PLAINFIELD, NJ - Plainfield Charter Study Commission members challenged Mayor Adrian O. Mapp’s proposed expansion of city departments Monday, mainly because state legislation to change the charter had added language to allow for “confidential aides.”
The five-member elected commission held 35 meetings between December 11, 2012 and December 30, 2013 and interviewed 29 present and former governmental officials as well as New Jersey government expert Ernest Reock before submitting proposed revisions. Because the 1968 charter was passed by the state legislature, it had to be revised the same way. But that didn’t happen until just last month, and Commission Secretary Mary Burgwinkle was distressed to find additional language allowing for up to 10 confidential aides and five more departments.
In a widely published letter, Burgwinkle foresaw patronage hiring and deplored what seemed like secrecy in the changes.
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She wrote, “I am confident that I will not be the only one watching. We all need to work to prevent further sell-out of Plainfield citizens.”
At Monday’s meeting, Mapp had a current table of organization passed out to the audience with a draft expansion chart on the reverse. Three current departments became seven, but Mapp said all leaders were current employees and the change would be “budget-neutral.”
The change is needed, he said, “to increase accountability.” While saying there were no plans to load up City Hall with aides, he said, “We felt it was extremely important to have trustworthy individuals as executive assistants.”
Mapp explained all the proposed changes and indicated he would put them before the council for a vote at the Aug. 13 combined agenda-fixing and regular meeting.
The current three departments are Administration, Finance, Health and Social Services, which also includes Information Technology; Public Works & Urban Development; and Public Affairs & Safety. The first, which had become a catch-all in recent years with more than a dozen divisions, would be split into separate departments for Communications & Technology, Finance, and Health & Social Services.
The PW&UD would split into Public Works and Economic Development, with most services under the former and Planning and Zoning under the latter. Mapp explained a split of Public Safety into separate Police and Fire departments, saying all past leaders of the joint department had been police officials. He said the title of Fire Chief would be abolished in favor of Fire Director.
Mapp reiterated that the restructuring would not add cost, but would “put us in a better place” for the future.
In public comment Monday, Burgwinkle’s takeaways included that the administration had “no real interest in transparency” and “no interest in good public policy.” She said it appeared to her that the mayor had stepped into the council’s legislative role.
“In my opinion, you need to get some legal advice,” she said.
Commission Treasurer Jeanette Criscone said to Mapp, “With all due respect, I think you’re not getting it.” Criscione also asked why the public was not informed of the changes and called it “sneaky,” while resident Greg Haworth said flatly the term “confidential aide” did not belong in the charter.
“The way this came about has created tremendous suspicion in the community,” Haworth said. “There needs to be some transparency here. If this continues, then the local government fails.”
The Aug. 13 combined meeting begins at 7 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.