The Business of the City: Miscellaneous

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Muhlenberg Campus: "Destabilization" of the "Supply" to the "Market"

Thursday, March 27 at 7:00 PM in the Plainfield High School cafeteria, we will host the first of three community meetings to get input from the community on the future of the Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center Campus, part of an independent study that the city council put into place late last year. As opposed to a so-called "community group" that JFK had supposedly been meeting with, which no one I know was even aware of--and I was a member of the state-formed Community Advisory Group on Muhlenberg!--the council hired a firm to do a study and to invite the ACTUAL COMMUNITY OF PLAINFIELD to take part in. I hope you will come out and that you will encourage your neighbors to come out. This affects the whole community of Plainfield.

Last fall, a letter from JFK with its proposal (reproduced at left) was sent to each of us on the day of our September 9, 2013 council meeting--it was the exact same proposal they have been pushing for a few years now. The proposal was for the council to pass a rezoning ordinance to have a density of 65 units per acre on the campus--the now-notorious 660 "luxury" apartments to be built on the site. (Note: Right now, I think the zoning for that area allows for 12 units per acre--which fits in with the general density of that area.)  

I will remind you that, last year, some representatives of a clergy group came before the city council and wrote an op-ed piece (click here) stating that they had had, for "...more than a year..." hosted community meetings to discuss the hospital and the city's health care needs. They insisted that the council accept JFK's proposal before the corporation closed the emergency room and left town for good. Once again, no one in the Plainfield community seems to have been made aware of these meetings, either. As a councilwoman who sits on the Muhlenberg advisory group and whose constituents are members of the congregations of the clergy group--I was not made aware, either. 
The dire warning was that if we didn't accede to JFK's wishes, we would lose the emergency room for good! Presumably, this is what JFK was telling this small group of clergy members. In my reasoned opinion, it is inconceivable that JFK would do so--if the emergency room were to close, where would they get their feeder patients from to prop up JFK's profits? If not from Plainfield and the surrounding areas, where would these patients come from? Forgive my cynicism, but I am convinced that JFK is once again trying to frighten our community with these warnings by preying upon the real concerns of our residents, and that is unconscionable. I cannot imagine that they would just close the emergency room and lose the thousands of potential patients that they send to JFK each year--ridiculous.  

When folks discuss their concerns tonight at the first community meeting, I hope that they will closely examine a bill that was introduced by Jerry Green into the Assembly--A3043--which "Allows corporation business tax or gross income tax credits to developers for certain capital investments for repurposing qualified health care facilities." 

The bill was originally introduced in June of 2012, but there were some changes and additions in June of 2013. Here is the link to the latest version: A3043. Please read the bill carefully, as there are provisions in it that I find troubling. I will just highlight one of them, from Section 3, a. (1) of the bill:

   The 1non-acute1 health care and health support services components of the repurposed facility shall comprise no less than 50 percent of the net leasable space of the repurposed facility, provided however that the 50 percent requirement may be waived by the authority if the requirement is not economically feasible or if the inclusion of further non-health care and non-health support services elements would improve the utilization and development of the health care and health support services components.  To be eligible for any tax credits authorized under this section, a developer shall demonstrate to the authority, at the time of application, that the State's financial support of the proposed capital investment in a qualified health care facility will 1not destabilize the supply and delivery of acute care health services in its market,1 will yield a net positive benefit to the State and local government, and, through a project pro forma analysis at the time of application, that the repurposing of the qualified health care facility is likely to be realized with the provision of tax credits at the level requested but is not likely to be accomplished by private enterprise without the tax credits.

This idea of the 50% requirement being "waived" if it is not so-called "economically feasible" leaves the door WIDE OPEN for waivers for other uses. The second part of that sentence states the the 50% requirement may also be waived if "the inclusion of further non-health care and non-health support services would improve the utilization and development of the health care and health support services components." That seems to say that including non-health care services could potentially IMPROVE health care services. Huh? So, theoretically, a commercial business--say, a beauty supply store or a 660-unit residential building could be viewed as "improving" the utilization and development of health care services? The language is extremely broad and vague--this is what troubles me.

The other part of the bill states that the "...a developer will demonstrate [...] that the proposed capital investment in a qualified health care facility will not destabilize the supply and delivery of acute health care services in its market...." This part of the bill (which was added to the 2013 version) is puzzling. The word "destabilize" suggests that whatever is developed cannot compete with JFK--also known as the "market." 

It also tells me that there is no way that JFK would seriously consider closing the ER. Again, where would they get the patients (the "supply") from to cart off to Edison (the "market"), if not from Plainfield, North Plainfield, and other surrounding areas?

Two weeks ago, Jerry Green said that he had a developer interested in the Muhlenberg campus--I am assuming that this is a "Medical Mall" type of developer, with a proposal to expand medical services on the Muhlenberg campus, which is what the community has said that it wants. The community has also rejected the 65-units per acre density that JFK has been pushing. The community wants medical services. Anything less than that would be a travesty and a betrayal.  

I hope that folks will come out to this first community meeting--please make your voice heard--as your representative, I will be there as well. 

All best,


Sunday, March 23, 2014

Maintaining One's Sense of Integrity--"Run, Sister, Run" Takeaways

L. to R. Dr. Barbara George Johnson, Mayor (and Dr.) Angela Garretson of Hillside, Debbie Walsh of Ready to Run, and Councilwoman (and Dr.) Renee Baskerville of Montclair.

On Friday, I was a panelist at Run Sister Run: Women of the African Diaspora Changing the Political Landscape, the pre-conference session for this year's Ready to Run conference sponsored by the Center for American Women in Politics. See my earlier post here. It was a fabulous session, with the legendary Jeannine Frisby LaRue filling in as moderator for Dr. Joyce Harley. The panelists, Dr. (and Montclair Councilwoman) Renee Baskerville, Hillside Mayor (and Dr.) Angela Garretson, Dr. Barbara George Johnson, from the John S. Watson Institute for Public Policy at Thomas Edison State College, and I shared our stories of getting involved in politics--I wasn't the only one on the panel who had run off the line--and of maintaining one's ethics and independence while running for office. 

We also spoke to the audience about identifying the reasons that one might want to run for office--to influence public policy, to make change, etc., and the importance of truly knowing whether one wants to dive into the murky depths of politics. I told my own story about successfully running off the line against two opponents, and also shared the story of what happened last week in Plainfield, when the duly-elected Plainfield Democratic City Committee members were disenfranchised by Chairman Jerry Green not allowing them to vote on the candidates for this year's council seats. To the shocked looks of many of those women in attendance on Friday, all I could do was shrug and smile. Others gave me knowing looks--they, too, had come up against political bosses who did not believe in democracy. 

We also spoke of sexism and homophobia and the last-minute desperation mailers that come out the night before the election to attempt to destroy one's character. I made the audience aware of the pathetic and hateful mailer that Jerry Green sent out the night before my first primary election a few years ago--attempting to smear me--to tie me to a superintendent that I didn't even know--to say that I didn't speak out on Muhlenberg, that I supported its closure, that I didn't support Obama in the primary--which, of course, I did--it was JERRY GREEN who endorsed and supported Hillary Clinton over Obama! 

I spoke of how this ridiculous flier went on to state more silliness, and also to remind folks of my sexual orientation, even suggesting (wrongly, of course) that I had no interest in LGBT rights--willfully ignoring all my work and advocacy in this area on behalf of young people and others. To the right is just a portion of the flier I shared. 

The moral for the women present was, make sure that you have a strong and secure sense of yourself, and maintain your integrity, your values, and your ethics in the face of the lies and smears you will be faced with simply for having the temerity to want to run for office. 

I was awed to be in the presence of these powerful women, and I found them all to be incredibly inspiring!

All best,


Saturday, March 22, 2014

I'm Voting for Rebecca!

My team and I will be filing our petitions to run for Plainfield City Council on Monday, March 31, the official launch day of our campaign. We will be knocking on doors and calling you to enlist your support with our grassroots efforts to keep Plainfield moving forward. I will continue to bring you the independent, transparent, thoughtful, honest, and ethical leadership that you have come to depend on from me as your council representative! 

Friday, March 21, 2014

"Run, Sister, Run!"

Today, I will be speaking on a panel at the Eagleton Institute of Politics's Center for American Women in Politics, located at Rutgers University. The panel that I will be on is titled "Run, Sister, Run," and is designed to encourage and empower women of African descent to run for elected office to increase our representation in the public sphere, as our numbers in relation to our population remain abysmally small. 

Dr. Joyce Harley, Director of Administrative Services at Essex County College, where I teach, invited me to participate. I am the only faculty member currently holding elective office, and Dr. Harley expressed interest in hearing my perspective. The description of the session is below. Click here for a link to the program.  

I look forward to sharing my insight on the listed topics--to which I would also add dealing with homophobia, running independently, and also providing superior constituent services. Wish me luck!

All best,

            Roundtable: Sister to Sister – Advice from the Experts 
Real advice from the real experts – women who have done it themselves. Panelists will provide insights and advice on important topics for current or future public officials, including use of technology, ethics, practical tips for getting and staying informed on policy issues, personal finances, image and presentation, and dealing with sexism.

Joyce Wilson Harley, Executive Director of Administrative Services, Essex County College

Councilwoman Renee Baskerville, Montclair Township 
Mayor Angela Garretson, Township of Hillside  
Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, New Jersey Assembly  
Barbara George Johnson, John S. Watson Institute for Public Policy, Thomas Edison State College 
Assemblywoman L. Grace Spencer, New Jersey Assembly 
Councilwoman Rebecca Williams, City of Plainfield 


Saturday, March 8, 2014

H.E.L.P. (Honest, Ethical Leadership for Plainfield) is Here!

H.E.L.P. is here!

            Leadership for

On Wednesday evening, at the Cedarbrook Area Block Association meeting, I formally announced my re-election as the 2nd & 3rd Ward At-large Democratic candidate for Plainfield City Council. I also introduced my 3rd Ward running mate, Charles McRae, who will be working to fill the vacancy left by Adrian Mapp's move to the mayoral seat. I have known Charles for several years, and I have long admired his work as a community activist, his leadership and ability as chair of Plainfield's Citizens Budget Advisory Committee (CBAC), and his commitment to our city. Charles brings credibility, honesty, and ethical behavior to the table.

The people of the 2nd and 3rd Wards will decide whether I have provided the quality of service and level of commitment that they think deserves a second term. In addition, the people will decide whether my choice of Charles McRae as my running mate is the choice for them as well. Over the next several weeks, Charles and I will be knocking on doors, talking with neighbors, and laying out our campaign platform to demonstrate that we will put you, the people of Plainfield, first. 

Charles is about the future of Plainfield, not the past. He is smart, level-headed, open-minded, and independent! You should want nothing less from your council representatives! I am proud to have him as my running mate--we need leadership that is community-based, ethical, and honest.  



P.S. For those residents in the First Ward who have long complained about the dearth of knowledgeable, responsible leadership in your ward, don't worry! We have an excellent candidate for the First Ward seat who will be a part of our team. That announcement will be forthcoming--stay tuned!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Shielding the Employees, Protecting the City

I wrote some comments about LegalShield on Bernice’s blog last month—to my surprise, this issue is up for discussion at yet another city council meeting. I have revised my earlier commentary here.

If anyone wants to see some alternative opinions of LegalShield and other legal plans, Google "Is Legal Shield a scam?" or check out The Ripoff Report--click here.
Once again, LegalShield (formerly known as Pre-Paid Legal), the Multi Level Marketing (MLM) company that recruits salespeople to sell "legal plans" for commissions (and then urge those folks who signed up to become "independent sales associates"), is on the city council agenda as a discussion item. I thought the council had exhausted this discussion last month when, after the salespeople gave yet another extremely time-consuming sales pitch for this company, some members of the council voted to recommend that the city look into the services offered by this company. To allow these salespeople to waste the public’s time once again with another sales pitch for this company is galling! Since when is it advisable to have individuals seeking city contracts come before the council to pitch their commercial products? What's next? Shall we have HerbaLife (another MLM company) salespeople come to the city to make a pitch for a payroll deduction for that company's products and services? How about Amway?

Further, the Corporation Counsel said that even considering this issue was an administrative function and outside the ability of the governing body to do anything other than make a recommendation. 

And yet, and yet…our time is being wasted and the fudging continues. The question of whether the city should collect LegalShield's monthly bills from our employees or whether those employees should pay LegalShield the way they pay their other bills is not for the city council to decide, so I don’t understand why we must spend more time on it. 

Also, before the city could even entertain the notion of adopting LegalShield, they would have to look at its competition—such as Rocket Lawyer, Hyatt Legal Plans, ARAG Insurance, Legal Zoom, etc. At least two of these companies, ARAG Insurance Company and Hyatt Legal Plans (part of MetLife), offer these plans as employee benefits—however, they don't use the independent salespeople like LegalShield does.

These salespeople kept talking about city employees who didn’t have bank accounts and who wanted to use LegalShield for legal services. They offered absolutely NO DATA about how many employees did or did not have bank accounts, exactly how many wanted the service, and why the city should get involved in terms of creating a payroll deduction for this service, rather than having the individuals pay for it the way they pay their other monthly bills (by money order, check, or automatic bank debit). I must reiterate, as an automatic payroll deduction, LegalShield's bill would get paid BEFORE the mortgage/rent, the utilities, the food, etc.

Regarding this business of Plainfield employees who don't have checking accounts—we have no idea how many people the self-interested Legal Shield salespeople are even talking about—they kept changing the numbers every time they opened their mouths. Of the 80, 90, or 100 employees who they said expressed interest in Legal Shield's services, how many don't have checking/credit accounts? 5%? 10%? 20%? Are they talking about 5 individuals, 12 individuals? 30 people? What exactly are we talking about here? Why didn't those employees sign up then?
If the governing body even had the power to control payroll deductions for LegalShield, to not fairly review and consider the competition before making a recommendation would constitute a COMPLETE AND TOTAL FAILURE of the city council’s fiduciary responsibility.

I am wondering whether the employees who have expressed interest in a legal plan are aware of the competitors—certainly, they should know where they can get the most “bang” for their buck. For those who are among "the least of these,"* it is our fiduciary responsibility to make sure that they are broadly aware of the competitors. If the city wanted to see about offering a legal plan as an employee benefit, I am sure that they would do their research, have these plans vetted through our city's legal team, consider whether this is something that they want to do, and then make a presentation to the employees. 

Again, as LegalShield is just one of many companies offering legal insurance services and products, it would behoove the city to ensure that the employees are made aware of these other entities so that they can make a more informed choice—rather than just hearing one sales pitch. From what I could see, there is nothing that LegalShield offers that these other companies don't—but employees wouldn't know that unless the other companies, too, are allowed to make their pitches.

No one could possibly take seriously the pitches by salespeople who say their product is superior when in the absence of data, and when they stand to make a windfall profit. It is my recommendation that the administration (should it choose to do so) make ALL these competing legal plans so that the employees have FULL DISCLOSURE of the plans’ benefits and limitations.  

To reiterate, if an employee wants this service, he or she can pay with a money order. You should know that Legal Shield has a Payment Option Form that can be filled out—THE INDIVIDUAL WANTING THE SERVICE CAN MAIL IT IN WITH A MONEY ORDER—the same way, I would assume, that they would pay other bills. You wouldn't know this if you listened to self-interested salespeople. 

I am concerned that anyone would take the word of self-interested salespeople (whether or not they live in our city) who go around promoting a service—it is the job of the city council to make sure that we protect the employees of the city by making sure that services are thoroughly vetted before foisting them on the employees of the city as a "benefit" to them. The sales packet shared with the council by the sales person didn't contain any information that one couldn't get on one's own—it was just broad, self-serving information about Legal Shield. Oddly, it didn't mention their past troubles with the SEC.

There is no reason why someone who wants this product (and who may not have a checking account) cannot send a money order each month to Legal Shield. Again, the self-interested Legal Shield sales operatives continue to frame their argument as helping all these employees who don't have checking accounts—but WE know that the Legal Shield reps will make significant commissions off the employees, and the city would, in effect, be serving as LegalShield’s bill collector.

I am still disturbed by Mr. Dunn's lack of disclosure about his personal financial interest in this company. Not once did he acknowledge that he stands to make money if employees sign up. Not once. If one goes to the Plainfield Chamber of Commerce's website, one could see how much free advertising Mr. Dunn is doing for this company--do the other Chamber members get free advertising as well? Click here. If we have employees who are struggling, they should be directed toward reputable credit counseling services--not toward being part of a monthly windfall for a privately-held company like Legal Shield, which is only after the automatic payroll deduction.

My concern is for the employees and the city not to be taken in by continued hucksterism and misleading representations. One of the things the Legal Shield reps kept speaking of in their earlier representations was the idea of protecting employees against "Identity Theft"—that's the way these multilevel marketing companies work—they sign people up for a basic service that seems inexpensive, but when they add on all the other services (usually by creating fear-based, worst-case scenarios), the employee ends up dedicating a significant amount of money to the company—often upwards of $40-50 per month.

I am well aware of how banking practices have disproportionately affected lower income people, and especially African Americans, who then are forced to go to check cashing places (and sometimes payday lenders) to perform their banking needs. THAT issue (a huge one) has NOTHING to do with Legal Shield's self-interested sales representatives attempting to take advantage of the desperation of people who currently may not have access to checking accounts by taking the money through a payroll deduction. Again, employees would be better served by being made aware of the various credit counseling services that are available to them for FREE through the government.

All best,


*A final note: The appointed councilwoman from the 3rd Ward used the word "elitist" to negatively characterize me--which deeply offended me, because she doesn't know me or my background; to deliberately use code words and terms to play to a perceived audience of "the least of these" is the worst kind of pandering. For anyone to build a straw man argument that I don't care about those employees and others who struggle with their finances shows that they haven't bothered to even look at my record--haven't even bothered to look in any detail into what this company is all about. Instead, they deflect the topic to make it about me being an "elitist." Because I don't support Legal Shield as a payroll deduction, I am an elitist? I know many of the employees who work for the city--among those who live here, many are my constituents--they would beg to differ with anyone who termed me an elitist, because they know me, and they know that I work hard to serve them.