The Business of the City: Miscellaneous

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Basketball Weekend


In the Plainfield Sport News (click here), Noel Pyne has penned  a wonderful story about the 16th Annual George "Gee Gee" Brown Memorial Basketball Tournament, which begins Friday, July 27 and runs through Sunday, July 29. I would love to read in-depth history of street ball in Plainfield which, as Noel notes, reigned supreme in the 1970s and 1980s. I grew up in South Jamaica, Queens--another big basketball community--played on the courts at 40 Projects (our name for South Jamaica Houses) and Baisley Projects, in church leagues, and in any driveway that had a hoop. Basketball is still big in South Jamaica, and notable NBA players were drafted from my community.

A friend of mine, Ronald Strothers, has written a history of street ball in Newark during the 1950s and 1960s. His book, titled The Salt Mine: Who Will Tell Your Story? (click here), is a cultural history of Newark and basketball, focusing on street legends Charles Johnson, Cleo Hill, Richard Glover, and George Reynolds, primarily. I highly encourage folks to read it--it tells an amazing story about race, history,  Newark, sports, politics, drugs, capitalism, education, and poverty, among other things. 

Enjoy the tournament!

All best,

Rebecca

*A note: I am by no means a tee-totaler, as those who have shared an ice-cold Corona or Blue Moon ale with me can attest, but I think it is inappropriate for Coors Light to serve as a sponsor for a tournament with a high school youth component. Further, the Recreation Division of our city, which is operating under a cloud right now because of the fraudulent and illegal permit applications it was handing out to businesses and residents for the Plainfield Independence Day activities (and for which the City Council is still awaiting a full accounting), is a sponsor of the annual memorial basketball tournament, along with the Plainfield Public School District. I feel that having a municipality and a school system as promoters of youth events alongside alcohol purveyors sends the wrong message to our young people—many of whom I have seen drinking alcoholic beverages in public around the city—particularly in the library park area. In my humble opinion, it would make more sense to have a NON-alcoholic beverage company—preferably a sports drink company—serve as a major sponsor for youth activities in our city. I enjoy basketball, but I think a little more reflection on the part of the city of Plainfield as well as the district school board is required before co-sponsoring youth activities with alcoholic beverage companies. Be that as it may, I hope that fees due to the city (if any) are collected directly by the clerk’s office, as there are still a number of unanswered questions regarding Recreation’s operations.     

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Following Up


Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren't used to an environment where excellence is expected.
-- Steve Jobs
Several constituents have contacted me regarding the fraudulent and illegal activities that occurred in the Recreation Division that were related to Plainfield’s Independence Day events. As I noted in a previous blog, the Recreation Division was handing out applications with the following additional information—which has been determined to be absolutely, unequivocally illegal:

Food Vendor Permit for $250.00 and/or Merchandise Vendor’s Permit for $125.00—each of which would include two “badges.” Also, additional “badges” would be available for $5.00 each. These fees were made up, and the so-called “badges” were non-existent.
In particular, these residents want to know what, if any, actions the administration has undertaken (or is undertaking) to investigate the malfeasance. The administration has an ethical obligation to contact every business owner who wrote a check for the illegal permit fees and ensure that this illegal money is returned—in addition, it is their legal responsibility to contact the proper law enforcement authorities so that a full investigation can be conducted. It is due to the continued turning of a “blind eye” regarding wrongdoing that our city keeps getting “black eyes.”
I have told these residents to call the Mayor and the City Administrator directly to ask about this. I hope they do so. The administration (as well as every councilor) owes it to the honest, taxpaying businesses and residents of the city of Plainfield to demonstrate fairness, transparency, and ethical behavior. That this illegal operation was being run out of Plainfield’s Recreation Division is bad enough—to further obfuscate through silence is worse.
For those who have asked that the city council conduct its own investigation—that would be the next step. It behooves us to root out corruption wherever it exists.
Click here for a news story this morning about corruption in Trenton’s municipal government:

Trenton Mayor Tony Mack's house is searched by FBI agents

All best,
Rebecca
Ps: To the anonymous individual who keeps posting vague information about a 4th of July vendor contract from 2002 or thereabouts, you should ask the Recreation Division for information about that. As I was not on the council back then, I have no knowledge of what you are talking about. The city council in 2002 was comprised of Elizabeth Urquhart-1st Ward, Bob Ferraro-2nd Ward (deceased), Malcolm Dunn-3rd Ward, Joanne Hollis-4th Ward, Albert Hendricks-1st & 4th Ward At-large, Adrian Mapp-2nd & 3rd Ward At-large, and Joseph Montgomery-Citywide At-large. Several of these individuals are still around, so you would have to ask them whether they were apprised of possible wrongdoing back then, and whether or not they did a full investigation of the Recreation Division, along with any findings. 
 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Politics and "Fees": Conduct Unbecoming


A few weeks ago, I had requested from the Recreation Division a budget for ALL the Independence Day activities—what I received was a sloppy, incomplete, and questionable Excel spreadsheet. Every single dollar of public money spent on all events associated with the Independence Day parade and concert needs to be accounted for. I am still awaiting the complete and comprehensive budget I requested from the recreation superintendent—along with all bids, required quotes, and signed contracts (including one for Alicia Myers, who apparently performed at no cost to the city) from every performer and vendor. On your behalf, residents of Plainfield, I promise to get this information so that you will have a full accounting.

After riding and walking in the parade, I attended the concert, which had excellent performances by several bands (including KeNoBe, whose lead singer, Kevin Franklin, I know—we used to sing in the same choir years ago), house music legend Alicia Myers and, of course, the headliner, Howard Hewett. Folks were having a wonderful time. I purchased some great food--a delicious, cooked-to-order fish sandwich from The Family Soul Spot and peach cobbler from It's A Wrap (local Plainfield businesses). I would have also purchased my favorite empanadas from Plainfield's Portusa restaurant but, alas, they were not serving them at the concert.

The only thing that marred the concert was the “performance” by the mayor, who managed to politicize the event through several glaring omissions and commentary, some of which I suspect were willful, and one serious one, which was quite embarrassing.
Throughout the evening, the mayor specifically thanked Councilors Greaves, Rivers, and Reid, but not the rest of the governing body, even though I was in attendance and sitting no more than 3 feet from Councilor Greaves the entire time, and the mayor walked right by me a few times. Perhaps I was an apparition the mayor didn't see. Even her husband, Peter, was cordial and friendly. Oh, well.

Mind you, I am not complaining—the degree of disrespect shown by the mayor to certain members of the city council (Council President Mapp, along with Councilors Storch, McWilliams, and yours truly) is by now legendary, and to be expected. The texts that I received from friends in the audience who were surprised by the mayor not mentioning us at all signaled their disapproval of her honor’s extreme tastelessness. Again, it is par for the course.

Another egregious aspect was the degree to which the mayor politicized what should have been a non-political event: she publicly reminded the audience that Councilor Rivers would “be up for re-election next year,” which elicited some shocked looks from the folks I was around in the VIP area, who seemed stunned that she would use the occasion of honoring our veterans for such blatant and tacky political posturing.

The most embarrassing aspect of the mayor’s willful politicking was the omission of any mention of veteran Alex Toliver, who conceived the entire idea of a “returning heroes” parade and came to several council meetings to discuss his efforts as a volunteer, helping with design, contacting the media, etc. Time after time, the mayor took to the stage with her self-promoting, self-congratulatory blather, thanking specific individuals who had not even tangential connections to any of the events, and consistently ignoring Mr. Toliver, whose volunteer time and efforts certainly contributed to the events.

The mayor even brought several individuals with July birthdays to the stage (including one man whose birthday it WASN’T), but not Mr. Toliver. He didn’t receive a single thank you or acknowledgement from the mayor—not even when she read from a printed list. In my humble opinion, he should have been the FIRST person brought up to the stage—perhaps to say a few words about veterans and what  he envisioned. I did see the mayor in the VIP tent thanking him after the concert was over—perhaps she will now be shamed into giving him some kind of public acknowledgement for his work--that would be the classy thing to do. Perhaps if she wasn’t thinking only of her re-election and stroking her outsized ego, she would have remembered Mr. Toliver. It was a tasteless display but, fortunately, the musical performances were worth enduring this silliness.

I also think Mr. Toliver should be thanked for helping to bring to light (at the Thursday, June 28 Special Meeting) the fact that a non-contracted marketing company was going around to local business owners in an attempt to get them to buy “spaces” at the concert grounds, as well as asking for participation in an advertising journal--to the tune of several hundred additional dollars. Bernice blogged about it last week (see here). I had also noted complaints about this at that meeting, and it was publicly confirmed at that meeting what the lawful fees would be.

To make matters worse, this operation was being run out of Recreation, whose staff was handing out applications with these fraudulent and illegal fees printed on them, as well as telling prospective vendors (some of whom complained to me about the unusually high cost of participating) that they had to pay these fees to participate. Copies of this document were openly floating about the city last week, which is how I got hold of one.

The truth is, the ONLY lawful fees vendors were required to pay for participating in the city-sponsored parade and concert were those charged for county ($50.00) and municipal permits (peddler's at $25.00 and food vendor at $32.50), respectively. I will be asking the administration for an explanation of this.

The question is, were monies taken from Plainfield businesses in excess of what was legal? The only way to determine whether everything was done legally and above board is to actually see the bid quotes and signed contracts. As I noted above, I am awaiting this information. It is my hope that the administration will go back to the previous way of staging July 4th activities--by having a committee that will work on the events in an open and transparent way.

What is sad is that there were not many vendors present at all. This is unusual, given the fact that the Union County "Rhythm and Blues by the Brook" event was cancelled, and this concert would have provided an opportunity for our businesses and would help our local economy. Here are some other questions: How many Plainfield-based (and other) businesses were approached about paying these unconscionably illegal high fees? How many decided NOT to participate because they were turned off by the fees that they  were presented with? What happened to the so-called ad journal that fees were also supposed to be collected for? No ad journal was handed out--what did those vendors pay for? Have any and all fraudulent monies collected been returned? What is the responsibility of the administration for this fraud? What will happen next? I want to make sure that our business owners can remain confident that we are looking out for them.


As members of the governing body, it is the council’s duty and responsibility to ensure that nothing illegal or fraudulent occurs with city funds, and that our local business owners are not exploited by operators who do not have any authority to charge fees with the fraudulent imprimatur of the City of Plainfield. This bears investigation by the Union County Prosecutor's Office, in my humble opinion.

All best,

Rebecca

Monday, July 2, 2012

The TRUTH--Not Mayoral Political "SPIN"



This brief piece appeared in the Sunday Star-Ledger's Auditor:  

Sunday, 7/2/12 - The Auditor

Reading the fine print

The embattled mayor of Plainfield, Sharon Robinson-Briggs, claimed a legal victory of sorts last week, though not everyone agrees.

Robinson-Briggs said a state Superior Court judge in Elizabeth ruled that the city council violated her rights to due process when it fined her $200 for staging an anti-violence rally that cost the town $20,000. 

“I am pleased that the Hon. Judge (Karen) Cassidy recognized the fact that the city council violated my rights,” she said.

The Auditor was worried that it had missed the trial. But as it turns out, the answer is no. 

A lawyer for the city council, which the mayor is suing over the fine, had made a routine motion to dismiss, but Cassidy denied it.

“It says it was ‘up for question,’ ” Sandra Thaler-Gerber, a spokeswoman for Superior Court in Union County, said of the judge’s denial.

But city spokesman Terry West sent an e-mail noting the council rescinded the fine based on Cassidy’s comments. West wrote: “It is clear that the city council had no legal basis to impose the fine based on Judge Cassidy’s ruling. In coming to her decision, Judge Cassidy made rulings of law.”

Council members say Robinson-Briggs simply drew the wrong conclusion. Rebecca Williams said: “The mayor has consistently referred to the lawsuit she instituted against the city council as an ‘appeal,’ which demonstrates a basic lack of legal understanding — especially since she states that she has been previously employed as a paralegal.”

Again--the lawsuit is going forward--the mayor has not, as yet, "won" anything.

All best,

Rebecca

Ps: It is interesting that The Auditor calls the mayor embattled--in my opinion, the residents of Plainfield are the ones who are embattled--looking for competent leadership out of city hall but not finding it--the battle rages on...for honesty, ethics, and transparency.