Monday, April 29, 2019

My Work in Behavioral Health

For those of you who know me primarily as a Councilman, I have another vocation.  It's more like a mission to me and I've been doing it for over 40 years.  I am CEO of Bridgeway Rehabilitation Services, a not for profit mental health service organization.  I am a rehabilitation counselor by training with a Masters degree.  I started as a counselor at Bridgeway when it was a small Elizabeth based day program for people discharged from Marlboro State Psychiatric Hospital.  Over the years Bridgeway has been at the forefront of a growing community mental health support system and I have grown professionally along with the organization. 

Today Bridgeway serves the 10 northern New Jersey counties from 14 locations.  We serve over 4,0000 people annually with 350 full time employees.  Bridgeway specializes in providing evidence based services to people with the most complex and challenging mental health conditions.  In spite of the stigma attached to mental illness, recovery is possible and is likely given the right services and supports.

Many persons served by Bridgeway have co-occurring substance abuse and/or chronic medical conditions.  Some have struggled with homelessness or criminal justice involvement.  The complexity of these challenges has led Bridgeway to join with housing partners and work closely with the county jails and Prosecutors offices. 

Most of our services are provided by mobile, multi-disciplinary teams that operate 7 days a week and are accessible 24 hours a day.  One such team is Program of Assertive Treatment Team 2 located in Plainfield on Roosevelt Ave behind Pollo Comparo.

You can learn more about Bridgeway from our website - - or facebook.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

June 4 Primary Election is About Plainfield's Future

Speaking with Plainfielders about how they feel about our city, I hear a growing consensus that we are making progresss as a city.  Finally.  In my opinion, this is due to leadership in our local municipal government.  We have a Mayor and Council that are working with local, county and state stakeholders on many fronts to move our city forward.

That's why this coming election is important.  It is a contested Democratic primary.  There will be a slate of opponents challenging the Council incumbents - Barry Goode and me.  And a slate of Democratic committee candidates challenging the Regular Democratic Organization, currently led by Adrian Mapp.

Plainfield Democrats - you  have a choice on June 4!!

Your current leadership stands for continued progress.  You are seeing visible signs of it.  An accelerated road paving program.  Refurbished recreation facilities like Seidler Field.  Development across the city.  Less visible signs like an improved bond rating which will save taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Crime is down and property values are up.

Our opponents want to take over city government.  These opponents include many candidates for Democratic committee who are members of the Plainfield school board or have been.  They have not yet turned our school district around.

I urge you to support our team in column A.  Why am I feeling a sense of urgency?  Recent history. 

In the 1990s Plainfield had a revolving door of School Superintendents and a divided Board of Education.  Our schools were failing our students because of a lack of leadership.  A group of concerned citizens ran for and took over the School Board.  I know this story well because I was one of them.  Good timing gave us the opportunity to appoint a new School Superintendent - Larry Leverett.  He began a reform program that started to turn the schools around.  When he left after 8 years a changing Board of Education appointed a new Superintendent who was unable to sustain progress.  Plainfield schools lost many of the gains that had been made and we are still a school district that is not providing the education our students deserve. 

My point is that progress is not guaranteed.  It takes sustained effort over years.  You cant fix what was broken over a long period of time without sustained quality leadership.  We have that now at city hall.

This primary election is not just about electing two Council members.  Its about control of the Plainfield Democratic committee. Which ever group of committee members wins the majority in this primary election will select a mayoral candidate in the Democratic primary election in 2021.  For Plainfield's future I want it to be Adrian Mapp. I don't need to agree with him on everything.  I simply want a mayor who will provide effective leadership so we can continue to see visible signs of progress for many years going forward.

For sustainable progress, choose column A on June 4.

Monday, April 8, 2019

We Need To Decrease Property Taxes

New Jersey pollsters routinely identify property taxes as the primary concern of residents.  In Plainfield the story is similar with a local twist.  I like to think that our local version of pollsters
are candidates for office going door to door asking residents about their issues.  I used to hear public safety and potholes as the leading concerns.  "Early returns" this election season have property taxes in front.  And that is even more concerning to senior citizens I've spoken with.

New Jersey property taxes are the highest in the nation.  But Plainfielders do not care that they are in good company.  They care that they cannot afford the taxes.  Seniors on fixed incomes in particular are forced to move to other towns and states, away from their circle of supportive friends and neighbors. 

The challenge to decrease property taxes is daunting.  So much so that I propose we take this on as a multi-year project beginning with the 2019 municipal budget.  The city administration is presenting the City Council with an annual budget tonight, April 8.  Once the Council receives the budget it is our responsibility to make any changes we see fit to make and then approve it.  It is perhaps the most important decision of the year for Council.

The administration budget proposes to increase expense less than 2% from 2018.  This is in part due to increased pension costs.  But decreased tax ratables means the Council faces a municipal property tax increase of 3.5%.  Lower ratables comes from successful taxpayer appeals and means that the rest of the taxpayers take on a bigger share of the tax burden.  (It is a misconception that developer tax breaks are causing Plainfield taxes to go up .  In fact all of the developers receiving those incentives are still paying the city more than the previous taxes on the properties they are developing).

Where does this leave us?

The City Council will have to take a hard look at 2019 expenses.  Police and fire division overtime pay is an example.  Reducing expenses requires painful decisions that are bound to upset some constituencies.  But that is what Council members agreed to take responsibility for with the oath of office.

We will have to learn from what other cities have done.  Some in New Jersey have reduced property taxes.  It is what our residents need and require.  It will also make us more business friendly.  More commercial development and investment by current businesses will increase our tax ratables, taking on some of the burden from residential property taxes. We need to reduce property taxes.