A Semantic Miscommunication

Last week, Mary Burgwinkle and I were interviewed by Nick Muscavage of the Courier News (his request, not ours) regarding opposition to the Mayor’s solo changes to the city charter. Today I read the article and my first reaction to the Mayor’s remarks were 1) he seems to have a lot of miscommunication and misunderstandings with people because he keeps mentioning it, 2) He certainly fails to understand the separation of powers and his overreach, 3) He doesn’t understand that Democracy is a Team Sport.

The best way to address the comments is to break down each one that caught my attention:

Mayor Adrian Mapp, however, said he believes the concerns were the outcome of a misunderstanding and that the changes were made clear to the public at a council meeting on July 9. Moreover, he said, if the adjustments go into effect, they would result in no cost to the city.

My Comment: The only misunderstanding is the Mayor not understanding his official role. His presentation to the public on July 9th was well after the bill passed both houses of the NJ Legislature and was only done because Mary Burgwinkle happen to catch the secret charter changes. His July 9th performance was only an attempt to try to justify the fact that he over stepped his authority.   The proper approach was to have made a presentation to the public in March/April with organizational charts and cost impacts and then take questions from the audience (i.e. the people that pay his salary and get stuck with the other costs) and then present his recommendations to the council for consideration. After the fact presentations are just theater and treat citizens and their tax dollars disrespectfully.

Lets remember that this Mayor sends endless e-mails out on any range of topics and achievements – but for some reason the news of this achievement got overlooked.  Maybe the approach was more like “better to ask forgiveness than permission”.

The charter changes would allow the city to add more departments in the administration, which would allow the city to better serve its residents, Mapp said. 

My Comment: I’m sorry but this is such a throw away line with no meaning. The corporate world has gone through a period recently of “flattening” their organizational charts to be more cost effective and efficient – but the Mayor thinks increasing it will be the secret to better serve to residents? This requires a little more than a single sentence and better management is probably more important than more management.

Mapp is claiming the ordeal is all a misunderstanding.

My Comment: According his comments in this article, he has misunderstandings and miscommunications with a lot of people – and unless he is saying that he misunderstood his role as Mayor, then this remark is meaningless.

The mayor said the creations of these departments would have zero affect on the city’s budget, since he plans on having the departments headed by people who are already employed by Plainfield.

My Comment: Transparency would mean that not only should the public be aware of the changes being made and that the council approves them but that the Mayor present the facts in writing – which would mean showing the math on these cost estimates, including benefits and perks (assuming the latest trend continues for every Director getting a city car, insurance and gas card).

As for the 10 confidential aides proposal written into the charter, Mapp said it was a case of miscommunication and semantics. Mapp said there was a “simple error” conveyed to the state’s Civil Service Commission that made it seem there was no authority in Plainfield to hire confidential employees………….There was a mix-up of semantics, though, Mapp said, between the words “aides” versus “secretaries.” Mapp said the city never went on a hiring spree for confidential employees, and he doesn’t plan to, but that he just wanted to get the language in the charter so the right was protected.

My Comment: Oh darn, another miscommunication (and semantics too!). This is the biggest mess of nonsense to unpack – its almost laughable. The real issue is that “he decided to include the language of ‘10 confidential aides” – again he is saying that he decided to make the changes – no need to consult the citizens (who have to pay for them) or the Council (who is responsible for approving charter changes) – he just decided he wanted the changes so he had them penciled in as an amendment. He may not be thinking past himself, but by adding these “10 aides” into the charter, he is making it possible for a future Mayor to fill those positions and for the citizens to pay the bill – $80,000 X 10 + Benefits + Retirement = Taxpayer Stuck With Tab. ($80K salary is an estimate as I have seen $65K and $90K salaries)

“We have no plans to go out and hire 10 confidential aides/secretaries,” Mapp said. “Absolutely no plans.”

My Comment: Sorry, but there is a credibility problem here. Didn’t we buy 3 new SUV’s in December to replace “aging DPW fleet vehicles” and those all went to administration employees instead? The only car that was “replaced” was the clerks Crown Vic. The Mayor’s prior SUV (only 4 years old) was given to his Chief of Staff.

The mayor added that there’s more than financial worries behind the objections. Both Burgwinkle and McKenna said they were critical of Mapp’s decision to endorse Scutari for chair of the Union County Democratic Committee. “These same forces are the same forces that were annoyed and upset with me because I opted to support the candidate that I truly believed was the best person for the job when it comes for the leadership of the county’s Democratic party,” he said.

My Comment: I can’t believe Mapp would swing at that.  Nick mentioned the UCDC election to me as well and my response was that I am a supporter of the Mayor’s work but even supporters can disagree – Mapp has a saying for that,  “Unity Without Uniformity”.  If people questioning Mapp’s decisions and pointing out a lack of transparency or over reach of his authority is such an issue, then a democracy may not quite be his thing.

Mapp said although the charter proposals, if approved, would allow for the creation of eight departments, he is only proposing the creation of seven.

My Comment: So the leftover one is just a spare part in case one breaks? That is just another opportunity for a future Mayor to add more cost – and since Mapp removed the requirement for a 2/3 majority of council for approval I guess that will make it easier.  This is sloppy legislating!

The crux of this issue is – the Mayor took it upon himself, without transparency and communication, to make changes to the Charter that he wanted.  That is outside his authority and a perfect example of why people are so frustrated with government.  It also does not align with how Mayor Mapp ran for office as a steward of good government and transparency – this kind of behavior is what he ran for office to change.

Anyone interested in signing the petition to ask Governor Murphy to veto the city charter changes can do so here.

2 thoughts on “A Semantic Miscommunication

  1. Siddeeq W. El-Amin July 22, 2018 / 12:32 pm

    Sean, you are so on target with this piece. And I thought only City Council had the authority to assign 24-hour cars to employees. My bad!


  2. Jeanette Criscione July 22, 2018 / 1:36 pm

    The big question is what is the rush? The Charter was completed in 2013. Why could the Mayor not have taken two or three more months to review it with the Citizens of Plainfield, and his own Council, so they could legislate, which is their job, not the Mayor’s. As stated above, the Mayor communicates on a regular basis on national topics, he thought changing the Charter and having Plainfield Citizens potentially pay for new positions not worthy of an email?

    Some other points I’d like to make:

    1 – Why are Confidential Aides in the Charter to begin with? If the Mayor has no plans to hire any, does he think that no other mayor will follow suit? Taxpayers are on the hook to pay for those positions if that language remains in the Charter and there is no oversight by anyone to determine if they are needed or not. Take that language out.

    2 – If there is no budget impact, did we overpay the people who are moving into the department head position to begin with? Are the citizens of Plainfield to understand that the new department heads are getting a promotion with no additional pay? If so, why were they paid a department head’s salary, if they were not in the position?

    3 – The Mayor needs to segment his battles. I did disagree with his sudden support of Nick Scutari. However, unless Senator Scutari told the Mayor to put in this language, Nick has no relevance in this issue. Will this be the Mayor’s new rallying cry? “Please disregard anything anyone says because they are upset with me for supporting Nick”. So the question is, who really put the changes into the Plainfield Charter? Was it the Mayor’s idea, or was the Mayor instructed by the Senator to include the language?

    4 – To Nick and the other sponsors I will say that I am surprised that you put your signature on the Charter without asking any questions. Maybe you were not aware of the lack of transparency in how the Charter was changed without the Council or Plainfield citizens knowledge. I would ask that in the future you do research to fully understand what it is you are signing.

    The Mayor can make all the excuses he wants. But the facts are that Plainfield Citizens can be on the hook for a bundle of money. The Council knew nothing about this and the people who will have to pay for this (Plainfield residents) knew nothing about this. But, the bigger question remains – The Charter has been completed since 2013, what is the rush for having this signed now? Is there something else we don’t know?


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