Plainfield is an amazing city with enormous potential, but we have our share of issues to resolve. Code enforcement, law enforcement, education system, high taxes, outdated processes at city hall, patronage jobs at taxpayer expense etc. One of our biggest issues is basic checks and balances within local government.
Recently the Administration introduced for a second time, (first attempt failed in 2019) ordinance MC 2021-26 that would eliminate the requirement of the Administration to obtain Council approval for any layoff plan of city employees (including Police and Fire but not PMUA). The administration’s reasoning for this requested change is that they feel those responsibilities reside solely with the executive branch of the city. On its face, this might sound realistic. However, rarely in politics should anything be taken at face value. By charter, the administration is responsible for day-to-day management of city operations while the council has control of the city purse (budget and appropriations) and oversight of city management through standing committees and law-making powers by way of resolution and ordinance.
This ordinance has, at best, a very Veruca Salt sort of vibe and at worst, a very Trumpian sort of power grab that will allow current and future administrations to wield unnecessary power over the city workforce at the expense of the taxpayers – a sort of “I alone can fix it” mentality.
Here are just four reasons why this ordinance should be defeated by the council this coming Monday August 16th:
- Transparency, Transparency, Transparency – The role of the council to have oversight and approval of a city layoff plan is an important part of public transparency. It requires an Administration to develop a detailed plan, with valid reasoning, timing, implementation, risks, and benefits to community and taxpayers. Best of all, it requires the administration to present that plan publicly to the city council and “sell” them on the plan. It allows the council and public to be fully informed and it requires the administration to defend their approach and conclusions for the plan. If the plan is good and solidly thought out, how hard is it to sell the idea to the council and the public?
- Power Grab, Political Retribution – The current Mayor gets three paychecks for government positions AND is the chair of the Plainfield Democratic City Committee who selects the individuals who appear on the ballot under the democratic machine column. Providing him with sole authority to eliminate positions is a power grab that will instill fear of retribution in city employees, your typical “with me or against me” sort of marketing tag line. Unlike the other 48 US states, New Jersey is a political machine state (and not coincidentally one of the highest taxed) – machines like to prevent as much “meddling” from legislative bodies and the public as possible. That is one reason NJ does not have citizen ballot referendums – way too dangerous a democratic tool for the political machines. Giving the Administration the ability to enact their own layoff plans without the public being able to weigh-in provides the political machine the power to persecute those that speak out or disagree with administration policies. It is the American equivalent of a cleansing of dissidents in Russia or any other authoritarian state. These “cleansings” could be any city department, helping the machine maintain power but at cost to taxpayers.
- $$$$$ – In politics, sadly, money is the lifeblood of political power, in fact the mayor spent approximately $400,000 on his recent primary campaign and still has the general election in November. Giving the Administration this sort of unchecked authority allows for outsourcing of city services with little ability by the council to stop it. Outsourcing, in and of itself, is not a terrible thing but not all outsourcing is good outsourcing. With outsourcing, city funds go out the door to vendors who can then write checks for campaign donations in appreciation for the business they got – laundering taxpayer money for campaign accounts, PACS and politician’s personal non-profit organizations.
- Impact to City Services – Without the oversight and public vetting of any layoff, outsourcing or reorganization plans, city services could be further affected. This administration has tried this before, one attempt was the outsourcing of the planning department, laying off all but a couple staff members. The administration tabled the effort when the public (not the council) saw that the outsourcing plan had numerous issues, from the original RFP to the proposed operational framework and to the estimated cost savings, which were impossible to achieve no matter how creative you were with the bookkeeping.
The current administration will say “we know how to do a layoff plan, no worries here, it will be fine,” and they may be correct. However, the next administration or the one after that may not know what they are doing, may not have the best of intentions and may cause serious harm to services and added costs to taxpayers. This does not include potential litigation and settlement costs because of poorly crafted and executed layoff plans. Checks and balances are not only for those administrations with which we disagree, we have them for all administrations and at all levels of government.
The citizens of Plainfield should be against this transfer of authority from one branch of government to another and be aware that checks and balances are there for a reason – to protect the interests of citizens.