As previously noted, the Attorney General of New Jersey laid down a pretty damning complaint on the doorstep of Mahwah Council President Robert Hermansen and his council-members. The accompanying press release likened the council’s conduct to “1950s-era “white flight” suburbanites who sought to keep African-Americans from moving into their neighborhoods.”
Sadly, this was wholly avoidable and Robert Hermansen, knowing the risks, chose this fight. Now he has it.
For those that may not have seen the previous posts, the Township Council in Mahwah has been attempting to use inapplicable ordinances, in a discriminatory manner, to advance an agenda fueled by hatred and bigotry. Eruvin are not signs, despite the attempts of Mahwah’s council to declare them as such and parks paid for with public funds cannot legally restrict public access.
The rights to liberty and freedom, enshrined in our founding documents, are always under attack. I am very pleased that the Attorney General and others are standing up for those rights. The message needs to be heard loud and clear.
The 9 count complaint focuses on two areas that have been covered at length in my previous posts. This post will cover the one that may be felt the most by residents – the demand to return over $3.4 Million given to Mahwah through Green Acres grants.
New Jersey Administrative Code 7:36-25.10(d) states:
(d) A local government unit or nonprofit shall not enter into exclusive use agreements or allow discriminatory scheduling of the use of the funded parkland or its recreation and conservation facilities based on residency or otherwise in violation of the Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. 10:51 et seq., or other applicable law. (emphasis added)
There’s a contract that goes along with the funds that the public offers to municipalities. The contract demands you abide by the NJSA and mandates you can’t act in a manner that discriminates in an unlawful way. If you violate the ‘Law Against Discrimination’, by say, not permitting people to use parks through ordinances designed to keep out Jews from Rockland County, that money is subject to being clawed back.
Mahwah signed the contract and placed its parks on the Recreation Open Space Inventory (ROSI).
In the letter Chief Batelli sent the Township Council on July 20th, he states clear enforcement problems with Ordinance 1806 (which banned certain non State residents from parks). The Chief notes:
“We have elements or exceptions to the Ordinance that are being included on the posted signs but not part of the written Ordinance that is enacted by the governing body., If these exceptions were discussed and authorized by Council I believe they should have been included in the actual Ordinance so there is no misunderstanding.”
Chief Batelli is referring to an email exchange between a resident and Council President Robert Hermansen on July 19th. The resident expresses concern over the new ordinance because her mom from NY picks her kids up and goes to the local parks:
“According to the new ordinance, any non-resident will be asked to leave the park. My mother often takes my girls to the park. She has New York plates as she lives in New York.”
In response, Robert Hermansen states:
“Your mom is fine we will also allow outside residents to be in the park with Mahwah residents. The signs say so.”
If you’re a non-Jew from NY, you have a special pass to use the parks. If you’re a Jew from Rockland County…. no such luck.
This wasn’t a close call.
In the complaint filed by the Attorney General he states:
30. The Township’s actions around the time Ordinance 1806 was enacted indicate that the ordinance was not targeted at all out-of-State residents, but rather to those who are Orthodox Jews. The Township worked on the preparation of signs it planned to place in the parks to address the restrictions in the ordinance. The proposed signage stated that parks were open only to New Jersey residents, but also included the statements that “GUEST OF A RESIDENT ARE PERMITTED USE” and “EMPLOYEES OF LOCAL BUSINESSES ARE PERMITTED USE.” Neither of these exceptions was included in the ordinance.
31. A Mahwah resident who is not of the Orthodox Jewish faith sent an email to Council President Hermansen expressing concern that her mother who lives in New York would not be able to take her grandchildren to the Mahwah parks. The Council President replied to this resident she had nothing to worry about and that Ordinance 1806 Was not intended to cover her situation”
The township had advance notice of the violations
Chief Batelli, in his July 24th letter to the Bergen County Prosecutor seeking guidance and declaring his rationale for why enforcement of Ordinance 1806 cannot be permissible the chief noted:
“Our agency trains and instructs our Officers on a routine and regular basis on what constitutes bias based profiling and that we explicitly prohibit and will not condone or tolerate illegal profiling by any of our members. This Ordinance that we will be asked to enforce in four days seems to fly in the face of what we instruct our Officers as there is no discernible means of ascertaining the residency of a park user.”
In response, on July 27th, Gurbir S. Grewal, the Bergen County Prosecutor noted:
“Enforcement of the Ordinance my violate the Directive prohibiting racially-influenced policing” (emphasis added)
When your chief of police and county prosecutor inform you that enforcement is not possible because you’re ordinance likely violates rules against discrimination and the Constitution, the appropriate response is to rescind the ordinance.
Robert Hermansen dug his heel in further.
Following the advice that this ordinance was ill-conceived and likely violated the Law against discrimination, the Township’s Council President introduced Ordinance 1811 (introduced on July 27th), in an attempt to create a civilian Police Director position, which would make the Chief of police subordinate to his own control.
The following week, on August 7th, I sent the township council president information detailed in my post about requirements under Green Acres rules and noted that “[d]espite the presence of the Mahwah Parks on the Recreation Open Space Inventory kept by NJ’s Green Acres (which mandates access be permitted to the public), the township attempted to limit access to the parks. The new rules would prevent those residing in Rockland County from using them.”
And now, as the County V of the complaint makes clear, the people of Mahwah may be required to cough up close to $3.4 Million because they violated the contract that came along with the grants of funding they received from taxpayers across the County and the State.
The Mayor of Mahwah estimates the total bill can come in around $10 Million.
Who could have possibly seen THAT coming?