Plainfield’s Branch of Gov’t – Part 1

This is a three-part blog post regarding my primary takeaway from Monday nights City Council meeting. During that meeting it became overwhelmingly apparent to me that we have a local government that is operating as a single governmental branch – using processes and procedures only for the purposes of making things “official”. Our municipal government is set-up like all governments within the United States with three distinct branches – Executive, Legislative and Judiciary, each with its own role, responsibilities and authorities. The intent is that each branch performs their duties and acts as a check against the others – standard Civics 101 kind of stuff, or is it?

At the council meeting on Monday, the Mayor was straightforward about his approach to the changes in the city charter. (I won’t get into the background but information can be found on TapInto, Plainfield Today and Old Doc’s post). He clearly stated that the City Council performed their duty by passing (Made It Official) the recommendations as submitted by the Charter Study Commission (a publicly elected body established to study the cities charter and make recommendations for modifications) and then, without public announcement, citizen input or review by the Council, he had the legislation amended once it was in the hands of the NJ Legislature, giving the Executive branch the ability to greatly expand the operational structure and hire additional staff (up to 10 Confidential Aides) as desired. While some of the reorganization ideas are good (some not so much) and were part of the intent of the Charter Study Commissions recommended, and much narrower, modifications – the process for making these changes without proper public vetting is troublesome.

Even more troubling is our City Council’s apparent lack of understanding of their role and the lack of concern that the Executive branch usurped their authority (which they apparently are unaware they possess). Following the mayor’s presentation, the 6 Council members in attendance did not have a single question for the Executive Branch of which they are equals (i.e. they don’t report to the Mayor’s office). NOT… A… SINGLE… QUESTION. Imagine that – the legislation they passed, to in essence amend our cities constitution, was modified after the fact, without their consent or a public meeting and they were neither upset nor did they have any questions about such important factors as cost implications as a result of the added Department head positions and confidential aide positions, breaking apart the current Public Safety department or how the future Director of Communications and Technology is qualified to manage something as vital and sensitive as the city governments technology infrastructure (quick reminder – it was already hacked and held hostage for ransom once already.)

The administration (Executive Branch) seems to be under the impression that because the City Council (Legislative Branch) is composed of 7 democrats and six are aligned with the Mayor that his branch of government supplies the legislation and the Council just rubber-stamps it into law without question or oversight. For anyone that has been at a Council meeting they know that there are very few, if any, questions and little to no dialogue about resolutions or ordinances. This lack of separation between the primary branches of government in Plainfield reminded me of the candidate answers to the Plainfield League of Women Voters questions provided prior to the most recent forum in May. More on that in part two of Plainfield’s Branch of Government.

3 thoughts on “Plainfield’s Branch of Gov’t – Part 1

  1. Susan Lattimore Jackson July 11, 2018 / 1:51 pm

    Sean,
    First and foremost, thank you, for caring enough about our City to discuss what is actually taking place, behind closed doors. The recent legislative shenanigans, regarding Charter revisions was as transparent as a dark hole. Your point about the Council rubber stamping everything, paying lawsuits without discussion, agreeing to Confidential Aides, handpicked by the Mayor, with no discussion of how much they will be paid and how they will be vetted, are just some of the issues pushed through. Plainfield needs to stop voting straight down Column A and choose representatives that will work for the good of the City, I am beginning to think that they don’t read what they are voting on, just do as they are told. Again, I look forward to your blog.

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  2. Mary Burgwinkle July 11, 2018 / 2:06 pm

    Congratulations, Sean, this is a welcome addition to the “blogosphere”!

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  3. Bill Kruss July 11, 2018 / 3:28 pm

    Apropos of the comments on absence of transparency may I again remind Mr. Minchello that he promised an explanation of the saga of the Yates award. Yates billed for $75,000 at the conclusion of his demolition work, a one day event. He was apparentlty orally, excused from completing the specified scope because his operation collapsed the adjacent structure. On OPRA’ing Yates termination notice I was shocked when the response was that no written termination letter existed?! Yates had an executed Agreement with the City. The failure to give proper notice was a breach of contract. It appears that this monumental omission is why Yates prevailed in his suite in which he was awarded $396,000 On OPRA’ing the Yates requisitions I was further stunned by the fact that they revealed that after Yates had been “excused” from completing his contract that he been awarded $100,000 in extra work, Work not included in the original scope!. The nature of this work was largely making arrangements for outside Agencies to inspect the demolition debris for environmental contamination. The only hands on work performed by Yates was furnishing and erecting a temporary fence the cost of which was minor. How this amount of $396,00 was arrived at remains a mystery since the sum of the original contract plus the extra work totaled $314,000. Perhaps Yates was awarded his legal fees? Perhaps he was awarded punitive damages? Only Mr. Minchello knows. The travesty does not end there. For inexplicable reasons the litigation was preceded by Non-binding Arbitration. Non-binding means that if either party rejects the Panelist’s findings they can proceed to litigate ( sue ). What appears to have occurred is that the Arbitrator ruled in favor of Yates. The amount awarded by the Arbitrator is unknown..Mr. Minclello knows..The City rejected the finding. Obviously, unaware that they, the City, faced a text book case of default chose to compel Yate to initiate a suite which the City again lost. The judge upheld the finding of the Arbitrator. What the City did accomplish through its misguided effort was to runup a legal bill in the amount of $130,000 a part of which went to Mr. Minchello. Why at an earlier date Mr Minchello told the Council that a settlement was on the table for $196,000 is unknown. Mr. Minchello knows. The total cost for this fiasco is $396,000 for Yates, $130,000 for lawyers, $$110,000 to complete unfinished p[portion of Yates work by another contractor; TOTAL $536,000.

    The denouement is that the Council doesn’t care. No one has pursued Mr. Minchello for the promised explanation. No one has questioned the series of poor legal decisions . Probably because the Council is consumed as to whom will be appointed Confidential Assistants in the 10 Departments. Bill Kruse

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