Mayor Adrian Mapp – State of the City Address January 6, 2014
Members of the City Council, Cabinet Members, Honored Guests, fellow Plainfielders, and friends of Plainfield, I welcome you to the 2014 Reorganization Meeting of the City of Plainfield, New Jersey. Please let me offer my thanks to Plainfield Superintendent of Schools Anna Belin-Pyles, and to all the Plainfield Board of Education members, for hosting both our reorganization meeting this evening, and the People’s Feast on January 1. Our schools are an integral part of our community, and we appreciate these opportunities to work together.
Before I begin my remarks, I would like to take a moment to recognize the members of my Transition Team who are here this evening. These 100 people – residents and friends of Plainfield—gave countless hours to interview city employees, to meet with their committees, and to provide their insights and their recommendations to make Plainfield better. The 98-page report was officially released this evening and can be found on the City’s website. We are all grateful to the transition team for their time and their work, and I would ask them to stand and be recognized.
Earlier this year, in April, I met with former Governor McGreevey and we discussed many things, including the state of education in the city. As a result of that meeting, I created an Education Task Force made up of 12 individuals who are all current or former educators, along with the Governor, who agreed to serve as the chair. The Governor hosted the first meeting on May 16, 2013, and the ETF has been meeting ever since. I expect to have a report from them within the next 90 days. Would the members of the ETF who are here this evening also stand and be recognized?
As I begin my remarks, I want first to congratulate Councilwoman Bridget Rivers as she begins the first year of her second term. I look forward to continuing to work with Councilwoman Rivers, who will continue to serve as Council President in the coming year. Congratulations also to Councilman William Reid – Upon his re-election as Chairman of the Committee of the Whole. And finally, I want to welcome Councilwoman Gloria Taylor, who is no stranger to city government, since she has previously served Plainfield graciously and enthusiastically as First Lady. I pay tribute tonight to her late husband, Mayor Rick Taylor, one of my predecessors, and someone who helped shape Plainfield into the city we find today, and I thank her for her willingness to continue to serve our city.
As we begin this New Year, I want to thank all of our council members. I am grateful for the words of Councilwoman Tracey Brown, who offered me her support in her New Year’s Day remarks and noted that “if I do well, the city does well.” I agree, and I add that if we do well – the Mayor and the Council working together – the city will do even better!
With the exception of Councilwoman Taylor, all of us have worked together as council members. We have shared successes, and shared areas where we can do better. Tonight I ask that when we come together throughout 2014 as Plainfield’s elected governing officials, we put aside everything that might hinder us from doing the best we can for Plainfield.
The voters have chosen us to work together at a critical moment in the City's history. They want us to join together in a new era of cooperation and collaboration. I know that we can do this because we all want to do great things for our city. And I believe that we will do this ---because we all want our city to succeed and realize its true potential. I pledge tonight to work with you for that mutual goal.
At the start of my administration, I am proud to report to you tonight that Plainfield endures, and although we face many challenges, I share with you my belief that the state of our city is hopeful.
This year, on April 21st, we will celebrate the 145th anniversary of our incorporation as a city. We will celebrate a glorious past – and a new and vibrant future --a rebirth of opportunity in our community – opportunity not only for our city to be great again – but also for each and every one of our residents to achieve greatness in their own lives.
But for that to happen,
We must stimulate economic development in our city.
We must reform the administration of our city government.
We must return the streets and neighborhoods to our citizens and make them safe everywhere across the city.
And we must renew our commitment to our city – to provide opportunities for recreation, for arts and culture as well as the basic necessities of food, housing, education, and healthcare.
But first, we must get our financial house in order. Plainfield needs a robust, disciplined, and transparent budget process.
I pledge tonight that the Mayor’s Office will provide the Council with a budget that will be balanced, that will meet our needs, and that will be ON TIME. I need the right Council to make this not just a promise, but a reality.
The budget is the first step in reforming our finances. It may reflect our resources as much as our priorities, but this budget will mark the end of financial chaos in Plainfield, and the beginning of a governing process that will drive the budget --rather than government that is driven by lack of a budget.
Our residents and our communities are the strength of our beautiful city. For too long, it has been too hard to live in Plainfield. We must reform our finances so that we can lessen the tax burden carried by every homeowner and business owner.
New Jersey’s economy has lagged behind the national recovery, and here in Plainfield, we have lost opportunities to develop business and create jobs. As of today, we enter a new era in economic development. We are ready and eager to work with entrepreneurs, with established businesses, and with all those who seek the active support of city government to create and grow their dreams of economic opportunity. Throughout the course of my campaign I informed the citizens and the tax payers of Plainfield that I will appoint a deputy City Administrator with a specific and concentrated focus on economic development. Over 70 percent of the voters said – we agree with you.
Today I am announcing a three –point plan to accelerate economic development in Plainfield. These efforts will be led by the deputy City Administrator in charge of economic development.
First, we will create a Technical Review Committee to expedite development projects. The TRC will meet with developers throughout the process to improve intergovernmental cooperation and coordination and streamline the permitting and licensing processes. This will assure greater accountability and transparency and put an end to delays that cost time and money and ultimately drive developers away.
Second, we will deliver this message through the creation of a branding and marketing strategy to attract developers, entrepreneurs and consumers. This campaign will be part of a comprehensive economic development strategy that will revitalize Plainfield’s economy and secure its economic future.
Finally, we will continue to advocate for improved public transportation into New York City. Our work with the Raritan Valley Rail Coalition has resulted in a one-seat ride to New York City on the Raritan Valley Line in off-peak hours, and we urge New Jersey Transit to take the final step and make this service available on every train. This one-seat service is vital for Plainfield to attract both new businesses and new homeowners. Every minute saved by a one-seat ride in NYC equates to a $3,000 increase in the value of the average home in Plainfield. I would also like to acknowledge State Sen. Nicholas Scutari and Assemblywoman Linda Stender, who introduced legislation last November to urge NJ Transit to provide a direct trip on the Raritan Valley Line to New York Penn Station. All of us in Plainfield appreciate their efforts.
While we are growing Plainfield with new businesses and new residents, we must also begin to grow good government with reform in our city administration. We know that volatility and instability in city government are the biggest deterrents to economic development, and I pledge to you that the hallmark of my administration will be a municipal government run with business-like policies and practices.
One of my earliest priorities has been to put together a team that brings the right people in to do the problem solving. I have selected talented individuals who will help me bring change and lead Plainfield into a new era of prosperity for our city. I believe that is why I was elected Mayor, and why every one of us as elected officials is sitting up here tonight. I ask the Council to help me fulfill our mandate from the voters in Plainfield by continuing to assemble the knowledgeable, experienced professionals that Plainfield voters need and deserve.
Today, I sent greetings to all of Plainfield’s city employees, and let them know that I want their ideas and their knowledge to be put to full use in this administration. I look forward to the day when the phrase, “I work in Plainfield city government” will be a cause for congratulations, and our employees will be proud to say it. We can be a model for urban government in New Jersey – a model for how other cities should look, rather than a model of what not to do.
We must provide the technology and other resources to create the best environment for public service we can to improve efficiency. Technology is not the answer to all our problems, but we are hindered by communications systems that are outdated and can potentially impact public safety as well as administrative efficiency. We will conduct a thorough review of existing technology systems and upgrade our systems as soon as it is financially feasible.
As elected officials, we are here to serve all of the people, and that is why my administration will do everything possible to create openness in government.
Our website and our methods of communicating with our citizens will be improved. It will not be done overnight, but it will be done well. I commend our city clerk, Abubakar Jalloh, who has led the way with availability of services from his department that can be conducted online. The rest of our website will be up to this standard.
And while we put our house in order internally, we must also focus on what happens on the outside, specifically with regard to public safety. We must return the streets and neighborhoods to our citizens and make them safe everywhere across the city.
In my remarks on January 1, I spoke of Plainfield as a true mirror of our country – a city with beautiful homes and communities, and at the same time, a city where too many of our residents live in fear for their own safety.
It is not in our power to eradicate crime, but it is in our power – and it is our duty and our responsibility – to provide a safe environment for all our citizens. I pledge to you that as Mayor, our police and firefighters will have my full support to do the essential jobs that they perform. We MUST stop the senseless violent crimes in Plainfield.
We will continue to work closely with the Union County Prosecutor’s Office Homicide Task Force, which has led to continued success in solving homicides in Plainfield. I will assess the effectiveness of our ShotSpotter technology to determine if it will be maintained and expanded.
We are proud of our Plainfield police, and we are going to demonstrate that, with a new “COPS” logo that will be painted on the side of our patrol cars. “COPS” stands for “caring, outstanding professional service,” and the logo will remind all of us of what we expect and receive from our public safety officers.
Our police men and women will be fully engaged with the Central Business District and the South Avenue Business District. By building understanding and cooperation between our police and the public, we will ensure our collective safety and build a stronger, safer Plainfield.
And finally, we must provide opportunities in our communities --for recreation, for arts and culture, for the assets that make Plainfield such a unique city. These elements are important, not just for the livability of our city, but for the economic development that will be a key focus of this administration. I intend to integrate Plainfield’s historic treasures and communities into our economic development proposals. I will work with the Plainfield schools and Union County College to develop arts programs that will truly benefit our community. And I have asked counsel to support an open space referendum on the ballot in November that will provide us with active and passive open spaces. We must build the recreational facilities that our young people need in order to provide them with alternatives to the streets, and enable them to live healthier lives by engaging in wholesome recreational activities.
And so I ask for all of us here tonight --whether we are long-time residents or newcomers, whether we have young children or grandchildren, whether we have achieved our dreams or are still in the process – I ask us all to recommit to Plainfield. Just as our beloved President John F Kennedy asked us over 50 years ago what we could do for our country, I ask tonight what we can do for Plainfield. We have much to do in the coming days and months, but I have faith in us, and in Plainfield. My campaign was about change for all of us, but it can only work if everyone is a part of it. I look forward to working with all of you to bring about one Plainfield, one future. We must aim high, and we must succeed.
Thank you for your faith in me and in our city council. I wish you all a happy, prosperous, and blessed New Year.