In Mahwah, NJ and Hallandale Beach, FL, the eruv may not have been on the ballot — but those that opposed it throughout last year, faced their respective voters.
In Mahwah, NJ, Council-President Robert Hermansen, who had consistently promised ordinances that would effectively ban the eruv as well as parks related ordinances to limit Hasidic Jewish visitors to town, was ousted by his constituents. With 58.78% of registered voters coming to the polls, a majority chose other candidates to represent them in the years ahead. The outgoing council president garnered 2,972 votes (compared with the 4,402 votes by the current vice-president).
It is encouraging that the residents have sent a clear message that Mr. Hermansen’s tone and demeanor are not appropriate for public office.
Having attended many meetings in Mahwah, we hope that the newly constituted council is prepared to move forward in a manner that respects opinions from all and the constitutionally protected rights of everyone.
For full Mahwah election results, scroll down to the end of the post.
Hallandale Beach, FL
In Hallandale Beach, FL, Mayor Keith London, who had previously blocked requests by the Jewish community to reestablish an eruv in town, was ousted in a landslide by Joy Adams, a first-time political candidate and outspoken supporter of the eruv.
Congratulations to Mrs. Adams, hopefully this will clear up any roadblocks being faced by sabbath-observant Jews in Hallandale Beach.
This Thursday, the Mahwah council is set to discuss one of the first steps required by the agreement with the AG.
During the eruv controversy last year, Mahwah adopted an ordinance (#1816) making it forbidden “to run or string any public service utility” near a park (as well as dozens of other actions including “abetting” the playing of ball games).
While this ordinance was not the subject of a civil rights lawsuit, it contained provisions that might have been construed to target an eruv or selectively target (((people using parks))), as we mentioned last year when it was adopted.
Confirming the problematic nature of the ordinance, exactly one year ago, Chief Batelli informed Eruv Litigation that, despite the vague language of the law, “officers would not interfere or take any action against anyone who was simply tossing a ball back or forth with someone.”
As part of the AG settlement, Mahwah must clarify this ordinance to remove the possibility of it being applied to an eruv. Instead, general development codes would apply, which have never prohibited the attachment of PVC pipes to utility poles in Mahwah.
A year later, and we are back to the same spot where we began.
If only Mr. Hermansen and the Council heeded the warnings we provided.
Below is the settlement between Mahwah and the NJ Office of the Attorney General. This closes the lawsuit brought last year by previous Attorney General Christopher Porrino over what he saw as a civil rights violation and attempt to ban Orthodox Jews from the township’s public parks.
Mahwah agrees to:
Not violate NJ’s Law Against Discrimination in any future decisions
Notify the AG before introducing any new laws affecting access to township parks.
Notify the AG before introducing any new laws affecting posting on utility poles.
Modify township code to make it clear that devices on utility poles other than signs are unregulated
Make a public statement against discrimination and harassment of others in township parks
Keep records of complaints related to existing ordinances governing township park use and present a quarterly report on their enforcement to the AG.
Allow lechis to be installed on utility poles in the township and investigate any damage to them as a criminal offense.
Make a suspended payment of $350k to the AG for legal fees and penalties. The payment will be cancelled after four years if no evidence of further discrimination is found, at which point notifications and quarterly reports will no longer be required.
We have obtained the letter and posted it in full below.
“The recall petition has been reviewed by the best election law firm in the state of New Jersey,” Laforet said in a statement. “They have concluded as a matter of law that the recall effort fraudulently solicited signatures and collected petitions. The Recall Petition needs to be dismissed.”
This is a developing story and as more information is received, we will post it.
Breakdown of argument in the Mayor’s objection:
Recall Petitions must be signed by all people collecting signatures and this was allegedly not done here.
If a statement is made in support of the recall, the subject gets to include a statement in response. Since no statement was included, no response was permitted either. However, the Mayor has provided a document (attached as Exhibit A) that allegedly accompanied the recall petitions.
25% of the registered voter total must sign recall petitions. This threshold was allegedly not met after “reviewing the Recall Election Officials own notes, as well as the elimination of duplicate signatures, unregistered individuals, those who are otherwise unqualified, false indorsements where someone appears to have signed on behalf of a purported voter, and those not registered to vote as of the date of their indorsement, the number of qualified signatures drops below the aforementioned threshold.”
The Mayor alleges that Township officials, including the clerk have failed to remain neutral in the process of the recall by their “failure to maintain copies of government records, and in allowing the Recall Committee to modify the Recall Petition following its filing.”
The Mayor alleges that political opponents “are driving the Recall Petition efforts behind the scenes in an attempt to defy the will of the voters of Mahwah who twice elected Mayor Laforet”. That petitions were misrepresented as “polls” or that signatures were needed to get his name on the ballot, in addition to other improprieties.
AG Lawsuit Update and Invoices for Northern Bergen County related litigation
Mahwah was in court this week having settlement talks with lawyers from the NJ Attorney General’s office. The township council was charged with discrimination after passing an ordinance aimed at banning Hassidim from their parks & trying to prevent the final segment of the Rockland Eruv from running through a corner of the township. These actions have cost Mahwah dearly, both monetarily and in terms of reputation. Bordering Upper Saddle River has also rung up high legal costs, while nearby Montvale emerged relatively unscathed overall.
Eruv Litigation has obtained invoices from each town. These invoices are presented below, but in general reveal a few interesting facts:
The three towns were in communication from the beginning, and spent time analyzing each other’s legal filings and developments.
All three towns received subpoenas from the NJ Attorney General’s office around the same time, but in the end only Mahwah was sued by the State.
Special counsel worked on auxiliary items such as reviewing OPRA requests and advising on police reports (a number involving Facebook Group “Citizens for Better Upper Saddle River” founder, Erik Friis).
The eruv case was handled by three separate law firms, who together never made a single filing or motion in court for any of the cases against the Township:
Municipal law experts Cleary Jacoby, Mahwah’s usual special counsel, who billed a total of $69,690.65 (invoice)
Securities and commercial law firm Holwell Schuster, who billed a total of $37,402.44 (invoice), and
First amendment lawyers Nelson Madden Black, who billed a total of $40,912.5 (invoice)
The still ongoing Attorney General suit, currently in settlement talks, is being handled by two firms:
Cleary Jacoby again, who have billed a total of $43,826.62 to date (invoice), and
Methfessel & Werbel, who work primarily in insurance law and have billed a total of $19,563.16 (invoice) to date
When including the $10,000 paid by Mahwah to cover the eruv association’s legal costs in a settlement, this is a total of $221,395.37 spent on litigation (to date) due to the town’s actions. Note that this number will increase as the Attorney General lawsuit progresses, and may include a penalty paid if the case is lost or settled. Mahwah’s request to file for dismissal of the suit was denied this week and the case is currently set for fact discovery which is to be completed by September 30th, 2018.
Upper Saddle River
In addition to having the best case (see here), USR had a veritable anti-eruv dream team working their defense:
Bruce Rosen, hired as lead attorney, is the only person to ever have any measure of success against an eruv; his legal arguments won the first round in 2001 in favor of the town of Tenafly before the ruling was reversed on appeal. His firm billed USR a whopping $402,521.48 (invoice), which included writing extensive legal briefs and a few appearances in court.
Joining as adviser was Marci Hamilton, professor of constitutional law, and the lawyer who had the predecessor to RLUIPA declared unconstitutional. She billed only $5000 (invoice) for her involvement, although she tried to cash in on the esteem of her University.
Finally, Joel Kurtzberg from Cahill Gordon provided auxiliary support to the USR litigation team, billing $97,958.80 (invoice)
After a disastrous preliminary hearing, Upper Saddle River settled, agreeing to allow the eruv to remain if moved as close to the NY border as possible, and pay $75,000 of the eruv associations legal costs. This brings their total costs to $580,480.28.
Among the three municipalities, Montvale took a different path. The town administration signaled their willingness to settle their case first, with Mayor Mike Ghassali holding a two hour town hall where he said they will “accommodate their neighbors to the north”. The town used only their usual township attorneys, Boggia and Boggia, who billed just $8,148 (invoice) to negotiate an agreement.Combined with the $10,000 settlement they paid, they spent only a fraction of what the other towns did at a total of $18,148. Montvale’s settlement was essentially the same terms, if not better, then the others, but they paid far less and really did not end up caught up in the controversy at all.
On October 26, 2017 the NJ Attorney General filed a Civil Rights suit against the Township of Mahwah and the Township Council members. The suit alleged discriminatory animus infused in ordinances related to a parks ban (since repealed) and a proposed ordinance which would have implicated an eruv (the Township has since promised never to enact such a ban in the future).
The case was transferred to Federal Court in November and is still pending.
Why? The eruv action has settled. Why hasn’t this action?
On December 4th, Robert Moss sought to intervene in the action to protect Green Acres funding on behalf of the public. Today, the AG and other plaintiffs opposed the intervention.
“Plaintiffs oppose the application on the grounds that it fails to make a sufficient showing under Rule 24, Moss’s intervention will unnecessarily complicate and delay resolution of this matter, Plaintiffs’ position. adequately represents the interest of citizens who seek preservation of open space in New Jersey, and the motion is premature as Defendants have yet to file their response to Plaintiffs’ Complaint and the true issues in controversy have not yet emerged.”
What are the “true issues in controversy”?
Stay tuned… perhaps this case isn’t wrapping up after all.
Resident Jessica LoPiccolo stated to the council that there could be a “conflict of interest” and a “breach of confidential information” based on the fact Mahwah’s attorneys represented Lakewood, NJ in unrelated tax appeals. She stated that she “also had legal representation look at this and attorneys and all of them also saw a conflict of interest here.”
[ed note — representing another town in an unrelated action is not a conflict of interest in any way. These are serious accusations and were proffered without a shred of evidence]
The episode was reminiscent of Mahwah councilman (now resigned) Steven Sbarra claiming that a Holocaust survivor addressing the council was a paid actor and imploring those in attendance to “follow the money, folks“.
This was too much for even Township attorney Brian Chewcaskie to take. Chewcaskie responded:
“What does the town of Lakewood have to do with anything? Besides the fact that it has a Jewish community. Is that your point?”
Council President Robert Hermansen doubles down on the Jewish Conspiracy Theories
“I found out about something also afterwards. I found out about Chairwoman Zur and how she was involved with the Simon Wiesenthal Foundation too. And it just was miraculous that all of a sudden that we ended up with one thing having one thing to happen and before you know it we had someone who was representing them who was on the same board as she was, here, which just so happened to be someone else’s best friend who is sitting on our dais. There was a lot of miraculous things starting to occur that I find out afterwards. Piecing things together, that’s all.”
Tracy has always been an active member of her community by serving as a Board Member of both the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey as a Women’s Philanthropy and Executive Board Member, as well as being an active member of the PTA. In addition, Tracy sits of the Board of Trustees at the Gerrard Berman Day School, and has volunteered for Alternatives to Domestic Violence and Meals on Wheels. She also serves as an NLC and Simon Wisenthal Center mentor and serves on the Board of both Emerge NJ and Women for Progress.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Mision states:
The Simon Wiesenthal Center is a global human rights organization researching the Holocaust and hate in a historic and contemporary context. The Center confronts anti-Semitism, hate and terrorism, promotes human rights and dignity, stands with Israel, defends the safety of Jews worldwide, and teaches the lessons of the Holocaust for future generations.
Is it any stretch of the imagination that an organization whose mission is combating hate in a contemporary context, sent a representative to speak at a Town, whose council has been described as “entertain[ing] – and act[ing] under the influence of – public comments rife with hate and bias”, by the State of New Jersey?
The action against Mahwah and the Town Council has not yet been resolved. I wonder what the reason could possibly be? Perhaps Hermansen isn’t the only person that can connect some dots.
The AG Lawsuit against Mahwah and its council can be found here.
I reached out to the firm of Cleary Giacobbe Alfieri Jacobs, LLC, Mr. Olear and Council President Hermansen.
Mr. Hermansen responded via text “please go away”. I have not yet heard back from the law firm or Mr. Olear, but will update the post if they wish to comment.
The weather is getting warmer and with the welcome change in seasons comes the pitter-patter of kids feet in municipal parks. Normally, this is my favorite time of year. Nature is basically beckoning the kids to come outside and play. But what happens in Mahwah, when they do just that?
It was barely a year ago when the subject of Hasidic children in parks became such a contentious issue that the Township of Mahwah literally tried to ban them from coming. At the time, Chief Batelli noted that there were 35 calls about Hasidic people in the park the day before the ban was set to take effect. Due to the highly problematic nature of the ordinance, it caught the attention of the County Prosecutor (and current Attorney General) Gurbir Grewal as well as the State of NJ, which still has a pending lawsuit against the Township of Mahwah and its Town Council.
The Council should be aware of what is coming
Following the calls to the police department, councilman David May, who was re-elected this past November noted that “a lack of a response at a field being used by non-NJ residents could lead to additional issues with residents”.
In September, Mahwah’s attorney Brian Chewcaskie advised the council:
In light of the fact that the Division of Civil Rights is seeking any and all documents relating to Ordinances 1806 and 1812, it is my suggestion at this point in time that the Township does not introduce or adopt any ordinances until such time as the review by the Attorney General’s office is complete.”
Despite advice from the Mahwah Township attorney, Brian Chewcaskie that the Council should not pass any legislation during the pending litigation, the Council brought forward and passed Ordinance 1816, which amended section 9-1.4 of the code establishing 38 prohibitions in parks.
I wrote this (about ordinance 1816) just 7 days after Chewcaskie sent that letter to the council:
Legally, you can’t just pick and choose what to enforce or whom to enforce it against.
What will happen if a kid tosses a tennis ball to his dad? (violation of #25)
What will happen if a toddler digs up a rock (violation of #3) or his sister climbs a tree (violation of #6)?
What will happen if a teen rides a bike to the park and leans it against a tree? (violation of #14)
What will happen if MahwahStrong members try to sell t-shirts in Winters Park (again)? (violation of #30 and #34)
These are normal things that normal people do in parks. They generally harm no one. Will there be a zero-tolerance policy on all of them? Perhaps only certain ones?
Time will tell if section 9-1.4 will be applied neutrally.
The weather is starting to warm up and kids will be in Winters Park again soon. While the vast majority of Mahwah’s residents are wonderful neighbors, experience has shown that there are several that will call the police on (((certain))) kids if they see a violation, even one as silly as leaning a bike against a tree or playing unauthorized ball.
We saw this when a resident created a “neighborhood watch group” and brazenly explained that he was targeting Hasidic stores. But the police are subject to the Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”) and the Constitutional protections of citizens.
If residents will be calling the police to report on these “illegal actions” taking place in the park by Hasidic children, what will be the response?
Will the police issue summonses? Will they do so to every kid that “abets ball playing” or just those for whom they are called over?
Does the council realize the Attorney General hasn’t dismissed the Federal Civil Rights action currently pending against them?
Mahwah officials should act now, before this becomes an issue.
(We have reached out to Chief Batelli and will post any comments he may have)
While both towns have come to the same inevitable conclusion, that an eruv will stay on the telephone poles through a small area of the municipalities, the actions of their elected representatives demonstrate the role effective leadership can play during times of change.
Montvale’s residents received notice before any agreements were finalized
Montvale Mayor, Mike Ghassali shows photos of potential lechis to residents and displays a map of potential routes for the eruv.
Below is a photo of Mayor Mike Ghassali at the Town Council meeting which took place on January 31st. He spoke to the residents about the reason for the eruv’s path into NJ. He talked about home values, stressing the fact that they didn’t change in towns with an eruv. He went over the options the Borough was discussing with the Eruv Association. He indicated the homes potentially affected under each plan. He spoke about the experiences of Tenafly over the course of their eruv litigation. He showed maps of the potential paths for the eruv, as well as photos of possible lechis under consideration. He provided answers to questions.
This is how government should function. Leaders are responsive to the people they represent. This meeting took place a couple weeks before an eruv settlement was signed. You can watch the presentation Mayor Ghassali gave to residents here:
Transparency in Upper Saddle River
At the start of the eruv controversy in Upper Saddle River, the council and Mayor brought Bruce Rosen (the attorney that handled the Tenafly Eruv action for the Township of Tenafly) to speak at the public meeting on August 3rd. You can hear him speak in the clip below. He stated that “courts are hostile to towns that try to stop eruvs”. He spoke about the eruv case in the Hamptons. He talked about the holdings of the Federal Courts and he answered questions from residents. Residents asked about whether they can put crucifixes on poles. They asked about the non-resident status of the eruv association. He answered the questions about standing and provided legal advice to the municipality in public.
I really encourage you to watch the clip below.
Transparency in Hamptons Eruv Litigation
The actions taken by Montvale and USR were not novel. When the Hamptons Eruv Litigation took place, the Township tried to be upfront with their residents, as well. You can see thousands of pages of court documents including legal declarations here on the West Hampton Beach web site.
Mahwah Operated in Secrecy and Seclusion
Compare the behavior of Montvale, USR and Westhampton with that of Mahwah. Starting in July, the Council had kept information from residents. Despite repeated requests from residents at meetings, the council refused to provide information about its actions. Why weren’t summonses issued? Why weren’t ordinances enforced?
Some of these answers became readily apparent through Open Public Records Act request, although the council’s president, Mr. Hermansen complained about their use at council meetings.
Votes to appropriate money for attorneys were tabled and postponed, eventually to be held at 10am on a weekday.
The Council, at the direction of Robert Hermansen spent hours in closed session while the public waited, desperate for information. When the council returned, they delayed and offered postponements, pushing meetings to the next day. It was a veritable war of attrition as the council waited for interest to wane before moving on.
Eventually, a Town Hall was announced by Robert Hermansen and information, at long last, would be offered to the public. On the day of the meeting, the event was cancelled. The reason offered, after several days was that the Township was still enmeshed in litigation. This makes little sense, as it was in the same litigation when the meeting was announced.
As Edmund Burke once said: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” For the past 7 months in NJ, we have seen a lot of good people saying nothing — as hatred and animosity towards the (((others))) came to the fore.
When a Mahwah Council-member (he has since resigned) mocked a Holocaust survivor and pointed to the “money-trail”, the good people were silent.
Racism isn’t new and hating people because they are different will never go out of style. But between the violent outbursts we learn about in civil rights battles, there was always an everyday racism. It’s the story of average, everyday people. People that didn’t seem to be expressing active hatred. People that seemed to just want to continue going about their daily lives the way they always had been.
It’s the everyday attitude that lets hatred proliferate when it ceases to be the muffled noise, and moves to the streets.
Eighty-four years ago, silence by good and decent people in Europe let evil triumph, as people took to the streets to advocate the destruction of the Jewish eruv and threw stones through windows of the Jewish community president’s home.
I have seen similar comments of those who threaten to tear it down today. Not in Europe, but here in New Jersey.
Perhaps, those that don’t learn from history ARE doomed to repeat it. What lessons are you learning?
Jewish Rite Nearly Starts Rumania Riot
Police Force Brought Out When Gentiles Protest Community Action
(Jewish Telepgraphic Agency)
BUCHAREST, Feb. 13. — The combined efforts of all the members of the police force of Dej. Transylvania were required today to quiet disturbances which arose when the Christian population of the town protested against the execution of a Sabbath duty by the Jewish community of Dej.
When the members of the Jewish community appeared in the streets carrying wire to be used in partitioning toff a part of the town for the purpose of establishing an “eyrev” for the Sabbath, the Christian population began a demonstration, inisting that the “eyrev” symbolizes Jewish possession of the township. The demonstrators marched through the streets of the Jewish quarters, breaking windows and damaging the house of the Jewish community president.
Although the police of the town, which is predominantly Jewish succeeded in establishing order, excitement still continues in the atmosphere.
(According to Jewish custom, which prohibits the carrying of articles on the Sabbath, except in one’s own home, an “eyrev” — or wire surrounding a district where things may be carried — can be fixed to poles surrounding the district.)
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