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 Code enforcement, law enforcement, education system, high taxes, outdated processes at city hall, patronage jobs at taxpayer expense etc.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.
Deja Vu all over again?
Deja Vu is the feeling that one has lived through the present situation before. Indeed, Plainfield has lived through this Mayor’s attempt to cut City Council (the governing body) out of designating job classifications for layoffs. He did this in March 2019, seeking to cede all authority for this issue to the Mayor.
Prior to the council meeting where the issue was to be heard, I wrote a letter to City Council because I thought that the rationale for the action was faulty. An excerpt of my longer letter is copied below.
Once again, this sounds like a power grab to me. Think about it this way: Mayor Mapp was on City Council and was President during the final year of the Robinson-Briggs administration. If that Mayor had brought this action to City Council, how likely would he have been to go along with it and dilute power of City Council? Everyone can have their own opinion about this, I doubt he would have supported giving the Mayor that power then.
Excerpts from Prior Letter in March 2019:
Power Grab with Faulty Rationale?
The proposed Ordinance that you will consider on 3/4/2019, amending Municipal Code section 11:12-2 on layoffs, will cut the City Council out of the process of designating the job classifications for layoffs and will give the Mayor sole responsibility for the decision. This sounds to me like a power grab on the part of the Mayor.
Under the current ordinance (See sections 11:12-1 and 12-2 at the bottom of this letter), the Council designates the job classifications or classifications for required reductions, in consultation with the Mayor. The proposed Ordinance would have us believe that only the Council is responsible, when the ordinance provides that they should do this in consultation with the Mayor.
The proposed Ordinance also claims that this change will better align that provision of the Municipal Code and the Charter regarding appointment and removal of employees. I disagree.
The Charter does not give unfettered responsibility to the Mayor (see charter sections 3.4 and 3.5 at the bottom of this letter.) Charter section 3.5 provides “The mayor shall appoint and remove officers and employees as authorized by the charter or the administrative code; and shall, with advice and consent of council, make all appointments for which no other provision is made by or pursuant to the charter.” In this case, it appears that the administrative code authorizes Council to make this decision in consultation with the Mayor, and the charter in no way indicates that the Mayor must make every appointment or layoff decision.
In my opinion, there is no reason to amend section 11:12-2, unless there is a very good explanation for doing it that I have not heard.
3.4 Mayor; general duties.
The mayor shall enforce the charter and ordinances of the city and all general laws applicable thereto. He shall annually report to the council and the public on the work of the previous year and on the condition and requirements of the city government and shall from time to time make such recommendations for action by the council as he may deem in the public interest. He shall supervise the departments of the city government and shall require each department to make an annual and such other reports of its work as he may deem desirable. The mayor shall make available to any council member, upon request, any departmental report, official record or document.
3.5 Appointments and removals.
(a)The mayor shall appoint and remove officers and employees as authorized by the charter or administrative code; and shall, with the advice and consent of the council, make all appointments for which no other provision is made by or pursuant to the charter.
(b)The mayor may remove a department head, the business administrator, or corporation counsel, whenever, in his or her discretion, the public interest so requires; and any such removal shall take effect 10 days after the mayor files notice of removal with the city clerk unless prior thereto the council shall at a regular or special meeting disapprove of such removal by resolution adopted by the affirmative vote of 2/3 of the entire membership. In the event of such resolution of disapproval, the affected office shall be restored to his or her office without loss of pay.
Municipal Code Sections
ARTICLE 12. SEPARATION FROM SERVICE AND DISCIPLINARY ACTION.
Sec. 11:12-1. Types of separation.
Classified employees who have acquired permanent employment status, as provided in Section 11:5-6, may be temporarily suspended from the City’s employ by layoff or suspension, or permanently separated by resignation or dismissal, subject at all times to the rules and regulations of the Civil Service Department of the State of New Jersey.
(R.O. 1957, 5:13-1, adopted Dec. 1, 1969)
Sec. 11:12-2. Layoff.
(a) Whenever there is a lack of work or a lack of funds requiring a reduction in the number of employees in a Department of the City government, the required reductions shall be made in such job classifications or classifications as the Council may designate in consultation with the Mayor.
(b) As determined by the Appointing Authority, employees shall be laid off in the inverse order of their length of service within each affected job class in a particular Department. All provisional employees shall be laid off before probationary employees, and all probationary employees shall be laid off before any permanent employee. Permanent employees including those on probationary status so affected shall be given a minimum of forty-five (45) days’ notice. Provisional employees so affected shall be given a minimum of two (2) weeks notice or two (2) weeks pay in lieu thereof.
(R.O. 1957, 5:13-2, adopted Dec. 1, 1969)