It’s Okay Sir, I’m From the Government

In the words of Jackson Code Enforcement

government_man
Come from the government, the government has sent me.

So what happens when Code Enforcement gets tired of spying?

A helpful reader has provided audio of a conversation where they were confronted at their front door by two Code Enforcement Officers over praying in their house, after being watched by them for weeks. Below are excerpts from this audio. It is worth noting that the two officers are professional throughout and the conversation is cordial, however we find the content disturbing.

Code Enforcement Head Ken Pieslak introduces himself, and tells the resident that prayer (shudder) has been reported in his house. Praying is somehow against the law, though Ken isn’t sure exactly which one; it has something to do with acreage and setback. From his description it’s almost certain he is referring to Jackson zoning code § 244-115, which sets the conditions for a building that is primarily an institutional church, including a 2 acre lot and 200 foot setbacks. Needless to say, this person’s house is primarily a private residence and thus not subject to these requirements.

Ken Pieslak:  I’m Ken Pieslak, department of compliance supervisor.

Are you the owner? Okay.

We’re getting, we’ve received some complaints last week that on Friday, you’re conducting services in the house. And we don’t want to bother, we didn’t want to come Friday at sundown and bother you so we wanted to get a hold of you ahead of time, cause you may not be aware that we have a code that doesn’t allow it. It only allows it in certain zones and you need X amount of property and, be, 200 foot setbacks and so forth. And we can get you a copy of the code, I don’t have it on me right now, but we just wanted to make you aware that it isn’t allowed.

I mean, if you have something scheduled for tonight, we understand, we don’t wanna, it’s last minute, we’re okay with that. But anything in the future beyond that, you know, we’re going to have to give a notice of violation followed up by a summons and that sort of…

What was the actual complaint? Was it noise or parking violations that spurred this concerned citizen to action? Code Enforcement Officer Connie Sidor fills in the details: an anonymous tipster helpfully took a video of people praying in the house and reported it.

Connie Sidor: The complaint came in, and we have a video of, they say, 30 people going into the garage and holding some kind of service or something. So, the ordinance says you can’t hold, on a continuous basis, any type of church or religious service.

Forget about any legal advice (or lack thereof) the officers may have been operating with, doesn’t this fail a basic smell test? Does it really bear saying that people are allowed to worship in groups in the privacy of their homes? Substitute in another type of gathering and imagine the absurdity: getting a notice of violation for hosting a weekly Boy Scout troop meeting or a summons because you have invited friends over on successive Sundays to watch the Giants lose. Imagine the township showing up because someone sent them videos of you having dinner parties (“We have decided that you are a restaurant” says Ken). What country is this anyways that people record their neighbors praying and run off to report them?

Let’s be reasonable here, one cannot do whatever they want in the name of religion. In Sexton v. Bates for example, the construction of a mikvah (Jewish ritual bath) was disallowed in a residential area in NJ. But our state constitution ensures that the right to gather and pray cannot be abridged by municipal zoning.

Spying Update: Legal Follies

Where were Jackson’s legal advisors?

banksy

As reported in a previous article, Jackson officials and staff have been spying on homes suspected of harboring prayer services, staking out the same houses on a regular basis and counting the number of people entering and leaving with “bibles”. In some cases, the same houses were watched over a period of multiple months.

One might wonder why Township Attorney Jean Cipriani didn’t alert anyone to the pointlessness of this activity; after all, while courts have determined that towns can issue violations of noise or other nuisance ordinances if applicable, prayer service in one’s home cannot be regulated in NJ using zoning regardless of how many people or books are involved. The opinion in Farhi v. Deal Borough Commisioners states:

The court therefore holds that the guaranty of freedom of worship as set forth by our State Constitution forecloses any use by a municipal authority of its zoning power to prohibit the free exercise of religious activity in the privacy of one’s home.

Not only have we not found a warning to this effect, but it seems that Cipriani had drafted an ordinance to forbid such prayer gatherings. Unfortunately, we will probably never know how such an ordinance would attempt to circumvent the US Constitution, NJ Constitution and prior case law, as the text of this ordinance is likely considered privileged and deliberative.

However, even if Cipriani did tell them, Jackson doesn’t exactly have a perfect record of following her advice. Take the following warning about how passing a resolution about neighborhood watch groups could lead to penalties in court:

The resolution was then adopted four days later by the council.

Continued here: It’s Okay Sir, I’m From the Government

Private Eyes

Here in Jackson, they’re watching you!

private_eyes
They see your every move.

Happy Thanksgiving dear reader. One thing we here at Jackson Leaks are thankful for is the freedom of association provided by the United States Constitution and free exercise of religion required therein as well as by the NJ State Constitution. As determined by prior court cases, the right to congregate and worship in one’s home may not, in itself, be limited by the government in NJ.

Why should the government monitor what lawful activities one is doing in the privacy of their home and with whom they are doing them? After all, using your home for other activities is absolutely commonplace, whether it be a home business, regular club, play group, or prayer service. We should be careful about declaring certain activities that are otherwise legal to be subversive when done in one’s home.

So then by what right are Jackson officials giving orders for houses to be put under surveillance without some serious allegation of illegal behavior,

sending spies in unmarked cars to monitor houses on a regular basis,

who keep detailed notes on the otherwise benign activities at private properties.

Why are private citizens being enlisted to inform on and photograph each others daily routines,

with high-up Jackson officials then following up on surveillance in person?

The only thing they seem to find problematic is that this is a waste of “valuable time and money”. While true, they are missing the larger issue: they are government backed predators hunting Jews. In 2017. For no reason other than they gather together with friends and family.

Today they are monitoring Jews and private groups. Tomorrow, what will they be adding to their list?

Continued here: Legal Follies

Documents

See related sets of documents: #1, #2, #3, #4#5#6

 

On the Trail of the Trailer Ban

Where are all these bans coming from?

trailer
Happy trails to you, until we meet again.

In September 2016, Jackson passed Ordinance 21-16 forbidding the non-residential use of trailers (i.e. “office trailers”) in every area of town except under very limited circumstances. One is still allowed to have trailers on their property for the purpose of living in them though. Was this request in response to a rash of businesses popping up in trailers around Jackson?

In fact, the ordinance was precipitated by a request from Mayor Reina a month earlier. In his “travels” through “several different communities”, said the Mayor, he had noticed that trailers were being used by “congregations of different faith based groups” to “accommodate needs”. An ordinance must be passed to prevent the “possibilities of it happening here”.

Essentially, not in response to trailer problems in Jackson at all, but as a preventative measure against religious use seen in nearby communities. The final ordinance reflects his observations about the ways in which certain “faith based groups” employ trailers and restricts only non-residential use of trailers. But, if trailers are the issue, why not make an ordinance that limits the size, number and placement of any trailers in Jackson regardless of use.

Also, which faith based groups and what nearby communities? It doesn’t say, if only there was a way we could figure it out…

The ban comes up again in a different email from the Mayor, addressing “issues” that Jackson is facing. In the same sentence, he talks about how he and the council are working to “no longer allow the use of trailers”, “not allow non permanent structures to be placed in front yards”, and handle the “issue regarding the use of ERUV wires”.

Are these three items unconnected, or maybe mentioned together as they have a common thread? They must be important to get rid of considering that the township has been “trying to acquire more code enforcement officers”.

The context here seems apparent, at least to us: The flood of ordinances in the past few years coincides with an increase in Orthodox families moving to Jackson, and suddenly “seldom enforced” half-century old ordinances must be aggressively applied and all sorts of new bans introduced against currently permitted items that people think the Orthodox might want to use. This trailer ban targets a specific use that the Mayor thinks is associated with this “faith based group”, not all trailers in Jackson. It’s no wonder that Jackson is being sued.

Click here for all trailer related emails.

And the Secret Write-in Candidate is …

writein

A single prankster commenting on an otherwise unrelated news story sent up the alarm that an unofficial candidate was trying to get themselves on the Jackson School Board. So may we present the winners of the 2017 Jackson School Board Elections Write-in Contest:

Given that there are dozens of different names and even the top write-ins got at most 0.1% of the vote, it doesn’t seem like there was any concerted effort to elect someone by write-in. Maybe don’t get your news from the comments section?

Lawsuit Update: Amended Complaint Accepted

At 4:00 PM today, Agudath Israel’s amendment to their lawsuit against the Township of Jackson was accepted by the court, despite Jackson’s objection. This change adds new allegations of discrimination related to the township’s ban on eruvin to the existing lawsuit. Note that this does not mean the court has ruled on the content of Agudath Israel’s arguments, just that they will be allowed to make an argument.

The judge’s order is below.

Seen Around Town

Readers have sent us a number of flyers distributed around Jackson.

Readers have sent us a number of flyers distributed around Jackson. First, one from the election this past week:

flyer1

Congrats to Tara and Sharon on their win, we share the same concerns as the creator of this flyer about keeping Jackson’s public schools in top shape as well as their pride in dual marching band state champions Jackson Liberty Lion Band and Jackson Jaguar Band. An educated populace is necessary for a functioning democracy and good public schools provide a benefit to the entire town, even those residents that don’t use them, in terms of improving property values, local economies, crime rates, and sense of community in general.

However, we hope you have a more “equitable” plan than stripping the only benefits that private school parents get from their property taxes to the bone. It’s also funny that in the same paragraph Mrs. Dey is derided as being both “incompetent and behind the times” and simultaneously admonished as being the “only Board candidate in recent memory to run a negative campaign”.

Next up, another flyer which bears a strange resemblance to the first:

flyer2

This flyer is much more concerning, shaming a neighbor for listing their home for sale. The idea that only un-“strong” people sell their house is silly: families move all the time for a variety of reasons. Will humiliating them really make people want to stay? Maybe you should paint a big red B on their lawn too while you are at it. It seems like the one actually peddling panic and fear is the creator of the above flyer.

Seen any other flyers? Send us a picture at tips@jacksonleaks.com. And remember, it’s a federal crime to put anything in a mailbox without proper postage.