Mayor’s Statement on Referendum Questions 1 and 2

PRESS RELEASE
Mayor’s Statement on Referendum Questions 1 and 2:

November 4, 2021

It is now clear that the majority of township voters who cast their ballots on November 2, 2021 chose to move our Council elections from May to November. Voters also voted in the majority to have the township pursue energy aggregation opportunities for our residents. Thus, the 2022 council elections will convert to Bergen County control in November, rather than the traditional month of May. Continue reading “Mayor’s Statement on Referendum Questions 1 and 2”

Mayor Dunleavy on Teaneck Referendum Questions 1 and 2: Fixing Things or Causing Confusion?

By Mayor Jim Dunleavy

Teaneck Voters have started going to the Polls to vote for our Governor, Senate and Assembly Candidates, Board of Education Members, and State & municipal questions. I wanted to explain why I am opposed to both municipal questions.

Question 1 calls for the township to move our Council elections to November, joining the BoE, county, state, and federal elections, and questions on one ballot.  I have heard the reasons being primarily to increase access.  It is important to note that access to the polls in NJ follows the same rules for May and November Elections.  Others mention the change could lead to increasing the number of votes cast in our elections. While certainly more people come to the polls in November, especially in presidential election years, the data show that the majority, unfortunately, do not vote down the ballot to local issues.  I would submit that yes, they are coming to the polls, but not because they want to vote in their local elections.

I believe the move Question 1 is asking for has more political rather than altruistic motives.

Remember, BoE elections were moved to the Fall when then-Governor Christie waved the carrot of not having to get their budget approved via voter referendum, allowing the District to raise school taxes up to 2% per year without direct review of the voters.  The change was not to increase voter turnout, but to control finances. I believe the move Question 1 is asking for has more political rather than altruistic motives. Some have stated what others have been thinking, that more votes will result in a different outcome for certain candidates – namely, those candidates that the group who petitioned for this referendum wish to retain. We have seen many different sets of statistics regarding this proposal, but my vision of Teaneck is not one where our residents are put in a position where local elections are an afterthought.  Having attention split between our local candidates and questions amid state and federal elections does not allow the Teaneck voter to focus on what we need to decide for ourselves. This type of conflict is not necessary. We will also lose the ability to design the ballot for our township elections, a factor that has contributed to the issues with early voting on the new voting machines. A ballot that covers several pages that the voter has to scroll through is not progress. These new machines will be the ones used in future elections. It may also be worth noting that since 10 years have passed, a group has been seeking support for moving the BoE elections back to the Spring, enabling better options for budgeting for the sake of the students.  Obviously, this would also let the public have greater input and control of their school priorities.

my vision of Teaneck is not one where our residents are put in a position where local elections are an afterthought

Question 2 calls for the township to pursue an energy aggregation supplier in the hopes of increasing renewable energy in Teaneck and the state. I do not know about you, but the more I read, the more confusing this system is. Some key questions every voter needs to ask themselves:

  1. “Will this energy aggregation program increase renewable energy sources that are homegrown in New Jersey”?
    The answer is No, it will not. PJM, our regional transmission organization has had to buy RECs (renewable energy Certificates) which are “tradable, non-tangible energy commodities in the United States that represent proof that 1 megawatt-hour(MWh) of electricity was generated from an eligible renewable energy resource (renewable electricity) and was fed into the shared system of power lines which transport energy. (Wikipedia accessed 10/21)”.
    They use these to meet the state mandate of 25% renewable power. PJM has the largest inventory of un-renewable inventory of all the regional transmission providers in It is also the ONLY interchange in the country that does not have a majority of clean sources for energy
  2. Will my energy bill go down?
    Well, maybe.
    Savings have been seen in some towns, while others have not. The township will contract with an energy supplier recommended by a consultant. If the consultant cannot find a company that beats PSE&G’s price, everyone will remain with PSEG. I have seen average #s of $100-$150 savings over the course of these contracts (1-2 years) but there is no way to know until a contract between Teaneck and the aggregation company is completed. There is also the possibility that what happened in towns like Maplewood, could occur here – namely after their first contract was completed, they could not find a bidder for their second round. They had to move back to PSE&G only to have to change again a few months later. The residents then go through the same review of the new plan in order to determine if they want to opt-in or opt-out. This has happened in other towns as well.
  3. Will everyone be automatically “opted in” the program.
    There will be a window of time for you to take action to opt yourself out, otherwise, you are opted into the aggregation program.I’d also like to note:

    – The township and four other New Jersey towns are being targeted by Food and Water Watch, an international environmental group that is supporting the referendum efforts. Part of their activities includes soliciting dollars for their PAC, which, anecdotally, I have heard, has already started. In addition, a recent report from a fact-checking organization, Food and Water Watch – Media Bias/Fact Check (mediabiasfactcheck.com) states:
    Overall, we rate Food and Water Watch left biased based on environmental positions that always favor the left. We also rate them Mixed for factual reporting due to not always adhering to the consensus of science and the use of poor sourcing techniques.

    – Our current chair and a previous chair of the environmental commission have already stated their misgivings about the program and both recommend against it at this time.

 

In conclusion, we have a program proposal that is confusing, does not guarantee savings and incentivizes profits which inhibit the creation of renewable energy sources in New Jersey.

This will not affect our environment here in Teaneck.

Instead, we need to fully examine whether this is right for Teaneck. Realize also that this is not the only chance to enter into an energy aggregation program.

Do not feel time pressure. We can start it at any time without a referendum when we see that it is right for Teaneck.

Like you, I want all the sources of our energy to be renewable. However, when I see PSEG pouring billions into meeting their goal of a 50% reduction in their carbon footprint by 2030, 5 years earlier than the state goal along with township initiatives such as putting in electric charging stations, I see better in-state solutions that will have more positive impacts on our environment here in Teaneck and New Jersey. Seeing our money going to out-of-state energy providers with no impact on our environment is not what we need.

I urge a NO vote on both questions.

Why Vote NO on Municipal Questions 1 & 2?

There are 2 Municipal Questions on the Ballot this year.

Question #1: Moving the date of Council Elections

  • Local elections deserve attention
  • Very little focus on local issues in November amid Presidential / Congressional races
  • Traditionally nonpartisan races were in May and Partisan Races were in November to remove crossover influence
  • While turnout can be higher in some November races, the votes for non-partisan (e.g. BOE races) do not increase proportionately as voters skip these important races.

 

Question #2: Community Choice Aggregation.

  • This proposal allows for the purchase of Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) to offset energy use
  • This does NOT change the energy content in our area
  • This proposal typical enriches the lobbyists that create the programs, creating bad incentives to actually create clean energy in our area
  • The PJM interchange (which handles our area) is the ONLY interchange without a majority of clean energy content
  • The current and former chair of the Teaneck Environmental Commission expressed reservations about this plan.

Follow the Science — Vote No on Municipal Question #2

Current and Former Chairs of the Environmental commission weigh in on the Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) proposal:

These days, there’s a lot of misinformation and it’s very hard to know what to believe.

For Municipal Question #2, Community Choice Aggregation, here are the experts:

“I think it’s important we’re careful with our language. Community Choice Aggregation [CCA is Municipal Question #2] will not improve the environment of Teaneck. It will support renewable energy credit swaps which overall, in the long term, can help mitigate climate change. The more that we’re encouraging renewable energies um – and I think for the broader environment – absolutely makes a huge difference.

But it’s not gonna affect Teaneck’s environment, in any way um — measurable way.

Joseph Gillers
Chair, Teaneck Environmental Commission
(October 20, 2021)

“What seems like a good idea, with a very small actual impact on climate change, is structured in such a way that a small group of former utility officials stand to benefit handsomely if this legislation passes for a dubious amount of actual work. That seems wrong to me. There are far better ways to incentivize local green energy purchases than enriching people who were once the regulators and grouped NJ with the highest polluting states, all coal dependent. We need a disinterested 3rd party to analyze this and given the animosity between the Council majority and proponents on both of these measures, it is hard to see how this helps or hurts. At this point, I would vote NO, but reserve judgment on the idea itself.”

Michael Rogovin
Former Chair, Teaneck Environmental Commission
(October 22, 2021)

OTOV: Order Entered, Appeal TBD

This morning Judge Wilson heard oral arguments on the OTOV petition and delivered a prepared decision from the Bench.

The order has been filed, allowing the question to proceed to the ballot in November.  The Township indicated it would appeal based on various issues.

The order appears below (the full decision hasn’t been entered on the docket.  The petitioners did not receive attorneys’ fees, so petitioners will bear their own costs.

Continue reading “OTOV: Order Entered, Appeal TBD”

OPRA and OPMA: Balancing important principles

The Open Public Meetings Act (“OPMA”)

Title X mandates that any meeting of the Municipality (Council or BOE) must be made in public, upon notice and with an opportunity provided to members of the public to speak on any matter they wish.

Whether at the council, Board of Education, Planning Board or Environmental Commission, there’s a chance to speak directly to those in power to decide issues, before those issues are voted upon.

But there’s another principle at play with the public’s right to speak: namely, the right of everyone to have business conducted by their elected representatives.

Imagine what would happen if someone didn’t like something the council was proposing and lined up enough people to speak for hours until we could no longer hold a vote?

In essence, it would be a veto by a filibuster (sometimes called the “heckler’s veto“).  Therefore, while I’ve rarely seen it employed, the ability to cut off speakers at a reasonable point exists, to ensure that the business of the public is properly capable of being conducted, while still protecting the right of the public to speak.

The Open Public Records Act (“OPRA”)

OPRA has a similar issue in terms of balancing priorities.

The law was enacted to enable public access to public records.  If you want to see Ordinance 33-2018, all you need to do is request it and the clerk’s office is obliged, under statutory authority to provide a copy to you within 7 days.  You can even get it via email.

OPRA is a wonderful law, in terms of moving forward with transparency.

But like OPMA, it has the ability to be abused.  We’ve seen this in the past.

The Government Research Council (“GRC“) has dealt with this as well.

In a decision on Complaint 2012-82, the GRC was asked to decide what to do when the request was for:

“All e-mails between Executive Director Mr. William Fellenberg to NJCU OPRA Officer Alfred Ramey”

You see, this isn’t asking for the email sent regarding X.  It’s just a request for everything.

OPRA is meant to allow access to public documents, but it’s not meant to enable snooping through files for anyone who wishes to do so. Continue reading “OPRA and OPMA: Balancing important principles”

Sources Matter: Demand Evidence and Question Everything

In his post on Planning Board Application 2021-19, Bill Orr says that “the proposal was to build one residence on the left and another on the right of the historic home”.

Is that true?

I say it is not.

Orr claims to be “reporting local news” and information for residents.  He goes as far as to say I am “rarely a reliable source of information“.

So what is a member of the public supposed to do when we claim diametrically opposite views on a situation?

Ask for evidence and review it critically.


Case in point: The Brinckerhoff-Demarest House*

Continue reading “Sources Matter: Demand Evidence and Question Everything”

CCA: Visualization

The State of NJ has a process called the “Initiative”.  Residents have the capability to form a group, obtaining consent from the public via petition — and placing the ordinance for a vote in the next election.  It’s not an easy lift to proceed via initiative.  This is by design.

Normally, the people are represented by the leaders elected in free and fair elections.  In Teaneck, that legislative body is the Township Council.

The Council is tasked with the creation of ordinances and the ordinances may be amended or rescinded by the Council only upon Public Notice and a Public Hearing at which the community may comment.

An important facet here is that no one should ever wish to make it too easy to go around the will of the people expressed via those the voters chose in an election.  Put another way: Anything you can do via initiative, those with opposing ideological viewpoints can undo and even do the opposite, via initiative.

NJSA 40:69A-184

“The voters of any municipality may propose any ordinance and may adopt or reject the same at the polls, such power being known as the initiative.”

Clearly lawmakers wanted the people to be able to create laws.  But the same lawmakers didn’t want everything set via popular referendum.  They understood that laws made via the whim of the people could be dangerous.

“Any initiated ordinance may be submitted to the municipal council by a petition signed by a number of the legal voters of the municipality equal in number to at least 15% of the total votes cast in the municipality at the last election at which members of the General Assembly were elected.  An initiated ordinance may be submitted to the municipal council by a number of the legal voters of the municipality equal in number to at least 10% but less than 15% of the total votes cast in the municipality at the last election at which members of the General Assembly were elected, subject to the restrictions set forth in section 17-43 ( C. 40:69A-192 ) of this act.”

The bar was set at 10% or 15%* (the choice of which number depends on several factors outside the scope of this post).

  • In 2016 some 20,152 Teaneck voters walked into the voting booth
  • In 2018, some 17,450 Teaneck voters walked into the voting booth
  • In 2020, some 23,526 Teaneck voters sent in mail-in ballots

But none of that matters for the initiative bar here, because “at the last election at which members of the General Assembly were elected“, means we look to 2019.

In the 2019 election, there was no race President, no Governor to be chosen, no major contests to draw crowds.  There was a contested BOE race, but even there 27.6% of eligible votes weren’t cast.

  • In 2019, some 7,908 Teaneck voters walked into the voting booth

Therefore, the lowest threshold for a valid petition today would be 10% of 7,908, or 791 signatures.

CCA Petition Signatures

The chart below represents all registered voters of Teaneck and the signatures for the Community Choice Aggregation Petition appear as indicated:

  • Valid signatures supporting the initiative: Green boxes (187)
  • Hand-Written Signatures with deficiencies: Red Boxes (76)
  • Electronic Signatures**: Orange Boxes (562)
  • Electronic Signatures with Deficiencies**: Yellow Boxes (52)
  • Number of valid signatures required: 791*
  • Registered Voters not submitting a signature: White boxes (28,758**)
  • Total boxes: 29,635*** Registered Voters

* The clerk’s response states: “There exists a legitimate question of what the statute means by the “total number of votes cast” but giving the statute the most liberal reading possible, the best reading for the Committee would be based on the total number of voters who voted at the last election at which members of the General Assembly were elected in Teaneck, which figure was 7908. Thus, the total number of signatures required to submit an initiated ordinance pursuant to N.J.S.A. 40A:69A-184 is 10% of 7908 or 791 signatures.”
** Electronic signatures were authorized for submission until June 4th.  The date was extended for 30 days, but all electronic signatures here were submitted after the 30 day deadline authorizing the clerk to accept them.
*** The voter list I’m using was last obtained during the 2020 General Election.  It has certainly changed somewhat, but I think the point is made.

CCA Update: Petition Deficient [Clerk’s Response attached]

Community Choice Aggregation

As previously covered, some members of the community have been working on a program call Community Choice Aggregation (“CCA”).  The program uses credits from renewable energy providers elsewhere to “transfer” that energy (via credits) to our area.

The net result is that energy is purchased at lower rates (through aggregating demand).  The program has positives and negatives (which I’ve covered in the post linked here.

On July 15, 2021 the petitioners submitted their petitions (with an enclosed ordinance to be proposed for the ballot).

The clerk issued a response, which can be found here:

Unlike the One Town, One Vote petition, the CCA petitioners do both

  1. enclose the required ordinance and
  2. cite the correct Statute for initiating a petition (N.J.S.A. 40:69A-184 ).

Why was the petition rejected?

Among the reasons for rejection:

  • The petition did not contain the requisite number of signatures.

There’s little the clerk can do if you don’t supply the signatures required.

  • The petition contained electronic signatures which were not authorized to be accepted.

Due to the pandemic, Governor Murphy issued a series of Executive Orders.  Among them was EO 132 which allowed petitions such as an initiative or referendum to be accepted by a municipal clerk in electronic form.  EO 132 was further modified by EO 216 which extended the rule through the end of the Public Health Emergency.

On June 4th, Governor Murphy announced EO 244, which ended the public health emergency.  Had nothing else happened, the authorization that permitted a municipal clerk to accept an electronic petition would have ended that moment.  However, the Legislature enacted P.L. 2021, CHAPTER 103, (approved June 4, 2021) which extended the EO 216’s operation for 30 days.

Petitioners were noticed and should have been aware that the authorization for acceptance of electronic signatures ended on June 4th.  They also should have been aware the extension for such authorization was extended 30 days past June 4th.  That would enable the clerk to be authorized to accept electronic petitions (assuming they were in the proper form) only until Sunday, July 4th. Being generous and giving them an extra day until Monday, July 5th, they missed the deadline by 10 days, having only submitted the petition on July 15th.  Without express authorization by Statute or Executive Order, the clerk is not authorized by statute to accept the petitions.

The Cure Period

As indicated in the clerk’s notice, “[p]ursuant to N.J.S.A. 40:69A-188, the Committee may amend the Petition at any time within ten days from this Notice of Insufficiency.”

How many more signatures are required?

The following signatures were submitted

  • Electronic: 614 total (52 contained deficiencies as listed below):
    • 1 was deficient for not being fully completed (e.g. missing printed name, address, signature)
    • 8 were deficient for providing information not corresponding with voter registration information (e.g. name, address)
    • 32 were deficient for not being registered voters or not being registered voters in Teaneck
    • 11 were deficient for being duplicates
  • Hard copy: 263 (76 contained deficiencies as listed below):
    • 2 were deficient for not being fully completed (e.g. missing printed name, address, signature);
    • 50 were deficient for providing information not corresponding with voter registration information (e.g. name, address
    • 17 were deficient for not being registered voters or not being registered voters in Teaneck
    • 3 were deficient for being duplicates;
    • 4 were deficient for being illegible

As electronic petitions are not permitted, the balance of valid handwritten signatures stands at: 187

How many signatures are required to have an ordinance placed on the ballot?

As indicated in the clerk’s response:

“There exists a legitimate question of what the statute means by the “total number of votes cast” but giving the statute the most liberal reading possible, the best reading for the Committee would be based on the total number of voters who voted at the last election at which members of the General Assembly were elected in Teaneck, which figure was 7908. Thus, the total number of signatures required to submit an initiated ordinance pursuant to N.J.S.A. 40A:69A-184 is 10% of 7908 or 791 signatures.”

As 187 is below the threshold level of 791, the petition was found deficient.  Petitioners may amend and cure deficiencies within 10 days of being notified.

Community Choice Energy Aggregation: Coming soon?

A statement by Paula Rogovin, one of the Petitioners appears below:


Further explanation regarding electronic signatures for petitions

What does the Executive Order authorize?

EO 216 says in relevant part:

1. “The… municipal clerks… shall allow for any… initiative, referendum, or other petition required to be filed prior to an election to be submitted by hand delivery and
electronically.”

2. The… municipal clerks…  shall accept petitions with hand-written signatures and signatures collected via an online form created by the Secretary of State.

4. The requirements of N.J.S.A. 19:23-7, N.J.S.A. 19:23-15, and N.J.S.A. 19:13-8 that a candidate provide a notarized oath of allegiance shall be in effect regardless of whether a petition is submitted by hand delivery or electronically.

9. This order shall take effect immediately and shall apply to any petition that is due or may be submitted during the Public Health Emergency, first declared in Executive Order No. 103 (2020).

Clerk’s may only do what they are authorized to do by Statute.  Here, the EO (132, supplemented by 216) authorized the clerk to allow for any initiative to be submitted (paragraph #1) on a form created by the Sec. of State (paragraph #2) with the necessary oaths (paragraph #4) and applied to any petition that was due or submitted during the Public Health Emergency (which ended via EO 244 on June 4, 2021).

Once EO 216 ended, paragraph #9 meant that the public health emergency no longer allowed clerks to accept submitted electronic petitions.  But, they got a 30 day extension, via legislation.  That extension was on notice to the public (including petitioners).

Therefore, after the 30 days extension elapsed (on July 5th, 2021), the authorization to accept the petitions ceased and the clerk was precluded from doing so.

To be clear: the clerk was not authorized, absent express authorization to accept electronic signatures.  It did not exist on July 15th.