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.1816_changes pursuant to AG Settlement
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:
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 The suit alleged discriminatory animus infused in ordinances related to a parks ban (since repealed) and a proposed ordinance which would have implicated an eruv (the Township has since promised never to enact such a ban in the future).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.
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)
Today, the eruv actions in Mahwah and Montvale came to a close1.
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
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.
Meanwhile, the eruv litigation has finally come to an end. The case is closed. The parties are done in the courtroom.
All Mahwah residents should agree on one thing, they have not been well represented. They have been misled, deceived, bullied, and eventually, just had information kept from them.
Now, the case is over and the people of Mahwah deserve answers. And they deserve the ability to ask question, without being interrupted.
Mahwah needs adults at the helm.
In July, Robert Hermansen made up rules that didn’t actually exist in an ordinance. Today, he’s making up provisions that don’t exist in the settlement agreement.
There’s a meeting on Tuesday — it’s time for him to be honest with residents.
On January 31st, the Mahwah Council voted to settle the lawsuit over whether an eruv can stay in the Township. The eruv stays.
The terms of the settlement agreement are public and they can be read here: Settlement Agreement between BREA and Mahwah.
(If you’d like a break-down of the major highlights, you can see that here: MAHWAH SETTLES ERUV DISPUTE (eruv stays))
Legal agreements and contracts have terms and the terms are made by lawyers to avoid issues of ambiguity. But that doesn’t stop politicians from trying to obfuscate and confuse the people they represent.
Enter, Mahwah Council President Robert Hermansen on facebook:
In his post, Mr. Hermansen seems to claim that relocation of the eruv is part of the agreement signed by the Township:
Where does the agreement say that?
Let’s be clear about what the agreement does and doesn’t do.
This Agreement sets forth the terms and conditions under which the Parties mutually agree to resolve any and all claims as between them set forth in the Complaint, including all claims against each Parties’ officials, agents, representatives, and employees. For the avoidance of doubt, this Agreement shall also resolve all claims or potential claims as between the Parties related to acts or omissions by the Parties (including through their officials, agents, representatives, and employees) with respect to the lechis and/or Eruv that occurred up until and through the date of execution of this Agreement, including any and all claims for reimbursement of costs for Litigation expenses, attorneys’ fees and Litigation costs up to and through the date of this Agreement (which might have required payment by Defendant to Plaintiffs of approximately $311,000.00). (paragraph 2(a)) (emphasis added)
[T]he Township shall pay to Plaintiffs’ attorneys, within twenty (20) days of the execution of this Agreement, the sum of $10,000.00, or an amount mutually agreed upon, representing compensation for a portion of Plaintiffs’ legal fees and costs incurred in the Litigation. Such additional amount, if any, shall be agreed upon by the Parties within the 20-day period. If no agreement is reached by the Parties within the 20-day period for any additional amount, the $10,000.00 shall constitute the full and final compensation for legal fees and costs. (paragraph 2(a)) (emphasis added)
UNDERSTANDING OF THE PARTIES. In full and final satisfaction and accord of the Settled Claims above, and in consideration for the Release as more fully set forth in Paragraph 4, below, the Parties agree as follows:
– “Subject to Paragraph 3(c) below, the Township consents to the existence, restoration, maintenance, repair and upkeep of the lechis comprising the Eruv.”
– “nothing in this Agreement shall preclude Plaintiffs, their agents, successors and/or assigns from future expansion(s) and/or modification of the Eruv within and/or outside of the Township1”
– “The Township of Mahwah will take no action impairing Plaintiffs’ ability to restore, repair, keep or otherwise maintain the Eruv” (paragraph 3(b))
– “At the Township’s request, BREA agrees at its sole cost, within twelve (12) months from the date hereof, to recolor and/or replace each existing lechi to match the applicable utility pole as closely as practicable1…. With respect to any work done to color and/or replace existing or future lechis, the Township shall provide a police escort for the duration of such work at BREA’s cost.”
“This Agreement sets forth the complete understanding and entire Agreement between the Parties and supersedes any and all prior agreements or understandings between the Parties.”
So I wondered what Mr. Hermansen means when he says that “the agreement permits us to have a dialogue for the relocation of the ERUV subject to the agreement of the parties.”
Where does it say that? The word “relocation” doesn’t appear in the document. Did he make it up?
Then I saw this comment by newly appointed Mahwah Council-representative Michelle Crowe Paz:
In response to a question from a resident, council-woman Paz says that the $10,000 from Mahwah to BREA is for “painting/relocating”:
That’s not in the agreement either. The agreement lays out the reasons for the payment: “compensation for a portion of Plaintiffs’ legal fees and costs incurred in the Litigation.”
Painting the poles is not a cost that was “incurred in the litigation”, therefore it doesn’t qualify.
$10,000 goes to the lawyers at Weil (parag. 2(a)). BREA pays for painting the poles (parag. 3(c))
The settlement makes clear that the painting of the poles, if requested, is done solely at the expense of the BREA (see paragraph 3(c)).
Had this been a random comment mistakenly uttered on the internet by people that aren’t lawyers, I might have let it go. But I wrote to Ms. Paz privately before she put in the last two comments and at the very least, she should have asked the multitude of legal talent the Township has hired before making people think the money is for something it’s not. I also wrote to Mr. Hermansen and he directed me to call the attorneys.
But let’s focus on Mr. Hermansen for a moment. This episode is eerily similar to what happened with the parks ordinance. As you may recall, ordinance 1806 was very simple. It took the words “non-residents” out of the code, limiting park usage to NJ residents only. That was it, as far as the ‘letter of the law’ was concerned.
Mr. Hermansen replied that an exception would be made outside of what was written in the law. I wrote about this here, in August.
The chief of police called out the issue in a letter2 and the Attorney General of the State used that email in his complaint against Mahwah citing:
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. (see paragraph 31)
And now Mr. Hermansen is at it again. There is NO LANGUAGE that is IN THE AGREEMENT that speaks about a dialogue to move the eruv. It may be a conversation worth having, it might lead nowhere. I don’t have a dog in that fight and I would welcome anything that reflects a mutual agreement between the parties here.
But the idea that Mr. Hermansen feels so free to casually disregard what laws and agreements actually say, when it suits him, makes him a very poor choice for representing the best interests of anyone. Beware Mahwah residents, you have been warned.
“The proposed signage contains verbiage which is different from the Ordinance. The ordinance reads parks and playgrounds are open to New Jersey residents and does not list any exceptions. The signage includes exceptions that “guest of a resident are permitted” and “employees of local businesses are permitted”
UPDATE: On Feb. 15th, Judge Vazquez entered a retention order and closed the case. Normally, after a case is over, a new action may be necessary to enforce the terms of the agreement. This order lets the court retain jurisdiction so that if there is a need to enforce the settlement, a letter can be filed asking the case to be re-opened.
In settlement papers filed with the court today, Mahwah has given up on their six month campaign aimed at “keeping the poles clean” and upholding their “way of life”.
In a vote of 5-2, the Mahwah Council agreed to settle claims brought by the Bergen Rockland Eruv Association against the Township for threatening to issue summonses over an eruv erected in a section of the municipality.
Pursuant to the agreement, the Township will put $10,000 in an account to cover some legal costs*.
The Eruv Association will change the color of the pvc piping in the poles (called lechis) over the next 12 months.
The parties will also have 20 days to agree to a sum above and beyond the $10,000. Sources tell Eruv Litigation that this was the change requested by Council President Robert Hermansen. It is not immediately clear why an additional amount would be provided.
Each party will bear their own litigation costs which may have been at least $311,000 as of today pursuant to the agreement Mahwah signed.
Pursuant to the agreement:
THE CONSTITUTION WINS; THE ERUV BENEFITS17cv6054_23
* please note that a previous version of this post mistakenly indicated the purpose for the $10,000. The agreement says: “the $10,000.00 shall constitute the full and final compensation for legal fees and costs.”
By: Lisa Wisotsky and Yossi Mandelbaum
Announcing the nine count State Lawsuit against the township of Mahwah, then Attorney General Porrino said, “Our message to those public officials in Mahwah who are leading or following this misguided charge is meant to be loud and clear: We intend to hold you accountable.” However, as of this writing, the township council has shown that it remains unwilling to recognize their pivotal role in inflaming the hateful environment which led to discriminatory ordinances.
Although the Parks Ordinance was rescinded and the Sign (Eruv) Ordinance tabled, the hateful environment continues in Mahwah. Council President Hermansen and Councilman David May continue to participate in online forums and refuse to call out blatantly anti semitic language from their constituents. Mr. May even mockingly presented the concept of a full Bergen County eruv to the county freeholders. The display of contempt is unmistakable.
This stance was made clear by the Mahwah Township attorney, Brian Chewcaskie at the 12/14/17 meeting (see video).
He described the ordinance undoing the Parks Ban and the Resolution (424-17) to table the Sign Ordinance as just a “strategic move” and does not address the offensive behavior or environment that led to the State of N.J. initiating a lawsuit and condemning the civil rights violations in Mahwah.
In January , the Township Council, in a move which can only be described as pure “chutzpah,” re-installed Robert Hermansen as Council President. Upon being sworn in, he immediately began to lash out at the “outsiders” instead of taking responsibility for the current legal predicament. This is precisely the same defiant attitude Mr. Hermansen struck immediately following the news of the Bergen County prosecutor (and the now current New Jersey Attorney General) instructing the Chief of Police in Mahwah not to enforce the unconstitutional Park ordinance. Specifically, he declared to a concerned “outsider,” “I promise you, there will be a Parks Ordinance and there will be one that is going to be enforceable in this town whether you like it or not.”
The audacity of the Council continues with the current effort to recall Mayor LaForet. The Mayor changed his original position opposing the eruv and now urges the Council to alter their course as well. Mr. Hermansen, consistent with his inability to offer contrition, is supporting the recall effort. Mr. Hermansen adds the thinnest veneer of professionalism stating in a recent interview that as council president he can’t take a stance on the recall, however as a private citizen he fully supports it. This is of course nonsense. Not only is Mr. Hermansen actively supporting this effort, he has used the his position on the town council to symbolically censure the Mayor and even stated at a council meeting “If I had my way his [Mayor Laforet] ass would be on the other side of this dais, and not even in this room and sitting at this Meeting.”
Finally, when Keith Kaplan, at the January 9, 2018 Council meeting ( see video) asks Council President Robert Hermansen if the Council will renew the resolution in 2018 stating that the Council will not reenact Ordinance 1812 (Sign Ordinance), Robert Hermansen becomes argumentative and refuses to answer.
The Parks and Sign Ordinances were enacted in a hateful environment that was permitted and at times encouraged by the council. Rescinding the ordinances, without accepting responsibility and offering contrition, is unacceptable. This leaves open the possibility that similar ordinances may be enacted in the future when attention is shifted away from Mahwah.
Mahwah: A “Special Meeting” has been scheduled for January 25th at 10am. The purpose of the meeting is to go into Closed Session to discuss: Litigation.
As the next scheduled Mahwah Town Council meeting is 2/8, it would appear this special meeting is the Council’s last chance to settle claims against them before the Court imposed deadline.
On January 12th, the Townships’ Counsel, Cleary Giacobbe sent a letter to Court indicating they needed an extension of the time to answer the complaint because “the parties are in the process of engaging in settlement discussions that would resolve this entire matter”.
The Court extended Mahwah’s time to answer the complaint until January 31st (the Judge indicated that it was being extended “for the last time”).
As the legal actions begin to wind down, in favor of the Eruv Association, the Township Council remains, as defiant as ever.
The Bigotry Started With Complaints
Earlier this spring, some residents noticed Hasidic Jews hanging out in local Mahwah Township parks. Almost immediately, cries were heard about “overcrowding” and “other people”.
Local Leaders Responded to the Bigoted Mob
Local political leaders were swift to act. Ordinance 1806 came first. The letter of the law banned non-NJ residents from enjoying the amenities in local parks. But it was in the application, where the truly pernicious nature became readily apparent. The restrictions only applied to certain non-residents.
As I wrote back in August:
You can’t only apply laws to certain people (e.g. Jews from Rockland County), and not an out of state Grandma with her Mahwah resident grand-kids. That would be unequal treatment under the law for which the cops could be liable to scrutiny and legal action for selective enforcement. From a municipal perspective, the last thing anyone should want is another easily winnable lawsuit because of a poorly drafted ordinance.
But as you can see below, this is exactly the kind of situation the council created when they enlisted the lawyers to draft Ordinance 1806.
To be blunt: Mahwah’s Mayor, Council President and the rest of the Council designed and enacted an ordinance that prohibited Jews from crossing the adjacent NY border to use the parks in their town. They exempted the non-residents they liked and declared the rest, verboten.
Township Administrator Identified Problems With Enforcement
Prior to ordinance 1806 going into effect, there was ample evidence that it was problematic. The township’s business administrator, Quentin Wiest, had inquired and was explicitly told as much from Jerry Giaimis, the administrator of Saddle River. Mr. Giaimis even referenced the NJ Court opinion it would violate. Yet, thinking they would be able to get away with it, Ordinance 1806 went into effect… almost.
Chief of Police Identified Problems With Enforcement
A few days before it was set to take effect, the Chief of Police, James Batelli, wrote a letter to the governing body, following up on his previous email, outlining concerns he had about enforcement of the parks ban. He stated that he would not be able to enforce the ordinance. Sending men with guns to ask Jews for their papers wasn’t going to happen in Mahwah under Chief Batelli’s watch, no matter what the Council had to say about it. The police must abide by the Law Against Discrimination and must uphold the protections of the State and Federal Constitutions.
In his July 24th letter, Chief Batteli stated in part:
“I have expressed my concerns to the Township governing body and the Township Attorney about the enforcement of this Ordinance and how the actions of Officers trying to enforce the Ordinance may violate bias based profiling guidelines (see attached correspondence)…”
“The Ordinance does not provide any neutral criteria for Officers to use as a basis for their actions…”
“The Ordinance essentially leaves our officers little other choice other than to ask for identification for no reason or for impermissible reasons and opens the door for civil based litigation and/or Internal Affairs complaints”.
“It has also been observed the elected officials have been commenting on social media about both the ERUV installation and the park and playground restrictive Ordinance in the same post which could bring into question the motivation and agenda behind the Ordinance which our Officers are expected and tasked to enforce… an argument or foundation could be made that any attempt to enforce this Ordinance is discriminatory and based to target a protected class.”
“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.”
Mahwah Council Attacked The Police Chief
The reaction from Mahwah was as swift as it was pointed — Mahwah’s Council President stated he wanted to look into disciplinary charges in an explosive 1am email and Ordinance 1811 was introduced, which would create the position of “Police Director”. This new ordinance would replace the top law enforcement official (the Chief of Police) making him subordinate to a civilian police director, appointed by the council.
The unmistakable message: Listen Chief, if you won’t act the way we want, we have ways of making your life miserable.1
Bergen County Prosecutor Confirmed Problems With Enforcement
In response to threats from Robert Hermansen and the Council, the Chief of Police sought advice from the Bergen County Prosecutor, Gurbir Grewal (Mr. Grewal is now the NJ Attorney General, appointed by Gov. Murphy). Mr. Grewal came to the same conclusion as Chief Batelli.
In a letter sent to Mahwah’s Council dated July 27th, Mr Grewal stated in part:
“I concur with your observations concerning the Ordinance [that enforcement may violate the constitutional rights of individuals using Mahwah parks] and agree that its enforcement raises serious legal issues… the Ordinance raises numerous constitution concerns… it provides no neutral criteria for MPD officers to utilize when deciding to detain an individual… it’s enforcement would violate the Fourth Amendment‘s proscription against unlawful searches and seizures. Indeed, in Barkawi v. Borough of Haledon, the Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s invalidation of a similar ordinance excluding non-residents.” [ed note: Haledon was the same action, cited by the administrator of Saddle River in response to Mahwah’s inquiry about similar rules in other municipalities].
“Second, enforcement of the Ordinance may violate the Directive prohibiting racially-influenced policing.”
Mahwah Council Continued Attack On Civil Rights With Additional Restrictive Ordinances
The reaction from Mahwah was, again, as swift as it was pointed. The Council continued to create bigoted ordinances. Ordinance 1812 aimed at creating an identical ordinance that neighboring USR was using to prevent Hasidic Jews from putting up an eruv in the Township.
Then came the “No-Knock Ordinance” amid unfounded cries from the mob that Jews were lugging around suitcases of cash, ready to “block-bust” their way into the neighborhood.
Then came the do’s and don’ts for activities in parks, banning activities as benign as playing ball or leaning a bicycle against a tree.
The Bergen Record’s Alfred Doblin described the situation:
“Mahwah residents and their elected governing body are creating a body of evidence that shows the fight against the eruv is not about zoning, but about Orthodox Jews. That a no-knock ordinance is not about door-to-door solicitations, but about Orthodox Jews. That a proposed ordinance that would ban nearly 40 new activities in the town’s 10 parks, including the egregious tree climbing, is about Orthodox Jews.”
When Mayor Laforet stood up against the ordinances (which it was later revealed that the Township attorney advised not to pass), Mr. Hermansen and the Council took a vote of no confidence in him. Councilman Jonathan Wong said “[Laforet’s] statements have now created a position which can be cited to in light of litigation and subpoenas.”
The Bergen Record from Oct 6th:
“The mayor didn’t need to go on television for state officials to figure that out.”
“The fight against the eruv, the out-of-state park ban, public comments from residents about “these people” — and worse — show that at least a vocal minority of residents and the council don’t want Orthodox Jews in their town. The reasons don’t matter. Religious discrimination is never justifiable.”
The council may have claimed the no-confidence vote had to do with an interview Laforet gave, but the pattern was crystal clear.
The unmistakable message: Listen Mayor, if you won’t act the way we want, we have ways of making your life miserable. All the while, rhetoric in the council chambers remained antagonistic to Jews. Jewish speakers calling out against the ordinances would be shouted down by the Mr. Hermansen and were not permitted to finish a thought without interjection.
State Of New Jersey Confirmed Enforcement and Constitutional Problems: Lawsuit Filed Against Mahwah And Council
Having seen enough, the Republican Appointed Attorney General, Christopher Porrino filed a Civil Rights Lawsuit against the Township as well as against the Council Members themselves. The suit cited the enactment of Ordinances he described in a statement as:
“influenced largely by vocal anti-Orthodox-Jewish sentiment expressed by some residents at public meetings and on social media, engaged in unlawful discrimination aimed at halting an unwanted “infiltration” by Orthodox Jews – particularly from neighboring Rockland County, NY.”
“In addition to being on the wrong side of history, the conduct of Mahwah’s township council is legally wrong, and we intend to hold them accountable for it,” said Attorney General Porrino. “To think that there are local governments here in New Jersey, in 2017, making laws on the basis of some archaic, fear-driven and discriminatory mindset, is deeply disappointing and shocking to many, but it is exactly what we are alleging in this case. Of course, in this case we allege the target of the small-minded bias is not African-Americans, but Orthodox Jews. Nonetheless, the hateful message is the same.”
“This is an extensive complaint … but the bottom line is very simple — the township council in Mahwah heard the angry, fear-driven voices of bigotry and acted to appease those voices”.
Mahwah Continued to Attack Mayor Laforet And Anyone Standing Up For Constitutional Rights
Facing two civil rights actions for discrimination, Mahwah continued to demand efforts to protect Mahwah’s way of life. Robert Hermansen himself referred to groups he tried to exclude as “outside forces… trying to change our current way of life.”
Mahwah Officials Back A Recall
Mahwah is reacting as it has in the past. A recall effort against the Mayor has been launched. Punishment and threats are what the mob demands of those that stand up to them, in the name of justice and equality.
Since June, when Chief Batelli advised the Township that efforts to restrict parks and create ordinances banning an eruv are unenforceable at best — and unconstitutional at worst, Mr. Laforet has been the only elected member of Mahwah’s government to switch gears, coming out to do the right thing.
And doing the right thing in Mahwah gets you punished.
It got the Police Chief a threat from the Council President in the form of a request for departmental charges and an Ordinance subordinating him to a Police Director. It got the Mayor a rebuke from the Council in the form a vote of no confidence. And now, after efforts in the Courtroom have proved unsatisfactory to the hate-filled mob, residents are trying to recall the Mayor from office as the Council is cheering them on from the bully pulpit.
The stated reasons for the Recall include: blatantly lying to the public about his knowledge of planned expansion of non-resident partisan political groups into Mahwah.
They may have just as well said: Jews.
If you didn’t know better, “non-resident partisan political groups” may sound nicer than “Jews“, but in Mahwah, we do know better. We have seen this play out over months, in their Town Council chambers, by elected representatives, who remain without an iota of contrition or remorse regarding their actions.
Here is my response to the lies the Mayors spewed yesterday about our Council and our town…. https://t.co/l2sapfEBXB
— Rob Hermansen (@robhermansen) January 20, 2018
The Mahwah Town Council currently has two civil rights suits to deal with. They have shown absolutely no indication that they understand or care that they have acted inappropriately.
Before any settlement is reached, the respective plaintiffs on the other side of the table, should ensure Mahwah acknowledges the harm they have engendered. It is necessary because the acrimony continues to reverberate throughout the wider community of Bergen County.
Whether the Council felt it was protecting its residents or way of life is immaterial. Extremism is still extremism when your heart’s in the right place.
“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” — #MayaAngelou pic.twitter.com/7rks11m11C
— Maya Angelou (@DrMayaAngelou) June 12, 2015