The Business of the City: Miscellaneous

Thursday, June 23, 2011

LGBT Heroes and Pride Month Resolution--Happy Pride, Plainfield!

This past Monday, I introduced and read the following resolution in recognition of Pride Month on behalf of the Plainfield City Council, and I want to publicly thank our Municipal Clerk, AJ, for researching and drafting the resolution! (Cross-posted on "Confessions" blog)

My own life has been informed and influenced by many thinkers, both LGBT and non-LGBT--in honor of Pride Month, I am including photographs of many of those LGBT individuals--some of whom were unable to live openly as LGBT folks--we should honor them, still.

COUNCILMANIC RESOLUTION IN RECOGNITION OF 
LESBIAN, GAY, BISEXUAL, AND TRANSGENDER PRIDE MONTH 2011

 
 Introduced by Councilwoman Rebecca L. Williams:

             WHEREAS, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered Americans have made, and continue to make, great and lasting contributions that continue to strengthen the fabric of our great city of Plainfield and of American society at large; and
James Baldwin


WHEREAS, as long as the promise of equality for all remains unfulfilled, all Americans are negatively affected.  If we can work together to advance the principles upon which our Nation was founded, every American will benefit; and  
Paula Gunn Allen
WHEREAS, with each passing year the American people become more receptive to diversity and more open to those who are different from themselves. Our Nation is at last realizing that LGBT citizens must no longer be "strangers among friends," and that we must finally recognize these Americans for what they are: our colleagues, neighbors, daughters, sons, sisters and brothers, friends and partners, and 
Lorraine Hansberry


WHEREAS, many challenges still lie before us. As we have witnessed from recent acts of “ugly free speech” within this Plainfield Community, prejudice against those who identify as LGBT can still erupt into acts of hatred and violence; and  

Walt Whitman
WHEREAS, this June, recognizing the joys and sorrows that the gay and lesbian movement has witnessed and the work that remains to be done, we observe Gay and Lesbian Pride Month and celebrate the progress we have made in creating a community more inclusive and accepting of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and the transgendered; now, therefore, be it

Audre Lorde
            RESOLVED, that Governing Body of the City of Plainfield stands committed and united to help break down the walls of fear and prejudice and will work to build a bridge to understanding and acceptance, until gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered individuals are afforded the same rights and responsibilities as all Americans; and be it

FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Governing Body of the City of Plainfield does hereby call upon its residents, employees and elected officials to work together to promote equal rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity and does further encourage all to observe this month with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities that celebrate our diversity and recognize LGBT Americans whose many and varied contributions have enriched our civic life in Plainfield and our national life.

As adopted by the unanimous Municipal Council of the City of Plainfield
this 20 JUNE 2011

Marlon Riggs and Essex Hemphill
 I am thankful to live in a community such as Plainfield and I will continue to sing its praises. 

All best,

Rebecca




P.S. Um...I think Peppermint Patty is saying...

"Happy Pride, Marcie!"


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

City Council: Clarifications

From my first council meeting in January 2011--ready to serve!

Some of the speakers at Monday night's city council meeting came before the governing body with questions and concerns about a number of items--some of them about proposals put forth by the administration, and some about road paving and bad publicity on national television partly engendered by a poorly reported, biased story on CNN, compounded by some unfortunate comments made by the mayor. It is important to clarify that the governing body cannot be involved in the day-to-day operations of the city--our city charter precludes that. On many of the questions put forth, the mayor and her administration are the only entities who can properly answer questions. I am in agreement with other residents that we need answers to those questions. 

The council has repeatedly asked the mayor to be forthcoming about proposals that she has put forward. We need information before moving forward on any legislation. Those who regularly attend our meetings (or who have the fortitude to watch them on television) can see on the record that we have constantly and consistently asked the administration to provide comprehensive and clear data on projects (ex: ShotSpotter and the Armory proposal, as two recent items) before moving forward with allocating funds so that we can fulfill our responsibility to the residents of our city.

Regarding these two proposals: 

1) Armory: the city council had asked for a written proposal on the Armory from the administration--nothing has come to us, and no mention was made of the Armory last night. It is the administration's responsibility to the public to present a clear and comprehensive proposal on this. The administration said something would be forthcoming. Thus far (and the administration has been pushing this "paperless" deal for several months now), we have received nothing--not a single sheet of paper with any facts and figures about the pros and cons of the city getting involved in this project, cost breakdowns, etc.

2) ShotSpotter: At last month's Public Safety Committee meeting, I asked the Public Safety Director to provide me with statistics and other data about the ShotSpotter--thus far, as I have said before, we have only received marketing materials from the vendor who wants the contract--that is unacceptable, as the administration has been pushing for this company for nearly a year now. Why on earth have we not received aything? Last week, the council again requested objective data about ShotSpotter, and the administration promised to have it for us. Once again, nothing was brought before us. UPDATE: The information requested by the city council on ShotSpotter should be forthcoming by the end of this month, per a note to me from Director Hellwig.I think, though, that it is up to the mayor to make sure that the Acting City Administrator keeps the council updated on any delays in information requested. I still have not received any information on the Armory situation.  

Just as the council has done, residents need to press the mayor to provide this information--otherwise, their frustrations at the council are misdirected. I am not passing the buck here, but we cannot consider "proposals" that are not presented to us in a clear, comprehensive, and professional manner--it would be irresponsible to do so.  

I understand the public's frustration, as I often share it, so I urge you to call and email the mayor's office and ask for the information that you deserve to have so that you can let us (the city council) know your thoughts on proposed or pending legislation.  

I am in regular contact with many constituents about issues related to our city--including some of those residents who regularly come before the mic. I have to admit, though, that I don't hear from others--some wait until they have an opportunity to come before the microphone to outline their concerns. That is fine, especially since many of the items they are speaking of should be directed to the city administrator, but it could also be helpful if they call or email in advance (if they are able to do so), because sometimes their concerns can be addressed more quickly. I will continue to push for professionalism in terms of presentation, and clarification on any and all proposals.

Feel free to copy me on any correspondence as you await a response--that is the only way that I will know how effectively and efficiently the administration is dealing with your concerns. 


All best,

Rebecca 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The New Jersey State Armory in Plainfield

New Jersey State Armory "Back in the Day!"


I have spoken a great deal about the Armory deal the mayor has been promoting for the past several months, reiterating in blog comments, Plainfield's Courier micro-site, and council discussions why I think this is not a good deal for our city. I have aggregated all my comments into the following blog post (with some editing), as I feel it would give a clearer idea of my concerns (and the concerns of many residents who have reached out to me) regarding this property.

The Armory Advisory Committee formed during the Al McWilliams Administration was in the process of examining the Armory site for city use back in 2005. As a volunteer commissioner for the Plainfield Cultural and Heritage Commission, I was a member of the Armory committee, as well as Jacques Howard, Ronald West, Library Director Joseph DaRold, Anna Belin-Pyles, other arts/cultural professionals and some other residents. Our discussion revolved around a pretty narrow scope: what would be the best use of the building, if the city were to purchase it from the state. Some of the ideas floated were to consider it for an arts/cultural center satellite for this end of the county (with non-profit arts groups, etc., perhaps renting office space), or for a teen center, or a community center. Our focus was solely on possible uses. 

The committee disbanded when the new administration came into office in 2006, and there were no further discussions until this January, when the offer from the state to the city was brought to the council's attention.  It was not the primary mission of the 2005 committee to examine the costs--that would be left to Jacques Howard and other administration professionals. 

This past January, the idea of the city purchasing the building was again brought to the council's attention--this time, the idea was for us to buy the building and then have a charter school-building company buy it, build a charter school, and allow the city to use it after hours for cultural events. The city would be responsible for paying the estimated $6,000 in monthly maintenance costs in the interim. I must add that I have seen not a single sheet of paper with any sort of breakdown of the maintenance costs--it is just a number pulled out of the sky, in my opinion--I need to see it on paper. I wondered at the time why the city had to be involved in the deal at all. 

At a subcommittee meeting with the charter school building representatives, Council President McWilliams, Councilman Storch, Assemblyman Green, and Mayor Robinson-Briggs, I asked the head of the company specifically why he needed to come before the governing body, rather than just going to the state and leaving us out of it--he responded that the company need the city to sign on as a guarantor for the project so that they could get financing. I didn't like the idea of this company using the city because they couldn't get financing on their own.  So, the city would be paying the monthly maintenance on this building until financing was put in place. This is separate, though, from the idea of even having a charter school in the building--not a good use, in my opinion.

Regarding the mayor's repeated assertions that such a space would be available for the city to use after 5:00 pm--frankly, the entity could do that anyway as part of a "good neighbor" policy with Plainfield. Also, as I have said many times, and as has been reiterated by the council president and other councilors, we have no lack of space for cultural events here in Plainfield. When I served on the Plainfield Cultural and Heritage Commission, we did many events at Washington Community School, at Union County College, and at the Plainfield Public Library--in addition, there are churches in Plainfield with large spaces for cultural events. The community schools are available for city use and indeed have been used for a variety of events for years--they are big, clean, spacious, air-conditioned, and ADA-compliant. 

The timetable given back in January by the state was that the decision had to be made within 30 days--there was no way that the council could provide such a hasty answer with no real information brought before us--all we saw was a marketing proposal. Our stance was that the state could wait until the city council had an opportunity to discuss it at length. The other subcommittee members concurred. Since then, the charter school that originally had its eye on the building found other space. The state deadline, which I felt was arbitrary, was extended until June 30. I still feel it is arbitrary--if no one comes forward to purchase the building, it will still be there. The state could sell the property to someone without the city being involved--I haven't seen any beating on doors to acquire this property.

The administration, however, has continued to promote the city buying the building--on a short-term lease while they try to find a buyer. We would still be stuck with the maintenance costs--again, I have seen no real data, just a floated figure of $6,000 per month. There has been no cost/benefit analysis done by our CFO that I am aware of--a determination of the true cost to the city, the length of time, on average, that it has taken to sell a property of this magnitude in this economy, what sorts of entities the administration would be pursuing, etc. To go ahead and take on the burden of upkeep in the absence of any specifics would be foolish--we need professional expertise, and we haven't gotten it. We also need true community buy-in for any venture to be successful. 

The other part of the armory cost is the idea of bringing the structure up to code. The costs of mitigating the hazardous waste (it is on the state's list), making it ADA-compliant (ramps, rails, elevators, bathrooms, etc.), removing asbestos, upgrading the electrical wiring, adding air conditioning, replacing the roof, etc., would be significant. The best possible thing that could happen might be to have a private developer purchase the building directly from the state for a dollar, tear it down, and build some homes that would then be put on the tax rolls. The area would remain residential and attractive and the city would get the increased tax revenue. 

I am not convinced, given the complete lack of information we have been provided by the administration, that our city should be tied to any sort of agreement at this time. The administration has sold other city-owned properties--with some of these properties, they have had to work out a deal with the new owners to help remove oil tanks, left over debris, etc. I can't imagine any developer wanting to purchase the building from the city (for how much money?) in its current condition--the fact that the city has presumably been approaching folks about buying it and have not found a buyer is telling. 

My opinion is that the city ought to stay out of the real estate business and focus on getting our house in order--we have other pressing issues--jobs, youth, crime, taxes--that we must deal with. Let the state handle the state's business and deal directly with interested developers. My feeling right now is that the property should be developed as residential and go on the tax rolls.

Buildings cost money–-the over a quarter of a million dollars bill from the developer of the “no cost to Plainfield taxpayers” Senior Citizens Center/Veterans Center is still unresolved. I was elected to be prudent with the public dollars--elected officials have yet to hear from area constituents on this issue (although I have spoken to some folks informally)--all we have are selective facts and unproven assertions. Given the alarming status of the so-called $1 Senior Center, we all know the high cost of a dollar here in Plainfield.  No specific ideas have even been formally presented to the City Council. No decision of such import should be entered into hastily, and certainly not without the buy-in of the residents it will ultimately serve, meaning, the people of Plainfield.

All best,
Rebecca