Sunday, November 30, 2014

Notes from the League, part 2

workshop:  A Spirited Discussion - Municipalities and State ABC Laws

The Plainfield City Council is the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission for local liquor establishments.  The Council has struggled over the years to effectively regulate the local bars that are selling to minors and overselling drinks to customers who've had a few too many. This year the Council scored some enforcement victories and for all the complaints against this City Council, this is an area of governance where the Council has done better than any year in the last two decades. But more enforcement is needed.  Also, the lack of available liquor licenses for new restaurants is a barrier to downtown and South Avenue development.  So I was definitely going to this session.

Presenters were in agreement that the state law, created after Prohibition ended, needs to be replaced.  But there are competing interests, especially from the well funded Restaurant trade association, represented by high powered lobbyists.  They want to protect the investments made by current liquor license holders.  That means that change will come slowly and step by step rather than by comprehensive reform legislation.

A good place to start is with redevelopment areas.  Most urban municipalities are maxed out with licenses because of the state imposed per capita license formula.  Plainfield is one of these.  Since we want a walkable downtown with a variety of restaurants, we need a few new licenses for our downtown. I am referring to licenses for restaurants, not liquor stores. This will take state legislation.  I plan to write a resolution in support of such legislation.  Reform of outdated laws will stimulate investment and development in Plainfield.

On the enforcement front, there is hope for the future in Plainfield.  The Council has had a few enforcement advocates over the last 10 years - yours truly being one of them.  So is Bill Reid, although Bill's voting hasn't always been in line with his public statements urging for enforcement action. I called for several bars to be required to hire off duty police officers for weekend and late night duty.  My requests were approved by the Council.  The reason we scored enforcement victories in 2014 is that the Council has been able to get the cooperation of the police department.  With police enforcement that is well documented, Council actions against Alcoholic Beverage violators  will stand up under appeal.  So thank you to Police Director Carl Riley, his officers and Mayor Mapp  and City Council for pulling all the pieces of the puzzle together.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Notes from the League of Municipalities Convention

Workshop:  Your Role in Overseeing Authorities

Governing bodies have the power to create authorities, appoint members to their commissions, review their budgets and dissolve them.  This latter point was mentioned over and over by the presenters - Thomas Neff and Ann Zawartkay from the Division of Local Government, Dept of Community Affairs (DCA).  In other words, the state can't replace the city council's authority for these responsibilities.

The most interesting information from this session for me was obtained after the session ended.  Speaking with Ms Zarartkay (Chief, Bureau of Authorities and Auditing), I learned that DCA's investigation of complaints from Plainfield about the $1 million payment to retired executives was taken up by the state Comptrollers office at the request of the Governors office.  DCA officials have been waiting for the Comptrollers office to do what they do and  last summer they called to find out when this part of the investigation would be completed.  They were told some time from September to November. 

This may not be news to local insiders but others have been wondering if and when this investigation would be concluded.  I was worried when, last year, my calls to the Governors office were not returned.

Ms Zarartkay also shared that when the investigation is completed, a report will be copied to the PMUA and the city.  Mayor Mapp confirmed that he was told he would receive the report.

Whatever the conclusion, it will be good for the city to get beyond the lack of resolution we are experiencing.  And I hope the conclusion is that the ratepayers will get our money back.

I have my blog back

After being frustrated by password complications for many months, I figured out a way back to my blog. 

Having just returned from the New Jersey League of Municipalities Convention, I have plenty to share and will do soon.