Thank you to an unknown local artist for decorating the Woodland Park Playground in Jackson and making everyone feel welcome. We’re told the Jackson Police are impressed by your work as well and would like to offer their gratitude in person, so head on over.
Jackson Township enters muddy waters in search of long elusive “right-of-way” violations.
As the OPRA documents continue to pile in more interesting facts are starting to come to light. Initially, the Jackson Code Enforcement Department determined that eruvin (plural of eruv) were not a violation of any Jackson code and planned on leaving them be. However, then politics came into the picture and Code Enforcement had to change course.
After many months of eruv complaints, the town determined in April that a “right-of-way” ordinance, passed in 1964 to ensure that streets and sidewalks were passable and free of snow and ice, could be applied to the thin poles in the grass as well. This “seldom enforced” statute would now need to be enforced vigorously. Mayor Mike Reina states that this was the result of a “cry to increase code enforcement from our residents” in the first half of 2017 about “items in the right of way with examples such as hockey and soccer nets, basketball hoops, skateboard ramps, furniture, tires, brush and grass not being cut”. However, almost all complaints found in any emails we have pertain to eruvin (there is a single complaint about business signs).
How does one start enforcing an ordinance after 50 years? Township Attorney Jean Cipriani explains that the ordinance “applies to all obstructions in the right of way and should be uniformly applied throughout the Township”. This is likely taking into consideration the situation in Tenafly Eruv Assn v The Borough of Tenafly, where a posting ordinance was found to be unconstitutionally enforced when applied to an eruv as it was “selectively enforced”. Jean helpfully suggests other items that could be taken down to ensure uniformity, such as “basketball nets (sic)”.
The hunt begins!
Following this advice, the Jackson Code Enforcement department was issued very clear guidelines that the line to repeat was that ”anything” in the public “right-of-way” was to be removed (underlined in the email for emphasis). The township nickednamed the new plan ”PROJECT ROW” and the hunt was on for the elusive “right-of-way” violations!
However, despite all the supposed “right-of-way” complaints, the town did not seem to know where to start. In an email, Code Enforcement Head Ken Pieslak asks his officers to “take a little time” and come up with some ideas for “anything other than a street sign or mailbox placed in the ROW”. Code Enforcement Officer Connie Sidor helpfully suggests some objects they can target including “Real Estate signs, Bulky Trash, Flower boxes”. Notably absent from her survey are the actual items for which violations were ultimately issued: basketball hoops and eruv poles.
But why not just look at the “multitude” of complains that were received? Is it possible that they couldn’t because such complaints were only about one specific type of object ostensibly in the public “right-of-way”, one which they couldn’t be perceived to be targeting? The emails, after all, show almost no complaints for anything else.
At least they were consistent about enforcement, right? Anything found in the public “right-of-way” should be removed, and no exception can be made. Well, maybe not everything:
In this case, the Code Enforcement Officer is told explicitly to leave something be, in direct violation of the advice of Jackson’s attorney. Could it be they are discriminating in enforcement of the ordinance, picking and choosing when to issue violations? Piesklak says they will look at things “on a case for (sic) case basis”, but didn’t the attorney say “all obstructions”?
A bigger boat
What is clear is that the uptick in enforcement is about one thing: banning of eruvin. For the past 50 years, the “right-of-way” ordinance was “seldom enforced”, only being invoked when a citizen complained about something blocking a street or sidewalk. So, when looking for a pretext to take down eruvin, the town was forced to claim that people had suddenly and inexplicably started complaining about everything in the “right-of-way”. This left Code Enforcement scrambling to figure out exactly what their goal was here, how it could be accomplished uniformly, and maybe, in the words of one officer, “in need of a bigger boat”.
Click here to see all code enforcement emails.
Click here for a searchable list of all notices of violation issued in 2017.
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.
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.
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 email@example.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.
While you are here, check out our repository of emails and documents. These have been collected from news stories or sent to us by followers, but are presented here in reassembled format with searchable text. Many are not yet associated with a post here, but are available for your perusal.
Confusion over a change in Jackson’s form of government has caused some issues in the past. But is it all cleared up now?
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.
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):
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
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.
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?