A Tale Of Three Councils – The Failure of Robert Hermansen

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

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.

Bergen Record: Mahwah Council delays decision on eruv lawsuit
Bergen Record: Mahwah council delays vote on $175,000 to fight eruv lawsuits

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.

  1. A letter to the court indicates that USR has been in settlement negotiations and a hearing is pending for Feb. 21st should they not be able to come to a resolution

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