Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Democracy in Action

Monday nights Council meeting demonstrated why Plainfield is such an amazing place. I am not referring to the decisions that were made. It was the audience participation in the process of government that was so riveting and gratifying to see. After honoring local film-maker Alrick Brown whose movie Kinyarwanda was accepted into the Sundance Film Festival (quite an honor), I want to say "Alrick, make a movie about the civic spirit in Plainfield." We have the tension created by diversity and conflicting agendas that can drive many a story line.

There were two important story lines at last nights meeting. The one involving the Mayor and Bibi Taylor has been covered by Bernice Paglia, Mark Spivey and (soon I am sure) by Olddoc and Dan Damon. The other story will not get the attention it deserves. That is the 2011 municipal budget. A long list of budget amendments were read and approved, bringing the Council closer to final budget approval. Lost in the details were the many budget reductions that will result in reduced services and staff lay-offs. This arduous process included many hard decisions by the Mayor, senior managers and Council. Yes there was some finger pointing and blaming for staff lay-offs but the reality is that we have a state imposed cap on how much we can spend and tax. And budget reductions were made by every elected official- Mayor and all seven Council members. I hope that realization leads to better collaboration going forward.

Looking at the budget story line further, there are two sub-plots I must mention:

1. the Library amendment restores $150,000 to expand its hours back to what they were before the last reductions were made. If you are a Library supporter, you should thank each Council member as this amendment received unanimous support. Particular thanks should go to the members of the Council's Finance Committee - Adrian Mapp, Annie McWilliams and myself - who made this happen by finding the funds in other expense lines rather than increased property taxes.

2. Recreation! Alrick - what a sub-plot we have here. A rumor starts in the community that the City Council members have a personal vendetta against local hero and champion of youth, the Recreation Director. They are going to cut him off at the knees (reduce him to part-time). A groundswell of grass roots support grows and spills out into the Council meeting chamber. Speaker after speaker blast the Council members for mean-spirited disservice to the community. But wait, are those rumors distortions of the truth. The Council actually recommended moving $30,000 from administrative salaries into youth programs, leaving Recreation with the same overall budget as recommended by the Mayor (who happens to be the chief supporter of the Recreation Director). And the Recreation Director's position will be unaffected unless the Mayor decides to reduce his hours - not going to happen. Alrick can you clean up the plot a little, make it a better story than what I just told. Annie and Sharon can play themselves but I suggest you use Sean Connery ( a younger Sean) to play me.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Mark Your Calendar for Monday December 20

I urge Plainfield residents to come to the City Council meeting Monday at 8 pm.

The word has spread quickly that Mayor Robinson-Briggs has fired City Administrator Bibi Taylor. The Council has made numerous requests for the Mayor to explain her reasons. It is reasonable to expect the Mayor to come forward and give her reasons. She did not do so at last Monday's Council meeting and she has an obligation to do so this coming Monday.

The Council has the power to re-instate Ms Taylor by resolution. Five votes will be required. The City Administrator position is important - he or she is responsible for the day to day operation of city government. Your Council representatives need to hear from you on this critical subject. There will be an opportunity for residents to speak to the Council at the beginning of the meeting. Make your views known.

Everyone I have ever spoken with about Ms Taylor agrees with my assessment that she has been doing an excellent job. Perhaps there are people who agree with the Mayor. We need to hear those views also. Whatever you think, please come to the meeting.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Plainfield Needs a New Budgeting Process

The following draft resolution was introduced at the last Council agenda fixing session. Credit cannot go to one person as it includes the many suggestions made over the last year by members of Council and the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee. Not all recommendations will be popular but the point is to collaboratively make hard decisions and not avoid the inevitable.

The true test of collaboration between all stakeholders is whether Mayor Sharon Robinson Briggs will convene the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee, City Council Finance Committee members, the unions and members of her administration in January to begin working on the 2012 budget. Everyone has pledged their commitment. Mayor Sharon: the ball is in your court.

2012 Plainfield Municipal Budget Planning Resolution

The municipal budget is a set of priorities of the government. With a finite budget, we can only spend so much money. Money spent in one area means there is less to spend in another area. As such, forward directional priorities are necessary to start the entire leadership of Plainfield thinking about pro-active and multi-year budgeting.

Whereas the state of New Jersey is imposing a 2% tax levy cap for Fiscal Year 2012 and

Whereas Plainfield’s municipal government expenses continue to rise while non-property tax revenues are decreasing in the short term and

Whereas the City Council desires to plan proactively to prepare for a difficult budgeting process that will challenge municipal government to meet the needs of residents and employees and

Whereas 2011 Council wishes to work pro-actively with the Mayor and administration to create a budgeting process that meets the above challenge,

Therefore the 2011 City Council recommends the Mayor and administration, in partnership with the City Council, utilize the following strategies:

1) An aggressive budget timetable for SFY 2012 that includes creating a 5 year municipal budget projection to be presented at the January business meeting.

2) The Council and Mayor appoint the CBAC no later than February and empower the 2010 CBAC as a holdover body until then; the Council Finance Committee, Mayor and administration to work closely with the CBAC beginning January to prepare the 5 year projection and 2012 budget.

3) 2011 should be the year we begin to migrate non-core services to other entities. Further continuation of non-core services puts pressure on the budgets and causes the elimination of core-services like Fire, Police and Public Works. Council understands the value of our non-core services to the community and intends for these non-core services to be continued for our community which needs them.

4) In anticipation of the non-continued funding of non-core services Council directs the administration to work with great haste to find new ownership of these programs. New ownership should be in place by June 30th for at least one of the non core services identified by the 2010 CBAC. Administration shall report monthly to the Council on the progress of migrating these services to a non-governmental agency. An example and model of such a successful transfer is our own Dudley House.

5) The Citizens Budget Advisory Committee (CBAC) has endorsed this thinking and has named some non-core services to be migrated to non-profits. These include Plainfield Action Services, WIC and the bi-lingual day-care center.

6) The inspections department should be reorganized to include focus on core needs: greater inspection enforcement and reduction in C of C which is already done through the normal market forces.

7) Council directs the administration to utilize the auxiliary Police to the maximum allowable extent of the law. This may mean training, uniforms etc. The Council is hereby directing the administration to come up with a comprehensive plan utilizing the auxiliary department and the Council is committed to fully funding this as a means of increasing public safety.

8) Council directs the administration to continue consolidation of government divisions, bureaus and offices and to redirect scarce resources by shifting unneeded management staffing to direct services.

Only by the timely and collaborative effort of the executive and legislative branches of local government can we remain in control of Plainfield government’s future and avoid outside forces dictating how residents needs best be met. This requires leadership of all elected officials.