The Business of the City: Miscellaneous

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Tepper's: More Questions Than Answers

'Curiouser and curiouser!' cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English);'now I'm opening out like the largest telescope that ever was!


For those of you who read Dan Damon's blog post on the Tepper's project--click here, I am wondering if you have some of the same questions that were brought to my mind. After reading over some documentation about this federally-funded project (to the tune of $462,500.00), I have several questions related to the bidding process for this project and to the actual disbursement of these federal funds. 

The first question, of course, is: how did the city spend $459,000 in federal discretionary funds to fit out a portion of this basement in just 3 weeks? Of course, I am not an engineer, nor do I work in construction, but it should be obvious to a duck that what has been done does not represent $459,000 of work. 

My personal tour of the space showed an unfinished, junked-up mess in the basement of the Tepper's building, with some sheet-rocked areas, a great deal of discarded construction materials and furniture, rough, unfinished office space enclosed behind glass doors, locked bathrooms (a key was not provided to inspect the bathrooms) and a water fountain. If there were plumbing, electrical, and other inspections, they would not pass muster. The basement is simply not habitable--how could $459,000 result in an uninhabitable space?

The bidding process, from what I have read, was as follows: Invitations for proposals were solicited and duly advertised by a Westfield company, Vincentsen Associates on Thursday, August 2, 2007, from bid specs dated Tuesday, July 31, 2007.

Proposals were received on Wednesday, August 15, 2007, and opened on that same day. One company, Solid Rock Construction, was shown as the ONLY bidder, called the "only responsive bidder" in the letter from the engineering firm to Jennifer Wenson-Maier, dated Thursday, August 16, 2007, wherein they recommended that the city accept this bid because of time constraints on the project. It is inconceivable to me that no other construction company would want the opportunity to get a close to half-million dollar contract, and possibly extremely convenient that Solid Rock received it.

It was also spoken of as the only responsible bidder--out of $462,000 in available grant money, the ONLY bidder provides a proposal to spend $459,000 of that money--this seems very odd to me. The resolution passed on Wednesday, August 22, 2007, and Solid Rock received the contract. Construction was scheduled to begin on Monday, August 27 and to be completed by Monday, September 17--three weeks later.

1st Payment
The first request for payment ($73,473.77) was received on Wednesday, August 29 and signed by Wenson-Maier on Thursday, August 30. In looking at the documents for this first payment, some of the invoices predate the resolution by a few days--which means that before the contract was even formally awarded, Solid Rock started spending money.

2nd Payment
The second payment request ($85,522.36) dated Wednesday, September 5, 2007, was received by the city on Friday, September 7 and the check was disbursed in that amount on Monday, September 10, 2007. Some of this money went for contracted-out labor costs and materials with breakdown sheets, along with a 20% markup for Solid Rock. A lot of cash was spent at Home Depot as well--many receipts for items that we can only assume were spent on this project and not others. 

There is also an invoice dated Thursday, September 6 for $6,760.00 for a company called Fyre Technology, Inc. in South Plainfield, for "Materials-for project City of Plainfield office space"--I am assuming related to a fire sprinkler system--there is just a handwritten notation: "Required for Offices piping and Related Materials Sprinkler Heads, Hanger, Rod"--there is NO breakdown of what Solid Rock received for that sum. 

The check was cut on the very next day, Friday, September 7. Solid Rock did mark up the cost by 20% ($1,352.00), so the city actually paid over $8,000.00 for whatever it was. To the $26, 220.55 in material and labor costs for another company, Vela Electric, Solid Rock added $5,244.11 MORE for its 20% markup payment, resulting in $31,464.66 for the electrical work. The markup in this instance exceeded even the materials cost.

3rd Payment
The third payment to Solid Rock was requested a scant two days after the 2nd payment disbursement, on Wednesday, September 12, 2007. A check in the amount of $99,478.07 was issued on Friday, September 14. Part of this payment went to Saturday and Sunday time-and-a-half,and Labor Day holiday double-time for some of the sub-contractors and their workers. There are a few checks made out to individuals for vague services, and there is a $100.00 check made out to Wash-a-load Laundromat for "sanitary accomadations" (sic) --I presume for letting the workers use the bathroom?

Oddly, there is also a receipt from Staples dated Thursday, September 6 for a LaserJet printer at a cost of $549.98 (minus a rebate of $150.00). In addition, Solid Rock purchased a 3-year warranty on the printer at an additional cost of $109.99. Why would Solid Rock bill the city for a 3-year warranty on a 3-week project? Why would they charge the city for a printer at all? This suggests that Solid Rock wanted a printer for 3 years--how is this purchase justified on a 3-week project? Why would the city pay it? Where is this printer? How many other vague invoices did the city not scrutinize? Who was reviewing these invoices?

Final (4th) Payment
The final payment ($139,268.14) was issued Thursday, September 20, 2007 on an invoice received by the city just the day before, Wednesday, September 19, 2007. This includes payments to the subcontractors for HVAC, electrical, plumbing, and nearly $15,000 in carpeting and installation (and a payment for carpet cleaning). There is also an invoice dated Thursday, September 13, 2007 from Federated Fire Services, Inc. in South Plainfield in the amount of $11, 376.24 for "LABOR" for sprinkler repair and replacement of 42 sprinkler heads.

Now, if you look above, at the second payment, you will see that there was an invoice dated Thursday, September 6, 2007 from Fyre Technology for sprinkler heads. So, if, less than a week later, the original sprinkler heads were found to be defective or in some way not suitable, why did Solid Rock Construction bill the city for the replacement and additional labor involved? There is no explanation in the paperwork--each company received payment.   

The city also wrote a check for W.B. Mason in the amount of $29,000 for office furniture for the basement from this federal grant fund. The check was dated September 21, 2007, but was not disbursed until after June 9, 2008.This is unclear, as there is no paperwork of W.B. Mason's response to the terms requested by Mr. Howard. The terms were that because of the water filtration issues in the Tepper's basement, the city was asking W.B. Mason to continue storing the furniture. Unless I missed something, I could not find anything to show what happened to the federally-funded furniture--unless W.B. Mason is still storing it, 5 years later. 

Jacques Howard sent a final report to the U.S. Department of Housing and Development on Friday, September 21, 2007, stating that the city had fulfilled the terms of the $462, 500.00 grant and was prepared to invoice the government for the balance of funds for this special project grant. Listed among the milestones was that the "...City buildings division completed rough inspections by 9.14.07" and that the construction was "...complete a of week of 9.17.07. City will review and accept performance of the contract by week of 9.24.07." 

Yet, less than two weeks later, Mr. Howard, in a Tuesday, October 2, 2007 memo (discussing a meeting with the Tepper's developer about the water filtration issues in the basement) sent to Wenson-Maier, Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson, and Marc Dashield, he notes that the city had recently (less than two weeks earlier) "...invested $462,000.00 of federal grant funds...yielding 7500 square feet of improvements." He suggests that the city should make the developer abate the water issues as well as hold him responsible for damages to the city's "improvements."

There are several other points made in that memorandum. A more recent memorandum (from December 2012) notes that a Certificate of Occupancy cannot be granted due to the need for additional sub-code inspections--electrical, framing, and plumbing. Yet, the city stated back in 2007 that the rough inspections were completed by Friday, September 14, 2007. So, were inspections done or not? What does the federal government think was done on this project regarding the claims made by the Robinson-Briggs administration about these expenditures?

The bottom line, however, is that six years after this rushed (and in my view, extremely overpriced and shoddy) project was supposedly completed for over $460,000 dollars in federal grant funds, it remains uninhabitable and, therefore, unusable.

Further, the questions regarding the bidding, the awarding of the contract, the vague invoices, the $29,000 worth of furniture, and all the city disbursements need to be explained satisfactorily to the residents of this city--and to the federal government. I will follow up on the current status of this project and the expenditures.


Rebecca

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Mayor Calls Me a "Riot" Starter


Last week, I sent an email to Corporation Counsel David Minchello (with a “cc” to the City Administrator and Public Works Director) regarding the mayor’s so-called “Community Event” to receive reassurance that no city funds would be used to mount this event which, at that time, was scheduled to occur at Washington Community School on Friday evening. Overseeing the public purse is part of our fiduciary responsibility as the governing body. Somehow, this email got into the hands of the mayor (who was NOT on the distribution list), who responded with her usual ridiculous and embarrassing histrionics. She accused me of wanting to start a “riot”—absolutely preposterous. She further asserts that my email caused her to feel "unduly annoyed" (???) and "discriminated against" and that my "actions" [I guess she means ensuring that the law is followed] are having a "negative impact" on her health. I have posted her ludicrous email below with the most absurd portions highlighted in bold red. My response to my colleagues and all the other people she included follows. If I am guilty of anything here--it is of being long-winded and repetitious (lol).

(FROM THE MAYOR)
Cabinet Members: 

PLEASE DO NOTHING FURTHER with regard to a non-City Event scheduled for Friday, May 24, 2013.  I have read the very unprofessional messages by Councilwoman Williams.  You
have properly informed her that the event is not a city event.  End of story.

Unfortunate for our community, it appears that she is trying to start a “riot” and cause us as a community to receive negative press.  I feel unduly annoyed and discriminated against, and her actions are having a negative impact on my health.  I am formerly requesting Council President to have her Council Member reminded of proper protocol and to discontinue asking Cabinet Members/Division Heads/Staff to use city time (taxpayer money!!!) on a non-city event.

Respectfully submitted,

Sharon Robinson-Briggs
Mayor, City of Plainfield

(MY RESPONSE)
To my colleagues and the cabinet members:

Since you have been misled by an email you recently received, please note what I requested from Mr. Minchello, OUR Corporation Counsel--who works for the city council. What I asked Mr. Minchello to confirm was the following:

I will be assuring them [my constituents who expressed concern] that NO taxpayer funds and/or city resources will be used for this event. That includes the following:
NO use of City of Plainfield videotape equipment (camera, microphones, tripod, cables, etc.)
NO city employees/personnel putting in for time (not in Media Division, Senior Ctr., etc.)
NO police (unless they are paid for by the event promoters--will want to see proof)
NO senior citizen buses being used to bus people to event
NO city seal
NO use of city website or public access station to promote event
NO airing of any videotape of this event until after June 4 primary (it would be a violation of PCTV station policy (and FCC rules) regarding equal time for candidates.

Can you please confirm that Dir. Hellwig, Chris Payne, Lamar Mackson, Al Restaino, Sharron Brown, and other people in the relevant divisions are made aware of this, and copy me on their confirmation/response?

What has happened in the past is that folks plead "ignorance" until after the fact--I want to circumvent any misunderstanding of what this is.    


There was nothing "unprofessional" in my due diligence on behalf of residents and taxpayers in ensuring that CORPORATION COUNSEL Mr. Minchello reassure me--so that I can reassure my constituents that NO TAXPAYER FUNDS OR OTHER RESOURCES (such as staff, video equipment, senior buses, etc.) will be used for this non-city event.

That is a standard request for information--I am not flouting "protocol" by making a reasonable request of OUR CORPORATION COUNSEL for confirmation that all parties are aware of the rules and regulations. I can "cc" whomever I want.

As my email was sent to specific parties and not to the mayor, I feel discriminated against, and her actions (in the form of this email) are having a negative impact on my health. The "end of story" is that no city funds (as in the case of the fraudulent misuse of city funds for the "WBLS event) or resources can be used for this non-city event.

Rebecca

P.S. And Her Honor means "formally," not "formerly." 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

PMUA Furloughing Front-Line Workers: Unconscionable

Some PMUA front-line workers informed me of the five (5) furlough days they must take this year after having been told that the organization is losing money and must make it up somehow. They were told last month about this--either they can spread the days out, or they can take them all at once. Given that these workers don't get paid very much, I find it unconscionable that they are expected to lose a week's pay to fund the over $1million gift settlement that PMUA commissioners awarded to the resigned/retired executives Eric Watson and David Ervin in a backroom deal. See my previous blog post from a year ago, when the commissioners were pondering this (also posted in its entirety below):

PMUA: Making Workers Pay the Settlement?


Pictured at right: PMUA Executive Director Dan Williamson with the mayor's supporters at Faraones Campaign Event last night.

That Dan Williamson would, at the same time as instituting these furloughs for the lowest-paid workers also HIRE a new so-called "Security Director" to oversee four security guards at a $40,000+ PART-TIME salary is unconscionable. Here is a comment from the minutes of last year's meeting made by Mr. Mitchell: "Commissioner Mitchell indicated that the last time there were furloughs, the former administration hired even more people after the furloughs were over with and defeating the purpose." It looks like Dan Williamson doesn't care--when I asked him why he needed to spend the ratepayers' money on a new position, where the individual would only be supervising 4 security guards, he said he felt it was necessary. Let's see, after this election is over, how many additional patronage jobs will emerge. That Williamson is also supporting the mayor's re-election speaks volumes. Will she be putting on a PMUA uniform come January?

Rebecca

Pictured at left: Former PMUA Executive David Ervin, Ricky Williams, and mayor's friend and promoter of event Willie Jenkins in background at Faraones Campaign Event.

PMUA: Making the Workers Pay the Settlement? (4/14, 2012)

I received a blog comment from a resident who has been following the PMUA debacle very closely. In his comment, he forwarded minutes from the February 9, 2012 PMUA Committee Meeting, wherein the discussion included ways to pay the "settlement" (an annual $182,000) to former directors Watson and Ervin, a settlement made unethically (in my view) by new PMUA Commissioners Dunn and Sanders, who hadn't sat in on the arbitration process but who decided to circumvent the process to make an unconscionable "backroom" deal, for which I feel they should resign immediately--of course, they won't because they clearly are proud of their reprehensible actions.  

It turns out that there is an idea--called in the minutes one of "several scenarios"--to make the WORKERS pay for the settlement through furlough days--again, what happened to the "family" Mr. Dunn so cynically alluded to caring about? How any commissioner could even develop the mindset to consider putting the burden for his or her "sins" upon the front-line workers and office staff is beyond my ability to comprehend, given the golden parachute the commissioners have chosen to give to their favored sons.  In addition, Mr. Dunn made a suggestion to hire Watson and Ervin as "consultants, if needed." Flabbergasting! 
   
"To be led by the thief is to offer up your most precious treasures to be stolen." --OEB

Unconscionable. Read for yourself--the comments that jumped out at me are bold and highlighted in red.

  
From the February 9, 2012 PMUA Board of Commissioners Committee Meeting Minutes: 

"Several scenarios on how to pay for the former executive’s settlement of $182,000 per year. In the meantime, Alt. Commissioner Sanders is in favor of delaying the hiring of a Deputy Director and that Director Young can continue to perform two jobs. Commissioner Brown is in favor of the furlough of two days or so by current employees of the Authority and Commissioner Brokaw agreed and offering furloughs in conjunction with holidays could be more attractive. Commissioner Mitchell indicated that the last time there were furloughs, the former administration hired even more people after the furloughs were over with and defeating the purpose. We must keep those savings this time. Director Young expressed that if he continues to work two positions, the company will save an additional $72,000. Commissioner Dunn expressed the desire to pay the former executives their first installment regardless by this coming Tuesday. We can hire them as consultants if needed. Commissioner Brokaw wants the issue done with right now as well, however Eric Watson and David Ervin should not come back as vendors or anything else for that matter. It would not be good for the Authority, public or the employees and we need to discuss in executive session. Commissioner[s] Dunn and Sanders expressed that we need to find the money from somewhere."

"To be led by a liar is to ask to be lied to."--OEB 

As Councilman Storch stated at the Monday, April 9 city council meeting, the worst enemies of the frontline PMUA workers and office staff are the commissioners themselves. 

All best,

Rebecca 

 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Tuition Equity for Dreamer Children - Resolution Passed by Plainfield City Council

A Plainfield City Council resolution in support of tuition equity for "DREAMer" children was passed unanimously by the governing body this past April. As a professor at Essex County College, I have had many of these DREAMers in my classes over the years. One, Kamika Bennett, who just received permanent residency status, has just been awarded a Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, which provides $30,000 per year for
Kamika Bennett, Diego Cruz-Burbano and Karolina Caravelli-Campos
three years of study at her transfer institution--she is awaiting final word from Brown University. Two other ECC students, Diego Cruz-Burbano and Karolina Caravelli-Campos (in Star-Ledger photo), also received the Jack Kent Cooke scholarship--only 73 are awarded throughout the nation each year, so we are extremely proud of these students' accomplishments (last year, 3 ECC students also received the award). Click on this link for this past Sunday's Star-Ledger story on these particular students. 3 Students from Essex County College Win Prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Scholarships


It is extremely important that other municipalities also pass resolutions in support of young scholars such as these. Below is the text of our council resolution:



RESOLUTION SUPPORTING THE PASSAGE OF A1659/S2355 AND A3509/S2479, ESTABLISHING TUITION EQUITY FOR DREAMER CHILDREN

Introduced by Councilwoman Rebecca Williams:

WHEREAS, the City of Plainfield, sometimes known as the “Queen City,” is home to immigrants from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean Islands; and

WHEREAS, immigrants make up 44% of City of Plainfield, amounting to approximately 20% of New Jersey’s foreign born population; and

WHEREAS, “DREAMers” is the term often used for undocumented immigrant children who came to the United States at a young age and did not take part in their parents’ decision to bring them to the Unites States; and

WHEREAS, many DREAMers have lived here almost their entire lives; and

WHEREAS, in New Jersey, DREAMers, like all other students, are provided a public education through 12th grade pursuant to Federal law; and

WHEREAS, each year New Jersey high schools graduate approximately 2,300 DREAMers, many of whom who were raised and educated in this country with no legal status, hold American values, know only the United States as their home, and have the same dreams, goals and aspirations as other American children; and

WHEREAS, DREAMers’ immigration status makes them ineligible for federal or state financial aid and requires them to pay high tuition – as much as double in-state rates – if they seek to attend public colleges and universities despite their long-term residency within our city, state and country; and

WHEREAS, many exemplary children are thereby prevented from pursuing a postsecondary education; and

WHEREAS, undocumented immigrants already make vital contributions to the economic stability and cultural richness of the City of Plainfield, the State of New Jersey, and the United States; and

WHEREAS, for example, in 2010 alone, undocumented immigrants make up 8.6% of the state’s workforce and paid $446.1 million in state and local taxes through property, sales, payroll, and income-taxes; and

WHEREAS, furthermore, the state would lose $24.2 billion in economic activity if all undocumented immigrants in New Jersey were deported, and;

WHEREAS, despite these contributions, undocumented immigrants such as DREAMers are often denied the opportunity to contribute even more to American Society when they do not have access to an affordable higher education; and

WHEREAS, the New Jersey state legislature is considering two bills that would remedy this situation and provide tuition equity to DREAMers; and

WHEREAS, Assembly Bill No. 1659 and its companion bill, Senate Bill No. 2355, (“A1659/S2355” collectively) would allow all students who attended a high school in New Jersey for at least three years, and graduated or received an equivalent degree, to qualify for in-state rates at New Jersey’s public institutions of higher education, regardless of immigration status; and

WHEREAS, Assembly Bill No. 3509 and its companion bill, Senate Bill No. 2479, (“A3509/S2479” collectively) would allow all students who attended a high school in New Jersey for at least three years, and graduated or received an equivalent degree, to apply for in-state rates at New Jersey’s public institutions of higher education in addition to state financial aid, regardless of immigration status; and

 
WHEREAS, both bills would require qualifying DREAMers to file affidavits that they intend to normalize their immigration status; and 


WHEREAS, by empowering DREAMers to attend New Jersey’s public colleges and universities, the purchasing power of these students would rise; they would pay more in taxes; and the net effect would be overall growth for the City of Plainfield and the State of New Jersey’s economy; and

WHEREAS, this in turn would create more openings for other American workers in higher skilled occupations; now

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Municipal Council of the City of Plainfield fully supports tuition equity, and urges the New Jersey Legislature and the Governor to swiftly enact A1659/S2355 or A3509/S2479; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Municipal Council of the City of Plainfield does hereby direct the City of Plainfield to send copies of this resolution to the Governor and all members of the New Jersey Legislature.



Adopted by the Municipal Council                                                                  April 8, 2013



                                                                                    _________________________________
                                                                                    Abubakar Jalloh, RMC
                                                                                    Municipal Clerk