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.


Anonymous said...

You got that right Cory, divide and conquer. All the more reason to eliminate the position of Public Safety Director. Hellwig was a cop. Make him the Police Commissioner and remove the fire department from his portfolio. With the Public Safety Director, we've created a no-man's land. Is he of the police, or is he of the fire department, or is he just an administrative cog? With the vote of 'no confidence' it should be apparent there are no benefits to be had for Plainfield by amalgamating the two departments.

Cory Storch said...

Dear anonymous
The Public Safety Director position is required under the Plainfield charter. You bring up an interesting point though. Our charter dates back to the 1960's and was a response to civil unrest (some refer to the "riots"). The Public Safety Director was a civilian department head who was supposed to address community concerns at a time when the police force was predominantly white.

Plainfield Finest said...

Cory, the main reason we voted "No Confidence" for the Director were his methods. He did a "behind your back" submission without at least giving us the courtesy of knowing what he proposed. That method only breeds distrust. That may be business as usual for politicians but not for us. We uphold the values of trust and honesty. He doesnt hesitate to go to the media and tell the world how the PPD lower the crime rate but then give us the knife in our back as our reward. We are willing to sit down and negotiate. At least give us the opportunity to make recommendations. Director Hellwig is a Political Appointee, he will be gone in another 4 years with Plainfield in his rearview mirror. Most of us grew up in Plainfield, have families here and plan to live here for many years. We are professionals and just want respect and honesty.

Anonymous said...

why didn't you listen when the union told the city not to defer the pension payments to the state. now thats costing the city even more. why not offer a buy out it would save even more money in the long run

Cory Storch said...

Dear anonymous
If you were following the Plainfield pension deferral decision you would know that I spoke against it whenever it came up and voted against it.

Cory Storch

Anonymous said...

how would one go about having a recall vote on our elected officials

Anonymous said...

can you update this site this is all old news get to work

Anonymous said...

I live in Plainfield. I am sending this to everyone and anyone who could possibly assist us with this problem.
Our City Council voted against the Plainfield Recreation Department to start a youth baseball league. Dave Wynn, the head of the division of recreation, openly went against the City Council and started one anyway. He has 60 children enrolled, whereas Queen City Basball League (a youth baseball league already in operation in the city) has 200 children enrolled. Dave Wynn has "reserved" ALL the baseball fields in Plainfield with no intentions of "sharing" the facilities with the children who happen to be enrolled in the Queen City Baseball League. Really, how can 60 children utilize all the fields in Plainfield Monday thru Friday?
I have to ask why is this allowed? What is the point of having a city council if their decisions are totally disregarded by the "head guy" in the recreation department? We have asked the Mayor for assistance, but from my understanding she has turned her back on the children of Plainfield so that she can maintain her friendship with Dave Wynn.
I am asking ANYONE to help us. Our children want to play baseball. The pettiness of the adults involved are sickening.