Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Pay to Play Reform Passes!

Last night was an important moment for local government. The City Council approved four reform ordinances that will change the way city hall bids and contracts for professional services. Three of the four ordinances passed unanimously and the fourth, the most important one of all, passed with five votes. The Mayor has 10 days to let these ordinances stand or she can use her veto power.

These ordinances do not end pay to play. For that to happen, the state legislature would have to approve much stronger legislation closing significant loopholes. On the local level, Plainfield can consider strengthening the legislation we just approved. Let's have that discussion 10 days from now.

As Councilwoman Rebecca Williams pointed out, we can urge the PMUA Board of Commissioners and the School Board to approve similar reform measures through policy resolutions. That will be a question I put to the two PMUA Commission nominees that the Mayor just put forward.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority - A New Direction?

I attended the PMUA Board of Commissioners meeting last Tuesday. Duane Young, the interim Executive Director, introduced the annual budget and there was some good news for rate payers. Solid waste charges remain the same and sewer charges will go down 2.6%. Solid waste charges to the PMUA are rising and a re-organization of staff was needed to keep solid waste rates level. 15 staff positions were eliminated. The budget is up for adoption at the December meeting.

Mr Young acknowledged that that the PMUA has public relations problems and needs to change its ways to regain the confidence of the public (my words - can't recall exactly how he said it). One improvement would be to hold the meetings at a time more convenient to the public. Last weeks meeting was at 6 pm and on election day no less. That creates a bad impression, like the commissioners are trying to avoid the public.

Time will tell if this is a new direction for the PMUA, a move towards responsiveness to its customers. Further rate reductions would do a lot to ease rate payers minds as well as the burden on their family budgets.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Post election comments

I thank the voters for having confidence in me for another 4 years of service. Municipal officials and employees face real challenges and things will not get any easier. There is no evidence yet from the Mayor of a willingness to collaborate. I do not doubt her desire to see Plainfield succeed but she seems to want to go it alone. We must never close the door between Mayor and Council because the residents of Plainfield need us all to do the absolute best jobs we can do...together. I promise to meet this challenge.

Some supporters have commented that because I supported the Democratic ticket, that I have sold out my principles. There is nothing further from the truth. I ran against my local democratic party organization in the primary to earn the right to be on the Democratic line in November. I agreed to be part of a team for election with people that I sometimes disagree with. I will continue to have those disagreements but there are still some common values and strategies that I share with other Democrats. I share a belief that in our economic downturn everyone must share the pain, not just poor, working poor and middle class citizens. I believe that capitalism and government regulation can go hand in hand. These beliefs influence what I do as a councilman. But I do not walk in lock step with anyone, not the local party leader nor my allies on Council.

Time to get off my soap box. Plainfield faces serious problems. I believe that I can make a positive difference and I look forward to working with fellow residents for the betterment of Plainfield.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Election Day - Suport the Democratic Ticket

Please come out to the polls and show that Plainfield is committed to the democratic process. And when you cast your ballot, I urge you to vote for the Democratic team in column A.

Plainfield needs the support and cooperation of county and state government and our best chances are with effected officials from the Democratic Party. They understand best what the needs of our community are. The economic downturn has limited what government support is available to Plainfield. The Republican Party would deliver a much smaller slice of the pie to Plainfield if we do not return Democratic freedholders and legislators to office. And we need government support to alleviate our property tax burden and for the public - private partnerships that will bring redevelopment and economic growth in the future.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Halloween Recap

I spent the active hours of Halloween walking and driving around the 2nd Ward with my council colleague, Rebecca Williams. We were happy to see families on the streets having fun while feeling safe and secure. We spent time in the sections of town that get the most trick or treat action: Sleepy Hollow, Netherwood and Hillside historic district. There is a long standing tradition for families from all over town and out of town to trick or treat in these areas. Our tour confirmed that this tradition is thriving. We also saw some trick or treating behind Cook School and on Stilford and Thornton.

The downed trees made Halloween spookier than ususal. There are still a few blocks with no street lighting and most trick or treaters wisely paid attention to police barricades. The police were visible throughout the night and when we did our post curfew drive around, we did not see anyone on the streets.

A number of years ago some unfortunate incidents were giving Halloween a bad reputation nationwide. We experienced a drop off in trick or treating and a few local trouble makers caused many Plainfield residents to worry about the future of this great tradition. A few years ago, Councilman Rashid Burney, Police Director Martin Hellwig and concerned residents helped the Halloween comeback with a safety plan. Last night was proof that families feel comfortable taking to the streets and showing that Halloween is alive and well.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Council Meeting of November 1, 2011

This meeting started out as a special meeting to approve the 6 month budget but new items have been added.

Four of the items are the pay to play/competitive bid reform ordinances. One specifically deals with bidding for insurance services. One is the model pay to play reform ordinance created by the Center for Civic Responsibility. The third calls for developers to disclose their political contributions when they do business with our land use boards and the last would bring much needed reforms to Plainfields bidding process for professional services.

We are also considering a resolution bringing David Kochel back as a consultant for a few months to aid what will prove to be an uncertain transition to a new city administrator yet to be hired.

There may also be some consideration of a way to save money on employee health benefits.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Plainfield Grassroots 5 K Run

Today I had the pleasure of running in the Plainfield Grassroots CDC's first annual 5kilometer run. The weather was perfect and the turnout was good. All proceeds will go towards good Plainfield causes. One of the best aspects of the event was that many slices of Plainfield life were represented - young, not as young (have to be politically correct), African American, Hispanic, white. The walk/run course led us through west, central and eastern sections of town. The organizers truly wanted to bring Plainfield together and they succeeded. Darryl Clark - wearing the blue jacket in the photo below - was a driving force for the event. There were many others. Kudos to all of them.

Unfortunately my other photos did not download properly.

For those skeptics wondering if I finished the run, I was proud to be the first elected official to cross the finish line and no, I didn't pull a Rosie Ruiz. Where there other elected officials in the event? No comment.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Eliminate the Invisible Tax on Plainfield Residents

Important City Council meeting Monday, October 3 at 7:30 at Plainfield City Hall

There is a long standing tradition in New Jersey government to give professional services contracts to preferred vendors who in return make campaign contributions to political leaders of the party in power. Ethical? No, but legal? Yes.

Plainfield is no exception. I have been advocating for "pay to play" reform since I joined the Council. It appears the time is right to finally move on reform legislation. Not only are there enough Council members interested in reform but enough of them to finally buck the system.

The problems with pay to play are many. It enables the party and people in power to amass huge war chests that are a disadvantage to outsiders, newcomers and non-incumbents who want to run for office. It creates a lack of confidence in government among voters. And it is an invisible tax on the average person.

Professional services includes work done by attorneys, engineers, insurance brokers and architects. New Jersey gives cities and counties the ability to purchase these services without going out to bid for them.

You can become a favored vendor by making campaign contributions to politicians in power who have the ability to influence the awarding of contracts. The cost of these contributions gets passed on to the taxpayers through the contracts approved by municipal councils and freeholder boards. This is a double whammy because the incentive for vendors to do good work is diminished - why try hard to please the customer when you get the contract through an insider arrangement behind closed doors.

The Plainfield City Council will be hosting a presentation on pay to play reform this coming Monday at 7:30 pm. The Center for Civic Responsibility, a leader in the reform movement, will present four model ordinances that have been adopted by municipal governments around the state. Please come out to learn and show your support for reform.

The invisible tax provides a real benefit to those who want to maintain the status quo. There will be an invisible push back on Council. Let your representatives know how you feel about the invisible tax.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Mayor, the Council and Accountability

Th public deserves to know what is happening at city hall. The WBLS debacle raises serious questions about how the taxpayers money is being spent. The following are my thoughts and positions on this subject. It is meant as an explanation of the need to balance the demand for accountability with the need for restraint. I am limited in what I say in order to protect the city from lawsuits.

Until very recently, I tried to approach the WBLS problem assertively in private but with restraint in public. I believe it is a council persons responsibility to hold the Mayor and administration accountable for questionable practices. I was in favor of investigating from the beginning. I disagreed with those council colleagues who favored investigation of legal wrongdoing only. I felt and still feel that the Council must hold itself and the Mayor accountable for frivolous, wasteful and self serving expenditures. WBLS always seemed to fit this description in my eyes. I favored hiring the attorney originally proposed for the investigation, Jackie Drakeford. She was not hired because of accusations of a conflict of interest but I wanted to proceed with her because I know from experience that she has integrity and would not allow self interest or any interests outside those of Plainfield to interfere with a thorough and fair investigation. But it was not to be. This caused a delay in beginning the investigation but thanks to four council members, we persisted in hiring an attorney to go forward. My opinions expressed above were stated in executive sessions because I felt a need to show restraint in public.

There are two considerations that led to my exercise of restraint. The Mayor, any Mayor, deserves to be respected for her position and be given the benefit of the doubt within reason. More importantly, any negative publicity for Plainfield is adding fuel to the fire. Transparency and openness must always win in the end but pulling punches is sometimes a good thing in the short term. I promised myself before taking public office that I would not speak in anger against people hurting Plainfield unless a greater good is served. I have mostly been able to restraint myself from public venting (which is different from specific criticism coupled with constructive actions for improvement). Some of my constituents see this as a weakness but an effective elected official is one who does more than state problems and fan the flames of citizens frustrations.

One example of using restraint to advantage was in my second year as a school board member. We had just gone through a bitter and divisive election and the faction I belonged to was now the majority faction. The board decided to do a national search for a Superintendent. Of course we were divided on how to proceed. Instead of fighting through the search process as previous boards had done, we decided to have our fights in private. This did not serve the public curiosity but the public good was served. We were able to attract qualified candidates, one of whom, Larry Leveritt, was hired. He was certainly more qualified than any superintendents we have had since and he did more for the Plainfield schools than anyone in recent times.

I believe that if the school board behaved as was the tradition, we would not have found qualified candidates. I fear that Mayor Robinson-Briggs' style has led Plainfield to experience a dearth of good candidates for key management positions at city hall. When Plainfield Council members are in the spotlight regarding situations like these, it's important to strike a balance between "tell it like it is" and "put the best foot forward".

So why I am writing this now, more than a year after the anti-gang forum involving WBLS? For me the assertiveness - restraint balance has changed. By refusing to cooperate with the Council's attorney and trying to avoid the subpoena, Mayor Robinson-Briggs has pushed things beyond the bounds of ethics, reason and accountability. And the subsequent media coverage has once again put Plainfield government in a bad light. There is not much of a down-side for Plainfield to tell it like it is at this point.

Ultimately the public deserves to know what is happening at city hall. There are legal reasons to temporarily withhold information from the public if it serves the public interest to do so. There are aspects of this case that have not seen the light of day yet but they will. There are times when an elected official holds back information or even opinions for reasons not understood by constituents. And those constituents can get frustrated by a perceived lack of commitment or resolve by council members. That is part of the bargain you make when you run for office. But it all comes out in the wash. Or most of it anyway. And the true test of the Plainfield City Council will be not that we found wrongdoing but what actions we will take to deal with it effectively.

Friday, September 23, 2011

New Contact Information for Me

I have a new phone number: 908-565-3741

and a new email address: cory.storch@plainfield.com

Those of you who were using the plainfield.com address have seen a delay in hearing from me because of technical problems. I could read but not respond to emails until today. It is finally fixed. So I am not using my gmail account for city business from here on.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Kensington Ave speed humps

I heard that the speed humps were removed. The installation was not done according to Plainfield's specifications and there was a dispute with the contractor about getting a fix. A new contractor has been brought in to do them according to specs. I thought they were just going to be be shaved down so this is a surprise. I will provide updates as new information becomes available.

There will be no additional cost to Plainfield as enough money was withheld from the payments to the original contractor to cover the corrective actions needed.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Plainfield Library Childrens Room Opening

Last night my first reaction, upon walking into the new children's room, was astonishment. Then delight. The library staff and the board is to be commended and special kudos goes to library director Joe DaRold. This is an example of how commitment to excellence can demonstrate how special a place Plainfield is.

The leadership at the library carried out a vision to inspire Plainfield youth. It's inspiring to adults also, for a number of reasons:

* The board took on a financial commitment to make this happen. They went beyond asking government to do for them. They made this a public - private partnership, enabling them to go beyond a plain vanilla renovation project. You have to see it for yourselves.

* The libarary board saw this as an investment in Plainfield, not merely a project. The additional cost of this room will bring us real returns in the long run. It will bring more children into the library and instill the message that learning is fun.

* It will add to the positive "buzz" about Plainfield when out of towners visit this special place. We need this big time to counteract the negative media coverage of Plainfield. (That's why we need to invest in streetscape improvement projects and historic preservation whenever possible).

* Plainfielders need more reasons to take pride in our city. We now have one more reason.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

August 8 Council Meeting: Recap

The agenda fixing meeting was attended by about 30 residents. I once thought that televising the meetings would decrease attendance but that does not seem to be the case, a credit to the citizens of Plainfield, who really care about what happens in their city.

Public Safety Director Helwig gave a very brief report on the recent shootings. I was disappointed that the entire focus was on police enforcement. We really need a Mayor who can rally the community around a comprehensive approach to public safety. Police enforcement should be one aspect along with a coordinated public education, jobs training, mentoring and recreation strategy. Mayor Bloomberg recently announced a program for minority youth that combines jobs with educational commitments and mentoring. Just what Plainfield needs. I would love to see such a program in the Mayors next budget. That would have my support.

Spotshotter - my ambivalence comes from the lack of an overall public safety plan. I hope this isn't just an expensive gimmick, presented to mollify public concerns. It appears to have enough Council support for approval so time will tell. If the administration is really serious about Spotshotter, don't send the vendor to tell Council how great the program is. We need an objective analysis of data.

PMUA Taskforce - the fifth and sixth members will be added: Wilbert Gill and Marion Clemons. These are Annie McWilliams and Vera Greaves appointments, respectively. There is still one more appointment to make because the seventh nominee was a PMUA employee and was turned down by the Council. This group needs to get started and I will push for that by the end of August, seventh member or not.

The item generating the most discussion was the Lampkin House on Terrill Road. The majority of Council members felt that this is a financial responsibility the city just can't handle at this time. I have no argument with the Council majority on the fiscal concern. The $92,000 match for the county grant would be hard to justify for the city at this time. And time is short because the house is in danger of falling down.

It is a real shame because this could be more than just another proposed history house/museum. The only way to save this opportunity is for a group of citizens to convince the city that they have the staying power to find private grants that can combine with county, state and federal resources to make this project successful. The city would have to make a contribution but it would have to be a small part of the fiscal package. Could the Drake House board of trustees expand to become a larger entity to bring the Lampkin House under its wing? Is there private money available very soon to bring down the purchase/stabilization match the county requires? How much of a commitment can we get from the county for the Lampkin House? We have all heard stories of how an old property was rescued and made into an important community asset. It takes a lot of work by community volunteers. If there is anyone who is serious about discussing these questions and making a commitment to the Lampkin House, please contact me.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Council Meeting of August 8: Preview

The agenda fixing session begins at 7:30, preceded by a special meeting at 7 pm. At 7the Council takes up the second reading of the ordinance to enable the extension of acting senior city managers in their temporary positions. I am in favor of this legislation because it continues the employment of David Kochel, an experienced City Administrator, for a second 90 day period. The Mayor has had real difficulties recruiting senior managers (CFO, City Administrator, Director of Urban Development and Public Works) and this buys her more time.

The agenda fixing meeting features an update from Public Safety Director Helwig who has been asked by the Council to discuss what the police division is doing about the continuing gun violence and tragic shooting deaths in 2011.

Also of interest:

* a resolution appointing Suplee-Clooney as the city auditor for FY 2011. They do a good job and have been Plainfield's audit firm for many years. At some point, this needs to be bid competitively but with the weak position Plainfield finds itself administratively, this is not the time for it.

* we only received one bid for banking services (you may recall the Council passing a resolution requiring the Mayor to put banking out to bid so Plainfield could be assured of getting the best deal possible) and the bid will likely be rejected so we can go back for more bids. When I get more information, I will report on this in a future blog.

* a resolution seeking approval to submit a Union County grant application for $92,500 to purchase and stabilize the Lampkin House on Terrill Road. Plainfield would have to put up a match in the same amount. I believe the city should weigh the match and ongoing costs if we purchase (maintenance and lost taxes) against the future benefits. Any time a fully developed community like Plainfield has an opportunity to add open/public land, it should be seriously considered. It appears to me that not taking action will result the collapse of the third oldest house in Plainfield. Given Plainfield's weak financial position and current obligation to support the Drake House, this will be a tough decision to make.

* liens against 13 properties in need of yard clean-up by the city. Kudos to the Mayor and administration for taking action to keep our neighborhoods looking good.

* executive session begins at 6 pm and has several items of interest that may get reported out at the August 8 public session and, if not, at a later date.

Enjoy the weekend!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

City Council Meeting of June 14

Another long Council meeting that started with a 6 pm executive session and ended around midnight. When the Council's confidence in the administration increases, I believe the meetings will be shorter and business will be conducted more efficiently. The most important positive action will be the appointment of a permanent city administrator who is competent and willing to work with the Council. Right now we have an acting city administrator who appears to fit that bill. Unfortunately he can only stay 90 days under the Plainfield ordinances.

Highlights of the evening:

* the road paving program - another of many discussions about the wisdom of our road paving selections. To some extent we continue on automatic pilot, guided by a scoring system that does not take into account the amount of traffic, safety issues, whether a road is a gateway to the city and other critical considerations. I used Watchung Ave to illustrate my point. The administration supports paving it from Hillside Ave to Woodland next. Compare that to the Leland to Woodland section which needs paving much more. Then check out Sterling, Cambridge and Oxford and other streets behind Cook School. You will see some of the worst streets in the city. Yet there has been no paving there at all. We have limited resources and need to make wiser decisions about the sequence of roads to be paved. I was asked to forward my recommendations to our Council Neighborhood Services committee. Once again, I will do so.

* Shotspotter - the vendor was back with a much better financing plan. And kudos to the administration for obtaining a $250,000 public saftey technology grant. Later we found out this is "almost" a done deal. Still a reason for hope. The Council had previously asked for expert input on the value of Shotspotter but that was not forthcoming at the meeting. I cannot vote for such an important initiative simply based on a vendors testimony. Once again I asked for the administration to reach out to the Prosecutors office, the State Police and other independent law enforcement entities to guide Plainfield's investment of public safety resources. Do we pay for Shotspotter (approximately $160,000/year after the grant runs out), more surveillance cameras, more police or more root cause interventions (recreation, youth career development, substance abuse treatment). Or a combination of the above.

* PMUA Citizens Taskforce - I urged Council members to appoint one representative each for action at next Mondays Council meeting.

* The Armory - the Mayor had the previous proposal brought back for discussion. Problem is we had that discussion months ago, the Council said "not worthy of action" and nothing of substance was added by the administration this time around. This is just stirring the pot. When a real proposal is made, then we should discuss it in public.

* Calendar year budgeting. Our CFO has prepared us to switch to a calendar year budget. That includes a "transition" 6 month budget from July to December. Thanks goes to Adrian Mapp, the original advocate for the change. There are advantages for Plainfield that I am sure he will cover in his blog.

We had many other items of business but too much to write about today. The Council business meeting is next Monday at 8 pm at the Municipal Court chamber.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Thank You to My Supporters

It was gratifying to me that voters selected me for another term on the Plainfield City Council. This campaign was a trying experience for me and my family. It was disheartening to see attacks on family and on my running mate Dee. These attacks made the support of friends all that more important.

There are too many people to thank in one blog post but I will try to thank each of them personally. I am proud to be associated with the many good people who got involved with this campaign. They did it because they love Plainfield and know that, with a more effective government, it can be a better place to live than it is today.

Even though we did not win every race on June 7, the fight for a better local Democratic Party, a better municipal government and a better Plainfield must and will go on.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

It's the Voters Turn

Please be sure to vote today. Plainfield Democrats have a real choice in this primary election. Dee Dameron and I are running for City Council in column C. We have run a campaign on the issues facing Plainfield and we bring far more experience to the table than our opponents.

Most important in this election is the future leadership of Plainfield city hall. Column C has Democratic City Committee candidates who are committed to replacing Jerry Green as local party leader. They are committed to a more inclusive way of developing local talent and selecting candidates for Mayor and City Council.

It's time to take back Plainfield.

Vote Column C

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Partners in Nasty, Dishonest Campaigning

Tony Rucker and I promised each other that we would stick to the issues and not get personal.

When my supporter, Dan Damon, got out of line, I called him on it - publicly. I have been telling my campaign team since the beginning to stay cool and be positive.

Tony has not kept his part of the agreement. I never expected Jerry Green to run a clean campaign but Tony has an opportunity to distance himself from Jerry's ugly behavior. Will he take responsibility for his supporters behavior? Four years ago, Tony's campaign hired Park Hotel residents to picket the Evergreen School polling place on election day with signs claiming I was trying to put them on the streets. I asked the Park Hotel residents if they knew who I was and they stated that they had no idea who I was. When I confronted Tony, he said he knew nothing about this exploitive stunt.

Now we see a dirty mailing piece from the column A/Jerry Green team getting personal with my family and my running mate. Let's look at what the Green/Rucker/Greaves team are saying.

Greaves opponent is Dee Dameron, my running mate. Dee came back to Plainfield to help her mother. Dee is a fine person who has done nothing except make positive contributions to our community through her work with a non profit organization, her volunteer work on the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee and her steadfast advocacy for residents at City Council meetings.

My daughter was in a summer intern program the PMUA ran for dozens of students. She was part-time during the summer and did real work.Her internship took place before I was ever elected to the City Council. Are my opponents saying that Plainfield students do not deserve opportunities to learn and work in Plainfield?

This statement is not taken personally but is an example of the many distortions put out by Jerry Green during election season. The economic development study referred to was done by Rutgers University at no cost to Plainfield. And there have been no contracts awarded to any vendors for this initiative. This distortion only serves to divert attention from the many contracts awarded that benefit Jerry Green.

This campaign mailer is distateful, unethical and untrue. I make no comment on Jerry Green's character. There is still a brief opportunity, however, for Tony Rucker and Vera Greaves to show some character.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Regarding Campaign Silly Season, 2011

Dan Damon's blog comparing Tony Rucker to Nazis was uncalled for and in poor taste. It also doesn't help us focus on issues to use the word "thief" to describe Tony. Putting a question mark after the word doesn't make it any better.

I made a promise that if any of my supporters stepped over the line, I would speak out on it. Using false assertions and personal attacks only diverts us from an important discussion on Plainfield's real issues and problems. Luckily for Tony, nobody takes Dan's "Nazi" comment seriously. Any damage done is to me, by association.

On the other side, I hope Tony will publicly apologize for untrue and misleading statements he has made about me taking money from the PMUA. Tony's people doctored up a campaign fund report and blurred it so it is unreadable and are claiming this is proof I took the PMUA's money. I state for the record that I have never nor never will take money from the PMUA. The only flow of funds between the PMUA and me is not in my direction. But don't take my word for it, dear reader. Google New Jersey ELEC (stands for Election Law Enforcement Commission) and do a candidate report search using my name. You will see every report I have filed since 1999.

And Tony, your allegation I took money from a shell organization is completely false and misleading. Don't you know that you are sharing a campaign headquarters and phone bank with Assemblyman Green (and therefore getting contributions from him). He is connected to the most substantial flow of pay to play campaign contributions in New Jersey, funneled through various campaign accounts and political action committees. You are a minor beneficiary of this, just as every Plainfield Democratic candidate before you. I study the ELEC reports and I believe that, over the years, there are only a few local candidates who can proudly say that most of their contributions come from sources other than pay to play. Ironically, you and I are in that small group ( I am giving you the benefit of the doubt because I can't find your ELEC reports).

I also expect Tony to speak out on the nasty and false attacks that his campaign people are making about my record. We did agree at the beginning of the campaign to stick to the issues. Prove that you have command of the issues and some real solutions. That's the way to win votes.

Tony - this is a moment of truth. Are you going to do the honorable thing and rise above the ugliness and irrelevance that sometimes mars Plainfield political campaigns?

Park Ave/East Ninth St Improvements

It's been a four year wait but work has finally begun to improve this intersection. Bernice Paglia's blog post in February 2007 gives the background on the project. I want to reinforce that credit is due to two Plainfield residents, Maria Pellum and Barbara Kerr. When they first heard about the safety enhancements planned for the intersection, they saw an opportunity. "Why not beautify the city at the same time". They drafted a plan to add attractive lighting, seating and landscaping on the peninsula.

I helped them get an audience with the county engineers and after some negotiating, an excellent plan was conceived. When the county agreed to some of the new features but not all, a big assist came from April Stefel from the Plainfield Planning Department. She advocated successfully that the city contribute to the enhancements.

The rest is covered by Bernice.

Friday, May 27, 2011

My Accomplishments as a Councilman

I love Plainfield and I am proud to have been of service as a team player to unlock the incredible potential that exists in our city. My opponent, Tony Rucker is campaigning on his main position: "Cory Storch hasn't done anything. It's my turn". Tony, if you hadn't stopped following the City Council after you lost the election 4 years ago, you would know better. Do your homework!

Below are some of the recent accomplishments that I have achieved. Much more needs to be done.

Public Safety: advocate for surveillance cameras and supporting use of Urban Enterprise Zone funding to make it happen. I am a long time advocate for enforcement of our speeding laws. I was an advocate for the creation of our Curfew Ordinance (needs the leadership of the Mayor to enforce it).

Recreation: advocate for creation of a Recreation Commission. Although the Mayor vetoed this Council ordinance, I will fight to bring it back and get it approved. Only with a commission can residents be assured that Plainfield recreation programs will be held accountable to do what needs to be done for our children and seniors.

Easing the Tax Burden: as a member of the Finance Committee for each year on Council save one, responsible for budget reductions saving residents millions in property taxes. I was co-author and primary sponsor of FY 2012 budget planning resolution calling for 5 year budgeting, earlier budget adoption and a more collaborative process. I am long time advocate for competitive bidding for engineering, legal and insurance services (opposed by Mayor).

Banking Ordinance - As member of the Finance and Administration Committee I assisted with the creation of, and the adoption of an ordinance that directs the Administration to issue an RFP for banking services. Such an RFP will ensure the City receives the greatest return on the money it invests in financial institutions. This also prevents the Administration from making arbitrary investment decisions with our tax payers’ money.

Bid Threshold Ordinance: As a member of the Finance and Administration Committee I assisted with the creation of, and the adoption of an ordinance that lowered the bid threshold from $39,000 to $17,500 so as to promote greater competition amongst vendors while preventing the Administration from awarding non professional service contracts above this $17,500 pay to play limit without approval from the Council.

Road Program: as a member of Council Finance Committee, created the original road paving program in 2004, leading to first city-wide paving program in 30 years. I was a leading advocate for purchase of road maintenance equipment - milling/paving machine, hot patch and crack sealing equipment.

Roads: I supported bond ordinances that led to the reconstruction of numerous roads including Kensington Ave, Thornton Ave, Stilford Ave, Oak Lane, Evergreen Avenue, Watchung Avenue, Carnegie Ave, Central Street, Cedarbrook Road, Brook Lane, to name just a few.

South Ave Road Reconstruction – I advocated for and supported the funding for the reconstruction of South Avenue from Terrill Road to Woodland Avenue, a project that will get under way this year.

CFO Resolution: I supported a resolution that was sent to the NJ Division of Local Government Services encouraging the DLGS to appoint a CFO. This caused the State to intervene thus forcing the Mayor to appoint a CFO after nearly three years.

Dudley House: I supported the transfer of Dudley House to a non-profit organization at a significant cost savings to tax payers. Instead of being a cost to the City, Dudley House is now a generator of revenue for the City. Services are operated by a qualified non-profit service provider with an excellent reputation.

Advocate against hate and bias crimes: I was author and primary sponsor of the resolution against hate crimes and ugly free speech.

Environmental Advocacy: I was the first LEED advocate in Plainfield, got LEED commitment into downtown redevelopment agreement. This makes Plainfield a leader in making our downtown a healthier place to live and shop.

Environmental Advocacy: I was a primary sponsor and long term supporter of Shade Tree Commission and as a Council advocate, provided tree planting funding.

Library Advocacy: I protected our library from budget cuts that would reduce hours of operation and reduce access of citizens to educational and career resources they need to succeed.

Flood Control: I was a leading advocate for the North Ave flood control and road improvement project.

Economic Development:
• primary sponsor of transit village vision study, finally giving residents a say in how we want Plainfield to develop. Now we have a blueprint with which to attract and guide developers.
• leading advocate and co-sponsor of Rutgers Economic Development study, currently under way. This will be Plainfield’s road map for job creation for our residents.
• leading advocate and sponsor of resolutions creating downtown streetscape
• primary sponsor of abandoned properties ordinance

Checks and Balances:
• In the 5+ years that Mayor Robinson Briggs has served, I have blocked bad ideas and proposals that were not in the city’s interests. Unfortunately there are too many of these to list. To name a few: the firing of the best city administrator Plainfield has had in many years, the proposed Monarch tax abatement and the city’s proposed purchase of the YWCA building.
• Much more can be done but the Mayor needs to be pushed hard to deliver good services to Plainfield residents. A strong City Council is needed more than ever.

Vote for the Democratic team in Column C: Dee Dameron and I for Council and City Committee candidates as well. It's time to take back Plainfield.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

What to do at the Muhlenberg Campus

The Muhlenberg campus is an opportunity waiting to happen. Many unmet health and social needs of Plainfield residents can be addressed by concentrating resources at the Muhlenberg campus. The use of the campus must be defined so the interests of the community are first and foremost and the campus is not merely an opportunity for a few developers.

Here are just some services that could be provided to residents at Muhlenberg:

* Veterans outpatient services and support groups (freeing up more Monarch space for seniors).

* Relocation of social services from downtown retail/office locations to the campus.

* Specialized nursing home beds for people suffering from dementia/Alzheimers.

* Expansion of Neighborhood Health Services (aka Plainfield Health Center) services.

* New partnerships for career preparation in health related professions with Plainfield Public Schools, Union County College, Kean U, UMDNJ.

* The city could rent space or get free rent for the health department (freeing up space in city offices).

* A priority would be to maximize the number of specialized inpatient beds. Mental health inpatient beds were lost and are still needed. A birthing center staffed by nurse/midwifes and backed up by doctors is a definite need.

Solaris spends several million dollars annually for property maintenance. There is pressure to do something and that something must be driven by community interests, not outside interests.

There are two challenges in recreating Muhlenberg. The first is financial. There has to be enough operating dollars flowing through to support the services provided. We should think about this the way a developer plans a shopping mall: a few anchor tenants and then more smaller rentals to fill out the space. Not all the eggs in one basket. So if one service provider goes away, the campus is still viable. This is especially important in the healthcare industry as it faces major changes due to advances in medical research and technology as well as affordability challenges.

The second challenge is political. I recently asked a Solaris administrator what they are doing about Muhlenberg and what they need from the city to move forward. The answer was not money or zoing changes. It was "the city needs to define what it wants at the Muhlenberg campus so interested parties don't have to fear resistance and attack when they advance their plans."

Plainfield continues to grieve a beloved institution that was an economic engine and saved lives at the same time. It's time to look forward to create a new campus that can improve the health and wellness of residents, create jobs and provide health related career opportunities for young people.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Why I am Running for Re-election

My wife Lois and I have spent the last 32 years making Plainfield our home in many ways. We moved here in 1979, bought a fixer upper on Osborne Ave, raised two children there, got involved as Cook School parents and made lots of friends through the youth soccer club, the symphony and many other civic endeavors . We've done what many people have done in Plainfield: we've fallen in love with this town.

I've served Plainfield in elected and appointed capacities for many years. If you are inclined to throw out incumbents, you may not vote for me. If, however, you appreciate someone who has never and will never give up the fight for a better Plainfield, I want your support on election day.

Here is why I fight for Plainfield: there has been an ongoing struggle between positive change and status quo in Plainfield. Forces for change were led by the late Al McWilliams. His second term as Mayor, when he had the support of New Democrats on the City Council, was a time when Plainfield's true potential was unleashed. I was one of those New Democrats who helped Plainfield begin to turn around. Our road paving program began. Abandoned homes were renovated. Our Front Street streetscape was installed and downtown development took place after 30 years of inaction. The North Avenue flood control project was completed and much more.

Unfortunately, Assemblyman Jerry Green regained power and, as chairman of the Democratic City Committee, helped elect Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs. They have been impediments to the fulfillment of Plainfield’s true potential for the last 6 years. June 7 is your opportunity to say you want to put Plainfield back on track.

Many friends have asked me why I want the frustration that comes with public service in Plainfield. I believe in Plainfield and have always felt our missing ingredient is leadership. This election is about leadership. I am running for the 2nd Ward City Council seat and my running mate is Dee Dameron, running for the 1st Ward-4th Ward seat. Our team includes a slate of Democratic City Committee running mates. We are for progress. We are for change. Help us strengthen the City Council and the local Democratic Party on June 7. We need your help to fight for Plainfield's future.


Sunday, May 1, 2011

At the Opening of the City Sponsored Youth Baseball League

I stopped by the field on Rock Avenue Saturday for opening day festivities. Ballplayers of various ages were in uniform, gathered around their respective coaches and managers, waiting for the parade to begin. Joy was in the air. City politics could do nothing do to spoil the good time, I hoped.

I was thinking about the years my son Matt and I spent in the Plainfield Youth Soccer Club. Its about the game but also much more. It is about teaching kids about sportsmanship, team work and skill building. Its enjoying the weather and communing with neighbors: community building.

A question has been raised in the rancorous debate between City Council, Mayor, citizens and recreation division employees. The question is: "where have you been? We haven't seen you around" It is meant to imply that only some people care about the children. There is a political agenda behind it.

At opening day, I was approached by an adult who was prominent in the city baseball league who put this in what I hoped was a more positive way: "it's good to see you here today". I still wasn't sure how to take that. What was he implying, that I haven't showed up until today? So I recounted my 10 years as youth soccer coach. The teams I coached were representative of the diversity of Plainfield and I was glad the players got to interact and know each other as people. But I wasn't sure if I was being put on the defensive so I defended myself.

It will be difficult to get past the negativity caused by the rumor, spread through the public schools, that the City Council was shutting down the recreations summer programs. But we can and we must. The focus must be on taking steps to increase participation in the Plainfield Recreation Division programs. That is what the City Council set out to do when the recreation debate began. It veered off course because some peoples job security felt threatened. But since all parties do care about the children, it behooves us to improve and expand recreation opportunities for Plainfields children

Friday, April 22, 2011

Bump-outs on South Avenue

The Planning Board held a capital project review hearing last night on South Avenue reconstruction. It was gratifying to participate in a vigorous debate on what features are important in a transit village and the pros and cons of bump outs and other traffic calming measures. Residents, property owners and merchants were present to share their views. By the way, I was swamped with emails this week, mostly in favor of bump outs and a few opposed.

Administration officials have been saying that the community wants the bump outs eliminated. One surprising comment shed light on the way we get input from the community. As it turns out, the meetings on this topic have been poorly attended by the public and not well advertised. For the most part, only two merchants and one resident have been part of the discussion. The resident has been advocating for speed tables, signage and other strategies to protect pedestrians and drivers and to retain the transit village feel. These comments have been ignored.

One speaker expressed frustration at the inability to get attention from the Mayors office and said that the previous Mayor responded quickly to calls to replace missing bump out signage on South Avenue.

After healthy discussion, the Planning Board put together recommendations to the City Council for the South Avenue reconstruction.

Merchant concerns were addressed: bump outs will be reduced in size and curbing will be beveled or recessed. One bump out next to PNC Bank is a safety hazard and will be eliminated.

Resident concerns were also addressed: high pedestrian traffic areas - Belividere Ave and Plainwood Square Park - will maintain current bump out size (with beveled or recessed curbing though). One astute Planning Board member pointed out that bump out visibility is poor and that accidents can be prevented with signage and painted curbing. This became a recommendation. Also, walkways created with pavers will be retained.

It seems to me that the Mayor and Assemblyman Green want to focus on mistakes made by the previous administration and that the answer is to denigrate and eradicate all signs of their projects. Last night we participated in a rationale, issues oriented discussion about the bump outs and came away with a middle ground that can benefit everyone.

Now it is up to the City Council to decide what to do with the Planning Board recommendations. There will likely be additional cost and time involved for the South Avenue project. We are already projected to spend $1.3 million. I will not be surprised if the Mayor and her people oppose the Planning Board.

I say lets embrace the Planning Board recommendations. South Avenue is a successful public - private partnership that brings tax ratables and shoppers to Plainfield. If we are going to do this, lets do it right, in the spirit of transit villages. The Council has recommended various ways the administration can save money on capital projects. But lets not be short-sighted about last nights outcome. That will be a good investment for Plainfield.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Ugly Free Speech Update

At the last Council meeting, the Mayor expressed surprise that the Union County Prosecutors Office had taken the position that the Scarlet Letter was "ugly free speech". I just learned that the Prosecutor will be sending a communication to city hall confirming their position.

I also learned that the prosecutors office will not investigate a matter that doesn't rise to the level of a crime unless there is enough evidence to indicate that laws have been broken. That leaves it to Plainfield to do its own investigation.

The Hate Crimes and Ugly Free Speech resolution, passed by the Council this month, calls for the Mayor and her administration to conduct such an investigation and report to Council by April 15. There has been no such report to date. If the Council feels that the Mayor is not acting in accordance with the Council resolution, we may need to conduct our own investigation. I will be discussing this option with my colleagues.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Hate Crimes and Ugly Free Speech Resolution

The following is the resolution I wrote and that was approved unanimously by the City Council on April 11:

Resolution in Opposition to Hate Crimes and Ugly Free Speech

Whereas Plainfield is known as a diverse community where people who are different from one another live harmoniously together and celebrate their different cultures and beliefs, and

Whereas an anonymous, hateful letter was distributed at city hall in early April, attempting to stigmatize gays and lesbians, and making untrue and libelous assertions about individual elected officials and community activists, and

Whereas the Union County Prosecutors Office has labeled said letter as “ugly free speech”, and

Whereas said letter was distributed in all city hall mailboxes and there have been assertions that it was copied on a city owned/leased copy machine,

Therefore the Plainfield City Council denounces the anonymous letter and urges the Mayor to aggressively take the following actions:

1. Publicly denounce anonymous ugly free speech and hate crimes.

2. Activate the Plainfield Human Relations Commission to take all steps necessary to push back against hate crimes and ugly free speech, including recommendations to the Mayor and Council for ongoing promotion of tolerance, respect and mutual celebration of diversity in Plainfield.

3. Report to Council on April 11 and then in writing by April 15, 2011 the results of internal investigations including when, how and where the anonymous letter was produced and distributed at city hall and who was involved and who observed anything related to the letters production and distribution.

4. Obtain the services of an investigator from county, state or federal law enforcement offices to investigate the possible involvement of city officials and/or staff in the production and distribution of the anonymous letter and if government resources are not available, hire an independent investigator.

By way of this resolution the Plainfield City Council denounces the anonymous letter and all anonymous ugly free speech. All those who feel a need to express themselves regarding other groups or individuals are urged to put their names next to their comments.

Furthermore, the Plainfield City Council deplores the climate of division and fear that is created when people, in bad faith, spread hate anonymously and urges all people of good faith to stand against and speak against discrimination, stigma, prejudice and misinformation. Fear and hate can be stopped by positive action but will grow in the absence of response. At this difficult time, leadership is needed from citizens and elected officials to protect and promote the diversity for which Plainfielders are justly proud.

Hopefully, the Mayor will provide a report on April 15 on the investigations and actions taken to deal with this problem. I will give an update soon after.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Does Plainfield Embrace Diversity

One of the aspects of Plainfield I have always felt good about is the diversity, tolerance and celebration of differences among residents. Compared to surrounding towns and most places actually, Plainfield gets high marks for cultural competence and diversity. Of course we are not perfect. We are humans and the human condition includes struggling to live alongside those who are different from us.

It saddens and disturbs me that a hateful flyer was recently distributed throughout city hall, a flyer that bashes gays, lesbians, bloggers, PMUA reform activists and certain council members. I have seen these nasty flyers before, around election times. Previously, I felt that these anonymous, cowardly statements should not be dignified by a response. This time it becomes clear to me that the nastiness is not going away. In fact, I see a growing chorus of hate and fear in response to changes in the economic and political winds of Plainfield and beyond.

We should be coming together to deal with real problems like gang violence, foreclosures and rising taxes but we are being urged to divide on class, racial and political lines. This flyer is a hate crime of the utmost distatefulness. But it doesn't come out of nowhere. The tone for hatefulness comes from a few supporters of the current recreation division as they shout, wave their fingers, point at people and pound the table at council meetings. Unfortunately children can tune in to public access television to watch this behavior. Hatefulness is promoted when the Mayor says that certain Council members are responsible for shutting down city run recreation entirely. This message was carried into the Plainfield school system. Some of the Mayors supporters are now spreading the lie that certain council members, myself included, voted against much needed health and social programs currently operated out of city hall.

We need leadership to unite Plainfielders, to fight against our real problems like some of our young people choosing gangs and drugs over education. I remember the time of unrest over the Rodney King incident when urban areas around the country erupted into violence and looting. Then Mayor Harold Mitchell brought local community leaders together and cooler heads prevailed. That's what we need now in Plainfield. I will be calling for this approach at Monday's Council meeting.

Hatefulness grows when people of good will don't speak against it. I am one of those who thought hate would not gain traction in Plainfield. I was wrong.

I do have faith that the vast majority of Plainfielders are people of good will and willing to live among people who look, behave and think differently from them. But we need to stand against hate and fear. If adults can do that, there is hope that we adults can teach young people to make better choices than gangs and drug dealing. We elected officials have to start with respecting each other over legitimate differences on how we fund and operate city services.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

My Position on the PMUA

Dissolution of the PMUA? Some would have Council members just give a yea or nay. Many of my constituents want a yea from me on dissolution. That would certainly help my re-election campaign. But elected officials should not give simplistic or politically expedient responses to the PMUA problem.

The PMUA has dealt with two serious problems in Plainfield and in its early years, I was completely convinced the PMUA was a better solution than what we had.

First, our sanitary sewer system, under city control, had not been maintained for many years and was falling apart. Would city hall do better today with sewer maintenance? Looking at the ineffectiveness of the city to fix our roads, create a useful website and implement modern information technology (and seeing deficits with other city operations), I am not convinced the city can compete with the PMUA on this front.

Second, garbage pick-up is a mixed bag (pun unintended). PMUA workers get much better reviews than the private haulers of the past. But the cost for this service is well above the market rates. Cost has become the overriding concern for me and residents are saying this loud and clear. Here is where the various alternate solutions need to be carefully considered before we "dump PMUA".

Solution 1: dump PMUA garbage pick-ups and go back to private haulers. When we had this in place, some property owners discontinued trash pick-up and dumping became a huge problem. PMUA has made major inroads into this, with a cost shared by all property owners. Could we use private haulers, supplemented by periodic city wide dumping sweeps? That could be more affordable. We would need to do some number crunching.

Solution 2: dump PMUA garbage pick-up and give it to the city. As with sewer maintenance, can the city do this well and at a better price? City services have gone downhill. That's no surprise considering the Mayor's inability to attract and retain good senior managers. To make matters worse, her response to our leadership gaps is to spread blame rather than make concerted efforts to attract talent. Another concern about bringing garbage pick-up back to the city is around cost. Will this solution weaken further Plainfields inability to afford city worker pension and health benefit costs? I don't have the answers but we'd better analyze this before making cost saving claims.

Where does this leave us? Here are options as I see them:

1. Reform the PMUA. That's been my position up till now. I am less and less convinced that this is the way to go for two reasons: the PMUA Commission's refusal to meet with Council and the unfulfilled promise of bringing in service contracts from other municipalities to offset cost to Plainfiel residents. The bottom line on reform is that the Mayor will have to nominate 2 or 3 sharp critics with business experience and a desire to make changes to join the commission. We all know who they are. Mayor nominate them. They don't need to be in the majority on the commission. A fresh perspective will add much needed credibility to the PMUA.

2. Council creates an independent task force to study and make recommendations on Plainfields course of action. This would not be "study to death". It would be a six month time frame. Task number one - determine the Council's legal options. Once these are established, the task force would proceed to tackle the solid waste and sewer concerns expressed all over our city. Participants would have to commit to an objective fact based process. Plainfield has many such people ready to serve. Council would have to commit to take recommendations seriously. One conclusion could be dump PMUA. This should be a clear headed decision. Another conclusion could be keep PMUA with a revised charter and policy and operational changes. The only starting assumption for the task force is that the PMUA must become accountable to Plainfield residents. Current events have proved that PMUA is not accountable now.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Mayor's Responsiblity for Plainfield Recreation

The Mayor and her Administration have the managerial prerogative to continue recreation programs without adding money into the budget if that is their goal. Below are Mayor Sharon's three options:

1. During the absence of a Department Head or Division Head, the Mayor has the ability to assign the City Administrator or another Department or Division Head to cover the duties and responsibilities of that office. The Mayor has used this approach before to cover top level management responsibilities (i.e. As City Administrator, Bibi Taylor was assigned the responsibilities of the Director of Administration & Finance and CFO. Currently, the new Director of Administration & Finance, Al Restaino is assigned the responsibilities of CDBG Director and PAS Director. Additionally, Jacques Howard, the UEZ Coordinator, is also assigned the responsibilities of the Department of Public Works and Urban Development.) So, the million dollar question...why is Recreation any different?

2. The Mayor has the ability to create the Recreation Superintendent's position on a part-time basis versus full-time thereby extending or cancelling the April 15, 2011 lay-off. When the new fiscal year begins on July 1, the budget reduction would then be spread out over 12 months instead of 2 months. This option allows the Mayor to work within budget and still have the current Superintendent of Recreation maintain his position.

3. The Recreation Committee is a committee created by ordinance and comprised of concerned residents to provide guidance and recommendations on City-wide recreation programs. Its important to note that all Committee members were appointed by the Mayor last year amid controversy surrounding Queen City Baseball League and the Division of Recreation. Should the Recreation Superintendent's position become vacant, the Recreation Committee's services are still needed. The Committee could fill the service gap and provide the much needed citizen input into the type of programs our community deserves.

Each of these three options would work if the administration made a commitment to work within the resources provided by the approved budget. That has been the way every year including the last two years in which layoffs created staffing gaps that had to be filled. When there is a will, there is a way. These three options can be also be used in combination. All it takes is the usual effort expected of a Mayor.

Monday, March 7, 2011

New Jersey Redevelopment Forum

I attended the annual Redevelopment Forum held by New Jersey Future last Friday (fyi - no cost to Plainfield for my attendance). This full day learning and networking event had much information relevant for Plainfield.

Of great interest was the New Jersey economy report by Rutgers/Bloustein School economist Joe Seneca. He shared some sobering data on jobs and real estate markets. New Jersey (and the nation) may have seen a Wall Street recovery but a jobs recovery will take at least 10 years before we gain back the jobs lost in the last three years. And the new jobs will be mostly lower paying ones than the ones lost. This has already had a negative impact on the real estate market. Seneca believes we are on the verge of a triple dip in residential home prices - the double dip happened last April with the expiration of the federal tax credit for home buyers.

At the same time, rental vacancies are down so rent costs are rising for residential. Rentals will also rebound because much of the new construction in the last four decades has been for owners, not renters - so the rental market is underbuilt. We are seeing this unfold in downtown Plainfield with the difficulties selling condos at the Monarch and with West 2nd St Commons being planned as rental units.

Seneca's predictions for the future:
1. 2011 - 2020: a slow, lengthy and painful economic recovery in New Jersey
2. 2011: accelerated foreclosures, financing is scarce
3. 2012: the beginnings of a housing recovery, redevelopment planning off the back burner
4. 2013 - 2017: Generation Y peak home buying years, economy slowly recovers, redevelopment projects shift back into gear

Seneca drove home a point about "rail towns" and transit villages. They are an emerging market and development outlook and real estate value is better in these areas than for New Jersey in general. He shared data to prove his point. He responded to a question from a Somerville planner regarding the Hudson River tunnel, saying the the new tunnel proposal is a real opportunity for the Raritan Valley. Even though there are fewer new "slots" going to Manhatten than with the canceled ARC tunnel, Bergen and Passaic counties are not included in the new proposal. Still there will be competition among rail lines and Plainfield will have to have a strong presence within the Raritan Valley Coalition.

For me the take home lesson for Plainfield: we are on the right "track", having started our planning with the vision study and having a developers agreement with Landmark for downtown projects. Planning for the future must continue, particularly on the economic development, transit area zoning and downtown parking fronts. The downtown streetscape improvements begun under the McWilliams administration must continue. We must re-organize citizens and legislators to advocate for the Raritan Valley Line (remember CLANG? - we need it back).

Seneca's look into New Jersey's future included the following statement: WINKs (single women with no children) and minorities will lead the way with residential housing demand.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A suggestion for the budget mess we're in

New Jersey Democrats in the state legislature (Ray Lesniak among them) are suggesting we revisit the millionaires tax to bring $630 million annually in new revenues to our state. I agree with this revenue proposal but I have a different idea of what to do with this money besides restoring cuts for current programs.

Let's put it towards the unfunded pension problem. It would be a small step in the right direction but I would put a condition on this pension fund contribution. The unions have to agree to givebacks to help address government budget gaps.

I feel strongly that government unions must play a major role in solving state and municipal budget woes. But it doesn't seem right that when we are asking our workers to sacrifice, Wall Street is doing quite well and corporate earnings are rising. Those more fortunate, the truly wealthy, need to do their part along with workers. It can't be either or. It has to be both. If not, we will continue to see police and fire services decimated and public education compromised. Governor Christie, are you listening?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Homelessness in Plainfield

Today communities across the nation are conducting "point in time counts" to estimate the extent and causes of homelessness. These counts are street level surveys done every two years by teams of human service and law enforcement workers and volunteers.

I participated in the Plainfield count which was coordinated by the Union County Department of Human Services. We found a lot of homeless people in Plainfield. Between 4 and 7:30 am our teams visited vacant buildings where we were able to make contact with 40 people. Our police escorts woke them up so we could fill out questionaires, provide food and clothing and make referrals for help as needed.

There was a group of people living in a vacant multi-family house near the downtown train station. Reasons given for their homelessness included unemployment, criminal justice system involvement, substance abuse and the high cost of housing. They were encouraged to go to the Plainfield YMCA shelter and they declined. The reason given was bed bugs. An unheated building does not have bed bug problems but the shelter does. Later I was told by an Bridgeway outreach worker that the Y works hard to deal with bed bugs and generally succeeds but this is a difficult problem to eradicate.

Nearby, a vacant office building was temporary shelter for a group of young men who are doing day labor and, apparently, saving money on rent. Only one of ten spoke English and through him we convinced them to go to the county social services office at Park Madison to get shelter vouchers.

Homelessness has many causes. Mental illness and substance abuse are common causes and are often associated with chronic homelessness. People with these problems are more likely to be noticed by the public. During an economic downturn, poverty and unemployment cause a surge in homelessness and we saw that today. Places like Plainfield see increased vacancies and foreclosures and some homeless people will find these locations as their least bad housing option.

Many people who experience homelessness are invisible to most of us. I may blog more on this. For now, I hope my observations helps the reader's understanding of homelessness in our community.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

2012 Plainfield Municipal Budget Resolution

I thought I had posted this prior to Tuesdays Council meeting and to my surprise, it did not appear. I must have accidentally deleted it. The resolution is a set of recommendations for a new budgeting process that requires the Mayor and administration to collaborate with the Council and the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee (CBAC). Better late than never so here is the budget planning resolution. It was just approved by a 4 - 2 vote. Mayor - the ball is in your court. The Council is ready and willing to begin this month.

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 year we begin to migrate non-core services to other entities. Further municipal funding 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 most 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 municipal funding of non-core services Council directs the administration to work with great haste to find new ownership of these programs. New ownership for at least one of these non-core services should be in place by June 30th. 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.