The Business of the City: Miscellaneous

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Weekly Clarification: Acting Cabinet Appointments and Commission Appointments

Based on the commentary I receive on a weekly (and sometimes daily) basis, as well as questions from my constituents on issues facing the city, I think that I should occasionally post some clarifications on what occurs at our meetings.

Acting Appointments: I was the councilor who asked for the ordinance change to allow for an additional three months to be added to acting appointments--with city council approval. Some residents may remember that, under the Mayor Al McWilliams administration, the three-month legislative change was put into effect. Although I was not on the governing body (I have only been here a bit over six months), I thought it was a bad idea then. 

The intention is certainly not to prolong the process of finding permanent cabinet members, but as I have been sitting on the council, watching the "musical chairs" of acting appointments being made, hearing from frustrated constituents (and sharing their frustrations) about why the administration cannot seem to get its act together, I felt that we needed to allow the administration to have a bit more time to find prospective candidates. The caveat, though, is that the council will have the power to approve a three-month extension, if necessary. 

Last night, we heard that the administration has been working hard to find candidates to bring to the council for advice and consent. I am hopeful that suitable, competent, and professional individuals will be interviewed and brought to the governing body. In the meantime, I was alarmed at a comment made by a fellow councilor urging the mayor to find permanent cabinet members, because acting appointees only give "...50-80%" of their energies to their temporary jobs--I can't imagine that would be the case here.

Commissions: Thus far, I have received information on the status of two of our commissions from the City Clerk (I will comment on the Plainfield Advisory Commission on Hispanic Affairs (PACHA) in a future post). I am also asking the City Clerk to provide me with the current status of the Youth Commission, which was founded in 2006, as well as its members and minutes of its meetings since then.  Last night, young Isaac Wilkins came before the council to express his thoughts and concerns about the youth in our city--I think that he would be a good candidate for the Youth Commission--I will talk to him about it.

As of August 2010, the Human Relations Commission, which is supposed to have nine members, only had six total appointments--two have since expired. The current make up consists of the following: Joan E. Hervey--term expires 1-1-13; Rev. Carolyn H. Eklund--term expires 1-1-13; Oliver C. Hubbard, Jr.--term expires 1-1-13; and Eloise Griffith--term expires 1-1-14. The city council gave advice and consent to new commissioner Eric Graham last night. That means that there are five more appointments to be made. I am hopeful that a full complement will be forthcoming and that this commission will do the work set forth by the enabling ordinance--the municipal code section is below--especially with respect to the recent racist, homophobic, sexist rant (known as the "Scarlet Letter") that was put distributed in city hall mailboxes and which is still being investigated by the city. 

I am still awaiting the meeting minutes of the commission for the past several years so that I can see what sort of work they have been doing. I will follow up.

All best,

Rebecca 

ARTICLE 13.  HUMAN RELATIONS COMMISSION.


    (a)     There shall be established a Human Relations Commission, which shall consist of nine (9) citizens of the City appointed by the Mayor, with the advice and consent of the Council, for a term of three (3) years each, except that of those first appointed, three (3) shall be appointed for a term of one (1) year, three (3) for two (2) years, and three (3) for three (3) years.
    (b)     The Human Relations Commission shall:
        (1)     Advise and consult with the Council, Mayor, City Administrator, Deputy Administrator, and Department Directors concerning proposed and existing municipal ordinances or resolutions, administrative directives and departmental or divisional policies and when requested by appointing authority render advice as to the appointments to Boards, Commissions and public bodies and for appointments of administrative employees;
        (2)     Exercise such powers as are allocated to a Human Relations Commission under N.J.S.A. 10:5-10, and in such capacity shall attempt to foster through community effort or otherwise, good will, cooperation and conciliation among the groups and elements of the inhabitants of the City as well as to make recommendations to the Council for the development of policies and procedures in general and for programs of formal and informal education that will aid in eliminating all types of discrimination based upon race, creed, color, national origin, ancestry, age, marital status or sex; and,
        (3) When requested by the Mayor, City Administrator, or Deputy Administrator, may hear and render advisory opinions on any complaint brought before the Office of Information and Complaints and may request of the Mayor, City Administrator or Deputy City Administrator permission to review any such complaint.16.1
(R.O. 1957, 2:21-1 through 4, as amended Oct. 5, 1970 and A.C. 1969, 3.5)

16.1Cross reference: As to the Office of Information and Complaints, see Sections 2:5-4 to 2:5-8 of this Code.


    (a)     The Human Relations Commission shall organize annually, and elect a chairman and vice-chairman, who shall each serve for a period of one (1) year and until their successors shall be elected and qualify.
   (b)     In the absence of the chairman, the vice-chairman shall preside. The Human Relations Commission shall, with the approval of the Mayor, adopt by-laws governing the conduct of its affairs, and shall render an annual report to the Council, the Mayor, City Administrator, Deputy Administrator, and Department Directors.
    (c)     The Human Relations Commission shall, for budgetary purposes, be assigned within the office of Information and Complaints.
    (d)     The Human Relations Commission shall meet regularly, and no less than ten (10) times per year.
(R.O. 1957, 2:21 -1 through 4, as amended Oct. 5, 1970 and A.C. 1969, 3.5)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

"Ugly" Speech and "Other" People

During public comment toward the end of the Monday, July 11, 2011 council meeting, a member of the public came before the microphone with a number of issues he wanted to mention to the council. Most of these issues were administrative and were (I would hope) duly noted by the Acting City Administrator and Corporation Counsel, respectively. However, in his remarks about the continuing foreclosures in Plainfield, this individual made a comment which I (and several others in the room) viewed as going down the ugly road of ethnic/racial divisiveness. He mentioned that as African Americans were losing their homes, "other people" have been buying them, or words to that effect. When the agenda meeting is aired on PCTV 34/96, you can watch and hear his comments verbatim. I am distressed about the severe financial difficulties faced by our residents, and we know that black people are being affected disproportionately all across the nation--all you have to do is watch the news.  

However, the "other" people to whom this resident was referring in his comments about those purchasing the foreclosed properties were the Latino population here in our great city of Plainfield. What I take offense at is that the word "other" was used in a pejorative sense--as if Latinos don't deserve to own homes and fully participate in the civic life of Plainfield. Yes, we have had a burgeoning Latino community here in Plainfield for the past two decades, and certainly the 2010 census results demonstrate that the city is more than 30% Latino. To me, this is a good thing. We don't live in a deed-restricted or covenant-type community--Plainfield is for everyone. To cast a people as the villain based on their ethnicity is disgraceful, and we must all reject that kind of thinking. Black people continue to be "othered" in many respects in American society--we have seen the results of that type of thinking.

I have heard this type of commentary before here in Plainfield (as well as elsewhere), and is angers me to no end. For members of an historically disenfranchised people (meaning African Americans) to indulge in the same type of xenophobic, racist thinking to vilify and stereotype and discriminate against other groups is even more shameful. The current climate of economic disfranchisement and fear helps to fuel this kind of racist rhetoric (witness the racist demagoguery of the so-called "Tea Party"). In a city like Plainfield, with more than its share of economic distress, I can only imagine how easily this kind of talk can pervade the thinking of usually reasonable people and make them point fingers at "other" groups based on their ethnic and/or racial identity, rather than at those who profit from their despair (banks, predatory lenders, etc.).   

The next speaker who came to the microphone after this commentary identified himself as an American of Cuban descent, whose parents came to this country forty years ago for a better life. A regular council meeting attendee himself, he began by noting that he usually found the first speaker's comments to be engaging and full of "comic relief." But, on this night, upon hearing these hurtful and divisive and inflammatory remarks, he was no longer laughing. His anger was palpable, and I share it. Of course, we live in a democracy where everyone is able to air his or her views freely (even the anonymous cowards who wrote, printed, and distributed the racist, sexist, homophobic "scarlet letter" in city hall with no problem), but I reject hatred in all its (sometimes disguised) forms. There really is no place for it, and we have to call it out.

Also on the agenda last night was a mayoral appointment to the Human Relations Commission (HRC)--quite fortuitous, as the Human Relations Commission would be a good start to having a healthy dialogue about the tensions in our city regarding race, ethnicity, and homophobia. I am hopeful that the HRC reflects the diversity of our city in all its aspects. I am asking the City Clerk to please send me a list of all those who have been appointed to the Human Relations Commission, the meeting schedule, and all meeting minutes for the past four years. I also serve as city council liaison to the Plainfield Advisory Commission on Hispanic Affairs (PACHA). I have asked for the meeting schedule and minutes from this group as well. 

I think that dealing with ethnic and racial problems head on is the only way to make our city stronger, and these groups would be a good place to start. Let's call it out whenever and wherever we hear it. Here in Plainfield, we often talk about "diversity" as our strength--I want to make sure that folks know it is not lip service, but real.

All best,

Rebecca

Stay Cool in This Heat

We are having more very hot days as the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic heatwave continues, so I am just reminding folks to check on shut-in friends, relatives, and seniors, and to make sure that your pets are kept cooled down with plenty of water. 


I just returned from Houston, where it was VERY hot, but where there are cooling centers and plenty of places for folks to cool down. This photo (a public art installation) gives a sense of the heat, but it really is no joke. 

All best,

Rebecca

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Public Safety in Our Beloved Plainfield

First of all, regarding the July 2nd shootings on East Sixth Street, my thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families--I know family members of both. This latest act of violence (resulting in the eighth murder of the year, as well as another injury) occurred in broad daylight on a holiday weekend. Witnesses must come forward to assist the police in finding the individual or individuals responsible. 

My constituents who reside in the Second and Third Wards of our city have, by now, read of the shootings, and have queried me on what the administration (the mayor and the public safety director, respectively) will be doing to end the violence in our city to make it safe for us all. I am also hearing from Plainfielders who reside in the other wards--all are feeling deep concern that there is no comprehensive and effective strategy in place.  

In my view, it is not enough to hold "forums" filled with platitudes that are sounding emptier and emptier--they are no substitute for an actual plan. Although I serve on the city council's Public Safety Committee (Councilwoman Rivers is the Chair), it is the responsibility of the administration to advise us of a comprehensive plan--both short-range and long-range--to ensure public safety. I will let you know when I receive a response.

In the meantime if you see any suspicious behavior, please call 911 immediately. Below is some additional information from our Police Division.

All best,

Rebecca


Uniform Bureau
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Commander - Captain Steven Soltys
 
908-753-3042
 
The mission of the Uniform Bureau is to sustain existing compliance with the law and community standards by voluntary compliance with the law, reducing or elimination of criminal opportunities, protecting life and property, enforcing laws and ordinances, responding to calls for service, controlling and influencing community elements that affect patrol operations and criminal activities. The Uniform Bureau is responsible for providing twenty-four (24) hour patrols for the City, conducting preliminary investigation of complaints and enforcement of laws and ordinances.

CRIME TIPS 
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Anonymous crime tips can be reported by calling 908-753-8477 or by emailing Tips@PlainfieldPolice.com