City Charter – Guest Post, Very Important

The below post is by Mary Burgwinkle related to the city charter changes.  By current social media mindsets it might seem a little lengthy but it is very worthy of your attention and contains important information.  This is from an e-mail sent by Mary to the Plainfield City Council Members related to the recent changes to the city charter.  

Dear City Council Members:

I am writing to you in advance of the upcoming City Council Meetings where the Charter changes will be read and a public hearing will be held. I have a number of questions about the proposed changes to Plainfield’s organization chart and the amendments to the Municipal Code that you are being asked to approve.

  1. What study was conducted prior to making these organization changes and who participated?

There is no question that the City’s unusual three department structure was the subject of discussion almost immediately after the Plainfield Charter (1968) became law in 1969. Charter study groups formed in 1972, 1983 and 1990 all mentioned changing the three departments. The Charter Study Commission elected in 2012 made its recommendation on the topic, ending with the following language that appears on page 20 of the Amended Final Report dated December 31, 2013:

The Commissioners believe that the city would have more flexibility with the possibility of between one and three additional departments, and the ability to rename them. We fully recognize that change from the current system would require careful study, as it would impact the budget, human resources and physical space considerations, among other things. As a result, we are recommending language that would leave the existing three departments in place as named, with no additional departments unless approved by a council vote of 2/3 of the members, after careful planning and budgeting. The Commissioners want to emphasize that we do not believe that 9 departments, per the Faulkner Act, are necessary or advisable in Plainfield. That was one of the major drawbacks of the Faulkner Act Mayor-Council form in the opinion of the Commission.

So, we now know that the Mayor called the legislature and materially changed that recommendation (adding more departments, diluting the voting and adding 10 confidental assistants) with no authority from you. That is unfortunately, water over the dam. But what careful study was conducted prior to this reorganization?

On July 6, 2018, I sent an OPRA request for the following documents:

All communications including but not limited to emails, memos, meeting minutes, texts, voicemail or writings from the Mayor, City Administrator and any cabinet member with any person concerning or mentioning Plainfield Charter (1968) and/or any changes or proposed changes to Plainfield Charter (1968) between 1/1/17 and 6/22/18

On August 8, 2018, after a three week extension of the request, I received a response that produced 7 documents. Two were minutes of the City Council meetings on 3/12/18 and 4/9/18. Four were communications concerning the petition to the legislature dealing with ministerial matters such as proof of publication. One was an email from the City Clerk to City Council at the request of Council President, forwarding a link to the Charter Study Commission Final Report and advising Council Members to direct questions to Corporation Counsel. None of the documents contained any substantive discussion about implementing changes or reorganization.

Perhaps there was a study group working on this reorganization that did its work and drafted memos without ever mentioning the word Charter, and that is why I did not get any relevant documents in response to my request. If there was, citizens should know about it.

What alternatives were considered before publishing this reorganization? Who worked on this project? Was there study of other communities in our size and population range and how they organize? Were communities that are known to engage in best practices studied? What was the rush on this? After 50 years of a less than optimum organization, why weren’t ideas and alternatives presented to the public? Also, a reorganization to make the City work more efficiently is a good goal, but the City should be careful about inadvertently growing government in an atmosphere in New Jersey where the pension system is in disarray and the ability of local taxpayers to bear tax hikes to pay for city government is at a breaking point. Of course 4 more departments will end up costing more eventually, and I am concerned about fleets of cars being driven by cabinet members who are not underpaid. We taxpayers deserve a better and more comprehensive explanation than we are getting.

 

  1. What Public Safety alternatives were considered prior to announcing these changes?

It is my understanding that 60 to 70% of the budget of the City of Plainfield is devoted to Public Safety and Fire costs. Under this reorganization, Police and Fire, previously under one department headed by an appointed director serving during the term of the Mayor, will be separated into two departments. Both Departments can be headed by an appointed director (which adds a department director), although it appears that an option was built into the new Municipal Code to allow a division director to be Director of Fire. Following are the relevant provisions of the proposed new Municipal Code Sections.

Article 11 of the Municipal Code is now titled “Department of Fire”. Section 2:11(a) reads as follows:

(a) As allowed by the Charter, there shall be established a Department of Fire, the head of which shall be the Director of Fire who shall be appointed by the Mayor with the advice and consent of the Council and may be one of the division heads. The Director shall serve during the term of office of the Mayor appointing him/her and until the appointment of his/her successor, subject to removal as provided by the Charter.

Article 12 of the Municipal Code is now titled “Department of Public Affairs and Safety (Police)”. Section 2:12 (a) reads as follows:

   (a)     As required by the Charter, there shall be established a Department of Public Affairs and Safety, the head of which shall be the Police Director who shall be appointed by the Mayor with the advice and consent of the Council and shall serve during the term of office of the Mayor appointing him/her and until the appointment and qualification of his/her successor. The Police Director shall be qualified by training and experience for the position, which training and experience shall require a minimum of five (5) years experience in a responsible capacity in public administration.

What alternatives were considered to splitting the Department into two? Who worked on this project? Was there study of other communities in our size and population range and how they organize public safety? Were communities that are known to engage in best practices studied? Again, what was the rush on this? After 50 years of a less than optimum organization, why weren’t ideas and alternatives presented to the public? Under what circumstances would the Mayor appoint a Fire Director who is not a Fire Division head, and will that happen now or in the near future? How much expense would that add?

  1. Administrative Assistants and Confidential Assistants.

In the proposed Municipal Code, there are seven departments. In each of the Articles describing Departments, there is a new section governing administrative assistants. (See sections 2:6-1(b), 2:7-1(b), 2:8-1(b), 2:9-1(b), 2:10-1(b), 2:11-1(b), 2:12-1(c)).

The sections provide as follows:

Within the [Department of _________] there may be an Administrative Assistant designated as Secretary to the Director, who shall be appointed by the Director with the approval of the [Business? word is missing] Administrator. The Administrative Assistant shall serve during the term of office of the Director appointing him/her, subject to removal as provided in the case of a Department Director appointed by the Mayor.

In addition, at the request of the Mayor, the Charter was amended to add section 4.5(b), as follows:

(b) The director of each department may, with the approval of the mayor, appoint one confidential assistant, who shall be in the unclassified service of the Civil Service. In addition, the business administrator may authorize a division director to appoint one confidential assistant, who shall be in the unclassified service of the Civil Service. No more than 10 confidential assistants in total shall be appointed pursuant to this subsection across all departments and divisions.

Looking at the language of each of these sections, these do not seem to be the same positions. So, are we adding 7 Administrative Assistants and 10 Confidential Assistants? Does each Department Director get an Administrative Assistant and a Confidential Assistant?

Are these 17 positions that the City would like to fill as a work-round to Civil Service? If they have all been hired already, the mayor should tell us that and how much the positions cost. To the citizen who does not work at City Hall, this looks like a lot of people getting political appointments.

  1. Why is there a Manager of Motors at Section 2:9-16 and a Bureau of City Garage at 2:9-7?

If the Manager of Motors is managing all of the city cars that are being driven by the Mayor, Cabinet Members, and certain of the State Appointed officers, I will repeat the question that I asked in my last letter as follows:

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.

  1. Why does Section 2:9-5 pertaining to Division of Public Works still contain references to the Bureau of Sewers and Pumping Stations?

The Ordinance amending City Code attached to proposed Ordinance MC 2018-22 contains 123 pages. 64 of the pages contain a wholesale strikeout of every section of Charter 2 of the Municipal Code, followed by 59 pages of retyped sections that are not marked to show changes. There are no footnotes or other guidance as to what changes were made and why. Included in all of these unmarked sections is a wholesale retyping of many of the sections relating to the Division of Public Works (among others), most of which were enacted in 1980 and many of which were superseded by the PMUA many years ago so far as I know. In any event, they were not changed, just retyped.

If you are going to the trouble of striking out and retyping most of the sections in Chapter 2, why not amend them if they need amending? Further, and a better question, why not just pull out the sections that you intend to amend, then mark them to show changes and include a sentence about the rationale for the changes? City Council and taxpayers who follow these sorts of things should be concerned about the shoddy presentation of this ordinance. There are scores of typos, missing words and other errors and it was done in such a manner that it was hard to distinguish what was changed and what was not changed.

City Council and taxpayer citizens deserve a better presentation of something that should have been taken very seriously, amendments to municipal code due to the first charter changes in 50 years. I have always respected the City Clerk, but if this came out of his office, I do not think that he has time to be both City Clerk and Chief of Staff for a legislator. Lets try to do one job well, and please proof read this presentation before it is enacted.

Mary Burgwinkle, 1785 Sleepy Hollow Lane, Plainfield

2 thoughts on “City Charter – Guest Post, Very Important

  1. Alan Goldstein September 4, 2018 / 8:12 am

    I’d also like to thank Mary for noting the sewer utility relic. It show what limited attention was given to anything other than the underhanded, bait-and- switch aspects you comment about. Remarkably (well, maybe not so remarkably), I asked about this specifically, two times at the August Council meeting. Once in the first public Comment section, and again in General Comment after the rubber stamp vote. And neither time did I get an answer. No response. Nothing! Not from any member of the City Council or from any City Administration official. Is it not ironic that this City Charter bait-and-switch of 2018 interconnects on some cosmic (and organizational) plane with the granddaddy of all Plainfield bait-and-switches, PMUA, soon to celebrate its 20-years of Inter Local Agreement fakery?

    Like

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

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

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ 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