I was the Secretary of the Plainfield Charter Study Commission that was elected in 2012 and did its work in 2013. The Commission is now dissolved and has no existing authority, but I still have an interest in the project.   So, I was happy when the City Council passed Ordinance MC-2018-8, which was described as an ordinance to re-petition the legislature for passage of a special law to amend the charter as recommended by Charter Study Commission.

That ordinance was passed on April 9, 2018. I learned several days ago that Senator Scutari sponsored a Bill introduced on June 18, 2018.  I downloaded that Bill to read it. I was dismayed to find a material change to the Charter Study Commission recommendations. Plainfield ‘s Charter provided that the City had to operate with 3 departments, which is fewer than many municipalities. We recommended that. from time to time, the City could add between 1 and 3 departments, with a 2/3 vote of City Council.  Our legislative history contains the text of our rationale for this suggestion.  Among other things, we suggested that our City Council should conduct a careful study before implementing any change due to budget, personnel and space considerations. The Scutari Bill allows the addition of 5 departments, with no enhanced voting standard - only a vote of majority of council.

On June 23, 2018, I sent an email to all of the City Councilors, Mayor Mapp and the City Clerk. Among other things, I asked if there had been any public notice to the citizens about this change, whether City Council voted on it, and who drafted the changes. On June 24th, Councilor Storch responded that he thought he had voted on the Charter Study Commission Recommendations as presented without amendment, and he also asked the administration who had drafted the changes. On June 25, I got a terse response from the City Clerk telling me that I should accept, as the official response, that the Charter Study Commission Recommendations were forwarded to the Legislature” as is”, and he said “It is my understanding that once these recommendations were submitted to the legislature, the bill was subsequently amended.”  No one else got back to me to tell me that they were surprised about the changes.

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Today, I checked the status of the Bill and learned that the Bill, in addition to being sponsored by Senator Scutari in the Senate, had been co-sponsored by Assemblywoman Carter and Assemblyman Kennedy.  To my surprise, the Bill was amended again to add a section allowing Department Directors to hire up to 10 Confidential Aides.  Our City Council does not have to approve the Confidential Aides.  Instead, the Mayor can appoint the Aides. The Bill was passed on June 22nd, with no public hearing or other notice that I know of to Plainfield citizens.

I am deeply concerned about these developments. It is now clear now the taxpayers of Plainfield face the financial burden of patronage jobs based on revisions to our charter that were never approved by the Plainfield governing body.  UCDC Chair Scutari now has jobs to hand out at Plainfield’s expense and I am very disappointed in Assemblywoman Carter, who is clearly working for the party leaders and not the people of Plainfield. 

The City Council must vote to establish any new departments.  I am putting them on notice that I personally expect them to carefully study any new department suggestions, show that any additions are revenue neutral and to get detail on any additional cars and hires that will be necessary.  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.

Mary Burgwinkle

(See Senate Bill 2763)