City Charter Topic – Guest Blog Post

Below is a guest blog post (which are always welcome by the way) from Mary Burgwinkle regarding the changes to the city charter that were recently passed by the state legislature and signed by the Governor last week – but not requested by the Plainfield Charter Commission nor the Plainfield City Council.


Dear City Council Members:

I am writing to you to remind you about separation of powers under our City Charter, and your role as Legislative branch.

Our city Charter describes separation of powers in Section 2.10 as follows:

The legislative, executive and administrative powers of the City are divided between the legislative and executive branches. No person or persons belonging to or constituting one branch shall exercise any of the powers of the other unless specifically authorized by the Charter. Neither the council nor any council member shall intervene in administrative matters, except for legislative purposes.

So far this summer, the Mayor (Executive Branch) has taken several actions that suggest that he believes that there are no checks on his power whatsoever.

I am a member of the Zoning Board of Adjustment and at our June 6, 2018 meeting, there was an application pending by a local church that needed an extension of a zoning resolution and conditions that had been granted earlier by the ZBA. A church representative was testifying why they needed the extension, when they were asked if they had complied with the sign conditions of the resolution. As the witness was giving sworn testimony, she was coached from behind by a Planning Board member that she should testify that the Mayor told them that they did not have to comply because the sign ordinance was about to be amended. So, after Zoning Board has worked hard to enforce existing statutes, the Mayor is telling applicants that there is no need to comply?

Not long after that, and after both houses of the legislature had passed the bill making changes to the Charter not recommended by Charter Study or in the City Council resolution, I discovered that this had happened. I wrote to all of you and the Mayor asking for an explanation. I got no direct response from the Mayor, only a short “non answer” from the City Clerk. At the July 9th City Council meeting, the Mayor essentially admitted that he stepped into your legislative role, and suggested changes to the Legislature with no notice to you or any notice to the Plainfield citizens. No City Council member asked a single question or made a comment during his long and winding explanation why he did this, during which he kept losing his train of thought.

The Charter changes the Mayor made will forever burden Plainfield Taxpayers with 12 jobs and supporting jobs that were not recommended by Charter Study. He has claimed in a roundabout manner that these changes will not result in additional expense. You will need to approve many of these changes, and I would like you to get the answers to these questions.

  1. New Departments will be created and new Department Directors appointed. Who will be appointed and what are their qualifications for their proposed positions? How many people will report to each Department Director?
  2. Will the compensation of existing Department or Division Directors change because of these other changes and by how much?
  3. If Division Heads are promoted to Department Head, will there be compensation changes as a result and by how much? The public should see a schedule of the compensation for each of these individuals during the past year including any increases.
  4. What additional compensation will Department Directors receive other than salary? In this administration, many executive branch and state mandated employees appear to be driving City automobiles. Plainfield is 6 square miles and City Hall is centrally located.
    Why should anyone (other than Police/Fire) have a City Automobile at taxpayer expense? If you work here and do not live here, that is not the taxpayers’ problem. The public should be provided with a list of people in the administration driving City Cars along with a cost breakdown. Other perqs should also be listed. Additionally, supporting documentation should be provided to show the date and ordinance number passed by the council for each of the individuals who are driving taxpayer funded automobiles.
  5. How many “confidential aides” will be hired? Who will they report to? Presumably, each “confidential aide” will get a computer, a cell phone, a place to sit, health insurance, pension benefits, and maybe other perqs. What will be the all-in cost of each? Will a Civil Service employee be eliminated for each “confidential aide” hired?
  6. Did the budget passed in the Spring 2018 contain provisions for these new Departments and Directors?

I worked hard to get this Mayor (and most of you) elected. I recognize that many good things happened in the City during the administration up to now. I am very disappointed that the Mayor abandoned his open, transparent, good government platform as soon as he got cover from the County Party. He has, unfortunately, invited citizens who value public policy to distrust his administration. I will not stop questioning and I expect you to question as well

Mary Burgwinkle, 1785 Sleepy Hollow Lane

One thought on “City Charter Topic – Guest Blog Post

  1. Alan Goldstein August 13, 2018 / 8:28 am

    ” I am very disappointed that the Mayor abandoned his open, transparent, good government platform as soon as he got cover from the County Party.”

    That’s patently wrong. The mayor abandoned it all long before becoming mayor. That’s what happens all too often with professional politicians who are, moreover, professional municipal employees at the same time. I can think of a few instances: the financial scam between the City and PMUA regarding the Inter Local Agreement dating to 1998 (coincident to Mapp’s joining the City Council); voting in favor of an illegal job training contract tied to Obama’s stimulus; voting for two PMUA appointees whose immediate mission it seems was to upset an ongoing arbitration that cost ratepayers a cool $1 million; reopening the floodgates to vendor supplied campaign loot; taking illegal foreign money for his 2013 mayoral campaign (see Barbados Tourism Office); taking prohibited campaign contributions from vendors in the City and PMUA; attempting to lay-off the Planning Division; the North Avenue Demolition with its 180-pages of smoking obfuscation and deceit (what should have cost about $200K turns into over $500K after a botched job and a very questionable procurement process); and suggesting to a constituent at a BOE reorg meeting that she go around the Zoning Officer to a flunky who would be more accommodating.

    These are just a few examples that the mayor’s “open, transparent, good government platform” is more election fodder and much less principles to govern by. Mind you all, there is no contract, no law, rule, or regulation, that cannot be undermined in this city, or ignored if it is just inconvenient or gets in the way of one’s political aspirations. It can be in the open or in secret, but the precedent is set, and it didn’t take any cover from the County Party to get the ball rolling. All it took is an electorate that is not engaged, employees or appointees who owe their jobs to an individual patron, an employee who owes his job to political higher-ups, a City Council that is either a rubber-stamp for the administration, or so split that everything comes out as knee-jerk opposition, and of course a lack of media coverage that is somewhat skeptical, is willing and able to do a little digging, and is not simply acting as stenographers for officialdom.

    In the meanwhile, as long as the economy remains strong, a great deal will pass under the bridge. Politicians will take credit for trends in place long before taking office. But when the economy stalls it may tell a different story. Let’s hope this administration’s legacy is not just a smattering of half-empty market rate apartments and a few ethnic groups co-opted by a City Hall festival. Or roads riddled by potholes and four-way stops. Or municipal expenses much higher than the community can support. But we will have a new skate-park, new improvements at Milt Campbell field, ABC Supply (did it hire the requisite number of local employees?), and a bunch of blue Plainfield shirts for some higher echelon municipal employees. My question to the mayor in this regard is, will the 10 confidential assistants rate one of those blue shirts, and is that factored into your financial projections, if you’ve actually made any?

    But whether the good ultimately outweighs the ugly so we can say we had good government, one thing is clear, we will not be left with more openness and transparency. Those went by the wayside a long long time ago.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s