to crisis calls.  More people dealing with a mental illness are referred for treatment instead of going into the criminal justice system.  Of course, violent offenders have to accept the legal consequences of their actions.  Plainfield sends officers to CIT, which is held at the Police Academy in Scotch Plains three or four times a year.

Body cams are a newer initiative and were well covered by Bernice Paglia's blog.  It is a positive reflection on the Plainfield police that we are participating in the pilot for body cams in Union County.  Credit goes to Mayor Adrian Mapp, Police Director Carl Riley and Union County Prosecutor Grace Park for their leadership.

Crime is down in Plainfield but we are not resting on our laurels. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

We need to retain our Planning Division staff

I was against moving this to the agenda for an October 13 vote.  The administration has not adequately justified outsourcing the Planning office.  My questions have not been answered, namely:
  • why weren't the bids immediately sent to the Council upon opening on October 1? - so we could see them for ourselves prior to the agenda fixing meeting.  After all, this initiative has generated many questions and concerns, not just from me, but from Plainfield residents and particularly land use board members.
  • what would the staffing schedule and staffing positions be, including qualifications and experience of outsourced planners?  What would  the response time be for residents and developers needing their services?
  • would the outsourced planners provide services for our brownfields projects, our Shade Tree Commission, our Historic Preservation Commission?
The administrations argument for outsourcing is the cost savings.  But I believe that will only be true if we drastically cut services.  The administration officials responding to this concern are giving assurances to the contrary, but not with a credible explanation. We cant take chances, hoping they are right.

I support Mayor Mapp wholeheartedly.  He has been good for Plainfield.  With his administration, we have become more business friendly and that is important for creating jobs and increasing tax revenues.  But there are better ways to make Plainfield business friendly than outsourcing Planning.  An example - the Planning Board, with the support of the Planning Division, is currently working on revisions to the Zoning Ordinance.  These changes would make it easier for businesses, developers and our residents to do what they need to do with their properties - with less need for governmental approvals.  Our Zoning Ordinance has to reflect Plainfield needs.  We are not Elizabeth or Westfield.  Bringing in outsiders to work on the Zoning Ordinance in a city of 50,000, poised for development, is a bad idea.

If we eliminate the knowledge that exists in the Planning office, it will take 10 or more years to replace it.  I am not referring to knowledge of the law but of facts on the ground.  Plainfield is unique and benefits tremendously from the knowledgeable professionals we have in place.

This is one of those times I disagree with my Mayor.  I promised I would give his administrators the opportunity to make their case.  They have not been convincing.  Adrian Mapp does not have a supportive City Council and I feel strongly about my obligation to support him in any way I can - for the benefit of the city.  But this outsourcing initiative is not the way to benefit the city.

I urge Mayor Mapp and my Council colleagues to take the lay-off plan off the agenda and retain the Planning Division staff.   

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Traffic Safety update

Four way stops signs have been installed at the following locations:
  • Hillside Ave and Prospect Ave
  • Hillside Ave and Evergreen Ave.
The police department have determined that making these intersections 4 way stops is justified after reviewing traffic accident history.

I have requested that Putnam Ave also be considered.

Our Public Works department has arranged with Union County to resurface parts of Woodland Ave between  East 7th St and Evergreen Ave.  The road has already been milled and paving will take place beginning Monday, September 28, weather permitting.  Thanks to city hall for a low cost solution to Woodland Ave road conditions.

We will need to depend on different strategies in addition to the repaving program.  The way we have been going, with the complete repaving of $3 or $ million worth of roads each year, we will never bring Plainfield up to the standard we want.  Roads deteriorate faster than we can repave them.  Road maintenance and repair is needed, along with our repaving program.  Thank you Public Works and Union County for the Woodland repairs - instead of waiting another 3 to 5 years for repaving!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

South Ave Gateway project

Plainfielders are asking if there are any legitimate reasons for the City Council to not approve the Gateway project.   The answer is no.  Here are the reasons given by my colleagues and why they don't add up:

1. "We were not adequately informed"
We have been talking about this for more than a year.  Reports to Council have been made by Carlos Sanchez.  I've made reports to Council as Planning Board representative and have personally offered to go over the project with several of my colleagues.  The developer presented to the Plainwood Square merchants and Councilwoman Taylor and I were at the meeting.  Planning Board meetings are advertised and open to the public. This project has been on their agenda numerous times.  Could the administration have given more information more often?  Yes they could have.  Could any Council member have asked for this project to be on the agenda for discussion at any meeting.  Yes we could have.  Council members have a responsibility to seek information to their questions.  If a new Council member begins a term in the middle of a major project, it is his/her responsibility to come up to speed and not hold up the project.

2. "The 30 year payment in lieu of taxes is too long".
This is a highly technical matter and needs guidance from experts.  The Council has a right to ask these experts questions to inform their vote.  But for a Council member to propose changes without expert advice makes no sense.  To a Council member who makes such a statement:  what do you base it on and who are your experts?  Did you seek out your advice as part of the Council as a whole?  If so, I wasn't included.

3. "We are bringing yuppies to town" 
So what.  We are bringing a whole lot more property taxes to town.  To pay for the rising costs of police and fire services, to offset all the tax appeals that are lowering our tax base.  A few hundred new residents of any description aren't going to change the demographics of Plainfield.  And if they did, is that a problem?  I welcome to Plainfield yuppies of all ethnic and racial backgrounds.

4.  "What about our public schools"
The apartments are designed for single people and couples, not families with children. 

There is always a reason not to change.  Even if every other town along the Raritan Valley line is changing.  We can continue to lose tax ratables but what will the Council say to residents who want adequate police services when we can't afford them.  Or to seniors who own homes who can't afford Plainfield's tax increases.

Here is what I think about this project.  The developer, the city administration and the planning board have worked hard to design a quality project.  It can be an asset to the neighborhood and a benefit to the whole city.  If we blow this opportunity, it will be so much harder and take so much longer to do successful projects on East 2nd Street, downtown and on the west end.  Developers will continue to take their projects and investors to other towns.

This is a crucial moment for Plainfield and its City Council.  A turning point, no matter what we decide.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Yard Waste Enforcement

For many years, Plainfielders have disregarded the state regulations on putting yard waste on the street for pick-up.  Bundles of branches, piles of leaves and brush were sitting on city streets for weeks and even months, creating unsightly and unhealthy conditions.  This problem was particularly acute in the years before Adrian Mapp became mayor because city pick-ups only occurred in the spring and fall.  Now they occur more frequently, throughout the year.  But the problem has not gone away. 

It is helpful to understand what is behind the state regulation - that yard waste must be put on the street right before scheduled pick-ups, not days or weeks ahead of time.  New Jersey wants to prevent yard waste, particularly leaves, from washing into storm sewers.  This debris eventually flows into streams and rivers, silting up and clogging the natural flow of water as it seeks the bays and ocean.

You can do your part to beautify our city and protect our environment.  If you see neighbors putting out their yard waste, don't assume the pick-up is the next day.  Check the city website for the pick-up schedule  (not the PMUA schedule).  Or put the city mailer with the schedule on your refrigerator for quick reference.  If you have a lawn service, tell them to follow the rules.  Some day the state will fine municipalities for non-compliance and Plainfield will have to fine property owners for early put-outs.  It will be a fine for the property owner, not the lawn service.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Traffic Safey on Council Agenda

I am happy to say that our city administration, and in this case our police division, is getting the job done.  The latest example is additional stop signs at the intersections of Hillside Ave and Evergreen Ave. and Hillside and Prospect Ave.  In the past, complaints about cars speeding in residential neighborhoods resulted in lots of talk and reasons we couldn't or shouldn't do something about it.  I was beginning to think that the words "referred to the traffic safety committee" meant "no further action is warranted".

At last nights council meeting, Police Director Carl Riley explained that the most recent complaints about Hillside Ave led to studies on frequency of accidents.  As a result ordinances are on the July agenda for approving the additional stop signs.

Another good sign (forgive the pun) is that the police are studying other dangerous intersections for future action.  Among them are intersections along Putnam Ave.  Action on Putnam is personal for me as a good friend died in a car crash at a Putnam intersection some years back (rest in peace Sonny).  Neighbors have complained about this street for years and my interventions didn't lead to action.  Now we wait for Director Riley to let us know what will come out of police studies.

Another dangerous intersection is East 7th St and Central, one corner of which is the Maxson School soccer fields.  While campaigning there in May with (then) city committee candidate (Terrance Bellamy, now elected city committeeman), he told me of many accidents at that corner and asked for help.  I asked City Administrator Rick Smiley for interim action to be taken while waiting for a determination on a traffic light or stop sign.  The next day the Central stop sign poles were covered top to bottom with red reflective tape, making them much more noticeable at night.

After years of being bogged down with inaction, our city government is making the right moves.  I am grateful for these small signs of progress.  Sometimes a small step can be big, as in saving a life.

Monday, July 6, 2015

July 4th Parade

Walking in the parade doesn't allow you to see the parade.  So I walked back along the parade route until I found the Plainfield H.S. marching band.  I knew that would be a highlight.

The High School cheerleaders
Our Marching Band
East Orange Silver Steppers

 Flor Gonzalez, Parade Grand Marshall, with Joe Cryan

Members of the Plainfield Democratic City Committee

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Friends of Sleepy Hollow Proposal Heard at HPC

Friends of Sleepy Hollow (FOSH) brought a proposal to the Historic Preservation Commission last night to place 8 neighborhood signs around the eastside of town.  Every discussion participant, including members of the public, had strong feelings on either side of the proposal.  It is safe to say that everyone was passionate about historic preservation but did not agree on methods.  It is also safe to say the historic preservation is a lot more complicated than regulating the restoration of old homes.

By meetings end, the yes or no question about FOSH's signs was not resolved.  But lots of questions were raised and good points made.  The highlights for me:

1. There is a group of people in the process of revitalizing FOSH.  They have raised money towards a neighborhood sign project and look towards more civic improvement initiatives.  They have gone door to door in neighborhoods for support in neighborhoods not considered to be part of Sleepy Hollow.  They want to market the positive attributes of historic neighborhoods.

2. The HPC is not ready to agree to signs in a historic district that do not reflect the name of the district (two of the eight sign locations would be in historic districts).  But HPC members urged FOSH to get behind the goal of expanding and adding historic districts within Plainfield. 

3.  Members of the public pointed out that Plainfield is a historic town and that goes well beyond one ward or one section of town.  In fact, a house does not need to be at the high end of the price range to have historic value.  Nor does a neighborhood need to be upscale.  With emotions running high, I think many people at the meeting lost sight of the fact that everyone agreed on this.

4.  I find it heartening that we have new blood coming onto the local scene who want to take positive action in Plainfield.  I trust that all concerned with neighborhood improvement and historic preservation, whether they are operating in official capacities or at the grassroots level, will sort out their differences and do good works in Plainfield.

One thing was clear last night.  FOSH is committed to building support for their initiatives.  They will need the people support even more than the financial support.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Is the City Council Now Cooperating with the Mapp Administration?

The short answer is yes and no.  In substance, yes.  In style, no.

One of the Councils most important votes of the year took place last night: annual budget amendments. To my surprise, the Council did cooperate with the Mayor, turning away from the cliff and backtracking to support the staffing he proposed in his introduced budget.  The budget is in the Councils hands and goes for final approval at the next business meeting.

Unfortunately, we saw more of the oppositional behavior from some Council members when it came to use of city vehicles for the Mayor and City Administrator.  Same problem for National Night Out plans.  This is especially unfortunate because some relevant points could have been made by Mapps' opponents.  They actually were but the tone and verbiage is so negative and out of context that the points are lost in the emotional displays.

Instead of going back and forth about conflicting plans for National Night Out, I suggested we combine forces.  I got no traction on this from either side.  Even Bernice Paglia, in her blog today, missed that I said this and she usually reports both sides of the debate - in this case the emotional and the rationale sides.

Regarding the process for assigning vehicles to our top city officials, Plainfield's long standing method of doing so was called into question by the CFO and City Attorney.  But their points were a sideline to the accusations against the Mayor and City Administrator.  There very well may be a better way of handling this issue but lets not pretend this is something new and sinister.  I am sure every Mayor going back 20 years has handled this in a way that could be questioned.  What is new is the level of bad will generated by some Council members on this vehicle question.

We did better last night and we still have a lot of work to do before we can say that the Plainfield City Council is performing at a satisfactory level.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

A Victory for Plainfield

Plainfield came out on top last night with a landslide result in favor of the Progressive Democratic Organization.  This is a mandate for Adrian Mapp and his city administration to continue the work they started one and a half years ago.  This is also a vote of confidence for Rebecca Williams and me.  And I am very confident that Barry Goode will join the City Council after he wins the general election in November.  He will be a welcome addition to the governing body.

There are many unsung heroes from this election campaign.  We did our usual door to door campaigning and Barry and I were joined by many enthusiastic walkers.  In the 2nd Ward I offer many thanks to the following people who walked with me:

Bob Bolmer
Mike Pyne
Shep Brown
Joanne Macaluso
Flor Gonzalez
Roni Taylor
Carletta Jeffers
Jeannette Criscione
David Rutherford
Terrence Bellamy
Jim Spear
Belinda Smiley
Greg Haworth
and of course Adrian and Rebecca

There were too many telephone bank callers and other volunteers to list but thanks to every one of them.

There were many donors and I am proud to say that Barry and I received significant financial support from Plainfielders.  Peter and Libby Price generously opened their home for our fundraiser.  Lois and Matt (my son) provided the excellent food.  Funds were contributed to Storch Goode for Council by the campaign accounts of  Rebecca Williams and most of all, Adrian Mapp.

Mary Burgwinkle was the Treasurer for Storch Goode for Council and nobody does this better than Mary.

Thank you Derel Stroud for keeping us coordinated.  Bet you didn't know how difficult that is when you signed on with the Progressive Democrats of Plainfield!  Like herding cats!

Thank you Dan Damon and Rebecca Williams for your hard work on the media front.

Thank you Barry Goode for working so hard for our victory.  Thank you for having a sense of humor.  And for always letting me speak before you.

Thank you to my family for supporting my years of public service and political campaigns.  Lois was in Plainfield politics before me as Al McWilliams first campaign manager.  Her sage advice was and is always freely offered (if you know what I mean) and valuable.  Jean Mattson taught me door to door campaigning and introduced me to her vast network of friends across Plainfield.  Alexa and Matt - emotional support and literature drops.

And a final thought:  with political victory comes much responsibility to the residents of Plainfield, whether they supported us or not.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Plainfield Democratic Primary Election is About the Residents Interests

The City Council just approved a Go-Go Bar on Richmond Street.  For the record, I am opposed and I thank my Council colleagues Rebecca Williams and Tracey Brown for voting no.  But why did the Council majority vote for approval?  This is surprising for a number of reasons and makes me question exactly who the City Council represents.

To understand the regulation of liquor licenses, you need to know that the City Council is also the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission (ABC board for short).  The ABC can only enforce the regulations with the collaboration of the police department. This partnership has not always worked well for reasons that were not clear to me for some time.

For many years the City Council echoed the complaints of residents about bar fights and underage drinking at some of our establishments.  But always fell short of voting to crack down on bad behavior.  Only since Mayor Mapp appointed Carl Riley as Police Director has there been the collaboration needed to do the right thing. 

So I was surprised when we took a step backwards with the Go-Go Bar on Richmond.  Why would the Council majority vote for this when they are indignant about "immoral" behavior and like to say as much at Council meetings.  The previous go-go bar at this location was known for bad behavior.  There was even a fatal shooting outside the bar in the past.  And there is the concern about exploitation of women at these establishments.

It appears to me that the answer is connected to Jerry Green. He receives generous campaign contributions from liquor license holders (look at his ELEC reports).  Could this have anything to do with the Council majority about face on the go-go bar?

In addition to campaign donations, there is an opportunity to influence ABC decisions through the police department.  And there is much evidence of Jerry Green's hand within the police department.   Think back to Green's choice of the previous Mayor and her first election campaign with her police security detail. I know from experience that Green tried hard to force Mayor Mapp to appoint his own choice for Police Director. Right after Mapp stood strong to appoint Carl Riley, Green publicly attacked Mapp for being a bad Mayor (this was 4 months after Mapp took office!).  Why would he do that?

This is partly circumstantial evidence but it points to a pattern of behavior on the part of elected officials that results in a lack of enforcement of liquor regulations at some bars.  This is to Plainfield's detriment. We have been deploying our valuable police resources to break up bar fights all too often. The police should be responding to resident calls.  We need to hold the license holders accountable and make them hire security and install surveillance cameras.  On their dime, not the taxpayers. 

Campaign contributions are flowing into Jerry Green's campaign account. He appears to want to use the police for his own agenda.  And he has already been on video saying "I run this m".  But should the City Council be representing his interests or the residents of the area surrounding the Richmond Go-Go bar?

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Democratic Primary is About Jobs and Tax Ratables

The Adrian Mapp administration is moving the city ahead on economic development.  This after 8 years of moving backwards, of scaring businesses and developers away from Plainfield because of incompetence and neglect. 

Many residents were asking me why all the other towns along the Raritan Valley rail line were getting developed.  And it was true.  Just drive through Fanwood, Garwood, Cranford and Union.  Or Somerville going west. 

Finally, and not by coincidence, we began seeing development action on the home front right after Mapp got elected as mayor.  He hired a reputable director for economic development in Carlos Sanchez.  He brought in a CFO known throughout the state for his expertise who cleaned up the financial mess left by the previous administration.  Crime is on a downward trend.  These steps and other business friendly initiatives have attracted investors back to Plainfield.

Economic development is important because it brings jobs, tax ratables and more shopping to Plainfield.  It will bring vitality to downtown Plainfield at night.  All this takes time but it is beginning to happen:
  • New buildings are going up near both of our train stations. 
  • Our downtown was designated a Transit Village by the state.
  • We finally have the one seat ride to and from Manhattan - off peak hours.
  • We are much more active in the Raritan Valley Rail Coalition, aiming for peak hour one seat service to Manhattan.
  • Our Planning Board now expedites development applications, attracting even more developers to town.
Plainfield just got the coveted Smart Growth award from New Jersey Future.  This is because we are concentrating new development around our train stations and protecting the character of our residential neighborhoods by keeping them low density for housing.  At Elmwood Gardens, a public housing project known for frequent criminal activity, we are knocking down the projects and building new units at a lower density.

All this points to a brighter future for Plainfield.  That is, if we embrace the changes necessary for progress.  On June 2, you can choose the Democrats in column C if you want Plainfield to continue down the path Mayor Mapp has set for Plainfield.  Any other choice is only going to deter Plainfield from being all it can be.

Monday, May 18, 2015

What the Plainfield Democratic Primary Election is About

The voters have a real choice in this election. Its about leadership, integrity and competence and the campaign literature illustrates it well.  The Storch Goode team led by Mayor Adrian Mapp emphasizes the progress Plainfield has made in the 16 months he's been in office. There is a vision for the betterment of Plainfield.  The message from our opponents is mostly negative.

There are some astonishing lies coming from the Jerry Green team.  One that is misleading, ironic and shameless at the same time is about grant money Plainfield has lost.  Jerry's team, which includes former Mayor Sharon Robinson Briggs, says Mayor Mapp lost $500,000 in grant money.  The fact is this money was lost during Robinson Briggs administration.  The grain of truth to their claim is that the money was given back by Mapps administration.  That's because the grants were mismanaged by Robinson Briggs people and the grant periods expired.  We had to give the money back.  Apparently the grants were mismanaged to the extent that Robinson Briggs wasn't even aware that the money wasn't being used.  So Plainfield lost these resources. 

When Adrian Mapp took office he appointed qualified people to take charge of the financial mess left by Robinson Briggs.  They cleaned up the grants mess.  This included a resolution passed by the 2015 City Council effectively canceling the grant accounts so the money could be sent back to the funders.  So Plainfield can hopefully get back in the good graces of these funders for future projects.

What is truly sad is that Robinson Briggs is back on the Jerry Green team  This is after he lost faith in her and turned to Adrian Mapp in the last mayoral primary election.  For some reason, Jerry keeps undermining Plainfield mayors - Mark Fury, Al McWilliams, Sharon Robinson Briggs and now Adrian Mapp.  Does this list go back far enough?  I'm not sure.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Second Ward Family Fun and Community Picnic Day - this Saturday

The Plainfield Recreation Department has a family fun day for each ward every year.  For the 2nd Ward, it is this coming Saturday, May 16 from 11 am to 3 pm.  It will be at Leland Avenue Park aka Cook School Pond. 

There will be food and beverages served.  Building on last years successful event, the recreation department has even more games in store for children and adults. 

If you are interested but don't know which ward you are in, just come on over.   All Plainfield residents and their guests are welcome.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Public Safety - What Barry Goode and I Stand For

Voters have to sift through the verbiage to find candidates they want to support.  Here is what Barry and I stand for on public safety so you can compare us to our opponents:

Plainfield residents need to feel safe and be safe in their homes, neighborhoods and downtown.  We back that up with specific pledges:
  • as Council members, we will make sure that there are sufficient funds for surveillance cameras to be working in our downtown and around crime hot spots.  After many years of talk, its about time we make this happen.
  • as Alcoholic Beverage Control commissioners, we will strictly enforce the rules at bars with a lot of criminal activity.  Right now some of these bars are using our police to respond to these problems.  Our police are serving as their security force and the taxpayers are picking up the bill.  Going forward, these bars will pay the consequences of the problems they cause.  If they can't, we will shut them down.  Our residents will have top priority for police respond to calls for help.
  • we will redirect the huge overtime pay budget to hire new officers so we can come back to the full compliment of officers we need.  Crime fighting takes precedence over building pensions.
  • we will give our full support to the Mayor and Police Director as they refocus our police resources for the benefit of our residents.  The City Council, as it is today, is not supportive and actually makes it more difficult for city hall to make the positive changes Plainfield needs.
Support Barry Goode and me in Column C in the Democratic primary on June 2.  I challenge our opponents to say what they will do for Plainfield.  Will they do more than criticize and complain?  Do they have specific plans to help Plainfield other than merely saying they are for Plainfield? 

Monday, May 4, 2015

It's time for a change.

It's election season in Plainfield.  How do we know?  Jerry Green sent out a negative piece in the mail.  There is very little true in this campaign piece except:  Mapp and his County Committee team on COLUMN C want to take over the Democratic Party. 

We do want to take leadership of the Plainfield Democratic Committee from Jerry Green.  Mr Green has led the party for most of the last 20 years.  In 2015, true to form, he decided who will get the party line in the June 2 primary.  Problem is - he didn't  consult his 68 committee members, all of who were elected by registered Plainfield Democrats.  He has run the local Democratic Party in most undemocratic fashion.  Even worse, he frequently selects people to run for local office who are not prepared for the responsibility of representing the people.

Follow the messaging from the two Democratic Party groups.  One is about a vision, about the potential for Plainfield and what we can do about it.  The other is negative messaging.  After 20 years running the Plainfield Democratic Party, we would hope that Jerry Green has something positive to say, something to show Plainfield about his accomplishments.

Democratic voters have a real choice on June 2.  Column C is for progress, for the people.  Column A is to help Jerry stay in power.    Vote for me, Barry Goode and our slate of Democratic Committee members.  We have no special interests other than the people of Plainfield.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Thank you Ed Santiago, Plainfield Police Chief

Chief Santiago is retiring from the force.  He received a proclamation and a standing ovation from those in attendance at the last Council meeting.  It was well deserved.  He served Plainfield well for many years as a dedicated, trustworthy and progressive public servant.

He made some remarks, gracious and unselfish as always, including compliments to current Police Director Carl Riley and retired Courier News reporter Bernice Paglia.

Ed - your presence on the police force will be missed.  And I know I am speaking for many thousands of residents over the year in saying that you made life better in Plainfield in countless ways.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

What Good Government Should Look Like

There are two sides to the Plainfield Earned Sick Leave ordinance.  Both sides have expressed their positions at the March and April City Council meetings with passion.  There is one more meeting in April at which the Council could approve the ordinance on second reading, which is the final step for an ordinance.  The Council has options.  We could approve it as is or we could approve with amendments.  A third choice is to vote it down but no-one on Council has taken that position and I do not believe anyone will switch in this direction.  In my opinion, the best outcome is a compromise through amendments.

 Bridget Rivers suggested that there is still one week before the next April Council meeting for the two sides to come together for compromise.

After last Mondays Council meeting it was not clear to me that someone agreed to take the lead to convene a session between the two sides. So I made some phone calls, encouraging stakeholders to have one more working session towards a compromise ordinance.  I suggested that 2 or 3 people represent each side and that, given Plainfield's unique job market and business environment, each side include local people, not just outsiders.

City Council members would be the natural and logical conveners of such a meeting (I was not volunteering because, in the limited time before Mondays Council meeting, my schedule makes it difficult for me to be one of them).

I hope this meeting takes place and a compromise is brought back to the April 13 Council meeting.  If so, I will be very receptive to it. If not, I will propose amendments to create a balanced ordinance that works for Plainfield.

A working session is also an opportunity for relationship building within the business community and between them and local government.  This is sorely needed.  The Plainfield Chamber of Commerce, the Special Improvement District and the Plainwood Square Merchants do not always work well together.  It appears that a new group, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, may be entering the Plainfield business scene.  And the relationship between the business community and the Council and administration could stand improvement.  This legislation is an opportunity to work together, a step beyond complaining about lack of cooperation.

One point needs to be clear. From the beginning, this ordinance was in the hands of the City Council.  Councilwoman Rebecca Williams was the initiator and sponsor of this legislation.  The Mayor and administration have recommended two amendments but have no vote on the subject.  Will the Council step up and take legislative leadership?

Monday, March 23, 2015

Demolition on North Avenue

As I was leaving the Plainfield Donut Shop Saturday morning, I noticed fire trucks everywhere.  When I saw North Avenue blocked off between Park and Gavett Place, I stopped to observe the commotion on North Ave. 

Directors Riley and Watson were on hand to oversee the demotion.  It was halted when the building next door was damaged by falling debris. The restaurant occupying that space had no people instead.  That is good because the damage was substantial. 

I hope the restaurant owners have business interruption insurance because they will be out of commission for a while.  They have suffered unfortunate consequences through no fault of their own.  The city needs to do everything possible to help them turn this problem into a business opportunity.

The building to be demolished is now completely taken down.  Other bloggers have covered this situation well.  What I have to add is a planning perspective.  These properties are 1/2 block from the train station.  Renovations have taken place across the street and in the next block.  This block has seen no development or renovation activity because of the eyesore/safety hazard that is now demolished.  I called for its demolition 2 years ago but heard no response from city hall aside from the information that the property owner was "missing" for many years.  This demolition opens up a redevelopment opportunity that our downtown needs very much. 

The building next door may have to be replaced as well, depending on what the engineers have to say.  It is an one story building in a zone allowing at least 4 stories (maybe 5, not more than 6).  This property owner also may have a redevelopment opportunity. 

The interested parties - property owners, restaurant owner, current developers with projects near the train station, the city, other local business owners - should be talking about the potential this demolition has created.  A mixed use, transit oriented project belongs on this block.  One with architectural features respecting the North Ave. Historic District.  A project that could benefit all interested parties and Plainfield overall.

Sunday, March 15, 2015 Headline Misleading and Unfair to Eric Jackson

Shame on you or Star-Ledger editor who wrote the headline on the Plainfield fraud investigation.  Yes, you have to grab the attention of the public in a competitive news media market.  But you still have a responsibility when you write attention grabbing headlines not to make unfair implications about a persons behavior and ultimately his/her reputation. 

I have no problem with the facts in the story itself and I want to add my perspective on Eric Jackson and the climate in city hall during the time he served Plainfield as head of the Department of Public Works and Urban Development.

First of all, I was grateful to be able to work with Mr Jackson in Plainfield.  I shared the widely held view of him as a man of integrity and effectiveness.  In fact, he stood out in the Sharon Robinson-Briggs cabinet, rising about the political divisions, dedicated to getting his job done well and raising the bar for performance in his department.

As Bernice Paglia stated in her blog, Eric Jackson oversaw many divisions.  Some had been stuck using outdated tools and methods for many years.  That is changing under Mayor Mapp but Jackson started the ball rolling in the right direction.  Recreation in particular showed a lack of commitment to accountability and appeared to underperform with the approval and protection of Mayor Robinson-Briggs.  In spite of this difficult situation, Mr. Jackson took steps to improve the Recreation Division.

In this situation and others, Eric Jackson stood for what is right at the risk of angering the powers that be.  He passes the integrity test in my view. 

What is happening now at city hall is an audit of transactions in the Department of Public Works and Urban Development.  I cannot say more except to say that originally a majority of the City Council was opposed and now have approved funds for this audit.  We have to wait for the auditors report.  The firm hired is independent and from outside the city.  They will not risk their reputation to give us anything but an objective finding of facts.  I  believe that when we have more facts, the positive views of Eric Jackson throughout Plainfield will be confirmed.  Time will tell.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

March 2 Council Meeting Became a Blame Free Zone (for a while)

Council meetings have had a lot of citizen participation in 2015. The March 2 agenda fixing meeting was no exception. The Council chambers were packed with people interested in the Earned Sick Days ordinance which is up this month for second reading.  Here are some highlights:
  • the proposed ordinance creating a Manager of Motors (Fleet Manager) was not moved to the agenda.  I believe we have seen the last of it.  I previously did not support it.  The administration did finally answer my questions and I was satisfied with the rationale for the position.  Five Council members did not feel as I did.
  • the anti-tethering ordinance for dogs was moved for a vote next week.  I proposed an accompanying resolution making the ordinance effective immediately (normally there is a 20 day waiting period). Given the continuing cold weather, there is cause for limiting animals outdoor exposure time as soon as possible.  I believe both will have the votes for approval.
  • earned sick days ordinance - Its purpose is to increase benefits to workers who are not currently entitled to paid sick leave.  An additional reason for this ordinance is to increase the likelihood that sick workers will stay home and not spread germs to co-workers and customers.  These reasons make sense to me and I will vote in favor of the ordinance.  There were several dozen business owners who attended and many of them spoke during public comment period. Representatives from the Special Improvement District, Plainwood Square Merchants Association and the Plainfield Chamber of Commerce had concerns ranging from the severity of penalties for non compliance to recordkeeping burdens.  And of course the cost.  Proponents of the ordinance included Working Families, who have taken the lead and have seen passage in nine New Jersey towns so far.  An economist shared information on research demonstrating that businesses in cities that have the ordinance in effect, namely San Francisco, Seattle and Portland, have seen no ill effects from it.  I wonder if those cities reflect conditions in Plainfield where many businesses are very small, have no capital and little beside the sweat equity of their owner and perhaps some family members.   The Council, responding to the concerns of the business community, tabled the ordinance for one month to give time for input from local business people.  I voted with the majority to table although I pledged and do so again in this blog to support the ordinance in April.
The public discussion on earned sick leave was Plainfield at our best.  Many voiced their views, the views were diverse and the feelings were strong.  But absent were the negative emotions that sometimes impair relationships and decisions.  People were listening to each other and respectful to opposing positions.  I called it a blame free zone.  Let's think about how we can keep doing that - Council members and citizens in the audience alike.

There are a number of dividing points in Plainfield that we have to work our way through.  Many emanate from the political world and manifest themselves through topics such as youth baseball discussions.  That is for another blog.  The business community is also divided.  But they united around earned sick leave concerns.  I hope they can stay together and work more closely with the city. That is for another blog also, a blame free one.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Grand Opening of Farmers Insurance in Downtown Plainfield

Like signs of an early spring, new businesses are sprouting in downtown Plainfield.  The newest one is Farmers Insurance at 110 East 4th Street.  I attended the grand opening today.  The business owner, Jayme Vinas, took an old shell of an industrial space and made it comfortable, attractive and modern.

Mayor Adrian Mapp and Deputy City Administrator/Economic Development Director Carlos Sanchez were on hand to celebrate with Mr. Vinas, his family and friends and yours truly.

Farmers Insurance is open for business. They offer auto, home, commercial and life insurance policies.  Farmers can be reached at 908 205 8822. 

Interestingly, the "Telephone Building" is directly across the street.  This is one of Frank Cretella's residential projects, now completed and occupied.  This part of downtown, although right next to the downtown train station (the Manhattan bound side), has had a vacant and deteriorated look, that is up till now. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Latinos rally at City Council Meeting

Monday, February 9, 2015. A big turnout of Latino residents at our City Council meeting.  They were there to support a resolution urging the state legislature to allow undocumented state residents to have driving permits.  I wonder if this was a sign of the future for Plainfield politics and government. But first let's take a look at some facts about Latinos in local government.

As many in Plainfield know, there are no current Latino City Council members.  Ray Blanco was the last and he claimed to be the first.  There have been a few Latino Board of Education members over the years.  Christian Estevez was a example from the recent past.  Orlando Gonzalez was another, from the 1990's (he was my running mate along with Beulah Womack and served one term).  David Rutherford is the only current BOE member. None of Plainfield's three state legislators is Latino.

The Mapp administration appointed Carlos Sanchez to a cabinet level position but there have been few high level Latino officials over the years.  There are a number of Latinos in the police department but I believe they do not approach 40% of the force.  With over 40% of the population, Plainfield Latinos are woefully underrepresented in governmental positions.

As for politics, the Latino show of force quickly awakened the interest of local politicians and organizers in the audience. Along with sincere expressions of support for the Latinos at the Council meeting, there were some who worked strenuously to turn them against the Mayor.  There were a few speakers who in the past year made negative and unsupportive comments about Latinos who on February 9 suddenly saw the light.

So after many years of disengagement, they were out in force and seemingly organized to voice their position.  I said at the meeting that this was by far the most Latino residents at a City Council meeting over my nearly three terms in office.  They were there, not to lobby for a special interest (like a taxi company) or to protest a violent crime against a Latino but to support legislation. And they are using social media to organize.  This is different.

To repeat what I said at the end of the Council meeting to the Latinos in the audience, don't believe everything you hear from local politicians.  Check the facts against the statements.  Check me out also.  As an ally of Ray Blanco and supporter who helped create the Plainfield Advisory Commission on Hispanic Affairs, I am not a recent convert to the cause.  Although the Commission was ineffective, basically inactive, during the Robinson-Briggs administration, Adrian Mapp gave it a new life with his commission appointments in 2014.

There are many agendas in play in Plainfield, especially as we approach the June primary.  I hope to see many of the new faces at future Council meetings.  The more residents that get involved, the better our city government will be.  But keep your eyes wide open as you step into Plainfield politics.

Monday, February 2, 2015

I am running for re-election

I am declaring my intention to run for re-election as 2nd ward City Councilman in the June Democratic primary.  I care deeply about Plainfield and believe that I have much to offer city government as we work to make Plainfield a better place. 

When I first decided to run for City Council, at the urging of Al McWilliams, I wanted to make a difference in a city government that was an impediment to progress in Plainfield, that there was tremendous untapped and frustrated potential waiting to be unleashed.  Certainly the last administration limited Plainfield's progress but still I made a difference. I will share my accomplishments as a Councilman and goals for the next four years in future blogs.

Plainfield's potential is actually increasing with the one seat ride and a decreasing crime rate. Now, with a new and more capable administration, I am highly motivated to complete unfinished business.  I have been an advocate for road paving, surveillance cameras and flood insurance rate reductions.  I feel strongly that my experience and knowledge of our city government  is needed to move these initiatives and others forward.  I have been a positive influence on the City Council as it struggles to cooperate with Mayor Adrian Mapp. 

The only reason I am running for Council is to make a difference for our city.  I am beholden to no-one except my constituents. I hope the way I have conducted myself, ethically and with common sense, will gain me your support in the June election.  

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Monday Special Council Meeting

The resolution of most interest to me was the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority (PMUA) nominations.  Both of Mayor Mapps' nominees were approved by the Council.  I was skeptical of ever seeing Mapps' appointees achieving a majority of seats on the PMUA Commission but to my surprise, not only were Michelle Lyons and Henry Robinson approved, they are replacing Malcolm Dunn and Cecil Sanders.

The goal is not to see new faces but to see new faces make positive changes and help Plainfield ratepayers to have confidence and trust in the PMUA.  And reduce the rates!!

Rate reduction will not be easy but is necessary.  Plainfield's solid waste and sewer rates are well above what people are paying in other towns.  Seniors on fixed incomes feel the burden most.  The cost of running a business in Plainfield is higher because of the PMUA rates.  This is a disincentive to economic development and local job creation.

There are vested interests who do not want changes at the PMUA.  These interests are powerful and will not give up the benefits they get from the PMUA without a fight. Non competitive contract procurement  and job patronage are at stake. "No-one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it" (G Orwell).

But with three Mapp appointees on the five member commission, we can hope for progress.  A good start would be for commissioners to set commission meeting times in the evening so more working people have the opportunity to attend. I would also like to see them end the practice of charging ratepayers for their pre-commission meeting dinners.  This wont have an appreciable impact on rates but will signal that commissioners are serious about serving their customers.

Time will tell whether Mayor Mapp's  strenuous and persistent efforts will make a difference.

Raritan Valley Rail Coalition report

A well attended coalition meeting demonstrated the commitment of members who braved the early Monday snowfall to meet at Westfield's Council Chambers. 

Assemblyman John Wisniewski was the main speaker.  He explained the importance of increasing the gasoline tax to fund the transportation trust fund.  I found his argument convincing.  New Jersey has depleted the fund and has been funding projects by borrowing money.  At this point we are facing the prospect of using the limited new money coming in to pay only debt service.  The Trust Fund is the source for bridge and road repairs and for rail projects.  The Raritan Valley Line has projects pending that need funding:
  • increased one seat ride service to and from NYC
  • the Hunter Fly-over
  • Triple tracking east of Cranford
The latter two projects are needed to prevent bottlenecking delays on the Raritan Valley Line between Cranford and Jersey City.

The Assemblyman pointed out that the Pulaski Skyway repairs now underway took money from the Hudson River tunnel project, which was cancelled by Governor Christie.  The Skyway would have been funded by the Transportation Trust Fund if it were solvent. 

Ultimately a new Hudson River tunnel is necessary but that is many years away.  A lot of transportation improvements can be done in the meantime to unleash the economic, recreational and real estate potentials of communities like Plainfield. Support the Raritan Valley Rail Coalition!! 

For more information and how you can help:
Raritan Valley Rail Coalition

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Martin Luther King Breakfast in Plainfield

On Monday I joined hundreds of people at Plainfield High School to celebrate the life and accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King.  I estimated three hundred and fifty people were present. Hosted by Frontiers International's Plainfield chapter, this event is one of the highlights of the year in Plainfield.  And the breakfast lived up to its well deserved reputation.  The highlights:

  • Upon entering the high school auditorium, attendees were able to view riveting film footage of the March to Montgomery.
  • six outstanding young people, all graduating high school seniors, were given college scholarships.  Getting up before the audience, each student thanked those who supported their academic success, demonstrating that you can get a good education in the Plainfield Public Schools.
  • a performance by the Plainfield High School jazz band, which elicited gasps and cries of pleasure and surprise from the audience when the female vocalist began to sing.  Very sophisticated style for such a young person.  Made me think of Sara Vaughn.
  • the Plainfield High School dancers were outstanding and brought down the house.
  • Mayor Adrian Mapp gave opening remarks and welcomed guest speaker Mayor Ras Baraka.   Superintendent Anna Belin-Pyles also welcomed the community to the high school.
  • Ras Baraka gave an impassioned speech on the need to build on Dr Kings life works and reminded the audience that Dr King's work was evolving from a civil rights advocacy to a more global approach encompassing world peace and economic prosperity.
If you have never been at an MLK breakfast in Plainfield, I strongly recommend you go next year. And during the year, take positive actions in accordance with Dr. Kings teachings.