Saturday, January 23, 2010

Plainfield Leadership at a Crossroad

We have been here before. Rumors swirling, fingers pointing, people choosing sides, leaders hesitating. I am talking about proposed city budget cuts that could shake Plainfield residents and city workers out of the status quo.

Are we going to take an objective yet compassionnate look at our budget choices? Council president Annie McWilliams' latest blog is a good example of that approach. Or are we going to shoot first and aim later? That seems to be the recent response from our police union with their vote of no confidence in Martin Helwig.

Martin Helwig, Plainfield's Public Safety Director, has my full support. He has to be responsive to the residents of Plainfield and their safety concerns. He has to balance that with the needs of our excellent police force. That means he cannot possibly meet every demand of the public or the police union.

As we enter into union contract negotiations, his voice is crucial in approving the current year budget and positioning ourselves for next years financial challenges. I believe he is doing a good job of balancing the needs of residents and police employees.

Our police union has had very beneficial contracts over the years. They have negotiated with the city in a hard nosed manner. Kudos to their leaders. Our property tax burden has not been their concern. That is why we have a Mayor, Council, City Administrator and Public Safety Director.

Local governments all over New Jersey are asking employees to share the pain of our economy in recession. People living in cities are experiencing more pain than the suburbs and exurbs. If we can't find common ground with our unions, Mayors and Councils have little choice under state law and regulation but to propose layoffs. This can be a less painful process if local officials and unions work together.

It is most unfortunate that the police union voted no confidence in Helwig. Of course it is their right to do so. But a rationale and measured approach is needed from all parties in Plainfield government. Why not request a meeting with the Mayor, Helwig and the City Administrator? Why go public and "in your face"?

Followers of our municipal government know we have been here before and the results have been unsatisfactory. Lose - lose as some would say. Demoralized police, overburdened taxpayers, unempowered government officials.

There is still the potential for a solution but cooler heads must prevail. Larry Leveritt, Plainfield Schools Superintendent in the 1990's, came to town and immediately joined hands with the unions, school board and other stakeholders. He led us into interest based contract negotiations. After years of contentious haggling over pay and teacher prep time, he helped all parties to see their mutual interest: satisfaction at seeing students learn and grow. Negotiations revolved around that and the solutions for compensation and conditions of employment fell into place. Of course with different school leadership, the cooperation can slip away.

Why can't we do the same with our police unions. It will be a long, steep climb but good leadership on all sides can get us there. Unfortunately, in Plainfield the tradition is to divide and conquer. It is so ingrained that I honestly think some of our leaders who do this are not aware of it. All the more reason to get behind leaders like Annie McWilliams and Martin Helwig. Let's hear from some more leaders who want to unite rather than divide.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Gay Marriage Legislation

State government is poised to enact legislation that would give the same rights to gay and lesbian citizens that other citizens now enjoy. Will it happen on time for Governor Corzine to sign it? We will know very soon. I hope this is not a last minute gesture not intended for approval.

Whatever the outcome, it seems like destiny to me that this will eventually come to pass. Young people are increasingly influential in electing our leaders and they are more and more accepting of gay rights than their elders.

Still it would be unfair to make people wait at least four more years for justice to be served and that is what Governor Christie's election could mean.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Speed Humps - more input

The speed humps on Kensington Ave have triggered much reaction. Everywhere I go in Plainfield, people are telling me that this is a good idea. One of the most interesting comments came from a Kensington Ave resident who was originally opposed to speed humps but who has come to appreciate their effectiveness in slowing down vehicles.

Recently I have heard from residents of Kenyon and Putnam Avenues who want these traffic calming devices installed on their blocks. To these residents and anyone interested in this subject I have a few thoughts to share:

1. Speed humps have an important place in Plainfield's overall traffic management strategy but they must be used selectively.

2. With our budget problems, we must be extremely careful about where we spend our tax dollars. Installing speed humps selectively and at the time of repaving is a cost effective way to go.

3. There are other traffic calming methods that are cost effective and must be considered. An example is stop signs. One or two well placed stop signs on Putnam could be even more effective than speed humps. This would create intersections with four way stop signs. Another approach would be flashing yellow or red traffic signals at the dangerous Putnam intersections.

4. When we do use speed humps, they should be used judiciously. Some have commented on the number of street signs that accompany the Kensington speed humps and that they do not have an attractive appearance. Perhaps we could have installed one or two fewer humps or used less signage. I trust we will use our experience on Kensington to inform our future actions.

A photo from Councilman Burney's blog

5. Not everyone favors speed humps. One of my best friends called me last month to ask me who was the idiot whose idea this was. I did take responsibility! Residents who want them installed will face opposition from police and fire officials and from skeptical neighbors. I strongly recommend to any advocate that a neighborhood petition be circulated to demonstrate support. This was done to good effect regarding other road problems by the residents of Thornton Ave and Cedarbrook Lane. In each case they got what they needed.

The bottom line is we have taken a good step forward in pedestrian safety. Again I thank Mayor Robinson-Briggs and Councilman Burney for leadership on this. I urge the 2010 Council committee dealing with roads to take this up for policy development.