Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Candidate Forum - Fall 2014 Election Publication

Fall 2014 Election Publication

School Board Candidates


City Council Candidates

Each year, as a service to Plainfield voters, the League of Women Voters of Plainfield hosts a Candidates Forum prior to the fall election.  The policy for participation in the forum is as follows:
After suggestions from the League of Women Voters of New Jersey (LWVNJ), the League of Women Voters of Plainfield will allow any citizen of Plainfield who is currently on the election ballot or a write-in candidate (who has an active campaign, is being opposed and is expected to receive at least 15% of the vote in the election) to participate in its election programs.  All must submit biographical material and answers to the local League's questions to the LWV of Plainfield to be included in the forum and League of Women Voters of Plainfield’s publication.
A candidate who has agreed to take part in the Forum, and later finds out that he or she will not be able to attend, may submit an opening statement of the same length afforded the other candidates.  The absent candidate's statement will be read by a member of the Plainfield LWV immediately following the opening statements of the candidates who are present at the Forum.  Any unopposed candidate who is present at the beginning of part of the forum for their category will be introduced to the audience.  The candidate, as per League policy, will not speak.  The candidate can however submit a biographical sketch and answers to the League’s questions to be included in the publication.
The time allotted to all candidates for their opening statements is not fixed, but is determined by the LWV Voters Services chairperson, predicated on the number of candidates who will be taking part in the Forum, and the amount of time accorded the LWV for its Forum by the host facility.  Information about the amount of time for opening and closing statements, along with all guidelines and rules is given to all the candidates well in advance of the Forum.

League of Women Voters of Plainfield Forum
Tuesday, October 28, 2014
Emerson Community School
305 Emerson Avenue
6:30 PM

Candidates’ Biographical Sketches and Responses to League’s Questions
Biographical Sketches


Terrence S. Bellamy, Sr.
Mr. Bellamy is a 40-plus year resident of Plainfield who graduated from Plainfield High School in 1986.  Now retired, he was employed by the State of New Jersey since 1983, while still in high school.  He is a life time member of the New Jersey State Policeman Benevolent Association Local #105 and has been married for 17 years to Tara Phillips-Bellamy.  He is the father of two children, Tiara (10) and Terrence Jr. (8), who currently attend Woodland Elementary School.  He has served as the PTO president for the last five years and learned that “the more you engage the students with positive and enriching activities, parents will be more engaged.”  Some of his community involvement includes serving as coach of the Plainfield Pop Warner Football Flag Team, Woodland School Assistant Basketball Coach, and former coach for the Plainfield Division of Recreation T-Ball.  He also volunteers to feed the homeless at the Plainfield Area YMCA.  As a school board member, he plans on taking a special interest in Plainfield’s academics and athletics.  “I feel running for the Plainfield Board of Education will bring a voice for the students of this city that needs to be heard.”

Tania A. Center
B.A., Liberal Studies, 1996 CSU Dominguez Hills-Carson, CA, Howard University, Washington, DC; M.S. Special Education, 2003, National University-Los Angeles; New Jersey Standard Certificate Teacher of the Handicapped; Teaching positions held in Regular and Special Education; 2nd grade teacher, self-contained tier mild-moderate disabilities (K-12) and moderate to severe disabilities (K-12) as well as Autism 5th -8th grade, Resource Room/In Class Support Teacher (K-5th), and in various self-contained classrooms in State Hospitals and Special Schools; also worked as behaviorist, behavioral supervisor and summer day camp director; Family Woman and Child Advocate; CASA Volunteer.

Michael A. Horn
B.S. Commercial Recreation – Montclair State University; Recreational Leader in Union County Department of Parks and Recreation; Union Carpenter; Trustee – Fountain Baptist Church (Summit); Member, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc.; Former Plainfield Pop Warner Cardinals Football Coach and Youth Baseball Coach for PAL and QCBL; Former Plainfield HS Assistant Varsity Football Coach; Husband and father of two teens.

Dorien Hurtt
“Persistence Overcomes Resistance”…..
As a current member of the Plainfield Board of Education, I have devoted my full attention to maintaining policies that will embrace high achievement standards for all the students of Plainfield.  My background in information technology has made me keenly aware of the need to connect curriculum and technology. Serving as a member of the Plainfield Board of Education gives me an opportunity to broaden my impact on policies that will prepare students for the career demands they will face upon completion of their education at Plainfield Schools.  The time has come for young leaders such as myself to offer our skills through volunteering and mentoring to help students meet the demands of the NEW AGE, and breathe New Life to the Plainfield School Board with a bold and fresh perspective.

Carletta D. Jeffers
I am a 1982 graduate of Plainfield High School.  I own and manage a rental property business, Green Acres Properties, LLC along with my husband of 32 years, Kevin Jeffers. I also work in facilities management for Hewlett-Packard.  We are the parents of Tiffany, Sean Philips and the late Brittany Jeffers.  We have 3 grandchildren, Kayla, Malachi, and Shaquan. Over the last several years I had been taking care of my youngest daughter, Brittany, who was diagnosed with AML Leukemia in January of 2005.  She passed away from her illness on December 5, 2012.  During those seven years of working tirelessly to meet Brittany’s health and educational needs, I enhanced my skills and became an effective advocate for my child.  I learned the critical importance of collaboration and teamwork while working with various agencies and healthcare entities.  I look forward to using those skills in meeting the diverse needs of Plainfield’s children.

Norman Ortega
Norman Ortega is a career social worker and passionate community activist for various causes in Plainfield.  A co-author of The Plainfield Advisory Commission on Hispanic Affairs with the former late Councilman Ray Blanco, Norman is also the former Director of El Centro Hispano Americano. He is the founder and former chair of Angels in Action Foundation – a non-profit committed to bringing progressive reforms to our educational system to ensure equal access and opportunity to all students in Plainfield.

David M. Rutherford
Born and raised in Plainfield and attendee of its schools, I returned here after six years of college in Philadelphia and a year abroad in France where I taught middle school English and worked in my field, architecture. I’ve become highly involved in Plainfield, mostly through my blog, Plainfield View, which allows me to highlight positive happenings in our city.  I also serve on the Plainfield Cultural and Heritage Commission, the Plainfield 5k Walk/Run Team, and I am a member of the People’s Organization for Progress.  I am a Plainfield Public School volunteer as well.


NOTE:  1st Ward Candidate Diane Toliver and 3rd Ward Candidate Gloria Taylor did not submit a biographical sketch or response to the League’s questions.

Randy Bullock (Republican Candidate for 3rd Ward Seat)
Randy has lived in Plainfield for 30+ years.  He has served on the Board of Habitat for Humanity and also the Plainfield School Board.

William H. Michelson (Republican Candidate for 2nd and 3rd Ward At-Large Council Seat)

  • Respected local lawyer, Certified Civil Trial Attorney, named multiple times to “Super Lawyers of New Jersey”, and a recognized expert in Ethics and Professional Malpractice.
  • Urban Planner with emphasis in Land Use Planning and Historic Preservation
  • Dedicated civil servant to the people of Plainfield for 15 years – two terms on the Planning Board and two terms on Historic Preservation Commission – and it didn’t cost the City a dime
  • Board member of FOSH, RSVP, and both the Netherwood Heights and Van Wyck Brooks Historic Districts
  • Longtime NJ Superior Court Mediator – forging agreement and compromise in all sorts of disputes
  • Attorney for Van Wyck Brooks residents in the Abbott Manor case, successfully representing both them and the Historic District in opposing unwanted, oversized development.  Has spoken before the Plainfield Boards many times, when other badly designed projects were pending
  • Plainfield resident for 28 years, renovated and lived in what had been two rundown historic homes, and then opened them up to the public 16 times, for house tours
  • Degrees – A.B. 1975 from Rutgers University – M.A. in Urban Planning and J.D. (Law School), both in 1979, from the University of Iowa
Rebecca L. Williams (Democratic Candidate for 2nd and 3rd Ward At-Large Council Seat)

Full-time English professor, Essex County College; Founding member and current President, New Democrats for Plainfield; Founding member, Progressive Democrats of America – New Jersey Chapter; Former commissioner, Plainfield Cultural and Heritage Commission; Former member, Plainfield Adult School Advisory Board; Serves as Educational Program Coordinator, Historical Society of Plainfield; Member, Modern Language Association, National Council of Teachers of English, American Civil Liberties Union.

The responses to the questions appear on this and the following pages beneath the candidate’s name.  The questions are not repeated.  The number of each response corresponds to the number assigned to the questions above.

Questions Posed to School Board Candidates

  1. Have you read the School Board Members’ Code of Ethics and if so, will you abide by it?
  2. As a board member, what issues will you advocate during your term?
  3. Should the school board election remain in November or go back to April?
  4. What should be done to increase public engagement with the school district?

Terrence S. Bellamy, Sr.
  1. I have read the School Board Members’ Code of Ethics and will abide by them to the letter.
  2. I feel boards of education elections should be completely separate from general elections.  By the Plainfield Board of Education having its elections in November, it is bringing a political element to this election and that’s not a good thing.
  3. Elections for board members should be about the wellness and care of the students only.  When politicians put their hands into school elections, we as a people lose focus as to what we are all running for.
  4. We also live in an age of technology.  We should utilize this to the fullest.  Communicating with parents is one of the areas that greatly needs improvement.  I feel the district has made improvements, but there is a lot more work to be done.  With the right people in place, let us keep Plainfield moving in a positive direction and keep politics out of the board elections, and keep children first.
Tania A. Center
  1. I have read the School Board Members’ Code of Ethics and will be able to abide by it.  As a member of the Board of Education, I want to ensure that every member is abiding by the Code of Ethics.
  2. As a board member there are many issues that I would advocate for such as:
·         Increasing the Accountability of the Superintendent by creating more policy. 
·         Increasing B.O.E.’s overall transparency with the Plainfield community
·         Legitimize the committees with authentic roles and structure.  Increase the accountability and transparency of the committees.  Make the committees’ charge (committee duties and responsibilities), meeting schedule/agendas and meeting notes/minutes available for viewing online within 48 hours pre/post meeting.
·         Create and/or partner with other successful mentoring programs such as 100 Black Men’s mentoring program and model what was done for Oakland U.S.D. and Minneapolis P.S. in order to have the same success with the youth.
·         Creating Annual PPS Board Goals.  Set the goals, create a plan to achieve, monitor, and track progress of the goals.  Evaluate, revise and update the goals at the end of the current year and the beginning of the following year.
·         Model Plainfield Public Schools after one of the many effective school districts in New Jersey.

  1. The board Election should stay on the November ballot.  This is a better time to hold the Board of Education election.  The voter turnout is always greater during the November election and this assists with garnering more support and information regarding the purpose and function of the Board of Education.
  2. There are many ways to increase public engagement with the school district.
·         One way is by using a more open and honest approach with the public.  The community and the parents want to know what is the state or current functioning of the schools.  PPS will need to be open, honest, and forthright in order to put the issues on the table and get the community’s involvement in solving some of the current problems.
·         Make the meetings more accessible to the parents.  The meetings are in a fixed location at a set time.  In order to increase public engagement at the Board of Education meetings, the meetings should rotate.  All of the school buildings could be utilized each week allowing parents more opportunities to attend the meetings and get their voices heard. 
·         Lastly, allowing for a more convenient meeting time.  For the families with young children, the current time is too late.  For single parents, coming out to a meeting held at this time is not an option.
Michael A. Horn
  1. I have read and agree to abide by the School Board Members’ Code of Ethics.
  2. As a board member, one of the issues for which I will advocate is the return of the trades to the high school curriculum.  Although some students attend the Union County Vocational Technical Schools, it is my understanding that entrance into the school is limited to a certain number of students per town.  For this reason, many of our students get shut out of productive careers.  As a Union Carpenter for about 30 years, I know there is a need for these skilled workers, a desire in many students to learn these trades, and I know these careers can be financially rewarding.  Future business owners don’t always come out of the colleges, but sometimes stem from having a talent or a skill that benefits the public in some way.   Further, some families don’t have the funds to send their children to college.  Skilled trades allow for success following another path.
  3. I am a supporter of the school board election remaining in November.  I believe that it is important for as much of the public as possible to select its board members.  Voter turnout is historically low in April, but much greater in November during the general election.  Holding school board elections in November allows for greater participation from the public.
  4. Two of the biggest factors in public engagement are teachers and parents.  Teachers have the greatest impact on engaging families.  Supporting teachers in the work they do goes a long way in motivating them to go the extra mile to connect with families by holding more face-to-face meetings during times that are most convenient to parents.  Parents must feel a part of the educational process.  We must take their concerns seriously and ensure their voices are heard on every level of the decision-making process.  Parents should enter our school district with the expectation that they will be contributors to the school environment and that their involvement is appreciated on whatever level they can reasonably give.  We must develop a public relations campaign that highlights all of the positive things that are taking place so that taxpayers are comfortable with how their money is spent.  It is essential that we do an honest assessment to address deficiencies and not brush them under the rug.  We should also develop relationships with business owners so that they see our children as future employees and purchasers of the services they provide.  Perhaps we should consider having each PTA select a parent leader to serve as a liaison between the parents, teachers, and community/business leaders.
Dorien Hurtt
  1. Yes I have read the Code of Ethics and have sworn to abide by the Code four times since I’ve been in office.  I don’t think that every Board member could honestly make the same statement.
  2. As a Board member I will continue to push for whatever the students need to excel.  Personally I would like to see the science labs and program as a whole in our Middle Schools upgraded to the same state I pushed for in the main High School.
  3. That is an interesting question; I was initially against the move to the November election because I felt the politics of the general election would take away from the spirit of the alleged Non-Partisan School Board Election.  I was partially correct, but the bonus was increased voter turnout.  Another curiosity that has risen is the amount of campaign spending now taking place for a School Board Election.  This is probably due to the backing of the two major Parties which in effect makes the School Board a Partisan Election and governing body.
  4. If I had that answer I would bottle it.  We all see where we would like to be at the end of that accomplishment, but finding the right way has proven to be an elusive task.  One way for sure is to place the right Public Relations mechanisms in place.  The board can learn from prior missteps like the hiring of a Public Relations officer at an almost six figure salary that produced little to nothing in return.  In the end we need more parental involvement from the larger community and for the Board’s part we have to figure out a way to bridge the gaps that may exist so that there is always a support net for our students and families.
Carletta D. Jeffers
  1. I have read the School Board Members’ Code of Ethics and will abide by it with integrity, honesty and respect for the children and parents of this community.
  2. As a grandparent of a child attending Cedarbrook School, I recognize the importance of fostering an inviting transparent school environment that engages and empowers students and their parents to become partners in education. Math and Science programs can be strengthened.  After school clubs can be enhanced to expose students to vocational education opportunities.  I am very passionate about addressing the needs of the whole student, such as career success skills, financial literacy and the importance of making overall good choices.
  1. I believe that the elections should go back to April where they would be less political.  School board elections are supposed to be non-partisan.  This year is a good example of how partisan politics influences November school board elections with the County Democratic Chairman running the Senate, Congressional Council and the School Board campaign out of the same headquarters.  School Board elections are too important to commingle with the State, Federal and County elections.  The school board should focus on the education of our children, not partisan politics.  Upon moving the election to November, voter approval is no longer required for school budgets.
  2. To effectively involve parents, schools must acknowledge the diversity of their populations and understand their perspectives as well as barriers to parent involvement.  Most parents care very much about the educational needs of their children.  We need to do a better job getting feedback from parents regarding challenges of being involved as well as addressing some of those challenges.  As a parent and a grandparent, I have participated in many parent conferences and meetings where an educator stands before the group and tells us what they are doing, but I have been in very few where parents have been asked to share in solving problems, finding solutions or making suggestions.  Perhaps the question should be asked, “What do you need.”
Norman Ortega
  1. Yes.  And yes, I will abide by the School Board Members’ Code of Ethics.  The Code of Ethics is the building block to ensure independence and proper functioning of school boards.
  2. If elected, I will advocate for reforms to current school board processes.  I will work with other school board members to ensure that those hired to manage the school system have a proven track record of effectively managing a school system.  In addition to that, I will work with other fellow board members to ensure transparency and accountability during the awards of contracts and negotiations.
  3. School board elections should remain in November.
  4. If elected, I will work with other board members to establish a process in which the public can be a watchdog of the school board.  For instance, I will work with other school board members to establish a petition website which would allow the public to ask any question to school board members.  If that question is seconded by a certain amount of Plainfield residents, the School Board will issue a public written response to the question.  This will give Plainfield residents a degree of participation in the school board decision making process.  In addition to that, it will encourage transparency and accountability in many of the school board processes.
David M. Rutherford
  1. The School Board Code of Ethics has a lot to do with maintaining the integrity of the board as a body that serves the public.  This code meshes well with my personal ethical standards.  However there are matters of procedure – such as communicating complaints to the CAO and acting on such complaints only after administrative failure – that are less obvious.  I will keep a copy of this ethics code in my notebook.
  2. I am a strong proponent of project-based learning, where students investigate real-world issues through collaboration, both with each other and the community.  This approach is more effective than “traditional” learning, and should be better integrated into teaching methods. 
As an architect, I take great interest in the capital improvement projects in our district.  Every dollar saved in routine maintenance is another dollar that can be used in the classroom, and facilities are an important part of the educational experience.
Plainfield schools should also take better advantage of its diversifying population and introduce a large, comprehensive dual language program.  All students, from pre-k to 12, should have an opportunity to learn to speak two languages.
A fair contract should be reached between the Board of Education and the teachers’ union.
  1. School board elections should be returned to April.  They were traditionally held in the spring for a reason – to separate the schools from the general election and the direct influence of politicians.  Since the move to November, our local Democratic Party Chair runs a slate of candidates right out of his own headquarters with the money and influence of the political machine.  This impedes the ability of residents to compete and creates a reluctance on the part of ordinary citizens to run.  Additionally, Plainfield lost the right to vote on the school budget when the election was moved.
  2. Communication is a key part of improving public engagement with the school district.  While increased use of technology improves communication, there is no better broad-based method to reach the public than newsletters, whose frequency should be increased.
Organized walks are another innovative idea that can reach additional residents.  In some districts, board members and employees walk through neighborhoods and interact with the community.  This would go a long way in showing how much the BOE cares about the conditions and well-being of Plainfield residents, and becoming a more integral part of the community.  We must embrace our diversity.

Questions Posed to City Council Candidates

  1. If elected, what legacy do you hope to leave by the end of your term?
  2. What do you see as the council’s role in the budget process?
  3. As a council member, what constituent services would you provide or support?
  4. How will you uphold the checks and balances between the legislative and executive branches?

Randy Bullock (Republican Candidate for 3rd Ward Council Seat)
  1. Moral, ethical, fiscal responsibility
  2. Passing the budget and making sure departments stick to it
  3. Return phone calls and make myself available in person, and not just email
  4. Do my job as a council member
William H. Michelson (Republican Candidate for 2nd and 3rd Ward At-Large Council Seat)
  1. I have two goals.  One is to improve the quality of decisions made by the City Council, by bringing into the mix my experience of 35 years as a practicing Attorney at Law my 15 years as a Planning Board Commissioner and then a Historic Preservation Commissioner here in Plainfield.  It is not just the subjects I know a lot about, or my great familiarity with New Jersey law and government.  It is the ability to cut through emotions and attitudes to get to the heart of any issue, then to speak calmly and articulately, and finally to push extraneous meddling and excessive emotions and attitudes aside.  I have spoken publicly so many times, and written so many articles and documents through my 28 years here that everyone in town seems to have heard them, and they know that I always have worthwhile points to make, even if they don’t agree with me on something.
My other goal is to bring both economic development and residential reinvestment to Plainfield.  I already had my chance to heavily influence, as a Commissioner, what were then a new Master Plan, a new Land Use Ordinance, and a totally rewritten Zoning Map, and I did a thorough job of that.  That isn’t the problem now – too many people still stay away from Plainfield, because we have somehow assumed the image of a corrupt, devastated, declining old city that just doesn’t offer people a pleasant and comfortable life.  We need to show the rest of the region that we have a wealth of opportunity here, wonderful residential neighborhoods, one of New Jersey’s strongest historic preservation programs, and a better deal for the dollar than any town around us.  A big part of the problem is the harsh attitudes, inefficiency and lack of professionalism of the City Council.  Just by being on the Council and talking the way I talk, I think I will greatly improve the picture.
  1. The capital and expense budgets are not originated in the Council.  They have to come from the Mayor’s Administration first.  I believe in giving the Administration great leeway in coming up with ideas, for which it seeks funding – that is what Council has to approve.  The Council must however scrutinize all the budget items, to take out those which would waste money on someone’s favorite causes, or someone’s political cronies.  A lot of that simply does not belong in the City government.  In my years on the Planning Board, I had to participate in formulating the capital budget every year, items which the various Departments sought.  Council has to check up on where the money actually went, after it was approved, but that never seems to happen.  We have to listen to the Auditors who analyze those expenditures, and refuse to approve any more, until it is proven to us that errors and wastefulness have been corrected.
  2. If citizens know about some problem or some abuse which is taking place in the City, I want to be available to them, so they can tell me what they are thinking, and I can give them some feedback.  If it is something I can actually help with, by intervening with one of the City’s departments, I will do that.  If it is not something within my power, I want people to understand what the problem is, and whom to go to.  I will invite citizens to e-mail me with these kinds of communications, with three-day turnaround time at most, and where it is warranted, I make myself available to talk to them, either in person or by telephone.  I work just 5 minutes away, so I’m generally around, most of the time.
  3. Some people will probably expect me to say that I will refuse to vote for Administration requests, if I am not getting concessions on some other issue.  No!  That’s not the way I feel about checks and balances.  That’s the stonewalling that makes Trenton so ineffective.  A Council member can propose changes to the requests submitted for its approval and then seek agreement on a measure that is better than when it was brought up.  Administration members can give the Council members a preview of what they want to introduce, so the measures can be purged of unnecessary conflict, before the public even sees them.  And if that doesn’t happen? I will speak my mind at Council meetings, with the clarity and reason that 35 years in the practice of law have given me.  Review and comment are always healthy.  And I will vote yes or no based on my actual opinion of whatever the issue is, and never go along with someone else’s instructions.  I cannot be pushed around, and not just because I carry a few extra pounds.
Rebecca L. Williams
  1. With a second term, I hope to leave as my legacy a continuing commitment to honest, ethical leadership.  My legacy already includes passing the Plainfield Municipal Pay-to-Play Reform Ordinance – which established competitive bidding for contracts, among other things, thus making good on a longstanding pledge I made to the people of our city.  I also brought to the attention of the public fiscal irregularities that occurred under the previous administration – instances of fraud, waste, and corruption – which resulted in major policy changes.  In addition, I hope that the people of Plainfield will remember me as someone who fought for their interests (better city services, stabilized taxes, improved roads, and strong neighborhoods), as well as the councilor who remained an outspoken voice against the closure of Muhlenberg and who continues to support maintaining full medical services on the campus.
  2. The city council’s fiduciary responsibility is to review proposed expenditures by the administration to ensure that residents’ and taxpayers’ monies are spent wisely.  The city had no permanent CFO for several years, and it is clear from the recent audit findings for 2013 that, despite the council’s role in oversight, many of the items that were expected to be corrected were not.  As a result, the new administration is still in the process of rectifying the financial mismanagement of the previous administration to put our financial house back in order.  My role as a council member is to see that the administration is provided with the resources to effectively run the city.
  3. I believe that my constituent services are second to none in the city of Plainfield.  I respond as expeditiously as possible to my constituents in the 2nd and 3rd Wards, and to any other city resident who contacts me for a solution to a problem.  For example, during Super Storm Sandy, I gathered a group of volunteers and went door-to-door, checking on residents and providing them with updated information about emergency support calling in hazards.  I also contacted the new city administration and made sure that the beautiful fountain in Library Park was repaired and painted for the enhancement of that area.  In addition to numerous other “good government” initiatives, I hope to continue the work of bringing more transparency to city government.
  4. Just as in the federal and state constitutions, respectively, each local branch of government has its proper role.  Our role is to provide the resources the administration needs to run the municipality, but to stay out of the process of attempting to run the day-to-day government.  A major part of the checks and balances comes in the form of the check register and bills list, which is sent monthly to each council member for review.  It is through those bills lists that we can examine any fiscal irregularities and ensure that taxpayer money is not misspent.  Further, through the council’s oversight committees, we can stay abreast of the administration’s initiatives and proposals.

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