If Mahwah, NJ thought exclusion and vitriol would be a cost-free endeavor, the past five months have shown them to be sorely mistaken. Ever since the Mahwah Town Council became embroiled in litigation over their creation of ordinances to exclude people they didn’t like from parks (a move they officially rescinded this past week), the topic of costs has been a staple at Town Council meetings.
Residents have questioned appropriated funds for the several law firms representing the Township in the lawsuits alleging claims of animus and discrimination which have been filed by the State of New Jersey as well as a Jewish organization.
And at the last meeting of the year, which took place this past Thursday, the question of costs continued to plaque the council. Resident Susan Steinberg, who has been an outspoken critic of the Council, again requested information regarding billing and whether extensions to contracts ending in December/January are forthcoming.
But there are now new entries to the costs ledger, Mahwah is now facing which came to light this week.
One additional cost discussed at the December 28th meeting dealt with a $759.87 expenditure by Mayor Laforet and another related to the $17,500 to be made available for the hiring of an investigator to investigate “personnel matters”. The Council President, Rob Hermansen questioned the $759.87 charge, which the Mayor said related to document production to comply with the subpoena issued by the NJ Attorney General. He subsequently voted against reimbursing the charge.
FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions about eruvs and related lawsuits
LITIGATION: Click here to see the status of all current Eruv related litigation
BACKGROUND: Click here to see the developments that led to the litigation
You can watch the exchange here:
The second charge, in the form of a resolution, relates to the hiring retired NJ Supreme Court Judge Alexander Carver, III J.S.C. (retired), to investigate a personnel issue.
At this time, the intent of the personnel issue is unclear. We have an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request in to the Township and will report on any results that are received.
Resident Susan Steinberg requested information regarding the hiring of the investigator, but no information was forthcoming from the Township regarding the underlying issue to be investigated. You can see her exchange with the council here:
In NJ, whenever discussion about public employees takes place or recommendations for discipline are discussed, the municipality is required to send a notice to the employee in advance. This notice, called a “Rice Notice” gives the employee the opportunity to have the discussion at an open council meeting and to respond to allegations.
A public body in New Jersey – such as a Board of Education or a municipality — which is going to discuss the employment of one or more specific individuals must notify those individuals at least forty-eight (48) hours in advance of the meeting. This notice must include the time and place of the meeting and that the individual’s employment will be discussed. It must also inform the individuals affected that they have the right to request that the discussion be held in open session, and how to request this. (emplymentlit.com)
We asked on October 18, about personnel related complaints, after an email written by Council President Rob Hermansen surfaced detailing requests to bring charges against the Chief of Police. We requested information on Rice Notices issued to Township employees in the previous 12 months as well as “any Rice notices or reprimands issued regarding Chief Batelli over his tenure as Chief”. At the time, nothing was made available by the Township in response to our request. We have repeated the request and will update the post if any Rice Notices are received.
After vocal displeasure against the Chief’s actions when he refused to enforce the Council’s ban on NY Jews entering Mahwah parks, Ordinance 1811 was proposed by the council to create a civilian police director position and subordinate the Police Chief.
As we wrote back on August 7th:
One may think that upon hearing objections from the Chief Law Enforcement official in his town, Council President Hermansen would have acknowledged this wasn’t the best way to go about banning this group. But instead…. he introduces Ordinance #1811 for introduction on July 27, 2017 (see page 41 for the text of the ordinance), which would change the very structure of the Mahwah Police Department. The Chief of Police would cease being the the top law enforcement official and the new ordinance would make him subordinate to a “Police Director”.
The police director ordinance was subsequently tabled after Chief Batelli sought guidance from Bergen County Prosecutor Grewal and the Township was ordered not to enforce the parks ban.
What exactly the personnel issue that Judge Carver will be investigating is unclear, but if it’s related the issues the Mahwah Council and Rob Hermansen in particular have created around the Chief, this expenditure of up to $17,500 may turn out to dwarf not only the $759.87 price tag that Mr. Hermansen found unacceptable at last week’s meeting, but the expenditures for the eruv and AG litigation as well.
Hostile workplace claims
As reported back on August 27th, the Mawhah’s Council President, Rob Hermansen sent an email to the Mayor, lawyers and fellow council members about the action of Chief of Police, James Batelli and his desire to “discipline” the Chief of Police (email embedded below).
In the email, Hermansen indicates that he is “starting to become seriously concerned with the continual lies that are coming from the department head of our police department”. He claims that the Chief has allegedly “blatantly lied” on several occasions.
Then, Mr. Hermansen references “the hostile work environment he charged against Councilman Roth and myself and so on.” He continues: “I am asking we start to look into department charges and discipline against him…. Please advise the Council of what we can and what we should do in order to deal with this continuing situation.”
The email ends with a request that the email “be kept confidential as this is a client attorney privilege over a personnel matter.”
It was subsequently delivered to Eruv Litigation via an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request by the clerk, Kathy Coviello.
After the council election in November, resolutions were put on the agenda to honor the service of Chief Batelli and Clerk Coviello.
On November 30th, a resolution indicated Chief Batelli was to be honored by the Council (he did not attend the ceremony and it was not rescheduled).
There’s no indication why the council changed their decision post-election from charging Chief Batelli to honoring him. Nor is there an indication at this point that the hostile work environment relates to the police department.
This is a developing story and we will update the post as subsequent information becomes available.2017-08-02_Hermansen-re-Batelli-email
2017-10-18_OPRA Request for Rice Notices
Mahwah Resolution 427-17 (Alexander Carber III)