“Charter Changes, Vote No or Table” Mary Burgwinkle

Guest Blog Post By Mary Burgwinkle – This is a very informative, well thought out and insightful posting of an email that Mary sent to members of the city council on Sunday September 9, 2018.  I encourage everyone to read it carefully and understand Mary’s well informed opinion on this matter.

Dear City Council Members:

I am writing to you in advance of the 9/11/18 final reading and public hearing on MC2018-22, the proposed ordinance amending the Municipal Code based on the changes made to Plainfield Charter (1968). I have attached an exhibit showing my four “buckets” of concern about the amendments. As you know, I believe that they were inadequately presented and contain many flaws.

I hope that you will read my comments and I thank you for your consideration of my prior letters. Having attended your meetings this summer, I want to compliment you on the manner in which the meetings are being conducted. They are prompt and business like. The good relationship between the Legislative branch and the Executive branch is evident.

It is certainly more efficient for the City when both branches work together to do the work that needs to be done. However, working together should mean that both branches are coming to the table prepared. MC2018-22 is not an example of the Executive branch doing the appropriate work to present its ideas to the Legislative branch. It is at best a rough first draft with many ambiguities and issues. You are the Legislators, and serve as a check on the Executive. Why is the administration rushing you to vote on these amendments? You can and should vote “no” or ask to table any ordinance until it is presented to you and the public in a clear and complete manner with adequate explanation.

We all need to be concerned about unintended consequences of poorly thought out ordinances. There are many sections in the current version of MC2018-22 that could justify gratuitous hiring supported by ordinance provisions. For example, 7 Administrative Assistants have been newly added to the ordinance, one for each Department. They appear to me to be different positions than the 10 Confidential Assistants added to the Charter by the Mayor. We need a definitive explanation on that. Mr. Storch requested that the Administrative Assistants sections be removed from the ordinance at the 9/4/18 Council meeting. I agree. Also, there is a newly created Department of Communications and Technology without removing the older concept of Public Information Officer. Mr. Storch also requested removal of the PIO, and I agree. My attached exhibit outlines these and other changes that I believe should be made or considered.

Politicians holding elective office will be tempted to take advantage of loopholes in ordinances. Before you vote, please be sure that every section of this ordinance has been adequately explained and carefully drafted. You are the Legislative branch and a check on the Executive. You cannot delegate legislating to the Executive branch, and you must insist on carefully drafted ordinances. You are accountable if you vote to allow this ordinance to pass in its current format. Please do not do that.

Thank you,

Mary Burgwinkle, 1785 Sleepy Hollow Lane

Exhibit-Questions and objections to MC2018-22

Lack of adequate demonstration to citizens that ordinance sections are based on careful study and good public policy.

  1. Public Safety/Fire Amendments contained in Chapter 2, Article 11 and Article 12. I do not believe that citizens have received an adequate rationale for the changes being made. Were communities who are known for best practices used as a model? Why were these changes recommended? Will there ultimately be two directors, one for each department, and when?
  2. Department of Communications and Technology contained in Chapter 2, Article 7. Adequate rationale for this department has not been made public. Do cities of our size generally have this department? Will this department take over the communications currently being handled by Public Safety, and is that a good idea? What will this department do? Why is the older concept of Public Information Officer being retained? Is this merely putting a layer of administration between PIO and Business Administrator?
  3. Administrative Assistants (one in each of the 7 Departments) vs. Confidential Assistants (10) in new section 4.5(b) of the Charter. I have not heard a cogent explanation whether these are the same or different positions. The new ordinance and the charter provision are not identical. The Administration has indicated that they have always hired these people anyway. Why do they need to be codified in the Municipal Code and why were they added to the Charter?
  4. Manager of Motors, Chapter 2, Article 9, 2:9-16 vs. Bureau of City Garage, 2:9-7. In the Division of Public Works, there is both a Bureau of City Garage and a Manager of Motors. What is the public policy behind having a Manager of Motors? Is this due to the proliferation of City vehicles being driven by cabinet members and other members of the administration? Why do cabinet members have cars? What ordinance authorized these cars? What is the cost, including fuel, maintenance and insurance of cabinet cars?
  5. 5. Salary Band for Business Administrator and Department Directors. What are the existing minimum and maximum salary bands for these positions? What is the rationale for changing them?

Obsolete Municipal Code provisions still retained in Chapter 2.

  1. Public Works Division Bureaus and functions in Chapter 2, Article 9, 2:9-3, et als. The Bureaus added to the Public Works ordinance in 1980 are being retained in this ordinance. Many of the Bureaus describe areas that are currently functions of the PMUA, and have been for 20+ years. Why are they being left in Article 2? The Recycling Program at 2:9-7.6 is another example of a PMUA function that is not being removed. Why not remove them?
  2. Tax Collector in Chapter 2, Article 6, 2:6-7A. In 2:6-7A (c), the Tax Collector is charged with collecting sewer and utility charges. That function belongs to the PMUA, remove section (c)?
  3. Throughout Article 6, Department of Finance, there are references to City Treasurer, City Controller and Chief Financial Officer. Are all of these still relevant or should they be consolidated and referenced as Chief Financial Officer?     

Exhibit-Questions and objections to MC2018-22 (page 2 of 2)

State Mandated Employees (Municipal Clerk, Tax Collector, Tax Assessor, Chief Financial Officer)

Plainfield (and all municipalities so far as I know ) must have these four state mandated employees. Their appointment and terms of office and duties are set forth in each of the state statutes that govern these types of officers.

  1. For the Municipal Clerk, N.J.S.A. 40A:9-133 governs. In that statute, Clerks are appointed by governing bodies, vacancies are filled by governing bodies, and the listed duties are to support governing bodies. Mayor/Chief Executive is not mentioned in the statute. Plainfield Charter (1968) at 2.13 cites the state statute and indicates that the clerk is the clerk of the council. In contrast, amended ordinance section 2.15.1 on Office of the City Clerk, is silent on who appoints the Clerk and indicates that the Clerk reports to the Mayor and City Council. Why is the Mayor involved in the new section 2.15.1? The section should be redrafted or eliminated completely, as the Charter and state statute control.
  2. For the Chief Financial Officer, N.J.S.A. 40A9:140.10 governs. In that statute CFOs are appointed by the governing body for a four year term. Neither the current version of the Municipal Code nor the proposed amendments contain a provision on appointment of the Chief Financial Officer. Instead, Article 6 contains various references to City Controller, City Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer. In Section 2.6-6, Division of Treasury, the City Treasurer is appointed by the Mayor with advice and consent of City Council, for a one-year term. Is that section obsolete? Is there a need for a City Treasurer and a Chief Financial Officer and a City Controller? Why not conform to the to controlling statute? Council should ask to have extraneous positions removed and a new CFO section included so that there is no confusion.
  3. For the Tax Assessor, N.J.S.A. 40A:9-146 and N.J.S.A. 40A9-148 govern appointment, term and vacancies. The current version of the Municipal Code at 2:6-5 indicates that the City Assessor is appointed pursuant to N.J.S.A. 40:46-6.2. N.J.S.A. 40:46-6.2 appears to have been repealed. Term and vacancies are governed by N.J.S.A. 40A:9-148. This section should be redrafted to reference the correct controlling statute.
  4. For the Tax Collector, N.J.S.A. 40A:9-145.7 governs. Appointment is made by the governing body or chief executive as appropriate to the form of government. The current Municipal Code at 2:6-7A provides for appointment by the Mayor with the advice and consent of Council and indicates that the Tax Collector must be certified under N.J.S.A. 40A:9-145.5 (that section refers to revocation of certificates, is the correct section N.J.S.A. 40A:9-145.2?) Counsel should check and correct.

Sections likely containing typographical and editing errors (spelling, wrong word, misnumbered section, additional words, wrong department reference, etc.)

Sections 2:4-2, 2:5-12(c), 2:6-1 (b), 2:6-3 (l), 2:7-1 (b), 2:7-2 (f) and (g), Article 8 heading, 2:8-1 (b), 2:9-1 (b), 2:9-2, 2:9-3, 2:9-7.2, 2:9-7.3, 2:9-10A, 2:10-4(l), 2:11-1 (b), 2:12-1(c), 12:13-19 (i). There may be others that I did not see.

Just Sad

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

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

City Charter Topic

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

Here are my observations:

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

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

City Charter – Guest Post, Very Important

The below post is by Mary Burgwinkle related to the city charter changes.  By current social media mindsets it might seem a little lengthy but it is very worthy of your attention and contains important information.  This is from an e-mail sent by Mary to the Plainfield City Council Members related to the recent changes to the city charter.  

Dear City Council Members:

I am writing to you in advance of the upcoming City Council Meetings where the Charter changes will be read and a public hearing will be held. I have a number of questions about the proposed changes to Plainfield’s organization chart and the amendments to the Municipal Code that you are being asked to approve.

  1. What study was conducted prior to making these organization changes and who participated?

There is no question that the City’s unusual three department structure was the subject of discussion almost immediately after the Plainfield Charter (1968) became law in 1969. Charter study groups formed in 1972, 1983 and 1990 all mentioned changing the three departments. The Charter Study Commission elected in 2012 made its recommendation on the topic, ending with the following language that appears on page 20 of the Amended Final Report dated December 31, 2013:

The Commissioners believe that the city would have more flexibility with the possibility of between one and three additional departments, and the ability to rename them. We fully recognize that change from the current system would require careful study, as it would impact the budget, human resources and physical space considerations, among other things. As a result, we are recommending language that would leave the existing three departments in place as named, with no additional departments unless approved by a council vote of 2/3 of the members, after careful planning and budgeting. The Commissioners want to emphasize that we do not believe that 9 departments, per the Faulkner Act, are necessary or advisable in Plainfield. That was one of the major drawbacks of the Faulkner Act Mayor-Council form in the opinion of the Commission.

So, we now know that the Mayor called the legislature and materially changed that recommendation (adding more departments, diluting the voting and adding 10 confidental assistants) with no authority from you. That is unfortunately, water over the dam. But what careful study was conducted prior to this reorganization?

On July 6, 2018, I sent an OPRA request for the following documents:

All communications including but not limited to emails, memos, meeting minutes, texts, voicemail or writings from the Mayor, City Administrator and any cabinet member with any person concerning or mentioning Plainfield Charter (1968) and/or any changes or proposed changes to Plainfield Charter (1968) between 1/1/17 and 6/22/18

On August 8, 2018, after a three week extension of the request, I received a response that produced 7 documents. Two were minutes of the City Council meetings on 3/12/18 and 4/9/18. Four were communications concerning the petition to the legislature dealing with ministerial matters such as proof of publication. One was an email from the City Clerk to City Council at the request of Council President, forwarding a link to the Charter Study Commission Final Report and advising Council Members to direct questions to Corporation Counsel. None of the documents contained any substantive discussion about implementing changes or reorganization.

Perhaps there was a study group working on this reorganization that did its work and drafted memos without ever mentioning the word Charter, and that is why I did not get any relevant documents in response to my request. If there was, citizens should know about it.

What alternatives were considered before publishing this reorganization? Who worked on this project? Was there study of other communities in our size and population range and how they organize? Were communities that are known to engage in best practices studied? What was the rush on this? After 50 years of a less than optimum organization, why weren’t ideas and alternatives presented to the public? Also, a reorganization to make the City work more efficiently is a good goal, but the City should be careful about inadvertently growing government in an atmosphere in New Jersey where the pension system is in disarray and the ability of local taxpayers to bear tax hikes to pay for city government is at a breaking point. Of course 4 more departments will end up costing more eventually, and I am concerned about fleets of cars being driven by cabinet members who are not underpaid. We taxpayers deserve a better and more comprehensive explanation than we are getting.

 

  1. What Public Safety alternatives were considered prior to announcing these changes?

It is my understanding that 60 to 70% of the budget of the City of Plainfield is devoted to Public Safety and Fire costs. Under this reorganization, Police and Fire, previously under one department headed by an appointed director serving during the term of the Mayor, will be separated into two departments. Both Departments can be headed by an appointed director (which adds a department director), although it appears that an option was built into the new Municipal Code to allow a division director to be Director of Fire. Following are the relevant provisions of the proposed new Municipal Code Sections.

Article 11 of the Municipal Code is now titled “Department of Fire”. Section 2:11(a) reads as follows:

(a) As allowed by the Charter, there shall be established a Department of Fire, the head of which shall be the Director of Fire who shall be appointed by the Mayor with the advice and consent of the Council and may be one of the division heads. The Director shall serve during the term of office of the Mayor appointing him/her and until the appointment of his/her successor, subject to removal as provided by the Charter.

Article 12 of the Municipal Code is now titled “Department of Public Affairs and Safety (Police)”. Section 2:12 (a) reads as follows:

   (a)     As required by the Charter, there shall be established a Department of Public Affairs and Safety, the head of which shall be the Police Director who shall be appointed by the Mayor with the advice and consent of the Council and shall serve during the term of office of the Mayor appointing him/her and until the appointment and qualification of his/her successor. The Police Director shall be qualified by training and experience for the position, which training and experience shall require a minimum of five (5) years experience in a responsible capacity in public administration.

What alternatives were considered to splitting the Department into two? Who worked on this project? Was there study of other communities in our size and population range and how they organize public safety? Were communities that are known to engage in best practices studied? Again, what was the rush on this? After 50 years of a less than optimum organization, why weren’t ideas and alternatives presented to the public? Under what circumstances would the Mayor appoint a Fire Director who is not a Fire Division head, and will that happen now or in the near future? How much expense would that add?

  1. Administrative Assistants and Confidential Assistants.

In the proposed Municipal Code, there are seven departments. In each of the Articles describing Departments, there is a new section governing administrative assistants. (See sections 2:6-1(b), 2:7-1(b), 2:8-1(b), 2:9-1(b), 2:10-1(b), 2:11-1(b), 2:12-1(c)).

The sections provide as follows:

Within the [Department of _________] there may be an Administrative Assistant designated as Secretary to the Director, who shall be appointed by the Director with the approval of the [Business? word is missing] Administrator. The Administrative Assistant shall serve during the term of office of the Director appointing him/her, subject to removal as provided in the case of a Department Director appointed by the Mayor.

In addition, at the request of the Mayor, the Charter was amended to add section 4.5(b), as follows:

(b) The director of each department may, with the approval of the mayor, appoint one confidential assistant, who shall be in the unclassified service of the Civil Service. In addition, the business administrator may authorize a division director to appoint one confidential assistant, who shall be in the unclassified service of the Civil Service. No more than 10 confidential assistants in total shall be appointed pursuant to this subsection across all departments and divisions.

Looking at the language of each of these sections, these do not seem to be the same positions. So, are we adding 7 Administrative Assistants and 10 Confidential Assistants? Does each Department Director get an Administrative Assistant and a Confidential Assistant?

Are these 17 positions that the City would like to fill as a work-round to Civil Service? If they have all been hired already, the mayor should tell us that and how much the positions cost. To the citizen who does not work at City Hall, this looks like a lot of people getting political appointments.

  1. Why is there a Manager of Motors at Section 2:9-16 and a Bureau of City Garage at 2:9-7?

If the Manager of Motors is managing all of the city cars that are being driven by the Mayor, Cabinet Members, and certain of the State Appointed officers, I will repeat the question that I asked in my last letter as follows:

In this administration, many executive branch and state mandated employees appear to be driving City automobiles. Plainfield is 6 square miles and City Hall is centrally located. Why should anyone (other than Police/Fire) have a City automobile at taxpayer expense? If you work here and do not live here, that is not the taxpayers’ problem. The public should be provided with a list of people in the administration driving City cars along with a cost breakdown. Other perqs should also be listed. Additionally, supporting documentation should be provided to show the date and ordinance number passed by the council for each of the individuals who are driving taxpayer funded automobiles.

  1. Why does Section 2:9-5 pertaining to Division of Public Works still contain references to the Bureau of Sewers and Pumping Stations?

The Ordinance amending City Code attached to proposed Ordinance MC 2018-22 contains 123 pages. 64 of the pages contain a wholesale strikeout of every section of Charter 2 of the Municipal Code, followed by 59 pages of retyped sections that are not marked to show changes. There are no footnotes or other guidance as to what changes were made and why. Included in all of these unmarked sections is a wholesale retyping of many of the sections relating to the Division of Public Works (among others), most of which were enacted in 1980 and many of which were superseded by the PMUA many years ago so far as I know. In any event, they were not changed, just retyped.

If you are going to the trouble of striking out and retyping most of the sections in Chapter 2, why not amend them if they need amending? Further, and a better question, why not just pull out the sections that you intend to amend, then mark them to show changes and include a sentence about the rationale for the changes? City Council and taxpayers who follow these sorts of things should be concerned about the shoddy presentation of this ordinance. There are scores of typos, missing words and other errors and it was done in such a manner that it was hard to distinguish what was changed and what was not changed.

City Council and taxpayer citizens deserve a better presentation of something that should have been taken very seriously, amendments to municipal code due to the first charter changes in 50 years. I have always respected the City Clerk, but if this came out of his office, I do not think that he has time to be both City Clerk and Chief of Staff for a legislator. Lets try to do one job well, and please proof read this presentation before it is enacted.

Mary Burgwinkle, 1785 Sleepy Hollow Lane, Plainfield

City Charter Topic – Guest Blog Post

Below is a guest blog post (which are always welcome by the way) from Mary Burgwinkle regarding the changes to the city charter that were recently passed by the state legislature and signed by the Governor last week – but not requested by the Plainfield Charter Commission nor the Plainfield City Council.

 

Dear City Council Members:

I am writing to you to remind you about separation of powers under our City Charter, and your role as Legislative branch.

Our city Charter describes separation of powers in Section 2.10 as follows:

The legislative, executive and administrative powers of the City are divided between the legislative and executive branches. No person or persons belonging to or constituting one branch shall exercise any of the powers of the other unless specifically authorized by the Charter. Neither the council nor any council member shall intervene in administrative matters, except for legislative purposes.

So far this summer, the Mayor (Executive Branch) has taken several actions that suggest that he believes that there are no checks on his power whatsoever.

I am a member of the Zoning Board of Adjustment and at our June 6, 2018 meeting, there was an application pending by a local church that needed an extension of a zoning resolution and conditions that had been granted earlier by the ZBA. A church representative was testifying why they needed the extension, when they were asked if they had complied with the sign conditions of the resolution. As the witness was giving sworn testimony, she was coached from behind by a Planning Board member that she should testify that the Mayor told them that they did not have to comply because the sign ordinance was about to be amended. So, after Zoning Board has worked hard to enforce existing statutes, the Mayor is telling applicants that there is no need to comply?

Not long after that, and after both houses of the legislature had passed the bill making changes to the Charter not recommended by Charter Study or in the City Council resolution, I discovered that this had happened. I wrote to all of you and the Mayor asking for an explanation. I got no direct response from the Mayor, only a short “non answer” from the City Clerk. At the July 9th City Council meeting, the Mayor essentially admitted that he stepped into your legislative role, and suggested changes to the Legislature with no notice to you or any notice to the Plainfield citizens. No City Council member asked a single question or made a comment during his long and winding explanation why he did this, during which he kept losing his train of thought.

The Charter changes the Mayor made will forever burden Plainfield Taxpayers with 12 jobs and supporting jobs that were not recommended by Charter Study. He has claimed in a roundabout manner that these changes will not result in additional expense. You will need to approve many of these changes, and I would like you to get the answers to these questions.

  1. New Departments will be created and new Department Directors appointed. Who will be appointed and what are their qualifications for their proposed positions? How many people will report to each Department Director?
  2. Will the compensation of existing Department or Division Directors change because of these other changes and by how much?
  3. If Division Heads are promoted to Department Head, will there be compensation changes as a result and by how much? The public should see a schedule of the compensation for each of these individuals during the past year including any increases.
  4. What additional compensation will Department Directors receive other than salary? In this administration, many executive branch and state mandated employees appear to be driving City automobiles. Plainfield is 6 square miles and City Hall is centrally located.
    Why should anyone (other than Police/Fire) have a City Automobile at taxpayer expense? If you work here and do not live here, that is not the taxpayers’ problem. The public should be provided with a list of people in the administration driving City Cars along with a cost breakdown. Other perqs should also be listed. Additionally, supporting documentation should be provided to show the date and ordinance number passed by the council for each of the individuals who are driving taxpayer funded automobiles.
  5. How many “confidential aides” will be hired? Who will they report to? Presumably, each “confidential aide” will get a computer, a cell phone, a place to sit, health insurance, pension benefits, and maybe other perqs. What will be the all-in cost of each? Will a Civil Service employee be eliminated for each “confidential aide” hired?
  6. Did the budget passed in the Spring 2018 contain provisions for these new Departments and Directors?

I worked hard to get this Mayor (and most of you) elected. I recognize that many good things happened in the City during the administration up to now. I am very disappointed that the Mayor abandoned his open, transparent, good government platform as soon as he got cover from the County Party. He has, unfortunately, invited citizens who value public policy to distrust his administration. I will not stop questioning and I expect you to question as well

Mary Burgwinkle, 1785 Sleepy Hollow Lane

Plainfield Deserves Quality

For 10-12 years (or more depending on who you ask) – the city struggled to manage their road repair program.  Between not enough money being allocated or the wrong streets being done (for the wrong reasons), our roads took a beating and had the marks to show for it.  The last couple years, Mayor Mapp has pushed for greater investment in road work, and I applaud him for those efforts.

There are many types of road repairs, from simple milling and paving to very intense road reconstruction with curbs and driveway aprons etc.  Typically this is done based on the condition of the road – and many of our roads can be updated with a simple mill and pave and 3-5 days of inconvenience.  Overall, I think the choices made have been very good.

However, I do think we need to think through how we manage these projects because the quality of some of the mill and pave work leaves a little to be desired.  Mill and Pave is generally considered a 5 year road – meaning it will hold up well for about 5 years before it requires repairs.  That doesn’t mean that all mill and pave is the same and that we shouldn’t make sure that the vendors we hire (usually through state vendor contracts) aren’t held to the same standard they would be held to in Scotch Plains, Fanwood or Westfield.

Last fall three roads were done in the Netherwood area – according to residents, it was the first time roads had been touched in the area for 15-20 years.  When Belvidere and Ravine were completed I noticed that the center joints were not particularly tight or smooth.  When asphalt is laid in strips, the joint is the portion where the two strips meet – in this case that happened to be roughly the center of the road.  I also noticed that manholes were not lifted to be closer to the new level of the roadway – so when you drive down the road you drop into them rather suddenly – much the same as a deep pothole.  At the intersection of Park Terrace and Belvidere there were 3 such manholes, all quite noticeably lower than the street level and because of placement, very difficult to avoid.

Now, I am not an expert on road construction – but I do know when something isn’t quite right and I do have friends who are experts at this sort of thing, so I asked.  Turns out, manholes are supposed to be raised when roads are paved (there is actually a process for that – learned something new) and there is a whole technique to dealing with the joints so that they are as smooth and integrated as possible – to avoid water getting in, freezing, cracking and damage to the road etc.  So I geeked out on learning some new things and sent an e-mail to DPW to ask that they have the vendor revisit the roads and make adjustments before winter came.  My main reason was that if we are spending hard earned taxpayer money, we should get quality work – and if the work is not sufficient, we should catch that on inspection before we release any bond that is held against the work.  DPW replied to my e-mail that they would look into this and address any issues that needed to be fixed.  The roads in question included Belvidere, Ravine and Hillside (i got three calls about that one from friends).

It didn’t appear that anything has been done – and the manholes were certainly not adjusted.  While walking my dogs I check out the neighborhood like most people do, mostly wondering why others have an easier time getting green grass than I do – but my eye always ends up going to the center of the roads and the now very noticeable problem with the joints.

Below you can see the joints in three spots on Belvidere – keep in mind that this road is not even a year old – by next winter these joints will have more ice and snow that will get inside and cause the road to crack – which will make a 1.5 year road ready for patching – at taxpayer expense. (all pictures below taken 7/23/18 – color difference is due to sun)

 

On Ravine Road (a section is in front of Councilman Storch’s home) it is even worse – with one section in the lower left that already had to be patched this year because the asphalt was poorly put down – I sent a picture of this to DPW last year but apparently they didn’t make the vendor come and repair it.  So now we have expense for a road that should have lasted 5 years (ok its the northeast and winters are rough – but we couldn’t get 4 years out of our 5 year road?). (all picture below taken 7/23/18)

My point is this – WHO IN THE HELL IS INSPECTING THESE PROJECTS BEFORE THE VENDOR IS PAID?  Seriously – do other towns just let contractors get off the hook for shoddy product?  Look at South Avenue in Fanwood next time you drive in that direction – from Terrill Road to Park Avenue – its really well done (and that was a mill and pave).  Why doesn’t Plainfield deserve the same level of quality as other cities?  This is a waste of taxpayer money and next spring we will waste more of it when we have to repair the 1.5 year old roads and our oncen smooth roads are pock marked with asphalt patches – yet again.

The City Council just approved the Capital Improvement budget – which includes $4 Million for more road work this year – we should aspire to having vendors that respect us enough to give us quality work – and we should respect ourselves enough (and our hard earned tax dollars) to ask that our city officials make sure the work is the best quality before the invoice is paid.  Lets start treating this money like it is our own – BECAUSE IT IS!

 

Your Commute Is About To Get Worse

Tomorrow night (Wednesday August 1st) @ 7:00 PM in City Hall, the Plainfield Zoning Board will hear from the HOPES Community Action Partnership, Inc. about their request to expand their operations at the former Armory Site on East 7th Street and Leland.

The expanded services will cause severe issues for those who use Leland and East 7th Streets (in any way) as part of their commute to work – including getting to the Netherwood Train Station. For those living on Gresham, well, good luck.

I strongly encourage residents to attend the Zoning Board meeting and hear for themselves about the proposed expansion and make their voices heard about the impact that it will have on this area.

The previously approved concept for the site was a creatively designed project that nicely utilized the former state owned parcel. The proposed expansion will have a crippling effect on local traffic and create congestion that will slow the movement of cars in the area dramatically.

Here is a comparison chart of the approved elements and the requested expansion that the Zoning Board will hear on Wednesday evening:

Approved Proposed Expansion Difference
Students 270 362 +92
Staff 76 95 +19
Parking Spaces 82 82 0

What these proposed changes mean:

  • Traffic, Traffic, Traffic
  • Over 250 kids will be brought by individual parents during the 7:00 – 9:00 rush hour period. Applicant states that about 105 will arrive via multiple bus drop offs. That could be over 250 cars in a 2 hour period + 4-5 buses
  • Shortage of parking will cause parking to creep onto neighborhood streets
  • Cars will be queued up along 7th and Leland waiting to enter parking lot to drop off infants and non-school age children – all waiting for one of the 6-8 drop off parking spaces.
  • Parents late for work will be double parking along 7th/Leland and running with their kids across the street
  • For the next 4-5 years, Woodland and Cook Elementary Schools will be combined at Cook School – almost doubling the congestion along Leland.
  • Imagine waiting for multiple traffic light cycles just to get to the train station or Route 22!

This proposal could have lasting effects on the area and your commute – it is important that you hear the facts and let your concerns be heard by the Zoning Board members.

Code “Enforcement” – Stop It Some More

Anyone who has dealt with code enforcement issues in their neighborhood knows that it a terrible experience.  I am often asked by people to help with code enforcement issues in their neighborhoods.  As a planning board member I don’t have anything to do with code enforcement but am happy to help people who have either gotten little assistance from the city OR the issue has just dragged on for months without any resolution.

During the 2017 primary campaign we regularly got code violation complaints.  We started forwarding these complaints to the relevant departments at City Hall – standard customer/constituent service stuff. I kept a log of the items and would periodically follow-up on the requests and drive by the properties to see if there was any progress.  Everyone gets their day in court so I didn’t anticipate that these issues would be resolved overnight, however, as May 2017 turned into July 2018 it is interesting to note that fewer than 10% (it is actually less but I am in a good mood today) of the issues have been resolved –  many are worse.  One of those is an issue that was reported directly to the Mayor and under Phil Izzo’s (Zoning Officer) management it has gone unchanged in the 14 Months since being reported.  I know this because I have countless e-mails to inspections (mostly unanswered) for status updates and have had to OPRA information twice (not fully answered by the way).

Code enforcement in Plainfield, based on my observation, is managed (term used loosely) from a defensive position – mostly responding to complaints versus proactively pursuing code violations.  Anyone that has been in e-mail exchanges with Phil Izzo can attest to the delayed responses and utter confusion as he forwards your e-mail with some sort of clarifying point about how someone else will handle it – then he disappears.  I don’t fault the inspectors by the way, I have spoken to many of them and get the sense that they are eager for all their work to show results.  I chalk it up to poor processes, poor management and a lack of effective oversight by the administration and the city council.  A management consultant would no doubt have a field day in that department.

Code Enforcement is always important but even more vital right now.  With the level of active development taking place in the city, to the credit of efforts by the Mayor and his administration, effective code enforcement is even more of a priority – especially in those areas with active investments.  Strict enforcement will enhance these investments, improve quality of life issues and impact property values.

The Gateway Project on South Avenue is a perfect example. The developer is investing over $50 Million in a project on one of the main entry ways into The Queen City. South Avenue (or any other part of the city) can not be improved in bits and pieces just when new development occurs on a parcel of land, existing properties need to be brought into compliance with the laws.

Here are some examples of issues along South Avenue that, if corrected, would enhance the area and help existing and future development opportunities succeed:

Former Delta Gas Station:

The gas tanks and pumps were removed and now the gravel lot service station is crammed with cars (often on the sidewalk) with an unsightly and unused sign (change of use requires removal), outdoor storage of barrels (of who knows what) and numerous cars in various stages of repair in the parking lot – one appears to be used for parts when needed. The grass/dirt lot next door is being used by someone as a holding area for cars, either for the service station or the car lot next door.  Not to mention the lack of maintenance to plantings and general litter on property.  This mess has got to make the task of getting good renters at the building across Belvidere Road even harder.

 

 

Train Station area to Walgreens:

The building across from Netherwood Station has weeds in place of a missing shade tree (replacing was likely part of their approval to build).  Grass and weeds in front of convenience store and likely excessive window coverage (Not to exceed 10% of total window area with 1 sign per business per window, not to exceed 2 signs per business on any wall).  South Avenue Liquors has a temporary sign chained to a pole (those signs are required to be taken inside after business hours), banners attached to building for too long (Banners are currently allowed 2 times per calendar year for no more than 2 months at a time), window coverage likely over allowed percentage.  Walgreens has a sidewalk that has been in various stages of construction for months and property is often littered with garbage.

 

 

From Leland to Terrill Road:

Fig Market has banners and pennants up well passed allowed limit (no longer than 2 months), outdoor storage in parking lot, curbside trees that are not maintained.  The Verizon lot, south side of street, is a dumping ground for vehicles.  While parking is a permitted use they chronically have vehicles sitting for months without moving.  Anyone remember the boat and trailer that was there for years?  How about the dump truck that replaced it and had trees growing out of the back?  Now its a pick-up truck with a salt spreader that has been sitting there for months, along with a Subaru that will soon be overtaken by bushes.  B&B auto has numerous “temporary” signs on their fence in addition to really attractive barbed wire – that should help rent some apartments!

 

 

Further down at the old nursery location you have barbed wire on the fence and a rusted sign (change of use or occupancy requires sign be removed) and big metal rusted pipes laying on the property – this is next to Dairy Queen & Coffee Box (who have invested money in new signs and landscaping).  Further down at Fine-Fare you have tattered banners that have been up too long and the window coverage likely exceeds allowable percentage.

 

 

Correcting these, and other issues not mentioned, will aid in the Gateway Projects ability to rent apartments and demonstrate to other investors that we welcome their investment and are here to help them succeed  It will also show support for those who do take care of their properties – McDonalds, Burger King, Dairy Queen, Freppe’s and Giovanna’s (not a complete list).

The city should move quickly to start enforcing the codes along the corridor (ideally from Terrill to Watchung), which should include making sure all signage is legal (i.e. they got a permit and followed all guidelines in place at time of installation).

The city council, in their oversight role, should have Mr. Izzo appear before them at a Council Meeting and explain how he is going to improve the management of the department, when significant improvements will be achieved and how success will be measured and reported (regularly to Council and public) so his progress can be monitored and publicly applauded when successful.  Mr. Izzo’s appearance will provide him with the opportunity to discuss what help he needs to be successful – new technology, stronger/additional ordinances and what sort of activities take up the valuable time of his dedicated inspectors that impacts productivity.

I mentioned in a prior blog post that hiring additional staff should not be on the top of the list of options.  The reason is that the heavy lift should be temporary – so hiring more people that won’t be needed later is a waste of taxpayer money.

For those of you who would like to report a code violation on your street, in your neighborhood or within Plainfield, I encourage you to call or e-mail Mr. Izzo with your complaints @ 908-753-3386 or phillip.izzo@plainfieldnj.gov – you should copy all three of your respective council members so they can assist in getting the issues resolved.

1st Ward – Diane.Toliver@plainfieldnj.gov

2nd Ward – cory.storch@plainfieldnj.gov

3rd Ward – Charles.Mcrae@plainfieldnj.gov

4th Ward – Steve.hockaday@plainfieldnj.gov

At-Large, 1st & 4th Wards – barry.goode@plainfieldnj.gov

At-Large, 2nd & 3rd Wards – Joylette.mills@plainfieldnj.gov

At-Large, All Wards – Elton.armady@plainfieldnj.gov