Bad Faith in Mahwah

Tensions are running high in Mahwah and a meeting was scheduled to foster open dialogue and negotiation on August 15th, between the Eruv Association, the Mayor, members of the Town Council and Mahwah Strong (a resident group).

Two choices were presented.
Decision by the Town Council of Mahwah to issue summonses or hold off pending meeting

If you are going with option 1, you are Robert Hermansen and the Town Council in Mahwah, NJ.

You can listen to the vote to issue the summonses here:

There was literally nothing to gain and everything to lose.  The Mayor attempted to tell them as much.  You can see his comments here:

Mayor Laforet’s comments are included in full below:

You know, I think it’s really important that we understand the fear and the fact that everyone has shown up here in the last couple of weeks. It’s undeniable.  Everyone here on this board works very tirelessly to do our, to have our responsibilities and sometimes being elected officials, you know, there’s good days and bad days and my point was slightly different than what the council has decided.  There have been negotiations if you will, conversations with the Monsey group, with our assemplywoman Holly Schepisi, myself and for some parts, the Council President, where we tried to understand, is there a better way to do this? It’s important for you all to know that there’s a scheduled meeting for Tuesday evening at, here at the town hall where we will bring in the Monsey Eruv group which si the first time this committee has an opportunity to hear from them, and members of Mahwah Strong and our attorney and a few council people to talk about: is there a solution?  Is there a way to fix what’s broken? They admit that they did this in the wrong way. I believe that there will, there’s no clear solution here.

However, to bargain in good faith, I think it doesn’t bode well for our community to issue summonses. I’ve asked the council to stay or give relief for two weeks to allow these conversations to go on. I don’t have a crystal ball obviously we all are looking to solve this problem.  It’s very difficult for us as elected officials. But I do think that’s it’s extremely important and I appreciate the time to speak, that this community move forward very carefully, thoughtfully and practically, considering all the consequences. (emphasis added)

One of the potential, and this is not the fear, but of the potential, the worst case scenario is what happened in Tenafly.  Approximately a $600,000 lawsuit that they lost.  I’m concerned that our actions will prompt some action in the Federal Court.  That the two week stay is really worth the journey. If we are assessed with a lawsuit of that kind normally we have what’s called JIF and MEL insurance, our insurance carriers would cover us in the eventualities of lawsuits for various things. But we as a community would not be covered for this liability.  I’m not going to say that it will come to be because we will hire the very very best and talented attorneys if we are faced with that. We are united in the fact that we are here to solve a very difficult, very sensitive, very emotional problem. My continue was that we simply give these conversations an opportunity to play out for the next two weeks and then decide what we do.

The council chooses to do differently.  But let me also say, that as we said inside, the actions that are planned essentially do also provide for two weeks, it’s just going to be under a little bit of duress. We’ll still pursue those conversations, we’ll still try to fix what’s broken. We’re going to try our hardest for you and we just have a slightly different view and I appreciate the opportunity to express myself.  Thank you. (emphasis added)

So, what is the response to this sensible suggestion by Council President Rober Hermansen?

You can see it at the 6:00 mark in the video above [on behalf of council]:

This is not an easy issue obviously… We have got to make decisions that we think is in the best interest of the township of Mahwah and not for Rockland County.  What I found out over the last couple of days, and where we are, is that one of the problems that we have and why this pvc pipe went on and that’s what it is, it’s pvc pipe, it is put up by someone without permission of the township…. We have found out that the reason why they have chosen the townships that they have is to enclose for Rockland County because Rockland County does not have enough poles in order to enclose the area that they want to. So they have used and come in to Bergen County to do so.  My point is that this is a Rockland County issue.  And this is where it should be settled. Rockland County should take care of their own problem.

Watch the video for yourself if you have any doubts.  When faced with the challenge by the Mayor that this would destroy any chance at meaningful negotiations, the response had NOTHING to do with the ability to negotiate.  There was no desire to negotiate.  There was no desire to talk at all.

To Robert Hermansen, this was never about an Eruv.  This is about restrictive zoning laws to keep out people he finds undesirable, or as he puts it, “to help protect yours and Mahwah’s way of life”.

Mahwah Council President Robert Hermansen on decision to issue summonses to Eruv Association

Robert Hermansen on protecting their way of life.

The message was not universally received that way however.

Mahwah Strong statement after summonses were announced

Mahwah Strong statement after summonses were announced

And then, the inevitable happened: Litigation commenced.

Mahwah Strong statement confirming litigation commenced

Mahwah Strong statement confirming litigation commenced

So to recap: 
Negotiation was requested.
The Township unilaterally blew it up.
The other side didn’t see any point in showing up to a negotiation without a modicum of good faith.

Who could have possibly seen that coming?

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