PLAINFIELD, NJ - The League of Women Voters of Plainfield held its Candidate Forum on Tuesday at Emerson Community School, featuring two individuals who are running for Councilman-at-Large, and nine of the candidates who are running for seats on the Board of Education.
After opening statements by Elton Armady and Ronald Johnson, Jr., LWV Moderator Dawn Clark asked the council candidates questions that were collected on index cards from members of the audience.
How will you regularly communicate with your constituents as a council member?
Johnson said he would hold town hall meetings so residents can discuss issues in an informal setting. He acknowledged that not everyone can make it to City Council meetings.
Armady said that since he's been appointed, he has attended block association meetings. He also said it's important to attend public events where constituents can approach and interact with council members.
How are properties like the Delta gas station at South and Belvidere avenues allowed to get into such terrible condition, and what can be done to get them cleaned up to support the $55 million development going in down the road?
Armady said that code enforcement violations should be reported to the city, and if the issues continue, businesses could be fined.
Johnson said he has a background in code enforcement, and is very familiar with the Delta gas station site. He said a part of planning large projects like the mixed use building across the street from the gas station and near the Netherwood train station should include making sure there is upkeep of surrounding properties.
Johnson added that the accessory auto repair at the Delta site was supposed to be secondary to selling gas. Since the primary use of selling gasoline is no longer available, the auto repair has become the principal use but is not permitted in the zone.
If you could change one thing in our zoning code, what would it be and why?
Johnson said a key issue is the sign ordinance. The Planning Board had worked for four to five month on it, he said, to have more uniform, clean signs around the city. But he noted the ordinance was pulled from the City Council's agenda, and "the current signage is here to stay."
Armady said the ordinance was pulled because it wasn't comprehensive. He added that some zoning laws are complicated.
How will you assist with our youth in Plainfield, i.e. programs, mentorships, etc.?
Armady said a hallmark of his campaign is to expand youth programs, to make sure kids have something to do after school.
Johnson noted that the City Council needs to establish goals and deadlines, to report on the successful programs that are already in place, and then expand on those particular programs. He added that he would like to see some type of recreation or community center built.
Do you think it was correct for the City Council to approve the changes to the city charter without first notifying the public of those changes? Did you think the public should have been informed of the changes prior to its enactment?
Johnson said, "A resounding yes, I do believe that it should have gone before the public, of course, first."
Armady countered, saying, "The public was actually given good notice for any changes happening with the charter." He added that anything coming before the City Council is posted online in advance; he said residents can reach out to council members, and there are question and comment periods at council meetings to express concerns.
Do you think our main street downtown is healthy and successful? If not, what would you do to change that?
Armady said he would work with the city's planning and zoning boards to make sure they are bringing in the right businesses; to make sure the sign ordinance is more attractive; and to make sure protective fencing at businesses is attractive and uniform.
Johnson said there is no available data to determine success, from vacancy rates to average square footage for apartments and commercial uses, and year over year growth. "Is our downtown healthy? It probably is not. There are a lot of vacant stores." He said there should be statistical research, and it should be readily available and actively updated.
How would you work to overhaul the city code enforcement?
Johnson said, "I think code enforcement's a really complicated issue right now in the city of Plainfield." He said code enforcement is "essentially a crisis." He added that areas of blight should be identified, and plans should be created to address them.
Armady cited a quality of life task force video that was shown at a September City Council meeting. He said the video highlighted how code enforcement has been overhauled and streamlined, now working with police, fire and other divisions as one unit.
Should traffic studies be done for new projects, and was it done for the Muhlenberg site?
"To my knowledge, absolutely," Amardy said. He added, "Anytime you're going to change or put new services or new development in a particular area, it's important you do your research beforehand and understand what changes are going to occur."
Johnson said, "It's definitely typical for us to do a traffic study for any large scale project or redevelopment that's proposed." He said he was curious about the one for the North Ave. area that would create a pedestrian mall as it would change the entire downtown area around the train station.
If you received a $1 million grant to use for the city any way you wanted, what would you do with it, and why?
"I would definitely want to focus on public safety," Johnson said. He noted that although crime has dropped, different neighborhoods haven't felt that drop and would be targeted.
Armady said he would use it for infrastructure, and would continue paving streets across the city.
Download the League of Women Voters forum guide that includes candidate bios, and responses to three questions:
- Describe your City as you know it and explain how you will serve its constituencies?
- How will you uphold the checks and balances between the legislative and executive branches?
- What do you feel can be done at the municipal level for our changing demographic?
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