PLAINFIELD, NJ — Monday's council meeting included topics ranging from budget amendments, COVID-19 testing, a robocall from a City of Plainfield phone number made by a councilman who is up for re-election, and discussions about boarded up businesses.

COVID-19 NUMBERS AND TESTING

According to Mayor Adrian O. Mapp’s events newsletter on Monday, the cumulative number of positive COVID-19 cases in town stands at 2,175.  Two new fatalities were reported, a 68-year-old Hispanic man, and a 71-year-old Hispanic man, bringing the total number to 106 lost in the Queen City.

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The council voted in favor of an agreement with Wellness Coaches (R 190-20) to provide COVID-19 services for city personnel through 2020, effective June 15, when employees begin returning to work.

Members also voted (R 207-20) to execute a memorandum of understanding with Salerno Medical Associates to provide citywide testing for Plainfield residents. According to Shep Brown, Director of Health & Social Services, costs would be reimbursed through the Federal CARES Act. The site would be located at Lot 7 near East Seventh Street and Park Avenue.

THE BUDGET

Approximately 100 budget amendments were introduced at Monday's virtual council meeting. Due to the large number, a pre-recorded audio message was played.

The City Clerk clarified one line item, stating that it was read into the record that the Fire Department’s salary and wages were $10,000; the correct number is just over $10 million.

Councilwoman Ashley Davis asked for an explanation for the decrease in salary and wages year over year. Ron West, Director of Finance, attributed it to a hiring freeze, a delay in new police and fire hires, and no movement in promotions.

Councilman Sean McKenna said, "I don’t think the cuts are enough, and I don't think they're the right cuts. The majority of these things are going to be tried to be brought back next year, which means we're going to have a big increase in spending, which means tax increase unless the revenue offsets that, which I doubt."

See the budget amendments herepdf.

He noted, "I think we also have a hole here, of about $135,000 plus, with respect to pools," as Governor Phil Murphy announced municipal pools could open June 22. McKenna added that unless other municipalities are going to open their pools at some point in June or early July, and Plainfield is not going to open its own, it will contribute to issues with youth who already have a severe lack of opportunities for recreational opportunities.

"That's $135,000. If we're going to open them up, there's $135,000 more going back into the budget that you're going to try to look for. I think we need to seriously look at cutting head count through attrition as people retire." McKenna added current city digital abilities are lacking, and made a motion for the administration to find another $1 million in cuts, including the return and sale of the administration's SUVs.

McKenna and Davis voted in the affirmative, but the motion failed.

Resident Jeannette Criscione asked council members who voted to not review the budget, "I’m curious as to why you wouldn’t take an extra week to at least look at the budget and see if you could save the taxpayers more money, especially considering this time, people are out of work and could use all the financial breaks they can get."

Council President Steve Hockaday said, "I did review the budget several times, and worked along with the entire council in terms of the input that we got, and so forth, and working with the Finance Committee. That's how we arrived at the savings that we got, so we certainly reviewed the budget several times, at several hearings."

There will be a public hearing on the amendments, set for Monday, June 15.

OTHER COUNCIL ITEMS

A 90-day extension (R 189-20) was approved for Abubakar Jalloh to serve as Acting Business Administrator. Councilman McKenna asked where the administration is in the search process. Mayor Mapp said the search is being conducted by a private firm that is looking far and wide for the best candidate. 

A resolution (R 195-20) to authorize a one-year renewal for ShotSpotter, the system that is designed to detect gun shots within the area of coverage, pinpoint from where they've been fired, and alert authorities, was approved.

Councilwoman Davis said she was happy to hear about an NJ Department of Transportation grant (R 202-20) for the East Third Street Roadway Improvement Project.

A time-only extension (R 205-20) was granted to Nishuane Group LLC as the planning consultant working on the Master Plan.

Resolutions approved en masse included recognizing June as Pride Month, June 19th as Juneteenth, the 150th Anniversary of the 15th Amendment, and the 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote, and the 100-year Anniversary of the League of Women Voters of Plainfield. Another resolution was passed in memory of Plainfield resident Dan Damon who died on May 29.

THAT ROBOCALL

Mary Burgwinkle provided comments on a city-wide robocall made by Councilman Charles McRae on June 3. “He said that he and Councilman Hockaday and Mayor Mapp, along with council and the administration, has been able to develop a zero-tax budget, and that it was the first time in decades that there was a zero-tax budget." She added:

  1. What is a zero-tax budget, and why was he announcing it a week before the vote on the budget?
  2. Whoever drafted the zero-tax budget language should have been proofread,
  3. How much did that robocall cost the citizens since it was clearly called from a city number?
  4. I’m sure it was a coincidence that those two councilmen are running in the primary. The city appears to be treading very close to election laws by sending robocalls like that so close to an election. And what did the two of them do that was more than the other councilors and other members of the administration?
  5. At a prior meeting I commented that having the mayor’s Chief of Staff as Director of Communications seemed to be relegating all city communications to public relations for the mayor. This robocall was a prime example of that. The message was inartfully stated and seemed like a vehicle to get those names out into the public on city expense. I think this should stop.

(Listen to the call here, it repeats twice in English and Spanish)

Resident Alan Goldstein emailed both the council and mayor on at least two separate occasions about the call. The day it was made he wrote, "First, council should not be involved in day-to-day City administration PR.  Second, the only council members who were mentioned were McRae and Hockaday, both of whom are running this year, so this seems more of a campaign stunt. Lastly, it is doubtful the administration would permit a dissenting council member from using the same means to reach their constituents.”

In an email to council members dated June 8, Goldstein cited Plainfield City Charter and Municipal Code violations.

RALLY FOLLOW-UP

Leslie A. Anderson said, “As a lifelong resident of this city, I am dismayed that I even have to be at the council meeting tonight making these comments. I am speaking to the letter sent by Valerie Jackson on June 5, 2020, to the businesses of Plainfield, which resulted in them boarding up their stores for the peaceful demonstration that took place in the city on June 6.”

Anderson called the letter unnecessary and antagonistic, and said it sent the wrong message from the administration. "Rather than responding and working with the march organizers and figuring out ways we can work together to protect the businesses, we reacted and I believe a division has a potential to be created between the business owners and the residents of the city. And I would like to see the city take some action to address it, to calm fears on one side and to calm anger on another.” 

She added, “The action flies in the face of who we are as the city of Plainfield,” adding, "Words matter."

Jackson responded, saying, "First of all, I would like to say I was asked to advise the businesses about the rally, and a lot goes on behind the scenes that is not available to the public." She noted, "I have no intent, never did, to create fear and / or division in the City of Plainfield. The purpose of the memo was to advise business owners of the rally. There was no intent to incite or scare business owners. I noted in the memo that the rally was expected to be peaceful. Some people mistakenly misinterpreted a couple of words, meaning civil disturbance. And disturbance means protest. I support peaceful protest." She said some business owners overreacted by boarding up their buildings, but said she is committed to bringing about dialogue with residents and business owners.

McKenna said, "We should be more analytical with our intel, and what is good intel vs. bad intel vs. rumors." He said once the letter came out, it became 'social media wild'.

Davis said it appeared the administration was "doubling down on our position," noting, "residents in the city were insulted about the municipality being boarded up, looking like we were preparing for a hurricane." She said residents told her it reminded them of the riots in the sixties, but said while residents' feelings should not be discounted, neither should the police intel.

"It's disappointing because now you have residents calling for boycotts of these businesses," Davis said, adding it sounds like "we're okay with the position because I'd rather people board up their businesses and take precautions, and I don't really think that's the message we want for residents."

The Mayor said he was disturbed by the sight of the boards, and it is not the message that should be communicated internally or externally. "The buck stops with me, and anything that is done by my administration, I take full responsibility. At the end of the day, I'm accountable to the people of Plainfield, and internally we will have the necessary conversation in looking at this issue, and I can assure you that we will deal with it in the way that it should be dealt with."

 

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