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.
- It lays out all the terms:
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)
- It speaks to payment from Mahwah: The $10,000 payment (or additional amount negotiated in the next 20 days) relates to legal fees and costs only.
[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)
- It lays out what the parties understand the agreement to mean.
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.”
- The agreement really does lay out all the terms.
“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.
- Some conditions apply, see agreement for full list of requirements.
- Citing the change by Council President Hermansen, Chief Batelli wrote in this letter to the Town’s business administrator, Mr. Wiest:
“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”
He’s saying the path of the Eruv is negotiable. There’s nothing wrong with that as we currently have zero residents in Mahwah that use an Eruv.
By mentioning the settlement at the same time as he mentions a dialogue being permitted, his is drawing the inference that the two are related. They are not.
In conjunction with the completely false narrative that the money being paid to the Weil firm is being used to paint the lechis, this appears to be an attempt to change what the agreement actually says into something the council-members would like it to say.
Facts matter. Words matter. The agreement says nothing about a dialogue. It would be equally correct to say that the settlement allows Mahwah to tear down the eruv, subject to the consent of both parties.