The need for partnerships amongst Plainfield’s elected officials is probably greater today than at any other time in the City’s history, for many reasons. The City is experiencing crises on many levels; its financial house is in disarray, parents are frustrated due to the lack of cooperation from the leadership of the Recreation Division, people are unemployed in record numbers (and many are underemployed), and our residents are living in fear. These times call for cooperation and collaboration between the branches of government. The call to action Town Hall meeting was an opportunity for the Mayor and Council to be leading the charge, together, to fight the forces of crime and violence that have taken over segments of our community. However, the “you stay in your lane, I stay in mine” philosophy expressed by the Mayor at the recent council retreat spilled over into other areas and into the Town Hall meeting.
One is left to wonder why the Council was not given a role at Sunday’s Town Hall meeting, in spite of council members being asked, several days prior to the meeting, to confirm their attendance. Council President McWilliams was on the panel and was not even extended the courtesy to speak or to represent her colleagues’ position to the community. It was at roughly 8:55 pm that she finally jumped into the conversation and stated that she was waiting since 5:00 pm to welcome the audience in her capacity as Council President. Just imagine the feeling of waiting for four hours not to be recognized by the Mayor. Even worse than that is the fact that Councilor Rivers, who was also a panelist (and who represents the ward where most of the acts of violence have occurred) was not even allowed one second of input into the conversation. I was present from about 5:55 pm and observed the presence of three other colleagues, including Linder Carter, and at no time did the Mayor see it fit to recognize any of the members of the governing body. I inquired from Chris Payne if there were any seats available for council members and he told me “no, BLS is handling the seating”. He then offered to place two chairs for my wife and me under a WBLS banner where our view of the panelists would have been obstructed. We opted to stay in the back where I had pulled up two chairs and where we had full view of the stage.
My complaint is not about special treatment, it is simply about respect and protocol. What was also disturbing is that Freeholder Nancy Ward was made to sit on stage from the very beginning of the program until about 8:45 pm before she was given the opportunity to speak, and after speaking for about three minutes, she was cut off rather abruptly in the middle of a sentence.
Mind you, a few weeks ago I suggested to the Council President a meeting with the City Administrator and the Police Director to get an update on the violence and to offer our assistance; we invited Councilor Rivers to join us at the meeting. At that meeting we echoed our concerns about the fact that CCTV in the UEZ zone downtown would not provide the city with enough coverage and would not reach into the areas where the violence was occurring and we offered the immediate assistance of the Council. How did we do that? We told the Administration to create a re-appropriation ordinance for $1millon to go out and acquire gunshot recognition technology that can be deployed throughout the city and that would not be subject to UEZ restrictions. We then made that recommendation from the Finance and Administration committee to our colleagues. As a result of that directive, the Administration brought in a firm, a week or so ago, to do a demonstration of gunshot recognition technology and yet it did not have the courtesy to invite the Council to the demonstration; we read about it in the media. This was the same firm that had a representative on Sunday’s panel.
It is for all of the above reasons that I question why the mayor felt a need to disrespect the Council, given that our only way out of this mess is through a partnership amongst the co-equal branches of government, and partnerships with the communities we serve. Petty politics have no place in a crisis of this magnitude.