Trump Comes to Plainfield

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 Code enforcement, law enforcement, education system, high taxes, outdated processes at city hall, patronage jobs at taxpayer expense etc.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.

Here We Go Again

In 2017, just before the primary, Adrian Mapp latched onto an idea, issued a press release, got public backlash, empowered a committee and buried the resulting report.  Now 3+ years later, going into an election year, he is repeating this same scenario again with no notice to the public (aside from a required legal notice printed in the paper) or discussions at city council meetings.

As a person who hates to be told no, Adrian is resurrecting an idea most residents thought was dead and buried, that is the sale of the Albert Bierstadt paintings that were gifted to the City of Plainfield in 1919 by Dr. J. Ackerman Coles in memory of his father, and which hang in the municipal courtroom.

The issue is what the funds will be used for after the paintings are sold. Apparently, they are intended for Adrian’s borrowed project “Plainfield Promise”.  I say borrowed because it is directly based on The Oakland Promisein Oakland, CA (which is based on the Kalamazoo Promise in Michigan) and would ultimately require millions of dollars in funding over many years.

In 2017, I was one of six residents appointed to the Mayor’s committee and personally handed our report to him in December of that year.  Committee/Commission creation is an oft-used political tactic to calm the public by saying “we will study the issue” and get back to you.  The problem in this instance, for Adrian, was the committee actually studied the issue, researched similar programs around the country, how they were funded, how they were managed and what their outcomes were.  The committee ultimately voted UNANIMOUSLY AGAINST both the sale of the paintings and the idea that city hall should manage a program like Plainfield Promise.

We elect Mayors to manage our cities (secretly hoping they will reduce costs and the burden to taxpayers), improve services, and work with the community to develop long-term goals for our city. We do not elect rulers who unilaterally develop multi-million dollar programs that are funded by the sale of our city’s assets and donations from developers (who are often getting tax incentives) without presenting detailed plans to the public and allowing open, transparent and robust vetting by those ultimately responsible for the costs.  

As far as I have seen, there is no website for Plainfield Promise, no PowerPoint presentation outlining how it is structured, how the money is managed (and safe guarded) or how the additional millions in necessary funding will be raised. This is a back of the envelope, poorly thought out vanity project with a high likelihood of failure and waste of public funds, for an issue that is not within the Mayors job description.

 In NJ our city government and educational systems are managed by two different bodies, they each have their own lane.  The Mayor should stay in his lane and mange the portfolio that he has – and that does not include education.  If the Mayor would like to get involved in our education system, he should resign and run for the Board of Education.    

Here are some of the issues related to this topic, some of which were raised by the Plainfield Promise Committee:

  • Why the secrecy by the Mayor regarding the sale of city assets and their intended use? 
  • Why didn’t the Mayor release the Committee’s 2017 report?
  • Why did the Mayor, roughly 6 months after the committee submitted its report, ask the city council to approve creation of a Plainfield Promise Trust Account on the cities books?  Especially, without making the committees report available to the council members.
  • Why is the Mayor spending money on Lawyers before having a public discussion?  City Council will ultimately have to vote to allow the sale or not – why not have that conversation first?
  • When did the Mayor decide he could negotiate donations from developers (often taxpayer subsidized) for his Plainfield Promise Trust Account (Current balance of ~$300,000) at the expense of other much-needed projects in the city, and are these developers getting a reduction (per the statute) on their property taxes as a result of the donations? 
  • Plainfield Promise would require extraordinary coordination with the Board of Ed to succeed. How is that relationship suddenly going to be cooperative enough for this to work?
  • How is the city going to manage something as complex as Plainfield Promise when they can’t:
    • Clean up the downtown 
    • Manage basic oversight, excessive cost and deteriorating service of PMUA
    • Eliminate illegal apartments and over crowding issues
    • Stop illegal dumping in neighborhoods
    • Reduce speeding and eliminate dangerous, obnoxious and illegal dirt bike and ATV racing in our neighborhoods
    • Update city systems to provide cutting edge service (COVID has exposed our systems and processes as antiquated)
    • Provide effective code enforcement (former Delta station on south avenue has been an issue for years)
    • Develop a city website that is not a disaster to navigate and has up to date, useful information 
    • Reduce or hold property taxes in a sustainable way (2020 cuts were Covid-19 related and not permanent reductions)
    • Stop re-inventing the wheel and wasting money (performing arts center, is another endeavor with no public discussion or transparency before spending several hundred thousand dollars of taxpayer money and adding another liability to our books)

I have no issue with the concept of Plainfield Promise.  These programs can be a beneficial “Band-Aid” of sorts until a preferred national solution is achieved.  My issue is a government entity managing such a program, especially when it is struggling to manage basic city operations.  Oakland Promise IS NOT managed NOR FUNDED by the city of Oakland and its residents.  It is run by a non-profit organization of which the Mayor of Oakland is a non-voting board member.

Queen City Promise, a non-profit started about a year ago by a resident is working to raise funds from foundations, corporations and private donors to fund the higher education endeavors of Plainfield children.  This is the type of organization that should be managing such a program.

These secretive projects are part of the reason the public is so cynical about politics, and I don’t blame them.  These paintings were given “to the people of Plainfield” and they should have a say in how they are used.  We don’t live in Mappville, a family owned and operated municipality, the citizens should be informed, allowed to voice their opinion and our elected officials should provide information and answer question to those paying their salaries. 

Plainfield City Budget – “Guard Against The Unknown”

Plainfield, like the majority of NJ municipalities, is delayed in our budget process as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, however we are only slightly behind our typical schedule and within the extension given by the sate.   On Monday April 13, 2020, at a special council meeting, we will be voting on the administration’s budget request.  We will not be voting to approve the budget request, just to vote that it is being received as submitted.

By city charter and state statute, the budget is the responsibility of the City Council.  The Mayor and his administration present their budget proposal to the council but the final product and appropriations belong to the council alone.  I stress this because many people criticize or critique mayoral budgets and the reality is there is no such thing as a Mayor’s budget, only a budget request. ALL approvals for spending, and any resulting increase in taxes lays at the feet of the city council members – period.

The budget process includes receipt/acknowledgement of budget request, public hearings on requests with presentations by department heads, amendments made to the budget by council and then adoption of the final budget.  The public hearings have, for many years, included council appointed members of the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee (CBAC) who ask questions alongside the council members and then submit their recommendations.  There has been some conversation internally about whether the CBAC should continue this year and my answer was “WITHOUT A DOUBT, YES”.

This being said, the “budget request” submitted to the council by the Mayor is asking for a 1.5% increase in spending for CY2020 (From $86,615,195 to $87,969,193) – that is an additional $1,353,999 in spending.

Spending and taxes in Plainfield, and in New Jersey as a whole, have been well passed the breaking point for a long time and the notion of increasing discretionary spending during a time of extraordinary economic uncertainty is, without question, the wrong way to go.

During his Facebook live event last night, the Mayor said about the budget, “we are simply being fiscally prudent as we exercise care, caution and thoughtfulness in dealing with this global crisis and to guard against the unknown.”  His budget request is the opposite of guarding against the unknown and includes expenditures that should be dramatically reduced, if not eliminated entirely.  There is zero need for travel and expense reimbursement and other discretionary spending that the Mayor stated he has “put the lid on”.  The budget should reflect the current state of affairs as they relate to the city and its residents and taxpayers.

At a City Council meeting in March, a member of the Council Finance Committee announced that the Finance Committee would select the departments that would appear before council and CBAC members during the public hearing portion of the budget process.  That choice is outside the law, as our City Charter requires all department heads to present and defend their budget requests to the Business Administrator in a scheduled and advertised public meeting (Article V, Section 3).

That legal requirement was skipped in the Administration’s budget request process (I don’t personally recall when it has been followed to the letter of the law actually). In my opinion, the City Council has a fiduciary responsibility to discuss each department’s budget in public with the directors. Skipping this part of the process is a dereliction of duty.  Failure to hold complete public meetings lacks transparency and open public dialogue about the priorities that are important to everyone.  If the department directors are unable to defend their budgets or answer questions related to spending and programs then we should replace each of them with more qualified individuals.

If the City Council President decides to eliminate the CBAC or allow for the manipulation of full public budget hearings then he should be held to account for that decision.  There is no valid, ethical or legal reason for not having a full-throated presentation and discussion of the budget, in any year, let alone 2020.

If the Mayor can do a Facebook event with his full cabinet and the City Council can have an online meeting with the public participating, we can certainly schedule multiple budget hearings and stream them online. Our citizens can watch them from the safety of their homes.

The American public has been begging for transparency and open communication regarding public policy and Plainfielder’s are no different.  If we can’t have an open discussion about spending then we must either have something to hide or be unable to have straightforward and honest dialogue with our fellow residents to offer a clear concise defense of the proposed expenditures.

I have gone through the entire budget book in detail and made pages of notes regarding numerous expenditures.  I hope that all of my colleagues will do the same and bring to the table their proposed amendments.

I also look forward to hearing from our fellow residents about their ideas and perspectives on the budget – I may not agree with all of them but I am open to listening and learning.  There can be no sacred cows with respect to discretionary spending. The responsibility of controlling costs falls to my council colleagues and myself. This is not the time to be ill prepared or to fail to understand the needs and struggles of our fellow residents and taxpayers.

The special council meeting will be webcast on Monday, April 13, 2020 @ 7:00 PM.  The public will have an opportunity to make comments and ask questions during the allotted public comment period just like in person council meetings.  I encourage everyone to register for the webcast to understand how the 2020 budget process will take place.  To register for the council click on the link: PLAINFIELD COUNCIL MEETING WEBCAST REGISTRATION

I also encourage residents to share their suggestions and ideas regarding the budget and any other topics of interest to them with their council members.

Steve Hockaday, Council President, Councilman Ward 4,

Elton Armady, Council Vice President, Councilman-At-Large,

Ashley Davis, Councilwoman Ward 1,

Sean McKenna, Councilman Ward 2,

Charles McRae, Councilman Ward 3,

Barry Goode, Councilman-At-Large Wards 1 & 4,

Joylette Mills-Ransome, Councilwoman-At-Large Wards 2 & 3,


Many Thanks Ward 2!!!

I recently got a blog spanking, along with some others, by Dan Damon for being tardy with a mass thank you to the voters of ward 2 following the primary election.  It is rare that I agree with Dan but in this instance he is correct.  Although I would argue with him regarding the specific claim of bad manners – manners were an important part of my upbringing with lessons in holding doors open and lighting a ladies cigarette (those were the days).

That being said, I was delayed in posting a public thank you to ward 2 voters that supported me on June 4th.  Your support, kind words during election day and your confidence in me is humbling.  Since election day, I have started to organize the 7 pages of notes that I took while I walked the Ward and spoke to residents.  Some of these are quality of life issues that I was asked to address if elected and others are ideas that voters shared with me regarding city services and other areas that the council has oversight of.  I have also spent time writing thank you notes to individuals whose support and dedication to the campaign helped to make the victory possible.  I want to take the time here to publicly thank my campaign team – John Stewart (Campaign Manager), Jim Spear (Treasurer, Walk Coordinator and Strategist), Mary Burgwinkle and Jeanette Criscione who gave support wherever it was needed, from strategy and literature editing to keeping me focused and helping me to articulate ideas.  Without this team the campaign would have been much more difficult and the results may have been different as well.

For Ward 2 supporters, I thank you again for your confidence in me.  I will be walking around the second ward again over the coming months to talk to residents and hear more of their thoughts about what Plainfield needs to improve for all of its citizens.  While many elected officials dislike this sort of engagement with voters, I enjoy it immensely.  I am also working on a strategy for communicating regularly with residents so they are up to date with current information and are aware of important issues coming before the city council.  More information about this process will be shared as we develop the most efficient way to share information.

I must also thank Cory Storch for his 16 years of dedicated service on the Plainfield City Council – he should be proud of his legacy and service to the community.

I look forward to joining the city council in January and until then I will continue the process of making sure that I have the best interests of the second ward and the city of Plainfield in all of my actions as a councilman.

Guest Blog Post By Mary Burgwinkle

MARY BURGWINKLE – 1785 Sleepy Hollow Lane, Plainfield, NJ 07060

Vote Column B, People First Democrats, on June 4th

Dear Neighbors and Friends in Ward 2, District 9:

I am running for the Ward 2, District 9 Female seat on Plainfield Democratic City Committee (“PDCC”). According to state law, the Democratic Party elects its representatives from each voting district at the Primary election in odd calendar years. I am the incumbent Female member from 2-9. This year I am running on Column B (People First Democrats) and not on Column A with the Regular Democratic Organization because:

  • Adrian Mapp, who is PDCC Chair, did not offer me a place on the Column A slate. Chair Mapp chose candidates for PDCC without input from the PDCC at an official meeting. PDCC members should be involved in the selection of candidates for PDCC, City Council and other City and County offices.
  • PDCC Members who did not vote for the Chair’s preferred candidate for Union County Democratic Chair were not offered places on Column A. Many of those citizens are running for PDCC seats on Column B as People First Democrats.
  • It appears to me that Chair Mapp selected some PDCC candidates who work for the City or have other government jobs or appointments. It would likely be difficult for those people to vote or express opinions against him.

I was a strong supporter of Mayor/Chair Mapp when he ran on good government, fiscal responsibility and transparency. However, as a 36-year resident of Plainfield, I care tremendously about the City and my Neighborhood. When I believe that Mayor/Chair Mapp is attempting to grab power or make decisions that are not in our collective best interest, I go to City Council, write to City Council and the local blogs, and speak up at PDCC meetings.

I am disappointed that the current City Council appears to be doing almost anything Mayor/Chair Mapp wants to do, with little questioning from many of them. They recently approved a City budget that apparently included the Mayor and six others going to a mayors’ conference in Hawaii at City expense, as reported in the Star Ledger on 5/18. This use of taxpayer dollars seems ill advised and driven by hubris in a year where there was a budget deficit and where taxes are going up, again.

I am running for the 2-9 PDCC seat with Sean McKenna, who is running uncontested for the Male 2-9 seat. He is also involved in a contested primary for Ward 2 City Council. I strongly support Sean, because I believe that he will support good ideas from the Administration and speak out against bad ideas. I would appreciate your vote in the June 4th Primary, for myself and for Sean.

Thank you.

Mary Burgwinkle

Plainfield Not Politics

At this point it shouldn’t be a secret that I am running for Plainfield City Council – Second Ward. However, I think it is important that I make it clear why I am running and what I believe the role of a City Council member is intended to be.

Plainfield is an amazing city, of course with it challenges, but it is a city that pulls you in. The first time I came to Plainfield to look at houses I was hooked – without a clue why. The city is inviting, the citizens are friendly and outgoing – it reminded me a great deal of the town in Iowa where I grew up.

Since my arrival, after living in Newark for 10 years, I have been involved locally – as a member of the board of directors of the Plainfield YMCA, Planning Board member since 2014, Chairman of the Plainfield Promise Committee and as a volunteer on numerous local campaigns – spending weekends walking throughout the city knocking on doors and talking to residents. As a member of the Plainfield Vision 2025 committee I participated in 13 public roundtables to hear from the citizens about their vision for the city, an experience that is still one of my favorites.

My reasons for running comes from all of these experiences and from the realization that our elected officials don’t know what their roles are. Municipal government is like a complicated homeowners association – representatives are elected to carry-out the business of the shareholders (Citizens) who have busy lives and depend on others to look out for their best interests – it is really that simple. They are elected to make sure that their Wards are getting the attention they deserve (and pay for) and that citywide programs are well managed and use taxpayer money effectively. They are there to make that potholes get attention, streetlights are working, cops are patrolling and kids are able to participate in a variety of activities to help them grow and stay active. They are there when a storm hits to make sure that the necessary resources are in place to serve the citizens when they need it – the resources that they pay for with their hard earned tax dollars. They are there to ask the tough questions and make sure that citizens are not only informed but also heard.

When elected public servants make decisions based on what is right for them – to get the party ballot position or to achieve higher office then they are letting down the people that elected them. When they don’t ask questions prior to a budget vote that increases the burden on taxpayers, they are letting their citizens down. When a storm hits and they are nowhere to be seen, they are letting their citizens down. When a citizen emails or calls them and they ignore the call or e-mail or simply forward the e-mail without follow-up – they are letting their citizens down.

Here is why I am running for City Council Ward 2:

  • I want open and transparent government – government that works to serve the people that pay their salaries
  • I want to ask the tough questions to make sure that we are spending money wisely on programs that achieve measureable results
  • I want to make sure that the services taxpayers pay for are carried out without added costs – we just sent a great deal of taxpayer money on a street sweeper and I have no idea what it even looks like!
  • I want to work to make sure that our garbage and recycling pick-up is easy for citizens to participate in for the betterment of our environment and that there isn’t added burden on rate payers considering the high cost of service that we already deal with
  • I want to make sure that quality of life issues are taken seriously so that home values increase and people benefit from the single biggest investment they will make in their lives
  • And, I want to make sure that revenue from new development is used to offset the burden that taxpayers have had to shoulder for so many years

My opponent, who is finishing his 16th year on the city council, recently wrote a blog post (Link Here And Again Here) that after 16 years he has come to the realization that property taxes are too high.  I have knocked on doors for many candidates over the years and property taxes have been an issue every single year.  I am glad that Cory has realized this, but dismayed that it took him 16 years and 16 city budget votes (the majority of which raised your taxes) to come to that conclusion.

Our politics are too ego driven, our thinking is too self-centered and our focus on pleasing the wishes of the party machine are a distraction that serves others and hurts Plainfield.

That is why I am running for City Council Ward 2 – I welcome the opportunity to speak to anyone that has questions or suggestions. You can contact me on this blog or at

Vote Column B on June 4th!

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.


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.