Sunday, January 26, 2014

Appointments for Cabinet, Boards and Commissions

Leadership is the most important variable that will determine the future of Plainfield.  In our town no-one gets more so say about that than our local party leader and our Mayor.

The former has a huge but not sole influence on who gets elected as Mayor and council members. The Mayor has huge but not sole determination for appointment of cabinet members, Planning and Zoning Boards, the PMUA and the like.

Monday is a crucial day for deciding the quality of leadership in city hall.  The Council will interview the Mayors candidates for Planning and Zoning Boards and the PMUA.  These are usually done in private.  If a majority of Council members are favorable to a nominee, his/her nomination will be moved to the Special Meeting agenda for advice and consent.  If not, that name will not appear on the agenda.

The Special Meeting agenda also has nominations to the Hispanic Affairs Advisory Commission, the Library Board, Human Relations Commission but these positions are not traditionally interviewed by the Council.  They are given consent by the Council unless there is a valid objection stated by Council members voting in the negative.

Carl Riley, the Mayors nominee for Police Director, is also back on the agenda.  This deserves some comment.  Many of my constituents have expressed the belief that the City Council will not work with Mayor Mapp.  But the re-appearance of Riley's nomination is an indication that an agreement has been reached.  Am I saying that every Council member will be co-operative on Monday night and also going forward?  The realistic answer is no. However, those that are concerned about a 5-2 Council are premature in their judgement.  I do not believe the Council President would allow Riley back on the agenda if she was a puppet or an automatic anti Mapp vote.  I do not believe that Gloria Taylor or Tracey Brown are closed minded about Mayor Mapp's agenda.  For example, the Council wisely consented to the appointment of Carlos Sanchez as the cabinet member in charge of economic development and to Joylette Mills-Ransome on the Plainfield Housing Authority Commission. 

Time will tell, beginning on Monday.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Entrepreneurs in Action

Being part of a "foodie" family (Lois is an outstanding cook, caterer and restaurant critic and my son Matt is an up and coming chef and caterer), my interest was sparked by an article I read on food incubators.  It turns out they are sprouting up in major cities across the country.  One that caught my eye is Union Kitchen in Washington DC and it just happens to be in walking distance of the hotel I was staying at during a recent business trip.

I emailed the principal owner, Jonas Singer, and he invited me for a tour.  What I heard and saw was exciting and offers a glimpse of what we can have in Plainfield if we are creative, smart and lucky.

First, what is a food incubator.  People starting out in the food business face daunting business challenges like financing equipment, complying with health department regulations and many other business requirements.  And that is on top of developing winning recipes and producing and marketing food products.  Enter Union Kitchen.  They will take care of all your business needs for a monthly fee.  You can put your energy and creativity into your catering job, your pastries, your smoked sausage or whatever you want to pursue.  They provide you with storage space, a kitchen with commercial equipment (health dept. licensed) and an opportunity to work alongside other up and coming chefs and caterers.

Union Kitchen is an unassuming warehouse building from the outside.  But a fascinating assortment of activities is taking place in the various spaces of Union Kitchen.  The sausage makers, evidently selling their product successfully, were building a smokehouse in an upstairs room.  There was a large stainless steel vessel holding the ingredients for root beer.  One room held tents, inside of which a tea called Kombucha was fermenting for 3 days before bottling.  At work tables, a chef was making what looked like Greek pastries.  Another was making a salad for a catering job.  In another room, a small group was planning floral arrangements and invitations for a wedding.

I saw all this on my tour but there were more surprises to be revealed.  I saw synergies between the members as the people renting space are called.  The floral arrangement company offers reducing pricing for the members who are catering special events.  The Union Kitchen owner(s) were providing the space for the smokehouse in exchange for an equity share in the sausage business.  The owners also offer to market and staff the catering jobs of their members.  The caterers can opt to simply print menus and the owners will solicit the jobs for them, deliver the food and provide the on-site food assemblers and wait staff.

Then I sat down with the principal owner and more surprises followed.  Jonas obtained government job training fund to connect people with disabilities and those re-entering the community from prison to career opportunities in the food industry. Participants are working for Union Kitchen and also for some of its members. 

Jonas wanted to know about Plainfield and our downtown development plans.  I told him what he already knew, that there is a tremendous demand for "craft" food and beverage products in the NYC metropolitan area and what he didn't know, that Plainfield is well positioned and very interested to welcome food entrepreneurs.  He expressed interest in consulting with or franchising new food incubators.  He said the incubator business is challenging, not a guaranteed money-maker.  That was confirmed by a news story I found on an internet search which stated that sometimes it's a good deal for the members but the owners struggle to earn a profit.  From what I saw, however, Union Kitchen is thriving.

I offered to exchange business cards upon leaving but it seems that in some circles, business cards are old-fashioned.  You can guess which one of us didn't have one.  Happily, Jonas does have an email address.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Plainfield Planning and Zoning Board Report

Dan Damon and Bernice Paglia both weighed in today on their blogs on this subject.  And Dan is right when he says that developers will be concerned if the Mayor and Council cannot fill vacant positions very soon.

The Planning Board will need a city employee (1 year appointment) and has two citizen vacancies (4 year appointments)   They will still easily have a quorum for tonights re-organization meeting.  The Council seat (1 year appointment) on the board is assigned by the Council President.  I requested this seat and Bridget Rivers has agreed to my appointment.

The Zoning Board is another matter.  They have a bare minimum of seats filled so one absence means the next meeting may not take place.  I will be urging the Mayor and my Council colleagues to expedite these appointments. 

The Council will want to interview candidates for these boards so Mayor Mapp will need to make his nominations without delay.  Nominees could even be interviewed next Tuesday.  Or they could be interviewed at the February 5 agenda fixing session and voted on that night in a special business meeting.

The only problems would be if Mayor Mapp hasn't recruited all the necessary nominees (some nominees in February are better than none) or if the Council continues its unprecedented way of blocking some nominees and suggesting alternative names.  The Council's job as the legislative body is to vote yea or nay and not negotiate for their own candidates.  The people elected Mapp as our Mayor.  The Mayor, as the leader of the executive branch of government, has the responsibility for nominations.  Imagine if members of Congress demanded that their own candidates be appointed to cabinet and judicial positions instead of voting on President Obama's nominees.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Why I voted no on Monday

Maybe my microphone wasn't working properly.  Maybe some people didn't understand my explanation.  But it never hurts to explain yourself again, especially speaking as an elected official.

Before  new items can be voted on, they must be moved onto the agenda with a super-majority of five votes.  On the new resolutions to move Adrian Mapps nominees Carl Riley and Sideeq El-Amin to the agenda, I voted no.  In executive session it was clear that the City Council was not ready to give consent to these nominees.  Moving them to the agenda for advice and consent meant their nominations would be defeated, that the door would close on these nominees.  I believe that for at least one, the door could remain open if the Council has more time to deliberate.  That is the Councils right and its duty. My vote was to give the Council more time, to not close the door. A resolution can be brought back if the Council is willing.

I've heard that my vote was interpreted as a lack of support to the Mayor.  I support Adrian Mapp.  It is accurate to say that I am a very enthusiastic and strong supporter of Adrian and have been throughout his political career.  I will do everything within my power to work with the City Council to reach a positive resolution on the two nominees in limbo, one that the Mayor and Council can live with.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Mayor Mapp Needs Your Support Monday 6 PM at Plainfield High School.

At Mondays re-organization meeting, Mayor Adrian Mapp will present his nominees for cabinet positions for City Council approval.  Five days into his new position as mayor, I still can't say for sure that the Council will support his nominees.  This is a disservice to all residents.  His nominees should be a slam dunk.

Our previous Mayor presented her cabinet nominees to the Council and received City Council support regularly, even though we had a lot of turnover and candidates had to be presented many times in her 8 years of service as Mayor.  The Council votes on her nominees never, I repeat never, went along the lines of political division between "regular" and "new" Democrats.  Why?  Because we all felt it would be a disservice to the city not to give the Mayor a chance to "sink or swim" (as the saying goes) with the team she was building.

That's the way it should work at all levels of government.  We can see how in Washington DC obstructionist Republican congress members are doing all they can to prevent President Obama from succeeding.  And it hurts everyone.  Chief executives of governmental units, whether they be Mayors, Governors or the President deserve to build their leadership teams. 

Adrian Mapp's nominees are qualified.  The Council interviewed them.  The last round of interviews was done this past Monday.  The candidates for Police Director and Deputy Director for Economic Development answered all the Councils questions.  I am convinced they can have a significant impact in Plainfield if given the chance.  I have not felt so good about Mayoral nominees in the 10 years I've been on the Council.

And yet, the day before the Council vote I cannot say for sure what will happen.  Because of this uncertainty, this re-organization meeting will be the most important Council meeting of the year.

We do not want to look back on Monday four years from now and say "why don't we have progress on economic development"?  "Why don't we have more community policing and a lower crime rate"?  "Why don't we have talented leaders in city hall to carry out the Mayors campaign promises"?

It is critical that citizens attend and express their views on this subject.  Monday 6 PM at Plainfield High School.