Sunday, December 21, 2014

Dave Beck - it was an honor and pleasure to know him

My deepest sympathies go to Terri and the whole family.  Their loss is also felt by neighbors and the whole Plainfield community.  For Dave was a man who understood the importance of community and put himself completely into the betterment of the public schools and local government.  Family obligation will not permit me to be a part of the celebration of Dave's life Sunday at the Netherwood Bar and Grill but I want to share my memories of Dave through my blog.

Lois and I met Dave and Terri at Cook School in the mid 1980's.  Our daughter was starting kindergarten there and we wanted to get involved in the parent- teacher organization.  Everyone said "speak with Dave".  Dave and Terri had a leadership role at the school and they generously shared their knowledge of school doings with us.  It was obvious that Dave was a committed and savvy Cook School parent organizer. 

It was not long before Dave's children moved on to Plainfield middle school and Dave became a member of the Plainfield Board of Education.   The Board was deeply divided at that time and many people felt that the Board's conflicts caused a revolving door of Superintendents.  At one point I recall counting 7 Superintendents in 10 years.  No wonder Plainfield schools were not providing a good educational program to our children.  The way Dave dealt with this challenge has been an example for me to as I followed in his footsteps later on.  He did not get sucked into the public arguments at Board meetings. He was a voice of reason, offering practical solutions while others engaged in finger pointing.  The two Board factions ultimately battled over the future of then Superintendent Annette Kearney and while Dave was on the side that won, he always kept lines of communication open with the Board members he disagreed with. Few others did.

Our terms on the Board of Education did not overlap but I took advice from Dave on numerous occasions.  When Dr Kearney stepped down as Superintendent, there was still a split Board and we had to do a national search for a qualified candidate.  Dave advised that, during the search, the Board of Ed have most of its arguments in private in order to not scare away the best candidates.  This we did and were able to attract and recruit Dr Larry Leverett.

Dave was a member of the New Democrats and held the 2nd ward - 10th district male committee member seat for many years.  He was part of the team that helped elect Al McWilliams as mayor.  He helped me with my elections as well and gave generously of his time to all New Democrat candidates.  McWilliams appointed him as a PMUA commissioner early in the life of the PMUA and he served as we all expected - with integrity and responsibility.  He was an independent thinker, not a rubber stamp.  I wish he  was a commissioner over the last few years when the PMUA lost sight of its direction and intended purpose.

Dave was a great neighbor, a family man and a great partner in life for Terri.  I remember how Dave got behind Terri's downtown venture into the book-selling business, how he graciously accepted boxes of books from Lois and me even though he had a whole basement of books to sort through at Terri's orders!

Lois and I will sorely miss Dave.  I know there are a lot of people around town, around Plainfield, who feel as we do.    

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Dear anonymous commenter

I get a steady stream of blog comments, almost all of them anonymous.  Some are biased political or personal diatribes.  Some are interesting issues based comments.  I do not publish any of them.  If you want me to share your comment, share your full name.

I put myself out there in public and as an elected official I should but the blogging is not obligatory, just something I want to do.  If I put my views out in public through my blog, why can't blog commenters do the same?

I appreciate the feedback at council meeting public comment periods and during door to door election campaigning.  I find people in these face to face encounters behave more civilly and generally want to advance the conversation.  The blogosphere seems to have galvanized one category of people to make rude and cowardly attacks. 

I have been wondering: what are these people afraid of?  I believe that some of them know they will embarrass themselves by disclosing their identity.  They know their comments are not defensible. 

Some people are "letting off steam".  All elected officials deal with this in face to face encounters.  At least then, an attempt at dialogue can be made.  Listening to constituent frustrations can lead to constructive actions. 

One group is the anonymous commenters who are issues based who work for local government.  Some of these commenters clearly have inside information that cries out for action.  But there is a limit to what can be done with their information unless they come forward.  I hope they are using the resources available to them including employee protections under the law (whistle blower laws, etc) and their labor unions.

Unfortunately, many anonymous blog commenters are merely trying to stir the pot.   I don't expect them to be persuaded to change their behavior.  As long as my fellow Plainfield bloggers continue to give them an outlet, cowardly and rude behavior will be part of our local public discourse.  But not on my blog.  And no unsupported or personal attacks on my allies and adversaries.

Monday, December 15, 2014

City Council Report - getting ready for 2015

On Monday night, December 15, the Council will set the agenda for the 2015 re-organization meeting.  Re-organization will take place on January 5 at 7 pm at the municipal court/Council chambers on Watchung Avenue.  While there are numerous routine matters of business to conduct at the beginning of each year, a few things stand out as important.

The overall priorities and direction of city government - in 2014 the Council discussed having a retreat.  I was one of several Council members asked by President Bridget Rivers to organize the retreat.  We decided to have it early in the new year when Diane Toliver takes over the 1st ward seat from Bill Reid.  Additionally, a retreat usually focuses on major goals for the new year and this is best done in conjunction with a new budget.  So I hope my colleagues are still committed to a retreat.

The retreat would also include the Mayor and members of his cabinet.  The purpose is to reach agreement on what is most important for city government to work on.  Priorities should be reflected in the 2015 budget.  The Council would work with the Mayor and his administration to provide the resources to meet our goals.  The Mayor and administration would be responsible for developing action plans to make progress towards agreed upon goals and for carrying out these plans.  That is the way it should work.  It is the responsibility of Council members and the Mayor to provide the leadership to assure that all branches of government work together, on behalf of Plainfield residents.

What are Plainfields priorities -  public safety is always right up there at the top of the list.  The excellent turnout at the community forum at Shiloh Baptist Church last Tuesday indicates that public safety and particularly police-community relations (and especially concerning young people of color) is a major concern in Plainfield.  Public safety is much more than good police enforcement.  Education and employment are intimately connected to it. 

I am hoping for a better year for City Council.  My wish list is for an improved relationship between the Mayor and Council.  We did not get off to a good start in 2014. Mistakes were made by Council and Mayor and can be learned from.   I want city hall to bring in more resources like grants and partnerships with other organizations that have a stake in Plainfield. Our taxpayers carry too heavy a burden.  For the same reason, the PMUA needs to significantly reduce rates.  This can happen if the Council allows the Mayors PMUA nominees to be approved.  Transit oriented development and the one seat ride to NYC must be supported.  Local government plays a key role in making economic development progress happen in 2015.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Report on the December 1 Council Meeting

PMUA nominations - Wilbert Gill's name resurfaced as a Mayor Mapp nominee.  He did not have the votes to move his name to the December 8 meeting for advice and consent. He joins a growing list of mayoral nominees blocked by the City Council.  Council members are not giving reasons for their lack of support.  When Mayor Robinson-Briggs PMUA nominees were blocked, reasons were given.  For example, when Charles Eke was interviewed (in public), I asked him what he would change about the PMUA.  He did not indicate any need for change so I did not support his nomination.  I stated my reason for the record. 

To be clear, some Council members are saying " the time is not right", the nominee "is not experienced" or "the PMUA is getting new contracts so lets keep our current commissioners".  These comments lack substance and credibility.  I can recall only two PMUA nominations that had prior experience: Bill Reid and Tom Crownover.  Bill Reid, of course, is a Council nay-sayer on PMUA nominees and Crownover is a Mapp PMUA nominee who was rejected by this Council.  Irony! As for new PMUA contracts, Corporation Counsel Sias-Hill pointed out that contracts are the responsibility of management, not commissioners.  On the other hand, the commissioners that Mapp wants to replace were responsible for the $1 million gift from Plainfield ratepayers to the retired PMUA executives, the ones who saw little action on new service contracts during their time at the helm.  More irony.  "The time is not right" needs no rebuttal.

Forensic audit - there was a lot of debate on the need for a forensic audit.  I am in favor.  The debate should be about the scope and cost of this audit, not whether it is needed.  There is one compelling reason we need it.  It was obvious to elected officials and the public that there were improprieties in the recreation division  prior to 2014 and many legal and ethical questions were unanswered during the Robinson-Briggs era.  It appeared that the Mayor was stonewalling to protect a favored employee.  I heard reports of low staff morale because of this problem.  Bringing the facts to the light of day will dispel anonymous and second hand reports about the recreation division.  It will send a message to city workers and residents that Plainfield will no longer sweep its governmental problems under the proverbial rug.

These are agenda items that need more background information so the public can make more informed judgements about local government.  Of course others will not see things exactly as I do.

Updates:   a new nominee to the Housing Authority will be put up for discussion.  I do not know Bernard Horner but his resume appears to meet the requirements for the position Joanne Hollis had.