Monday, September 26, 2016

Cleaning Up Our Community

This past Sunday morning, for the second week in a row, a group of Plainfielders did a clean-up around the downtown train station.  Its one thing to lament the sight of trash in our city but another thing entirely to volunteer your time and energy to a good cause like beautification of public places.  I thank those involved.  Sunday saw 15 people, including some from a Scotch Plains Boy Scout troop, clean up 20 large garbage bags of litter.  Thanks to the presence of three Shade Tree commissioners, trees were trimmed and shrubs were cut back to increase visibility and sight lines, improving public safety for pedestrians.  Some of the volunteers are pictured below:

It only took the initiative of several people to get these clean-ups started.  Notably, one of them,       Timothy, is new to Plainfield!  The group welcomes anyone to join them.  They will do another        clean-up next Sunday at a location to be announced, possibly Netherwood station.                            
Councilman Barry Goode is also taking the lead for community clean-ups.  He will be leading one     this coming Saturday from 9 AM to 12 PM, beginning at the corner of West Front and Clinton Ave. 
Please come up and support these efforts.  While some are arguing who is responsible for cleaning our streets and properties (NJ Transit?  City of Plainfield?  PMUA?), our neighbors are taking matters into their own hands.  This is not an unpaid job - your compensation is a feeling of satisfaction and meeting some wonderful community oriented neighbors.                            

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Supporting Our Youth

The recent violence around the globe and particularly close to home has Plainfielders wondering about our safety.  Even more worrisome are recent shooting deaths of young people.  This is not unique to our city but it is happening here and elected officials have a responsibility to take necessary steps to stem the tide.

Perhaps the best place to start is with what not to do.  We don't want to spend time, energy and money on fixing what is not broken.  That is our Police Division.  In other cities, an investigation into the police could be an appropriate step to respond to allegations of discrimation but Plainfield already has a police force that is demographically reflective of our city.  The exception is being solved as we are currently bringing more Latino officers onboard. 

The City Council heard a detailed report on police division efforts to implement best practices using an accreditation process.  Our police are not profiling suspects or writing superfluous traffic tickets to African American motorists, as we continually see from a neighboring police force.  While there is always room for improvement, I feel confident saying we have an exemplary police force with excellent leadership.  They need our support as every day they are putting themselves in harms way to protect us.

What we should do is take a multi-faceted approach to community development.  More and better educational and job training opportunities for young people, mentoring, recreational programs, re-entry services and jobs for people returning from the criminal justice system.  There are dedicated Plainfielders making valuable contributions on each of these fronts.  But in our city, with limited resources, what we have most of is human capital.  We need more of it and more coordination of it.  That takes leadership, perhaps the ingredient most needed. 

Our mayor, Adrian Mapp, has taken some creative approaches to the challenge of supporting our youth.  We need to support the youth summit that is being planned.   When local politics divides us, we need strong voices to stay positive and focused on problem solving,  I .think it was our mayor, who said, at Eric Watsons funeral: "do something for the community - you don't need to take credit for it - you know you did it - that should be enough".

Monday, April 18, 2016

Why I Support Anderson - Hurtt - Pile for School Board

The current Board of Education needs to change.  There is a problem with transparency and, as Lynn Anderson says, how can you know where you're going without a vision and without knowing where you are today.  It is too difficult for parents, for the community to understand where the Plainfield Public Schools are today because the school board makes it so. 

And there are legitimate questions about how the Board spends money.  Moving the election back to April, instead of November, will cost the schools $99,000 this year and a similar amount every year going forward.  That's because Plainfield is the only town in Union County that isn't having its Board of Ed election in November.  Wilma Campbell, the current Board president and head of the ticket against change, claims that voting in April keeps the Board election from being political.  That argument has no credibility. 

There is another quality candidate on the ballot, running alone.  But to change the Board of Education, you have to have a majority of  5.  Anderson, Hurtt and Pile would make that change happen.  I hope you will join me on Tuesday to support these candidates.  If they prevail, Plainfielders will have a Board that wants us to know the school districts strengths and weaknesses, that will hold the Superintendent accountable for carrying out a vision backed up by measureable objectives, ones that are shared by the community.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Development in Plainfield - Looking into the Future

For many years the development discussion in Plainfield has been about how to get started. Can we work off a wish list without acknowledging trends in the marketplace?  Do we have to solve our crime problem before we can develop our downtown?  Can we change our local politics enough to attract investors?

We have answered those questions well enough (for now).  Now that momentum is just starting to build, we are debating decisions about tax incentives for development.  We seem to be convincing enough local stakeholders that we do need incentives like payments in lieu of taxes in order to spark development.  We are also answering questions about where to develop:  mostly around our train stations and along the rail line, and at the Muhlenberg campus of course.

 As we see projects and project plans pop up around Plainfield, we have to pay more attention to the future.   Here are some other questions we need to grapple with:
  • What do we do with our underdeveloped land along the rail line between our train stations and west of the downtown station?  We are calling for mixed use (residential with retail/commercial) development within 1/4 to 1/2 mile of the train stations and perhaps a proposed transit hub on the west end.  What about the rest of the 4 miles along the rail line?  What if developers keep proposing more residential only or mixed use that is mostly residential?  I hope we will not allow that.  We need retail/commercial development that creates jobs and allows residents to spend their money in town instead of the Rt 22 and Westfield stores.
  • Do we want our municipal facilities to remain right next to our train stations?  Is there a better use for the land occupied by the Municipal Court complex and the Netherwood fire station?  Are there mixed use developers out there who will pay enough for these properties so the city can afford to relocate these operations to equally suitable or more advantageous locations?
  • Is there a threshold for too much development, that a section of Plainfield could become too congested?
  • Do we need to protect more properties under historic district ordinances before some old landmarks are gone forever?
I am glad that we can now boast so many millions of dollars of investment in development.  But the real measure of successful development is how it benefits the neighborhood, the residents and businesses that occupy that neighborhood.  No easy task to fathom this because it has to include the needs of future residents and businesses.  But we can learn from how development 30, 50, 100 years ago has affected Plainfield today. 

We have to think about what new development plans will look like 30, 50 years from now.  And also what conditions will be like 30, 50 years from now if we do nothing.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Homeless Point in Time County 2016

Every year, the U.S. HUD (the federal housing agency) holds a nation-wide count of homeless people.  Today, January 27, is the day.  In Union County, daytime and overnight counts are conducted.  Volunteers seek out people who are homeless in the urban centers - Elizabeth, Plainfield and Linden in particular.  Questionnaires are filled out.  People are offered packages of food, clothing and toiletries and also transportation to shelters or the county Division of Social Services (in Plainfield, at the Park-Madison office building)

I participate in the Plainfield overnight count.  This year we began at 3:30 AM, three groups in vans, accompanied by police officers.  Using police intelligence and others in the know, we visited locations likely frequented by people who are homeless.

 evidence of homeless overnight location by east bound downtown station

We found less people than in previous years, probably because the heavy snowfall drove more people into shelters.  We also looked along Park Ave in downtown and spoke to some people who were spending the night standing in doorways.  One said she was homeless for two years.
In the past, we found people at the downtown station, but not this year.
Union County Department of Human Services is to be commended.  We are the first county in New Jersey to implement Code Blue, when the temperature drops very low and the county assertively looks for homeless people and brings them to shelters.  I am told that Freeholder Angel Estrada was the champion of this initiative, which is now spreading across the state.
Freeholder Linda Carter, County Dept of Human Services Director Frank Guzzo and yours truly
The photo above shows some of the people who showed up at 3 AM for the Point in Time Count in Plainfield.  There was a good turnout  of HomeFirst employees , Plainfield police and county Sherriff's Office.
Eventually reports will be issued nation-wide documenting the people identified as experiencing homeless on January 27, their characteristics and the outcome of our interventions for the day.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Conduct of City Council Meetings, Part 2

My assessment of the two January Council meetings is that they were good meetings.  Discussion on agenda items by the Council was issues oriented, not political or personal.  The "hottest" subject, the City Identification Card Ordinance, generated a lot of discussion by Council members.  The message from Councilors was to consult the people who implemented the non government ID cards so there is no confusion and a smooth changeover to the city ID cards.  This a job for the city administration and I am sure that this will come up next month when this ordinance is up for second reading and final approval.

Councilors expressed concern about having input on the proposed Plainfield marketing initiative and a meeting of the minds resulted in approval for the proposal.   The PARSA ordinance amendment was approved on first reading.  Other resolutions were not controversial and were also approved. 

There will be more discussion on Council conduct in February.  I will be adding two items for discussion:  2016 city budget process and the procedure for approval of Councilor expenses. 

The budget process includes the role of the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee and the Council's timetable for budget approval.  I favor approving the budget as soon as a thorough and transparent process allows.  I find it absurd that because of state policies, municipalities cant approve their budgets before the year begins and actually cant even do so until the third or fourth month of the year.  

Plainfield has an ordinance that directs how Councilors may spend money budgeted for Council purposes.  This includes travel, accommodations and registration for conferences and workshops. 

The City Council is not ready yet for Kumbaya but its a good start.  The truer test will be the 2016 city budget.                                                 

Friday, January 8, 2016

City Council - Conduct of Meetings

Council meetings are to conduct the business of the city.  In support of that purpose, I have put "conduct of meetings" on the agenda for discussion.  It takes seven Council members to make an effective meeting so I am very interested to hear from my colleagues and the public.  Here is some of what I have to say:

1. I want to give each member of the public the same right to speak and I will treat all speakers the same.  Letting some speakers extend for another 5 or 10 minutes and not letting others does not seem like equal treatment.  In fact, our Corporation Counsel just indicated to me that unequal treatment could be seen as a "content based restriction on speech", in essence a violation of rights by those not given a 5 minute extension.

2. I will do my best to assist members of the public who come to the microphone seeking help on a problem specific to them.  Many times these problems can be handled off-line by one of our department heads and I will ask that this approach be used more often.  Of course, speakers who have tried to get help from city hall and did not get satisfaction will have the full attention of the Council.

3. I will ask the City Clerk and/or Corporation Counsel to explain the meeting motion "point of order" and will do my utmost to abide by this rule.

4.  Respect for each person at our meetings is paramount. This is a responsibility we must all own.  The Council President particularly is responsible should disrespectful behavior be exhibited and I will not allow such behavior to continue.  When we criticize, do so not of a person but their position, statement or behavior.

I don't expect that everyone will agree all the time.  Especially as we get closer to election times.  But I encourage all stakeholders to put the issues first - those critical subjects like public safety, quality of life and taxes.