Agudath Israel v Township of Jackson

Jackson sued over targeting of Orthodox Jews.

Agudath Israel has filed a motion to amend its lawsuit previously filed over ordinances adopted to ban schools and dormitories to include allegations that an ordinance which effectively blocked requests from residents to construct eruvin (plural of eruv) was made with discriminatory intent as well. This should come as no surprise as recent township emails released pursuant to NJ’s OPRA laws (and all available here) revealed the obvious targeting of eruvin. As reported elsewhere, the “Jackson Eruv Association”, which made its own request for an eruv back in August, is considering their own lawsuit as well.

The updated lawsuit is available below, the judge will rule whether or not to accept the amended version despite Jackson’s objections on November 20th.

Update: The amended complaint has been accepted.

The First Amendment

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Someone sent us the following image, originally attached to a social media post.

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A few notes here: The First Amendment prohibits governments from stifling the free speech of individuals. It says nothing about what private citizens can and cannot say to or about one another. By contrast, the actions of the Jackson municipal government are restricted by the First Amendment, which is forbidden from adopting ordinances with the intention to constrain religious practice. There is no contradiction here, as implied by the creator of the image: rather, private citizens are afforded the right to criticize one another while also advocating for the free exercise of religion unimpeded by the government.

Additionally, by NJ State law, any written communication sent to a public official in their official capacity is automatically a public record and can be made available to the public.

The intention of this site is to inform and shed light. We seek to analyze public documents that have been made available online or sent to us, not to make any individual feel attacked or harassed. If you feel that a particular public document we have contains personal data and wish it to be redacted, we understand your desire for privacy; after all, the contributors to this website are as of yet anonymous themselves.

If you find your full name or contact information on any post or document here and would like it removed (and are not a public official relevant to that post or document), we’d be happy to redact anything uniquely identifying including last names, email addresses, street addresses or phone numbers. Please email us at tips@jacksonleaks.com and let us know the exact location.

Note however, that many of the documents we have posted are already publicly available on the internet in other places, and any redaction we do won’t affect copies stored elsewhere. Also, anything obtained via OPRA can be re-requested by a determined person from the Jackson clerk in its original form.

Township Committee Shuffle

Confusion over a change in Jackson’s form of government has caused some issues in the past. But is it all cleared up now?

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Current Jackson Mayor, Mike Reina, being sworn in

The Jackson zoning board has seen a lot of turnover in the past few months, losing two members to criminal activity and scandal. Details have come out about former members that may end up calling into question previous decisions of the zoning board, such as denying the application of a religious school in town.

One might wonder, how did these people get on the board in the first place? The Jackson municipal code sets the procedure for filling a zoning board position as follows:

§ 244-8 Zoning Board of Adjustment.

A. Establishment.
The Zoning Board of Adjustment, presently in existence pursuant to N.J.S.A. 40:55D-1 et seq., is hereby continued. The Zoning Board of Adjustment shall consist of seven regular members, who shall be appointed by the Township Committee.

B. Alternate members.
The Zoning Board of Adjustment shall not have more than two alternate members, who shall be appointed by the Township Committee. Alternate members shall be designated at the time of appointment by the Township Committee as “Alternate No. 1” and “Alternate No. 2.”

So, according to the existing law, the “township committee” of Jackson must vet and appoint members to the zoning board. Which is pretty straightforward, except that Jackson no longer has a “township committee”! In 2006, voters chose to reorganize the government and split the five member “township committee” which included a mayor and deputy mayor into a five member council where the mayor was a separate position.

In the “committee”‘s absence, the new council seems to be filling the role of “township committee” by appointing members to the zoning board.

In fact, there are almost 200 mentions of “township committee” still on the books at Jackson. Approval from the “township committee” is still explicitly required for a number of activities including (but not limited to):

  • soliciting donations
  • selling anything in parks
  • renting public buildings or facilities
  • hiring a town planner
  • holding a parade
  • getting a commercial license
  • establishing a campgrounds
  • destroying garbage found on the street
  • spending open space trust fund money
  • naming a street
  • holding a raffle
raffle
Township committee approved!

Having the council step in, despite the code saying “committee”, seems reasonable, right? Otherwise the town would practically grind to a halt. Well, let’s see what the current administration says.

When asked to approve an eruv in the public “right-of-way”, another duty of the “township committee”, the council instead responded by amending the code to remove this phrase and the ability of anyone to approve “right-of-way” exceptions. Here is the code when the request for an eruv was made in August 2017:

§ 372-8 Obstruction of streets restricted.

No person shall encumber or obstruct any street or public place with any article or thing whatsoever unless permission has been first obtained in writing from the Township Committee of the Township of Jackson.

And here is the code after being amended by ordinance in September in response to this request:

§ 372-8 Obstruction of streets restricted.

No person shall encumber or obstruct any street or public place with any article or thing whatsoever.

They then explained why the change was necessary:

COUNCILMAN MARTIN stated amendments can be executed in the future and at this point the language needs to be corrected to indicate the Council form of government. The Council will continue to improve this ordinance.

COUNCILMAN NIXON stated the main issue is correcting the language in the Code to the current form of government. Before we can make accommodations or have conversations on this ordinance this must be corrected. It must have the proper format and provide the Mayor with the power to enforce and omit the Council which is stated under the current ordinance. My vote is yes.

COUNCILMAN PRESIDENT BRESSI stated he concurs with all the statements made by the Council. As mentioned at the previous meeting the form of government needs to reflect the current government. There may or may not be amendments to this ordinance and discussions are still being made. Thank you for listening to the different views and opinions given by our community. I vote yes.

That’s odd. Why is it suddenly impossible to approve an eruv in the public “right-of-way” without a “township committee”, yet dozens of other activities that require one (including appointing zoning board members) can still be done in its absence?

Seems kind of arbitrary, but maybe there is some pattern. Can you think of one?

“Potty” Ban

porta-potties-2-orig.jpg
Is this the future of Jackson?

Documents obtained through OPRA reveal a shocking new proposed ban in our town: some of the same residents who pushed successfully for the eruv ban have been pushing for a “potty” ban. If history is correct, we can expect to see a new ordinance banning portable toilets on the town agenda within the next couple of months. Forcefully addressing the epidemic of “potties” affecting Jackson is hopefully a cause all residents of the town can unite behind. Stay tuned for this exciting ban…

Update: Potties are Safe