“Charter Changes, Vote No or Table” Mary Burgwinkle

Guest Blog Post By Mary Burgwinkle – This is a very informative, well thought out and insightful posting of an email that Mary sent to members of the city council on Sunday September 9, 2018.  I encourage everyone to read it carefully and understand Mary’s well informed opinion on this matter.

Dear City Council Members:

I am writing to you in advance of the 9/11/18 final reading and public hearing on MC2018-22, the proposed ordinance amending the Municipal Code based on the changes made to Plainfield Charter (1968). I have attached an exhibit showing my four “buckets” of concern about the amendments. As you know, I believe that they were inadequately presented and contain many flaws.

I hope that you will read my comments and I thank you for your consideration of my prior letters. Having attended your meetings this summer, I want to compliment you on the manner in which the meetings are being conducted. They are prompt and business like. The good relationship between the Legislative branch and the Executive branch is evident.

It is certainly more efficient for the City when both branches work together to do the work that needs to be done. However, working together should mean that both branches are coming to the table prepared. MC2018-22 is not an example of the Executive branch doing the appropriate work to present its ideas to the Legislative branch. It is at best a rough first draft with many ambiguities and issues. You are the Legislators, and serve as a check on the Executive. Why is the administration rushing you to vote on these amendments? You can and should vote “no” or ask to table any ordinance until it is presented to you and the public in a clear and complete manner with adequate explanation.

We all need to be concerned about unintended consequences of poorly thought out ordinances. There are many sections in the current version of MC2018-22 that could justify gratuitous hiring supported by ordinance provisions. For example, 7 Administrative Assistants have been newly added to the ordinance, one for each Department. They appear to me to be different positions than the 10 Confidential Assistants added to the Charter by the Mayor. We need a definitive explanation on that. Mr. Storch requested that the Administrative Assistants sections be removed from the ordinance at the 9/4/18 Council meeting. I agree. Also, there is a newly created Department of Communications and Technology without removing the older concept of Public Information Officer. Mr. Storch also requested removal of the PIO, and I agree. My attached exhibit outlines these and other changes that I believe should be made or considered.

Politicians holding elective office will be tempted to take advantage of loopholes in ordinances. Before you vote, please be sure that every section of this ordinance has been adequately explained and carefully drafted. You are the Legislative branch and a check on the Executive. You cannot delegate legislating to the Executive branch, and you must insist on carefully drafted ordinances. You are accountable if you vote to allow this ordinance to pass in its current format. Please do not do that.

Thank you,

Mary Burgwinkle, 1785 Sleepy Hollow Lane

Exhibit-Questions and objections to MC2018-22

Lack of adequate demonstration to citizens that ordinance sections are based on careful study and good public policy.

  1. Public Safety/Fire Amendments contained in Chapter 2, Article 11 and Article 12. I do not believe that citizens have received an adequate rationale for the changes being made. Were communities who are known for best practices used as a model? Why were these changes recommended? Will there ultimately be two directors, one for each department, and when?
  2. Department of Communications and Technology contained in Chapter 2, Article 7. Adequate rationale for this department has not been made public. Do cities of our size generally have this department? Will this department take over the communications currently being handled by Public Safety, and is that a good idea? What will this department do? Why is the older concept of Public Information Officer being retained? Is this merely putting a layer of administration between PIO and Business Administrator?
  3. Administrative Assistants (one in each of the 7 Departments) vs. Confidential Assistants (10) in new section 4.5(b) of the Charter. I have not heard a cogent explanation whether these are the same or different positions. The new ordinance and the charter provision are not identical. The Administration has indicated that they have always hired these people anyway. Why do they need to be codified in the Municipal Code and why were they added to the Charter?
  4. Manager of Motors, Chapter 2, Article 9, 2:9-16 vs. Bureau of City Garage, 2:9-7. In the Division of Public Works, there is both a Bureau of City Garage and a Manager of Motors. What is the public policy behind having a Manager of Motors? Is this due to the proliferation of City vehicles being driven by cabinet members and other members of the administration? Why do cabinet members have cars? What ordinance authorized these cars? What is the cost, including fuel, maintenance and insurance of cabinet cars?
  5. 5. Salary Band for Business Administrator and Department Directors. What are the existing minimum and maximum salary bands for these positions? What is the rationale for changing them?

Obsolete Municipal Code provisions still retained in Chapter 2.

  1. Public Works Division Bureaus and functions in Chapter 2, Article 9, 2:9-3, et als. The Bureaus added to the Public Works ordinance in 1980 are being retained in this ordinance. Many of the Bureaus describe areas that are currently functions of the PMUA, and have been for 20+ years. Why are they being left in Article 2? The Recycling Program at 2:9-7.6 is another example of a PMUA function that is not being removed. Why not remove them?
  2. Tax Collector in Chapter 2, Article 6, 2:6-7A. In 2:6-7A (c), the Tax Collector is charged with collecting sewer and utility charges. That function belongs to the PMUA, remove section (c)?
  3. Throughout Article 6, Department of Finance, there are references to City Treasurer, City Controller and Chief Financial Officer. Are all of these still relevant or should they be consolidated and referenced as Chief Financial Officer?     

Exhibit-Questions and objections to MC2018-22 (page 2 of 2)

State Mandated Employees (Municipal Clerk, Tax Collector, Tax Assessor, Chief Financial Officer)

Plainfield (and all municipalities so far as I know ) must have these four state mandated employees. Their appointment and terms of office and duties are set forth in each of the state statutes that govern these types of officers.

  1. For the Municipal Clerk, N.J.S.A. 40A:9-133 governs. In that statute, Clerks are appointed by governing bodies, vacancies are filled by governing bodies, and the listed duties are to support governing bodies. Mayor/Chief Executive is not mentioned in the statute. Plainfield Charter (1968) at 2.13 cites the state statute and indicates that the clerk is the clerk of the council. In contrast, amended ordinance section 2.15.1 on Office of the City Clerk, is silent on who appoints the Clerk and indicates that the Clerk reports to the Mayor and City Council. Why is the Mayor involved in the new section 2.15.1? The section should be redrafted or eliminated completely, as the Charter and state statute control.
  2. For the Chief Financial Officer, N.J.S.A. 40A9:140.10 governs. In that statute CFOs are appointed by the governing body for a four year term. Neither the current version of the Municipal Code nor the proposed amendments contain a provision on appointment of the Chief Financial Officer. Instead, Article 6 contains various references to City Controller, City Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer. In Section 2.6-6, Division of Treasury, the City Treasurer is appointed by the Mayor with advice and consent of City Council, for a one-year term. Is that section obsolete? Is there a need for a City Treasurer and a Chief Financial Officer and a City Controller? Why not conform to the to controlling statute? Council should ask to have extraneous positions removed and a new CFO section included so that there is no confusion.
  3. For the Tax Assessor, N.J.S.A. 40A:9-146 and N.J.S.A. 40A9-148 govern appointment, term and vacancies. The current version of the Municipal Code at 2:6-5 indicates that the City Assessor is appointed pursuant to N.J.S.A. 40:46-6.2. N.J.S.A. 40:46-6.2 appears to have been repealed. Term and vacancies are governed by N.J.S.A. 40A:9-148. This section should be redrafted to reference the correct controlling statute.
  4. For the Tax Collector, N.J.S.A. 40A:9-145.7 governs. Appointment is made by the governing body or chief executive as appropriate to the form of government. The current Municipal Code at 2:6-7A provides for appointment by the Mayor with the advice and consent of Council and indicates that the Tax Collector must be certified under N.J.S.A. 40A:9-145.5 (that section refers to revocation of certificates, is the correct section N.J.S.A. 40A:9-145.2?) Counsel should check and correct.

Sections likely containing typographical and editing errors (spelling, wrong word, misnumbered section, additional words, wrong department reference, etc.)

Sections 2:4-2, 2:5-12(c), 2:6-1 (b), 2:6-3 (l), 2:7-1 (b), 2:7-2 (f) and (g), Article 8 heading, 2:8-1 (b), 2:9-1 (b), 2:9-2, 2:9-3, 2:9-7.2, 2:9-7.3, 2:9-10A, 2:10-4(l), 2:11-1 (b), 2:12-1(c), 12:13-19 (i). There may be others that I did not see.

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