The Business of the City: Miscellaneous

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A "Discussion" Becomes An "Ordinance!"

I am extremely disappointed in the HAP Director for once again presenting a proposed ordinance to convey very important city-owned parcels in our business district to HAP for 86 units of so-called "luxury" housing (which he said would have some "retail" aspect--he couldn't provide any details on that) when there are better parcels of land for it. This scheme clashes with the economic development agenda for the future of downtown in this city, as well as our Master Plan. If it is the desire of the Housing Authority of Plainfield to develop this project, I would like to hear from the commissioners on it. 

Just seven months ago, developer Cecil Sanders (one of three PMUA commissioners--the others were Malcolm Dunn and Alex Toliver--who voted to give $1.2 million of taxpayer money to executives who resigned, causing furloughs and layoffs) brought his lawyer to the council meeting in a discussion of the ordinance then--Bernice wrote up the exchange on her PlainTalker II blog. Our Corporation Counsel, David Minchello, said the ordinance was not legal:

The final item on the special meeting agenda was conveyance of city-owned land to the Housing Authority, but Corporation Counsel David Minchello deemed the ordinance "not legal" and in need of further review. He said city redevelopment counsel Robert Renaud concurred.

First, he said, the ordinance read "like an attempt to enter into a redevelopment agreement," but it referred to an area not designated for redevelopment. Secondly, terms, such as a price for the turnover, were lacking.

Wendy Monahan, an attorney for developer Cecil Sanders, said the property was being conveyed to the Housing Authority.

"In my legal opinion, there is nothing illegal about this ordinance," she said.

But the council sided with Minchello and voted to table the ordinance.

What has changed? This time, Director Wood decided not to even bother to show the administration the proposed ordinance, or to discuss it with them. Click here for the rest of the post. 

Back then (the final months of 2013), the group consisted of Matrix Real Estate Group, the Plainfield Housing Authority and the Plainfield Community Development Corporation). Here's another passage from one of Bernice's posts on the scheme from October:

"Presenting themselves as West Second Street Association LLC with the tentative name "Cove Apartments," the team said the $23.6 million project will be financed by a combination of low-income housing credits, NJ HOME, NJHMFA and other sources. Once completed, the mortgage will be $6.5 million, Martin said. He predicted the project would have "tremendous economic impact" on the downtown area."

Click here for the rest of that post.
When I asked Mr. Wood how many commercial projects HAP had done, he admitted that they had never done such a project, but that his "developer" (whomever that is) was a good one. There are other parcels of land that could be used for residential development--why do Mr. Wood and his cohorts want this parcel? Why not develop residential housing in residential areas? Who else has a hand in this? That is the question.  Let me be clear before my words are deliberately mischaracterized by the obstructionists: I believe that these specific parcels of land should be used for COMMERCIAL development--we must bring commercial development to our city to ease the burden on our residents, to create real, sustainable jobs (as opposed to limited short-term construction-type jobs) for our workforce. We need business development in this city--our business district does not need additional residential housing when there are plenty of other parcels for it.

The disrespect shown to the administration by not first sitting with the mayor and/or the economic development director to discuss it is only outweighed by Director Wood bringing the "ordinance" before the council for swift placement on the agenda. Why wouldn't he have called the mayor or the economic development director to discuss this? What was the rush? His rudeness and defensiveness toward Councilman Storch (some viewed both men as rude) for even raising the question about this unusual behavior clearly illustrated the "putting the cart before the horse" aspect of these machinations. Mr. Wood said he didn't want to put the "horse before the cart" (his malapropism of the old saying), and yet he did just that by not talking to the administration first.  

Corporation Counsel HAD NOT EVEN SEEN the "ordinance"--that is unconscionable. I don't buy this "I couldn't schedule a meeting" crap. In the 21st century, we have email and TELEPHONES (which were invented in the 19th century). Why would a "discussion" item automatically morph into an ordinance--which he miraculously produced? I will be looking very closely at the ethics of all the parties involved.


Click on the link for the Code of Ethics:

N.J.S.A. 40A:9-22.5
Code of ethics for local government officers or employees under jurisdiction of local finance board


  1. I guess Jerry Green needs more money. If the Council of no passes this illegal ordinance they should all be brought up on charges and sent to jail.

  2. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. FILE A CLASS ACTION SUIT! Turn them into the NJ Attorney General's Office. If the proposal involves Federal Grant monies turn the into the US Attorney General.

  3. Corporation Counsel David Minchello nixed the 2013 resolution on a few technicalities, but he avoided the big picture- the continuing disregard for State and City conflicts of interest and ethics laws. Time and again, the City Council under President Bridget Rivers has willfully violated paragraph C of the Local Government Ethics Law: "No local government officer or employee shall use or attempt to use his official position to secure unwarranted privileges or advantages for himself or others". The same goes for other Council members and HAP Director Wood. Meanwhile, Sanders and Dunn, who originally put Wood up to this scheme, are appointed public officials who are precluded from contracting with the City, or pedaling their schemes from one public body to the next. Dunn has an undisclosed financial interest in the architectural firm that drew up the proposal, Johnson Jones, and Sanders' CHS Construction, that brought forth the proposal to begin with and duped HAP into the scheme, shares the same address with Johnson Jones in Newark. I am in possession of a letter to former PW&UD Director Jennifer Wenson-Maier, indicating an interest in this property as far back as 2009, and it certainly looks like last year's resolution was nothing short of a parting gift from Mayor Robinson-Briggs, just as the pair's placement on the PMUA was nothing short of a gift to Watson and Ervin in their attempt to extort a big payoff from the Authority, and provide further cover for PMUA many misdeeds including contract fraud, illegal commissioner compensation, and overstaffing, all of which have contributed to siphoning millions every year from the pockets of residents. It should also be of note that Rivers and Joanne Hollis, a HAP commissioner, are sisters, and Pamela Dunn-Hale, also a HAP commissioner, is Malcolm Dunn's daughter. I'm actually surprised that HAP Director Wood has now taken a more central role in this real estate scheme. He's either overly foolish, or maybe someone's got something hanging over his head that is forcing him to go down a road that is bound to end up with the ethics panel of the Division of Local Government Services.

    1. As you know, I have asked Corporation Counsel in the past about conflicts of interest, particularly concerning Mr. Sanders getting the city contract on a Leland Avenue project while serving on the PMUA--this was in 2012, I believe--after reviewing the statute, the legal opinion was that a conflict did not exist.

    2. Legal opinions aren't necessarily correct opinions. They are the opinion of that particular individual, and just because one is a lawyer doesn't automatically imbue the person with an unassailable degree of correctness. Remember, PMUA attorney Leslie London's 'legal' opinion is that fringe benefits are not compensation. None of this has been adjudicated in court, or in front of an ethics panel.

      As far as Leland Ave. is concerned, I think our city ordinance is written in fairly plain English:

      Sec. 11:17-5. Conflict of interest.
      No official or employee, either on his own behalf or on behalf of any other person, shall, unless otherwise permitted by law, have any financial or personal interest in any business or transaction with any public body in the City. (Ordinance adopted March 2, 1970)

      If Minchello can point out were obtaining such a demolition contract is permitted by law, so be it. But I think he would be hard pressed to find such an exemption. My, albeit limited, experience with these Corporation Counsels is they play loosely with facts and laws, and are more interested in protecting the individuals who hire them than the Corporation that often betrays the public trust at the behest of those individuals.

  4. Hi Rebecca,

    Keep looking at these things. You said you'd look carefully at the parties involved in this, I was thinking, look at all the parasites involved in this. Thanks for being on point.

  5. Hi Rebecca,

    Thank you for always standing up against the corruption and nepotism imposed on the City of Plainfield by Gerry Green and his minions. That Gerry’s “kids” on the Counsel continue protect and support Dunn and Sanders after they teamed with Toliver to give away $1Million of taxpayer money to Watson and Irwin after the resigned and were not owed any severance aside from their pensions according to the contracts they both had signed, just shows the degree to which they serve Gerry Green and his political interests and NOT the citizens of Plainfield, who they supposedly represent.

    Sadly, being ethical is never a priority because they are never held accountable for their actions. As Alan pointed out, there will always be a lawyer who will provide a “legal opinion” that provides cover for an unethical or illegal act.


    Tom Kaercher