Council Meeting Overview – July 11, 2022

This month’s council agenda was again released late – with the council president choosing to have one meeting per month instead of the typical two (Agenda setting and regular meeting), it makes the time to review, research and discuss issues dramatically shorter.  It also removes an opportunity for the public to hear, and participate in, public discussions and takes the time from agenda release to council vote down to 3 calendar days instead of 10.

As I have done previously, I am not going to summarize the entire agenda (which can be found here) – but instead point out resolutions/ordinances that I think residents may want to be aware of or those that may seem confusing.

July Resolutions

R242-22 (Department of Finance) – Resolution authorizing and approving the redemption and/or defeasance of outstanding bonds and capital leases previously belonging to the PMUA.  With the PMUA formally dissolved effective 6/30/22, the City assumed all their assets and liabilities.  This resolution authorizes the city to resolve the bond and capital lease obligations using funds transferred to the city from PMUA upon the entity being dissolved.  Based on the analysis presented to the council by the authorities prior accounting firm, there was enough cash available at the time of the dissolution to resolve those previously existing long and short-term debt obligations. It should be noted that the city was always ultimately responsible for the obligations of PMUA if the authority had ever defaulted on their debt. This resolution will pay off all the current debt obligations with available cash reserves.

R243-22 (Dept of Finance) – Imposes liens on 145 properties for water bills (due New Jersey American Water) that are more than 60 days delinquent.  The total amount of the liens is $130,239 and the property owners all reside outside of the City of Plainfield.

R242-22 (Dept of Economic Development) –Resolution designating certain properties known as Block 713, Lots 1–5 as a non-condemnation redevelopment area.  These properties include Park Hotel along 7th Street as well as the long dilapidated professional building on the corner of 7th and Park Ave, as well as the former Unitarian Church now known as the Plainfield Performing Arst Center.  This designation will allow the Planning Board to complete a Redevelopment Plan (odds are good it is done already by the way) that will establish the permitted uses on the site(s) as well as the bulk standards (height, depth, parking, outdoor space, set-back from front, side and rear etc.  Ultimately, these end up as developments that get tax deals commonly referred to as P.I.L.O.T.S (Payment In Lieu of Taxes).

Municipal Ordinances on First Reading

  • Note – Ordinances, unlike resolutions, must have two public readings, in essence they must be voted on at two council meetings.  If approved on second reading they go into effect after 20 days. When you hear after a vote “this ordinance has been approved on first reading, that means that it passed the first of two required votes”

MC2022-31 – This ordinance amends Chapter 7 Article 7 of the Vehicles and Traffic ordinance – specifically this amends it by ADDING a four-way stop at the intersection of Spooner and West 4th Street. Unfortunately, it also should include striping the intersections to prevent cars from parking too close to the corners and blocking the line of site for drivers to see oncoming traffic safely.

MC2022-32 –This ordinance is for the purposes of granting a tax exemption for properties at 1030-1108 Plainfield Avenue.  This is the location of a previously approved school for children with special needs.  This tax exemption is not to exempt the developers from paying taxes, it is a PILOT and establishes the payment in lieu of taxes that they will pay over the 30-year life of the agreement.  PILOTS aren’t all the same but this one starts at 11% of Annual Gross Revenue and escalates to 15% by the 30th year, in 5-year sections.  There are some other nuances to the fees in the last 10 years but those are essentially the terms of the proposed tax exemption.

MC2022-33 – Ordinance to adopt the redevelopment plan for the property located at 200-216 Garfield Avenue (Corner of East 2nd and Garfield).  The redevelopment plan is for mixed use with retail/commercial on ground floor and apartments on floors 2-5 of the 5-story building.  The bulk standards are of a little concern, with parking requirement of 1 space per dwelling unit being a potential issue in that area, as we are seeing in other area where new developments are being completed.

MC2022-34 – Ordinance to allow the City to purchase the property at 512-25 Watchung Avenue (also known as the YMCA building) for $5,180,000.  Per the resolution “Whereas, the Mayor and City Council of the City of Plainfield have determined that the Property is necessary and suitable for use and redevelopment by the City of Plainfield into a mixed-use residential and commercial redevelopment;” 

MC2022-34 – Ordinance to amend and supplement the municipal code (Chapter 17, Article’s IV & X) related to the “Historic Preservation Commission” and “Historic Preservation Controls”.  Among other things this ordinance removes the Historic Preservation Commission (made up of residents) from a formal review of any development in an historic area that has to go to the Planning Board or Zoning Board as part of the process.  In essence, if a developer must go to either of those boards for ultimate project approval, then they skip HPC and one of those boards will cover the elements related to Historic Preservation and will not need a Certificate of Appropriateness from the HPC.  Neither of those boards, for good reason, is well versed in historic preservation elements.  In addition, it removes the city itself from being required to obtain HPC approval for any project that is on city owned property, city street or right-of-way.  They are literally removing the sentence in the ordinance that reads, in part, “It is recognized that the intent and purposes of this article would not be fully served if the City were to control the actions of others but fail to apply similar constraints to itself…..”

April 11, 2022, City Council Meeting Overview

This month’s council agenda was again late in being released – while less late than the last few, it did reduce the available time to read through the documents for creating a summary post.

As I mentioned in my prior post, I won’t summarize the entire agenda (that can be found here) – but will instead point out resolutions/ordinances that I think residents may want to be aware of or those that are confusing and that I may be able to help make more understandable.

April Resolutions

R147-22 – Council resolution appointing members of the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee.  The meetings for the CY2022 budget will start 4/11/22 and culminate with the budget recommendation from the CBAC members on 5/23/22 with possible adoption of the final budget 6/13/22.  I will post the schedule of public meetings separately.

R151-22 – VERY IMPORTANT Resolution authorizing the city to apply to the state Local Finance Board, within the Division of Local Government Services, to dissolve the Plainfield Municipal Utility Authority.  The City Council has the authority to eliminate the PMUA but requires the approval of the dissolution by the state level agency.

This resolution starts the process to eliminate the PMUA and transfer those services to either a city department (i.e., Public Works) or outsource them to a private entity.  The resolution is interesting as it states, in part:

  • “After careful analysis of the authority, the city believes…”  This “careful analysis” is not provided, nor could it be that “careful” as the requested bids for solid waste services from private companies aren’t even due until June 3, 2022.
  • The assumption of the Authorities Assets and LIABILITIES” – emphasis mine, as there is no documentation provided on what those assets and liabilities are – which is an important piece of information when you consider the city would assume responsibility for not only any outstanding bond debt but also pension obligations.
  • “The amounts to be expended for said purpose are not unreasonable or exorbitant” – again no supporting documentation is provided so there is no clear understanding of what the council is saddling the residents with.
  • “The proposal for the project is an efficient and feasible means of providing services…” – I guess we must assume it is efficient and feasible because the proposal is not provided for any council member to review.

I am a proponent of dissolving the PMUA and have been for a long time.  However, the city council has a fiduciary duty to make sure that whatever “solution” replaces the PMUA is both fiscally prudent for residents AND provides a level of service that far exceeds what the abysmal management of the PMUA has been providing.  This resolution essentially asks the council members to just trust that everything is accounted for, and a city staffed by people without any experience in mergers and acquisitions are suitably capable of managing such a process.  If you have witnessed the extraordinarily expensive and extremely bad “upgrade” to the city website, you will understand my cause for concern.

R154-22 – Resolution introducing the administrations budget request in the amount of $100,259,783.89.  This is in comparison to the 2021 budget of ~$86 Million.  I can only guess what the increase is at this time as the supporting documents were not available due to an IT issue.

R165-22 – Is a resolution transferring the PILOT (i.e. tax subsidy) for the Quin development on South avenue to 3 new legal entities.  Should be noted that this is the 3rd transfer of this PILOT agreement since the project was first started.

April Municipal Ordinances on First Reading

  • Note – Ordinances, unlike resolutions, must have two successive public readings, in essence they must be voted on at two council meetings in a row.  If approved on second reading they go into effect after 20 days.

MC2022-17 – This ordinance enacts amendments to the density bulk standards in the TODD-West Redevelopment Plan – which is the area north and west of the downtown train station that was designated as a redevelopment area.  In terms of density, this means it changes the number of dwelling units per acre that are allowed in the redevelopment zone.

MC2022-21 – This ordinance is the city council’s official dissolution of the PMUA.  Note that Resolution 151-22 above was the application to ask for approval of the plan (that nobody has seen) to the Local Finance Board – how we got from asking for a plan nobody has seen to be approved by the state to total dissolution of the Authority in the same meeting is some serious authoritarian stuff. 

March 14, 2022 Plainfield City Council Meeting

A number of residents (yes Jim Spear, that includes you) asked that I provide a summary of the council agenda items so that residents may be better informed about the people’s business that the council is voting on.  I will start providing a summary prior to the council meeting, versus a post meeting recap, as it allows citizens to be aware of items of importance prior to the meeting if they choose to participate and share their thoughts/opinions during the meetings.

Unfortunately, it won’t be possible to share this information much earlier than the Saturday or Sunday prior to the council meetings.  The council receives the agenda and supporting documents between 5 & 6 PM on the Friday prior to the Monday meeting.  The city council president put forth a calendar of combined meetings for all of 2022 (second year in a row). Typically, there would be an agenda setting meeting (a working meeting) to discuss resolutions/ordinances and then vote on whether an item should be placed on the council agenda.  Councilwoman Davis and I tried to get us back to two meetings per month but were unable to do so. We then pushed to move the deadline for the agendas to be completed a week prior to the meetings so that council members had more time to review the many pages of documents and perform any additional research into the issues.  Unfortunately the majority of council members decided that not only were two zoom meetings a month too much work for them but having the agenda and supporting documents prepared a week in advance was too much work for the city – even though they had to do it when we had two meetings a month.  As a result, we have about two days to read through all the resolutions/ordinances and the many pages of supporting documents (redevelopment plans, financial agreements with developers, tax exemption/PILOT agreements, and pro-formas)

This month, because of IT issues, the agenda and packets weren’t received by council members until late Saturday afternoon.

I won’t summarize the entire agenda (that can be found here) – but will instead point out resolutions/ordinances that I think residents may want to be aware of or those that are confusing and that I may be able to help make more understandable.

March Ordinances for Second Vote

Ordinances, unlike resolutions, are required to be read and voted on at two consecutive council meetings for passage.  The first part of any council meeting is to vote on those ordinances that are up for SECOND vote.  The last part is to vote on ordinances that are having their FIRST vote and in between those are resolutions that require one vote to pass.

MC2022-02 – 30 year tax exemption and P.I.L.O.T (Payment In Lieu of Taxes, essentially a tax break to incentivize development) for a development planned at 115-157 East 2nd Street – Currently known as City Parking Lot #6 – behind Bill’s Luncheonette

  • 92 apartments and 4,000 SF of ground floor commercial space with 9 1-BR units for Affordable to Moderate Income residents and 39 1-BR, 39 2-BR and 5 3-BR market rate units.  Will include a parking garage with 225 spaces – 125 designated for public metered parking managed by the city (i.e. city gets parking revenue)

Of interest in this agreement, is the developers $2 Million “Contribution” for the construction of a “pedestrian park” (on North Avenue between Watchung and Park Avenues), closing the area to all traffic, including NJ Transit busses.  “Contribution” basically means “to be fronted by developer and paid for by tax subsidy”.

PILOTS are essentially a tool for cities to incentivize developers to build projects that might otherwise not be financially viable in the short term.  Instead of paying the full regular property tax on the land and the value of the buildings (like homeowners do), the developers pay the full property tax on the land and then they pay a % (which increases periodically) of the projects Annual Gross Revenue (AGR).  PILOTS are not a bad thing – it just depends on how they are structured.

Here are the terms of the PILOT payments for this development:

Years               PILOT % Paid

1 to 5               4% of AGR

6 to 10             5% of AGR

11 to 15           6% of AGR

16 to 20           7% of AGR

21 – 30            8% of AGR

Note the difference in the PILOT fee % for this development versus the others below (one of which is owned by the same developer), clearly this is impacted by the $2 Million “contribution” to the pedestrian park – essentially the citizens are giving this developer a bigger tax exemption just for that “loan”.

MC2022-03 – 30 year tax exemption and PILOT agreement for a development at 1014 South Avenue (property just to east of Netherwood Auto Repair).

  • 5 Story mixed use development with 42 apartments and 1,456 SF of retail space
  • 34 1-BR and 8 2-BR units, with 36 outdoor and 12 indoor parking spaces

Here are the terms of the PILOT payments for this development:

Years               PILOT % Paid

1 to 10             10% of AGR

11 to 15           12% of AGR

16 to 21           12% of AGR or 20% of actual full property tax – whichever is higher

22 to 27           12% of AGR or 40% of full property tax – whichever is higher

28 to 29           12% of AGR or 60% of full property tax amount – whichever is higher

30                    12% of AGR or 80% of full property tax – whichever is higher

MC2022-04 – 30 year tax exemption and PILOT agreement for a development at 201-233 East Front Street.

  • 180 Market rate apartments, 5,000 SF of retail space, 60 1-BR, 75 2-BR and 45 3-BR units
  • 400 parking spaces with 200 for city metered public parking

Years               PILOT % Paid

1 to 10             11% of AGR

11 to 15           12% of AGR

16 to 21           12% of AGR or 20% of full property tax amount – whichever is higher

22 to 25           12% of AGR or 40% of full property tax amount – whichever is higher

26 to 27           13% of AGR or 40% of full property tax amount – whichever is higher

28 to 29           13% of AGR or 60% of full property tax amount – whichever is higher

30                    13% of AGR or 80% of full property tax amount – whichever is higher

MC2022-05 – Ordinance approving interior and exterior improvements, including roof, to the Plainfield Library.  It also reallocates unused bond proceeds ($71,000) to help pay for the costs.

MC2022-06 – Another ordinance to reallocate bond proceeds ($200,000) that were not used or no longer needed for original purpose.  These funds will also be used to pay for improvements at the library

March Resolutions

R126-22 – Designating a portion of Plainfield Avenue from 2nd Street to West 5th Street as Parliament Funkadelic Way.

R141-22 – Resolution endorsing and adopting a Complete Streets policy for Plainfield.  Complete Streets policies improve safety, lower costs and help provide alternatives to cars by encouraging safe and healthy walking and bicycle riding areas – bike lanes or wider shoulders on road.  Areas of focus include Pedestrian Infrastructure, Traffic Calming Measures, Bicycle Accommodations and Mass Transit Accommodations.

Municipal Ordinances on First Reading

MC2022-11 – This ordinance sounds more ominous than it is – it is really just a procedural requirement that must be done each year in order to establish a CAP bank in the event that there is a need to exceed the 2.5% appropriation increase allowed by law.  It does not mean the council is voting to increase the CY2022 budget.  Budget process won’t begin until late March or early April with a final budget vote likely in June 2022.  This requirement has to be done before budget process starts.

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.