Can’t Make This Stuff Up

Last night’s Council Meeting (Agenda Fixing Session) was a display of the tail wagging the dog. The Mayor’s proposal to remove the power of the Council to approve lay-off plans and shift it solely to the cities Executive Branch is yet another example of a City Council that does not only not understand their role, will not take the time to do their due-diligence prior to the council meetings and can’t seem to stand up for themselves long enough to get a clear answer to their questions.

The proposed ordinance MC2019-07 will remove the Council’s “Advise and Consent” power over any proposed lay-off plans by the city. That’s right – a governing body is moving to weaken themselves – a likely unheard of situation. The claim by the Administration and Corporation Counsel is that this is just a housekeeping matter to align the city charter with municipal code. It should be noted that there are very few council sessions with municipal code clean-up being done so it is interesting that this particular topic is in such dire need of a refresh. It is also interesting to note that the current ordinance has been in place since the time the current charter was enacted – so where is the need or urgency to make the change. For those that attended last months council meeting there is a clue – the layoff of the emergency dispatchers that was proposed and not voted on in February (Not because the Council members voted against it, but because no council member was willing to second the motion to vote on the resolution).

The administration would like to outsource the functions of the dispatchers to a private firm – apparently because of an estimated savings of over $2 million over the term of the contract. Without seeing the details of that agreement it is hard to see how outsourcing 5 individuals would save that much money – add to that the administrations habit of performing poor outsourcing projects and it makes that savings even harder to comprehend. That issue aside, it is obvious that the Council’s inability to act on the Mayor’s wishes caused some bad feelings within the group and as a result the Mayor decided to just change the way the process works so that he can get his way.

Outsourcing is not always a bad thing – and can often lead to efficiencies and economies of scale that some corporations or governments struggle to achieve independently for areas that are outside their core competency. But not all outsourcing is smart and poorly outsourced programs can cost more and create issues with performance and service, resulting in having to be brought back in-house at considerable expense.

It is my guess that the Mayor has a budget issue to resolve and is eager to get this outsourcing project in motion for his next budget. I would also guess that he would dig out the prior plan to outsource the planning division – which only failed last time because of public outrage and a council that stood up against the proposal.

All but two council members asked questions last evening and each one of them failed to hold the administration or corporation counsel’s feet to the fire on the answers. They allowed themselves to get spin and conflated information instead of the answer to their questions. The only exception to that was Councilwoman Ashley Davis – who asked several questions and repeated them until she got the answer. She also had the courage to vote against moving this ordinance to next week’s agenda where it will be voted on. Unfortunately, her colleagues still struggle with what their role is as a council member, fail to do the necessary homework prior to the meetings and instead appear to just formulate questions on the fly during the meeting.

With the exception of Ms. Davis, the council demonstrated their utter lack of independence from the Mayor (also their party chair who decides if they can be on the ballot and their chief fundraiser for elections) – so little independence that they will give up authority that has been with the Plainfield City Council for 50 years without demanding any real information or understanding the nuances of the city charter or municipal code.

Approving this ordinance could have very dire and expensive consequences for Plainfield near and long term and the Mayor’s insistence that the Council would still have to approve any contracts for outsourcing projects is another sad topic – this Council has never asked pointed questions about any contract let alone denying one or any of the requisite expenditures that go along with them.

Power Grab Ordinance By Mayor – Guest Blog Post By Mary Burgwinkle

March 3, 2019

To: City Council

From: Mary Burgwinkle

Re: Is Proposed Ordinance just a Power Grab by Mayor?

Dear City Council:

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.

What is the Mayor’s Problem with Civil Service?

The Mayor appears to have issues with Civil Service, in my opinion. This summer he added jobs to the charter with no notice or approval from anyone. That seemed to me to be a blatant attempt to work around Civil Service, although he claimed otherwise.

If he has such issues, he should deal with them with the gravity that the City took when it first adopted Civil Service. From Municipal Code section 11:1-1, we can learn that the state legislature enacted Civil Service and that the Council adopted it after the voters of Plainfield voted in favor of it. Thereafter, the Council declared that the Civil Service law and rules would be the framework for employment in the city government (See section 11:2-4, entitled Declaration of Policy).

If the Mayor and administration think that they need to make dramatic changes to Civil Service in Plainfield, perhaps there should be a referendum of the voters, followed by the appropriate action of Council after that. In the same way that POTUS should go to Congress and negotiate for “border security” or other funding rather than relying on bogus emergencies, the Mayor should live with Civil Service or go to the Council and voters to resolve it correctly. He does not need anymore absolute power.

Suggestions for saving money other than layoffs

I am jumping to the conclusion that if the Mayor is seeking to control layoffs, he is contemplating them to save money. I hope that is not the the case, but if it is, here are a few suggestions to save money.

  1. There are too many cabinet members and others (outside Public Safety and DPW) who are driving city vehicles, to the point that we apparently need a fleet manager. How much does that cost? Do those people pay for gas and insurance? Everyone should drive their own car and put in reimbursement requests for mileage travelled on city business.
  2. How many people travelled on the recent “Walk to Washington” at the city’s expense? Do they have to report to anyone what they did, who they met, what good it did for Plainfield?
  3. How many people went to the League of Municipalities meeting at the city’s expense? Do they report to anyone what they did? Why can’t people drive down for a day?
  4. Has there been a freeze on hiring consultants or anyone else, for that matter?
  5. The United States Conference of Mayors is holding its conference this year in Hawaii. No one should attend, in my opinion. If the Mayor feels that he needs to attend, and does not want to go by himself, he should bring a family member and pay for that person’s air fare, meals and entertainment.
  6. How much did it cost for a heated tent in January, costumes, food, etc. for the January 4 event at City Hall? It is good to celebrate milestones; however, it is 2019 all year and thought should be given to planning the celebrations in better weather and on a very tight budget.

Thank you, it is up to you, Council, whether this ordinance passes and how much the city ultimately spends each year.

Mary Burgwinkle

1785 Sleepy Hollow Lane

 

Charter Sections

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.

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)

My Vote Is For Ron Johnson on Nov 6th

Let me first address, for those that care, the reason for my very long lag in posting a blog. I had been very focused on making sure that I had posts written and available for posting in the event that life got in the way – unfortunately life got very in the way recently. For the last 6-7 weeks I have been co-managing Ron Johnson’s campaign for the At-Large City Council seat and as a result I had little time to write any blog posts (don’t worry, I have a list of topics ready to go after the election). Since about the 3rd week in September, we have been spending 2 hours each night and 4-6 hours each weekend day walking neighborhoods and knocking on doors with Ron. While I feel bad that I have not been able to post a blog, I do not regret the diversion as canvassing, as they call it in the political world, is one of my favorite activities.

Tuesday is Election Day and we all have decisions to make. Some voters walk into the voting booth and vote the entire party line in one block. There have been elections where I have done that but they are rare. The reason is, no matter where I have lived the party line has typically asked voters to “VOTE LINE X ALL THE WAY” yet that line of politicians have delivered little to nothing other than keeping themselves and their friends in elected office.

This year is different because there is a special election on the ballot to fill the City Council seat vacated by Rebecca Williams after she was elevated to County Freeholder. The reason this is a special election is that Assemblyman Green’s death (which caused the domino effect of office moving) was after the June primary, which means the election to fill the remaining term is done in the general election.

That being the case, I will be exercising my freedom of choice and voting for Ron Johnson for the At-Large City Council seat in COLUMN C, and here is my reasoning:

  • I served on the Planning Board with Ron and was impressed by his intellect and passion for Plainfield
  • He has proven himself a dedicated public servant to our city, as a board member and treasurer of Neighborhood House, as a member of the Shade Tree Commission and as the founder and president of Downtown Plainfield Alliance, a 501C3 organization working to improve the downtown through beautification efforts.
  • With a campaign period of about 7 weeks (from the filing deadline), Ron has been actively walking in all four wards speaking to residents about himself and his background but also spending time asking about their lives, streets and neighborhoods – taking notes and coming up with solutions for their issues/concerns.
  • Ron knows Plainfield, every side street, brown field and issue that bedevils our Queen City
  • Ron has been involved with all levels of Plainfield for years and based his college degree and professional career on Urban Planning and downtown revitalization because at a young age he wanted to improve our city for the benefit of everyone.

I must say that I became more and more impressed with Ron as the campaign unfolded – he was tireless in his efforts to speak to speak to as many resident as possible.

His opponent, Elton Armady, is a nice young man but he is a product of the party machine, with little interest in knocking on doors and speaking with constituents.   That is not a personal attack, but is instead the plain truth. Mr. Armady works for the county, which in and of itself is fine, but because of that position, he is beholden to other powers so that he does not lose his primary form of employment.

In June of this year, when Rebecca Williams was appointed to fill the vacant County Freeholder seat, Mr. Armady personally expressed his interest to me, in the city council position that Ms. Williams was vacating. I told Mr. Armady that he was free to pursue the position but I had heard a rumor that he did not live in the district that he represented (Ward 4, District 3) as a member of the Plainfield Democratic City Committee (which he was elected to in June 2017). His response was very generic and I did not pry further, only saying that if it is an issue he should clear it up before he continued further down the path. However, Mr. Armady has since been appointed to that position and failed to admit publicly that he does not live in the district that he was elected to represent. In fact, it would appear that he has not resided in that district since around August/September 2017. Since that time there have been many important votes held for county chair, assembly replacement and council replacement. At no time did Mr. Armady state that he no longer lived in the district that he was elected to represent. His most recent campaign literature states that he is an elected representative of the PDCC – and based on his ELEC filings (Showing under signature that his residence is on West 7th Street) prior to the printing of those pieces – it would appear that he places self and party above citizens because his home address is not in the district for which he was elected to serve and is instead in the 4th Ward, 4th District . It should be noted that a PDCC member does not get removed formally – according to state statute, a person that dies or moves from their district is automatically removed from office – unfortunately it requires the individual, in cases other than death, to alert the party to a change of address or at a minimum, stop casting votes after they have moved.

A person that places self above party and citizens is not someone that I personally can support with my vote. Ron Johnson knows Plainfield well, is dedicated to improving the city for all residents and has pursued a degree and professional career based on his desire to improve Plainfield. In addition, his tireless work in a short campaign period has proven further that he is the right man for the job. With that, my vote for the At-Large City council seat on November 6th will be enthusiastically placed for Ron Johnson in Column C.

Let There Be Light?

It was quite common when doing weekend canvassing and knocking on doors to have people mention street lights that were out.  It happens, they have light bulbs that burn out and wires that rot from salt in winter – standard stuff.  However, the largest number of complaints were related to downtown – where people felt that the lack of lighting was a safety issue.  Full disclosure, i am not a huge fan of street lights, but I get their usefulness – I just don’t always notice when they are not working.  That being said, there was one individual (who shall remain nameless) who really enjoyed mentioning the number of street lights that were out downtown – it became one of those “alright already, I got it!” type of conversations.

One night in the middle of September last year, I had a change in my plans and suddenly had a free evening and I decided to go downtown, walk around and make a note of the street lights that were out.  I will admit that I was hoping to find very few issues with non-working lights so I could tell my friend he was being dramatic.  I decided to limit the area to something I could cover in an hour or hour and a half – so it was 5th Street to Front and Church to Grove.  I parked at City Hall and took my pad and off I went – scouting for lights that were out and writing down their pole numbers.

After a little more than an hour, I had 41 PSE&G Street lights and 18 City Lights (some encompassing all four corners of an intersection).  A PSE&G Street light is any of the standard lights on the metal or wood poles – like those on residential streets.  A City Light, would be any of the lights in city parking lots as well as the ornamental, decorative lights that are installed in the business districts downtown and on South Avenue.

For those that aren’t aware, PSE&G maintains the street lights.  They don’t check them, they just repair them when reported (which can be done online on the PSE&G webpage).  The city pays for the power usage so it is the city’s responsibility to notify PSE&G when repairs are needed.  The decorative City Lights are maintained by the City – we own them, we fix them.

After being shocked by the number of lights that were out, I reported them to PSE&G using their online system.  All but 2 of the lights were repaired within 72 hours – the 2 leftovers had more complex issues and took slightly longer – when I checked 10 days later those had been fixed as well.

The City Lights I reported, in person, by handing a typed list to Department of Public Works – they were going to facilitate getting the city lights working again.

This past July, while searching for a document on my computer, I came across a document titled “city light repairs” – I had forgotten that I had done that little project last year and wondered if all the decorative city lights had been fixed.  So I drove downtown to each of the locations – the city had fixed 6 out of 18 or 33%.  So in 72 hours, PSE&G fixed 95% of those reported and in 10 months the city has repaired 33% – and by the way, I saw 4 additional lights that are now not working.  I wrote a draft of this blog and saved it – instead posting some other topics.  Tonight I went downtown and noticed that the lights are still not working (now a full year since the list was provided).

There are several reasons I bring this up.  1)  we have these pretty lights that were paid for and we should use them (plus, these aren’t metered so we are paying PSE&G a fee for them anyway),  2)  the city should be able to coordinate a process to identify non-working lights, get repairs on a schedule and have them working within a set period of time (even a week is tolerable) and 3)  do any of the city officials, elected or otherwise, drive through the city and notice when lights are out and alert DPW?

The new city hall reorganization that the Mayor created, by himself without public input, has the signal group reporting to DPW instead of public safety.  So the management that can’t keep our street lights operating is going to be in charge of repairing the signals at traffic intersections (FYI – the left turn lane red light on Westbound South Ave @ Leland has been out for over a week).  I will add that I am not pointing blame at front line workers as my experience is that these issues stem from bad management and a lack of clear priorities higher up the chain.

If we want to improve our downtown and commercial areas and promote additional investment, we need to start acting like we are capable of supporting additional activity and investment downtown.  If we don’t care about our downtown, why would someone want to invest money in Plainfield?  Two newly completed projects demonstrate this already, the Access Storage facility on South Avenue installed 9 decorative light poles as part of their development approval – ZERO are working 8+ months after installation.  The new Art Lofts development on Gavett and Second Street has 4-5 decorative street lights in front of it – ZERO are working.  So that increases the total non-working lights to approximately 30.

We also need to focus on code enforcement for trash, dirty sidewalks, over coverage of store windows and illegally installed signage – but that is a completely different topic.

 

 

“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.

Just Sad

Long delay since my last post.  While I have a few posts written and “in the can” as they say, I did not feel any of them were quite right for this moment.

Since the last Council meeting on August 13th I have been mentally writing a blog about that meeting but had not quite been able to commit it to writing until now.

City Charter Topic

The best way to describe the Mayor’s presentation about the city charter changes is that it was “Sad”.  “Odd” and “Weird” are also good words but Sad just seems to fit the bill a little better.

Here are my observations:

  • Mayor Mapp’s presentation was so far after that fact that it was almost pointless.  He should have done this BEFORE the council took up a resolution requesting the state legislature to approve charter changes.
  • The verbal tour of the costs, with long division, multiplication, subtraction, pro-rating etc. was both tedious and comical – mostly because the Mayor grew more and more agitated in the process.  No matter how you slice the math – this will ultimately cost taxpayers money – that is a promise.
  • The Mayor was noticeably frustrated and perturbed at having to present this to the public.  Never addressing the fact that he overstepped his authority nor apologizing for not doing this the proper way – which would have been to:
    • 1)  Present Concept to Council and Public
    • 2)  Allow for Council and Public to ask questions
    • 3)  Allow Council to think about it and hear from constituents before voting on the changes
    • 4)  Council presents ordinance to be sent to state for approval, discusses it at a public meeting, allows for additional public comments and feedback and then votes
  • Councilman Cory Storch provided a standard all over the place public comment about being upset and happy and sad and supportive – and then voted in favor of the changes.
  • Councilman Steve Hockaday stated that he was concerned about the change from a fire chief to a fire director and wanted to hear from the rank and file fire personnel (many were in attendance by the way).  Excellent idea (step #3 above) – but because the Mayor handled this process so poorly it likely too late.  Moments after his comment Mr. Hockaday voted in favor of the ordinance on first reading and it will be finalized at the September council meeting.
    • I look forward to hearing about his conversations with the file personnel – I assume his interest in hearing their opinions meant that he was planning to set-up a round table or town hall style event with their members
  • No other council member spoke out about the way the Mayor usurped their authority and made charter changes without proper oversight and public input.
  • The Mayor, instead of offering an apology for his secretive approach, decided instead to attack citizens that have spoken out against his secretive process – referring to them as Purveyors of Misinformation and suggested they should apologize to the public.  It was sad, passive aggressive and honestly reminded me of a “fake news” Trump diatribe where instead of attacking the debate you just attack the debater.
  • There was no discussion about the qualifications of the individuals being promoted to the new director positions.  For example – does Jazz Clayton-Hunt have a background in IT to effectively manage the city’s vital IT infrastructure – which requires much needed upgrades to get us from our 1975 model and into the 21st Century.  Does she have the project and program management skills necessary to oversee the integration of the Murphy Humphrey system that the taxpayers have invested so heavily in and have yet to see the benefits from?  Side Note:  can someone tell me when the city council authorized Ms. Clayton-Hunt to have a city car, insurance and key to the city gas pump?
  • The council should have each new department head candidate appear before them in a public meeting and ask them detailed questions about their qualifications for the position, what ideas they plan to bring to the department and the issues they will be addressing to improve services and performance.  Council had advise and consent authority – which means they must approve appointments (think Supreme Court confirmation concept)

The Charter issue is up for second reading at next mondays council meeting – I was unable to attend tonight’s agenda fixing session (by the way, can we please change that name – it is just awful) but I look forward to next week’s meeting when the council members walk us through their thinking and discuss the detailed due diligence they gathered since the last Council meeting.

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