Municipal Weather: Shady With Remote Chance of Sunshine

The last meeting of both the Municipal Council and the Board of Education has shown just how much transparency is a buzzword, without much meaning, to many elected to public office.

The Council

At the December 12th meeting of the Teaneck Council, Councilwoman Goldberg made a motion to appoint co-chairs of the PPRAB. In response, the following conversation appears to indicate that open session (public) items have not only been discussed in closed session but decisions were made in closed session for open session items, in violation of the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA):

Discussion from the December 12th Open session meeting:

You can watch the entire meeting here: https://youtu.be/uOHqH3unrQ8?t=4526

The conversation below starts at approximately 1:15:26

Deputy Mayor Gee: “Mr. Mayor, I’m doing all the personnel nominations, I’m not sure why she [Councilwoman Goldberg] did that.”

CW Belcher: “The discussion is, I thought in closed session, we said that Deputy Mayor Gee was going to put forth the nominations, so I don’t know why Councilwoman Goldberg is usurping that intent. That was clearly stated during closed session.” Continue reading “Municipal Weather: Shady With Remote Chance of Sunshine”

Teaneck BOE Violates OPRA to Keep Public in the Dark

What happens in a closed session of the Council or Board of Education stays in that closed session… but the minutes, with proper redactions, are still a public record.

But not according to the Teaneck Board of Education.  I have emailed the Board Secretary to provide these documents.  If they do not do so, suit shall be commenced.

I hope they do not waste taxpayer dollars trying to hide this public information.

Keith Kaplan
Teaneck Today Continue reading “Teaneck BOE Violates OPRA to Keep Public in the Dark”

When the Board of Education Violated My Civil Rights, I Chose to Fight Fisher with F.I.R.E.

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (“FIRE”) calls on the Board to reform its policies and practices to comply with its constitutional obligations.

“When the Board of Education Violated My Civil Rights, I Chose to Fight Fisher with F.I.R.E.” – Keith Kaplan

The Board of Education is bound by the First Amendment

Lest anyone thinks that the standpoint the board based their vague and unequally applied rules has any standing, I’d urge you to read Justice Robert Jackson’s opinion in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943)

In the opinion, the Court says:

“The Fourteenth Amendment, as now applied to the States, protects the citizen against the State itself and all of its creatures — Boards of Education not excepted.”

“Such Boards are numerous, and their territorial jurisdiction often small. But small and local authority may feel less sense of responsibility to the Constitution, and agencies of publicity may be less vigilant in calling it to account.”

“There are village tyrants, as well as village Hampdens, but none who acts under color of law is beyond reach of the Constitution.”

“The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials, and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. One’s right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.”

and my favorite line from any opinion:

“If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.”


The Superintendent’s Letter:

On October 11, Teaneck School’s Superintendent Dr. Andre D. Spencer sent out a letter to parents in the wake of the most horrific attack on the Jewish people in a single day since the Holocaust.

In that letter, Dr. Spencer referred to the attacks perpetrated by Hamas as “the latest incidents in the cycle of violence in the Middle East” and “[t]he unfortunate situation in the Middle East”.

In the days following, I personally reached out to Dr. Spencer and we spoke via telephone for a while about the reasons the letter was so problematic to many residents, including those who had children in the district.  I even went as far as to prepare language that Dr. Spencer might be able to use1 to indicate that he understood the Jewish community’s anguish and was being responsive to those in his care.

Subsequently, parents in the township organized a Change.org petition, entitled: “Teaneck Public Schools: Revise Your Statement on Terrorism in Israel“, which urged the Superintendent to revisit his remarks.  The letter was signed by 3,071 individuals.

On October 17th, the Township Council unanimously passed Resolution 272-2023 “Denouncing the Terrorist Group Hamas and Supporting the State of Israel”.

Residents reach out to BOE and receive unequal treatment

The next day, residents came to address the Board of Education and Superintendent Spencer at the regular board meeting of October 18th [video link to meeting].

FIRE: The Teaneck Board of Education’s Restrictions on Public Comment Violate the First Amendment

At the 10/18 BOE meeting, Board Vice President Victoria Fisher regularly cut off speakers who mentioned atrocities committed by Hamas against Israel, but did not do so for those making comments in the opposite direction.  After seeing at least six of these incidents happen (watch e.g. at time indexes: 16:55, 50:16, 54:35 and 1:21:57), I went to the microphone and spoke.

Teaneck Board of Education Vice President Victoria Fisher (left) cuts off a person from speaking during the public comment period of the Oct. 18, 2023 meeting of the Teaneck Board of Education.

You can watch me speaking at time reference 1:49:57.

Several residents were cut off from speaking based on vague notions that dangerous actions, described in detail were too much for High School students in attendance, to hear.


The Court in Cohen v. CA dealt with the issue of using alternative words, stating:

“Additionally, we cannot overlook the fact, because it is well illustrated by the episode involved here, that much linguistic expression serves a dual communicative function: it conveys not only ideas capable of relatively precise, detached explication, but otherwise inexpressible emotions as well. In fact, words are often chosen as much for their emotive as their cognitive force. We cannot sanction the view that the Constitution, while solicitous of the cognitive content of individual speech, has little or no regard for that emotive function which, practically speaking, may often be the more important element of the overall message sought to be communicated. Indeed, as Mr. Justice Frankfurter has said,
“[o]ne of the prerogatives of American citizenship is the right to criticize public men and measures — and that means not only informed and responsible criticism, but the freedom to speak foolishly and without moderation.” Baumgartner v. United States, 322 U. S. 665, 322 U. S. 673-674 (1944).
Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15 (1971)

I was cut off from speaking no less than 3 times, due solely to the words I spoke to the board.  This was an egregious violation of the First Amendment, as well as State Law (N.J. STAT. § 10:4-12(a) — OPMA) and Board Policy.

“Several parents and community members used the public comment period to criticize Spencer for not explicitly and forcefully condemning the attack. But when they described Hamas’s actions to support that criticism, the board repeatedly shut them down. The board took particular exception to commenters’ “graphic” descriptions of the attack and repeatedly told speakers to keep in mind that children were in the audience.

Yet when other commenters used their time to emphasize the plight of Palestinians and used similarly “graphic” language, the board allowed them to continue.”

– Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression

Watch the board selectively stop certain points of view:

“For example, when one speaker said it’s possible to unequivocally condemn Hamas’s actions without taking a side in the conflict “unless of course you’re trying to appease people who actually think that the raping and murdering and pillaging of the community is appropriate,” Board Vice President Victoria Fisher immediately cut him off. In contrast, the board remained silent when another commenter said, “These people talking about raping and piling bodies on top of each other, that happened in the Holocaust. And if they’re having PTSD for what they’re doing to the Muslim community in Palestine, that’s something they need to seek mental health counseling for.”

When a speaker rhetorically asked how others would feel if “Indigenous people in our country … pulled your kids out of their beds and then shot you in front of them,” Fisher disapprovingly interrupted. But the board allowed someone else to freely comment that Israel’s “dehumanizing and genocidal actions” and the “propaganda surrounding them have spread all the way to us, where kids are stabbed 26 times just for being Palestinian.”

The board also repeatedly warned speakers discussing the Hamas attack not to repeat details or facts already “on the record.” Yet several pro-Palestinian speakers repeated details mentioned by previous commenters without receiving such warnings or admonitions.”

– Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression

Cease and Desist

At the next meeting, the Board voted in closed session to have the Counsel for the District send a letter to “Cease and Desist” regarding my “conduct” to the board.  In this revision of history, the attorneys stated:

“The Board takes no position with respect to the subject matter of your comments”

This is clearly belied by the facts, as anyone can see on the recorded Board meeting.

Luckily, there are groups such as the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), whose mission is “to defend and sustain the individual rights of all Americans to free speech and free thought — the most essential qualities of liberty.”

FIRE lays out exactly where the Board VP, Victoria Fisher repeatedly violated the civil rights of parents and other members of our community.  The letter, which is posted in full below with links to all relative documents and cases, requests a response by December 11th.  I will update you whenever responses come through.

The response from FIRE to the Teaneck Board of Education can be read here:

2023-11-27_FIRE Letter to Teaneck Public Schools Board of Education, November 27, 2023

Due to a significant number of emails received by the Teaneck Board of Education, I also notified Board President Sebastian Rodriguez and Vice President Victoria Fisher separately, since they were cc’d on the communication to me.  I will post any further responses I receive below.


Response from Teaneck Board of Education Vice President Victoria Fisher:

Response from Teaneck Board of Education President Sebastian Rodriguez:

“Keith you sent the letter to the attorney Mr. Tabarkin, as such you must wait for his response by the due date on the letter (12/11/23).”

  1. The language I gave Dr. Spencer was based on a letter prepared by the President of Northwestern University.
    Sadly, Dr. Spencer did not send this and chose not to revise his communications.  You can find my suggested wording here (note these are NOT words created by Dr. Spencer):
    Last week, I sent out a letter outlining services our community can provide to our scholars, staff, and families. In that communication, some language has been seen by members of our community to suggest that I believe that the Teaneck Public School District as an entity does not condemn the atrocities that were committed. That cannot be further from the truth and I write again to share my thoughts about our values and our response to atrocities. There is no one who believes we should not be governed by a set of values… that everything is relative. Let me be very clear — we are absolutely guided by a set of shared values and principles. Among the values that we all share and embrace both individually and collectively are commitments to open discourse, diversity, equity, inclusion, and an abhorrence of antisemitism and racism. The abhorrent and horrific actions of Hamas last Saturday are clearly antithetical to Teaneck’s and our scholars’ values — as well as my own. Wherever one finds themselves on greater issues regarding the conflict, our shared humanity should lead us all to condemn these barbaric acts. One more value that I know we share in Teaneck is care and compassion for one another. Our scholars, our faculty, our staff, and our entire community are in tremendous pain. This is a moment for us to pull together, support one another, and seek common ground. I have been in communication with our leaders. We are coordinating our resources. No one should think we need to agree with each other about divisive issues like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But we must have empathy for each other and strive to build understanding. We condemn the terror visited on our community. We share our compassion and stand with all innocent people in Israel and Gaza at this time.

2023 Election Results

Congratulations to all those who ran for seats on the Board of Education.

Board of Education Results

It appears that the results indicate that the Educational Excellence Slate has won all three seats.
Final Tallies:
Gerald Kirschenbaum: 5392*
David Gruber: 5325*
James Woff: 5299*
Nadia Hosein: 4207
Selene Wong: 4299
Jose Zenon: 4082
For those interested:
  • Excellence Progress Equity (EPE) Slate won in the VBM category (54.8% to 45.2%)
  • Educational Excellence Slate won in the Early Voting (78.3% 21.7%)
  • On Election day, it was fairly even with only 4 votes separating 3rd and 4th place
My spreadsheet will be available on TeaneckToday.com momentarily.
*** Some Votes May Still Be Coming In ***
District:12345678910111213141516171819202122237-NovEarlyMailTotal
Gerald Kirschenbaum575215815452361987330830631637930241082749193100144464316286917757485392
David Gruber54561571524538193703063063133672926108335218898145464515284217647195325
James Wolff55531571504842193723033073123572431106295519194145464315282817537185299
Nadia Hosein117154179130114982106766652659210253971021931081066513017711228384848854207
Selene Wong1141541821401111052157272743070206251981011951171066312417011428845039124299
Jose Zenon112152173131108100202636967265720224892961811111026511816011127464818554082
Personal choice031061400000751402204634949
Mail in per district5676506634118578270995610048665240629770501295935

Teaneck Police: One in Custody after Cedar Lane Assault by Teaneck Juvenile

Chief of Police Andrew R. McGurr announces that a juvenile actor has been taken into custody and charged on a juvenile delinquency complaint following an aggravated assault that occurred last night.

On Tuesday, October 31, 2023, at approximately 8:56 PM, Officers responded to the Seasons Express store, located at 465 Cedar Lane, following several 911 calls reporting an incident. Upon their arrival, they discovered a victim, determined to be a 14-year-old boy from Teaneck, who had suffered a deep laceration to his face and a stab wound to his buttocks. The juvenile victim was transported by the Teaneck Volunteer Ambulance Corps to Hackensack University Medical Center for emergency treatment of non-life threatening injuries sustained during the attack.

As per initial Police Reports, the incident occured on the sidewalk of Garrison Avenue, between Cedar Lane and Beverly Road.

Witnesses provided a description of the suspect, who was apprehended a short time later by Bogota police.  He was reported to be a male who was dressed in dark clothing and wearing a Halloween clown mask.

That individual, identified as a 16-year-old boy from Teaneck, was determined to be the actor and was taken into protective custody. A search of the juvenile actor revealed he was in possession of a utility knife, which was partially covered in blood.

Teaneck Police indicated that “[b]ased upon a preliminary investigation, it does not appear the assault was precipitated by any type of confrontation or problem between the involved persons.”

As a result of the investigation, the juvenile actor was charged on a Juvenile Delinquency complaint with the following offenses;

  • Aggravated Assault 2nd Degree Crime
  • Aggravated Assault with a deadly weapon 3rd Degree Crime
  • Possession of a Weapon for Unlawful Purpose 3nd Degree Crime

Chief McGurr states that the charges are merely accusations and all defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

 

Anyone with information about this or other investigations is urged to contact the Teaneck Police Department at 201-837-2600, or Crime Stoppers. Tips can be made anonymously on the group’s website at www.bergencrimestoppers.org or by calling 844-466-6789, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

2023-10-31-Aggravated Assault-Weapon-Juvenile Actor

Following the Money at the BOE: Year After Year, TPS District Bilked Taxpayers for Security, Transportation and More

Where do I vote? Click HERE to find out

A Review of Teaneck Public School Filings Show District Overcharged Taxpayers on Several Budgetary Items, including Transportation and Security

Security

Despite significant security issues (including the removal of security guards and threats against schools), the Teaneck Public School District collected 100% of its security budget from taxpayers… but didn’t spend 25% of it.  Where did it go?

Busing / Transportation

Despite complaints about the cost of busing and the inability to meet required busing needs, records show that the District collected FAR IN EXCESS of what it spent on busing.  In fact, in the last 3 years alone, the District pocketed $3M into “Fund Balance” to use as surplus funds… all from our tax dollars.

What is happening within the Teaneck Public School Budgets?

25% of the District Security budget went to discretionary fund balance?

Over $3M in local taxes set aside for busing students, instead went to discretionary fund balance over the past 3 years?

2022/23: Teaneck Schools – $6.94M ALLOCATED  for Transportation
2022/23: Teaneck Schools – $5.73M ACTUALLY SPENT for Transportation
2023/24: Teaneck Schools – $7.67M, a 10.46% RAISE to the Transportation Tax Levy, for an unprecedented $7.67M bill to taxpayers.

You read that right — after pocketing $3M in local tax levy funds from residents that we were told would be used for busing & transportation,  the line item for busing in 2023-24 WENT UP AGAIN by 10.46% to $7.67M according to the 2023-24 Final Budget presentation,

How could that be possible?

A few days after scores of parents attended a Board of Education meeting asking about the lack of security, I found myself asking these questions to the Teaneck School District Business Administrator.

The ACFR (Annual Comprehensive Financial Report)

The Annual Comprehensive Financial Report (ACFR) is a set of U.S. government financial statements comprising the financial report of a state, municipal or other governmental entity that complies with the accounting requirements promulgated by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB).

“Exhibit C” of the ACFR contains “Budgetary Comparison Schedules”.

These schedules indicate the:

  1. Final amount of the budgeted line item
  2. Actual amount spent for the budgeted line item
  3. Variance, or difference in the final amount budgeted and what was actually spent

Here are some examples from the ACFR”

Final BudgetActual SpentVariance (Difference)Year
Total Student Transportation Services$6,069,994

$4,489,077

$1,580,917

2021
Total Student Transportation Services$6,499,755

$5,736,648

$763,107

2022
Total Student Transportation Services$5,706,667

$4,975,660

$731,007

2020
Total:$18,276,416

$9,464,737

$3,075,031

Final BudgetActual SpentVariance (Difference)Year
Total Security Budget$1,134,695

$855,873

$278,822

2022
Total Security Budget$383,161

$383,161

$0

2020
Total Security Budget$548,073

545,723

$2,350

2021

ACFR Data (available on NJ State Website):

Confirmation

I reached out to the District’s Business Administrator to confirm these findings.

My email appears below:

While the difference between Final Budget and Actual is fairly small for many categories (e.g. Total instruction, which comes in at 5%), other categories seem to have a very different variance betweenfinal budget and actual expenditures.
As an example….
Security:
The original budget is listed as $516,101.00
The final budget is listed as $1,134,695.00 with $618,594.00 under “transfers”
The actual is listed as $855,873.00, leaving a variance of $278,822.00
The variance would appear to be 25% of the final budget amount.
If that’s the case, did the variance go to fund balance?
Am I missing something here?
Appreciate any feedback you can provide.
Keith

The response from the Business Administrator came on 10/19/2023:

Haqquisha Taylor <htaylor@teaneckschools.org>
Thu, Oct 19, 2023 at 4:45 PM
To: Keith Kaplan <keith@teanecktoday.com>
Cc: Andre Spencer <aspencer@teaneckschools.org>
Good Day,
Thank you, Mr. Kaplan, for your patience and for your follow up. The answer to your question regarding the variance listed in the 2021-2022 ACFR for Security is yes, the variance goes to fund balance. For Capital, $388,328 of the variance goes to fund balance. The remaining $18,600 of variance, relating to Facilities Acquisition and Construction Services, is returned to the Capital Reserves.
Let me know if I can be of further assistance.

Where did the money GO?

This is a tricky question, as once you put massive amounts of money into “surplus”, it can be spent in a discretionary manner across different expense categories.

Obviously, as per the Business Administrator, we can see that the 25% of last year’s “Security Budget” which went unused was disbursed as follows:

  1. $388,328.00 to “Capital”
  2. $18,600.00 to “Facilities Acquisition and Construction [sic] Services”

 

If you recall, Teaneck Schools spent $5.35M for Renovation of a Kindergarten Building (from Eugene Field School office space to the current Lacey School) & Admin Offices by Thomas Jefferson Middle School.

Where did an “extra” $5,300,000.00 come from without bonding?  Now you know.

Let’s start with some basic facts:

  • Value of all land in Teaneck (as of 10/01/2020): $5,188,972,400
  • Value of Average Residential Assessment: $387,405
    • Percentage of total land value: .007466%

(stats from “User-Friendly budget” available on Township website)

Share of each $5.35M project for the average homeowner = $399.43

The $399.43 can be paid through the tax levy (all at once) or bonded (at near-zero interest) to be paid back over decades.

Bonding a project or paying for it through direct levy is a policy and financial decision that affects YOU!

So what would you prefer? Pay it all now or $19.97 a year for 20 years?

This is NOT how schools are supposed to operate.  Here’s why:

If you were to move out of Teaneck today, you would have paid 100% of your share of the $5,300,000.00.  But had this been bonded, at historically low rates over 30 years, you would only pay a share of the amount that corresponded with your time living in Teaneck.

The new resident moving in would continue to pay their fair share.

That’s how bonding – which is sometimes called “generational equity” – works.

But to do that, the Schools would have to go to the public with a bonding referendum on a ballot.  And the fear is that the public would vote down a bonding referendum because they think the schools ALREADY have enough money.  So rather than chance a defeat (which also acts as a barometer on resident satisfaction with the district), they inflate certain line items, year after year after year, in order to have you, the taxpayer pay MORE THAN YOU NEED to ensure a free and appropriate public education.

This is NOT how schools should function and the public should be incensed at how they are treating us at the Teaneck BOE.

“I’m Shoot Up the School” found scrawled in BF Middle School bathroom

Update (10/6/23 11am): Teaneck Police Chief Andrew McGurr has issued a statement, which has been added below.


10/5/23: In an email sent to parents of students at Benjamin Franklin Middle School (BFMS) this afternoon, School Superintendent Dr. André Spencer indicated that a report was made of “graffiti that was discovered on the wall of a girl’s restroom”.

The graffiti stated, “I’m Shoot Up the School”.

The school is working in coordination with law enforcement to determine if further actions are needed.

Superintendent Spencer says “it has been determined that there is no imminent threat to our scholars or staff”, but “there will be an increased law enforcement presence in the area”.

This event comes on the heels of several Board of Education meetings where parents have raised questions regarding security concerns.

I have reached out to Chief McGurr for comment.

Further information, as it becomes available, will be added to the story.

Email from the district appears below: Continue reading ““I’m Shoot Up the School” found scrawled in BF Middle School bathroom”

Teaneck Cannabis Survey: Why Haven’t Results Been Released?

Until today, results from the survey conducted by the Cannabis Subcommittee have never been published.

  • Who created the Cannabis Survey and sent it out to residents?
  • Who created the Cannabis Forum at the Rodda Center?
  • Who directed employees to attend/work at the event?

The answers matter because the Council may only act as a body, not as individuals or even a subcommittee (a group of 1-3 members of the council formed to discuss issues)

It is the intention of this article that the municipal council shall act in all the matters as a body, and it is contrary to the spirit of this article for any of its members to seek individually to influence the official acts of the municipal manager… The council and its members shall deal with the administrative service solely through the manager and shall not give orders to any subordinates of the manager, either publicly or privately.”
source: NJ Rev Stat § 40:69A-91

Sebastian Castillo

On April 5, 2022, Mr. Sebastian Castillo appeared before Council to give a presentation as to why the Township should grant him a letter authorizing him to apply for a license to open a Cannabis Dispensary in Teaneck. [video]

In Resolution 106-2022, the Council granted Mr. Castillo local support for the granting of a license to his company, Galaxy Express NJ, LLC.

Mr. Castillo continued coming to council meetings through December, requesting zoning expansion (beyond Alfred Avenue) for Cannabis dispensaries.

Then, after the new Council was seated in January, Mr. Castillo wrote to the Cannabis Subcommittee indicating that he created a google form, which they could use to determine whether the residents were willing to see an expansion of Cannabis zoning for retail stores.

Through an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request, you can see he email below.  The link for the form is still active and is available on archive.org.

The Survey and the Forum

As you may be aware, the council sent out this survey earlier this year, seeking resident comments regarding cannabis zoning in Teaneck.
(Note: The original municipal page with the survey has been deleted from the Township website, but is available here via archive.org)
The survey link indicates it is no longer open or available:

“The form Township of Teaneck | Cannabis Zoning Survey | January 2023 is no longer accepting responses.”

That survey had raised many questions (see our former Mayor Dunleavy’s post here), and Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests seeking to find the derivation of the survey have thus far gone unanswered (the post will be updated if any additional responses are received).

Deputy Mayor Danielle Gee promoted the forum as well as the survey

Cannabis Survey Results (obtained via OPRA):

Should the zoning for cannabis be expanded beyond Alfred Avenue?
For Cultivation:Yes325No638
33.7%66.3%
For Manufacturer:Yes317No646
32.9%67.1%
For Wholesale:Yes315No648
32.7%67.3%
For Distribution:Yes331No632
34.4%65.6%
For Retail:Yes376No587
39.0%61.0%
For Delivery:Yes354No609
36.8%63.2%
Are you in favor of limiting the number of each type of license?Yes677No286
70.3%29.7%

So what happened to the survey?

Residents questioned the validity of the survey and forum held by the township.  Some sought information about cannabis zoning/council actions on Facebook.  In response, the husband of Deputy Mayor Danielle Gee indicated:

“Just to be clear, only Mayor Pagan, CW Goldberg, and CW Belcher along with the Manager etc were involved in planning this forum.”
(source)

This again raised several questions, namely:

  1. Who planned the forum?
  2. Did the Subcommittee take action outside of a council meeting?
  3. Who directed town personnel to hold the forum?
  4. Was the Council involved in the decision to hold the forum?

 

The clerk’s office responded:

“This was discussed at the Jan. 10, 2023 Meeting. The subcommittee report and accompanying minutes may be found here: http://teanecktownnj.iqm2.com/Citizens/default.aspx
This the record responsive to this portion of the request.”

The minutes for the first three meetings held this year did not indicate any vote for the survey, its language, or the forum (page 24 of the minutes from the 1/10 meeting indicates it was already scheduled).  So who is running the show?

An email from Councilwoman Goldberg states:

The current cannabis subcommittee planned and executedthe successful Town Hall which tookplace on January 25th at the Rodda Center, with more than 100 attendees in person andonline, marking the first such event held by the township in several years. Thank you again toDean, Tom Rowe, Doug, Ronn Goodman, MIS, and the panelists and participants for all of thehard work that went into planning and executing the event.” (emphasis added)

also from the Goldberg email:

“Additionally, a google doc survey was created by the cannabis subcommittee and shared with residents.  Several
hundred people submitted their responses and the results are still being collected and reviewed by the subcommittee.
The feedback we have received from the town hall, the survey, comments at good and welfare, conversations andemails from residents and stakeholders, as well as consultation with experts including our planner and the explorationof retaining legal counsel will all be used to determine next steps.” (emphasis added)

and

[W]e have asked the attorney to draft an ordinance to limit publicconsumption of cannabis in public spaces.”

The subcommittee, apparently through some authority has:

  1. Planned and executed events on behalf of the municipality including the direction of township personnel
  2. Created documents sent and shared with residents
  3. Directed the town attorney to draft ordinances

 

SIX MONTHS LATER: Where are the survey results?

Teaneck Today submitted an OPRA request and received the survey results (which included some data on the individuals filling out the survey).  Using emails and IP address info, along with a review of responses, it appears that several people submitted the survey results multiple times, making any assertions from the survey’s results, problematic.

Council Minutes from August 8, 2023, indicate “Cannabis” was a closed-session discussion topic.

 

Should the zoning for cannabis be expanded beyond Alfred Avenue?
For Cultivation:Yes325No638
33.7%66.3%
For Manufacturer:Yes317No646
32.9%67.1%
For Wholesale:Yes315No648
32.7%67.3%
For Distribution:Yes331No632
34.4%65.6%
For Retail:Yes376No587
39.0%61.0%
For Delivery:Yes354No609
36.8%63.2%
Are you in favor of limiting the number of each type of license?Yes677No286
70.3%29.7%
Percentage
Total Number of Responses981
Unique Responses963
Individuals Identified40642.16%
Individuals Not Identified55557.63%
Number of ResponsesPercentage
District 163.20%0.80%
District 263.20%0.80%
District 3137.00%1.80%
District 4137.00%1.80%
District 521.10%0.30%
District 652.70%0.70%
District 7115.90%1.50%
District 8126.50%1.60%
District 91910.20%2.60%
District 10168.60%2.20%
District 11147.50%1.90%
District 12147.50%1.90%
District 1321.10%0.30%
District 1410.50%0.10%
District 1563.20%0.80%
District 1600.00%0.00%
District 1742.20%0.50%
District 18158.10%2.00%
District 1994.80%1.20%
District 2084.30%1.10%
District 2131.60%0.40%
District 2273.80%0.90%
District 2300.00%0.00%
Unknown55574.90%
Totals
Township of Teaneck Cannabis Survey Jan. 2023 Results(1)(1)_Redacted_Redacted

Councilwoman Requested Teaneck Today’s Press Credentials Be Rescinded

The request to bar particular media from equal access is a frontal assault on a core American value. It should interest the whole country.

  • 3/6/23: Hillary Goldberg is sued (in her individual capacity) for defamation [docket here].
  • 5/30/23: Teaneck Today reported that Goldberg’s Motion to Dismiss the Complaint was denied.
  • 6/1/23: Thirty-five hours after Teaneck Today posted the news about her case, Councilwoman Goldberg demanded Township ‘Press Releases’ stop flowing to Teaneck Today.

Was this an ‘official’ act of retaliation against unfavorable press?

On May 30th, 2023, Teaneck Today reported that Bergen County Superior Court Judge Anthony R. Suarez had denied a motion to dismiss the complaint brought by Wayne Puppies against Hillary Goldberg.

The news story contained the opinion by Judge Suarez denying a motion by Hillary Zaer Goldberg to dismiss the charges that Goldberg defamed Wayne Puppies.

Shortly after, she sent multiple emails to the Township Manager (Dean Kazinci), cc’ing the Town’s Mayor (Michael Pagan), Deputy Mayor (Danielle Gee), and Township Attorney (Scott Salmon), requesting the Township turn off the spigot for official information sent to press.  In her initial email, she called Teaneck Today “a toxic Facebook group”.

A note for the sake of transparency: Goldberg is a member of the Facebook group

Kazinci declined to comment on the story.  Township attorney Scott Salmon, who started working for the Township on May 23 (a week prior), indicated he would not be commenting on this piece or answering whether legal questions about the issues were discussed.

I reached out to the plaintiff’s attorney in the Wayne Puppies defamation action but did not get a response.

Requests for comment to Pagan, Gee, and Goldberg have gone unanswered (if responses come in after publication, they will be appended to the story).

The first email

On June 1st, at 5:06 AM [35 hours after the story about Wayne Puppies], Councilwoman Hillary Zaer Goldberg emailed the Township Manager:

“Dean why is Teaneck Today on the list for press releases??! That is a toxic Facebook group, not a news source that should be on a press release distribution group.”

Why would a sitting member of the governing body try to prevent residents from knowing what is happening in their town?

That’s the question I sought to answer when I discovered, within Open Public Record Act (OPRA) requests, that Councilwoman Hillary Goldberg was actively using her position on Council to interfere with timely public information getting to Teaneck Today.

It wouldn’t be the first time someone found a local council member was abusing her position to attempt to coerce employees into acting contrary to the First Amendment to the US Constitution, her oath of office, and in contravention of the law–but Teaneck Today had been on the Press Release list for months (see request to join from 2022).  The Press Releases have been shared with tens of thousands, in the Facebook group (where Goldberg is herself, a member) and beyond.  Goldberg had been in office for five months and cc’d on many such releases.

Why now?

Local news is a tough gig.  There aren’t a lot of companies willing to devote enough journalistic resources to cover local news.  As a consequence, so many stories that may matter to you and a few neighbors, often go unreported.

Teaneck Today

Teaneck Today was created in May of 2016.  As its name implies, it’s a place for residents, neighbors, and friends to post issues, chat about the state of Teaneck and communicate what they are doing–today.  At times, pols (including the current Mayor and several members of the Council) have used the forum to disseminate information.

Some posts range from the mundane (potholes, leaves, and snow complaints), and some are deeply personal (cuts by BOE for special-ed classes) and some are just politically fraught (Council removal of individuals from boards) with proponents and detractors commenting to and at each other.  It’s a common occurrence to hear people claim it’s an echo chamber (an ironic thing that true echo chambers typically don’t exhibit).

At current, there are approximately 9k+ members, with more going to sources on the web (TeaneckToday.com) and signing up for the mailing list.

I (Keith Kaplan) run the group and I’ve long been a fan of getting as much information as possible (including source materials) out to the public–through whatever means are available.

As many know, I post to Facebook (via the Teaneck Today group), I email information (sign up here) and I post on the web.

A simple philosophy: The answer to censorship and bad speech is not more of the same

Those who regularly read my columns know that my answer to “bad” or “wrong” speech is more speech, better speech.  For those reasons, I discuss issues, I post source documents, and I attempt to explain what happens behind the closed doors of government.

The OPRA request (Open Public Records Act)

To that end, I’ll often submit requests to “OPRA” on various topics, such as Cannabis (we never saw the town release the results of the town-wide poll, why is that?) or Zoning (new AirBNB legislation just went into effect, which will cost residents more money to offer homes for use).  I’ll also request information regarding litigation.

As Gerard DeMarco wrote in the Daily Voice last week:

“Keith Kaplan, a former councilman himself, has rigorously kept township residents and business owners informed for more than five years through his “Teaneck Today” blog.

“Teaneck Today” also has a Facebook group with more than 8,900 members.

Combined, both have been invaluable resources, reporting and providing information on elections, building in town, school calendars, roadwork, COVID developments and more in much the way a weekly newspaper would.

Like most bloggers, Kaplan has his causes, as well as his targets.

One of those targets, Councilwoman Hilary Goldberg, was part of a three-woman slate that bounced him from office in last November’s election.

After Goldberg was sued by a pet store hoping to set up shop in Teaneck, Kaplan provided blow-by-blow accounts and published legal filings without editorializing about it.”

You can read that article here:

Wayne Puppies took Hillary Goldberg to Court. What happened next might shock you…

I had requested back in 2022, to be added to the Teaneck Police Department list for Public News Releases.  The list is public, any news org can join (there are scores of emails on the list at present) and when I receive news releases, I share them with you, the public.

Hillary Goldberg ran on a platform of transparency, but in private, she is trying to prevent access.

Ironically, obtaining information from Government actors that they are trying to hide via OPRA, was the subject of a campaign video from Goldberg, herself.

State Law Requirements and Teaneck’s Form of Government

Teaneck operates under the Council-Manager form of Government as created in the Faulkner Act.  Under our somewhat unique form of government, the members of the Township Council act solely as a body, and any requests/demands must be made by the body to the Manager.   As the Manager is the executive office of the municipality, and the authority of the Council is solely as a body, there’s a specific requirement to guard against incursions to the manager’s authority in State Statute.

It is the intention of this article 1 that the municipal council shall act in all the matters as a body, and it is contrary to the spirit of this article for any of its members to seek individually to influence the official acts of the municipal manager, or any other officer, or for the council or any of its members to direct or request the appointment of any person to, or his removal from, office;  or to interfere in any way with the performance by such officers of their duties.  The council and its members shall deal with the administrative service solely through the manager and shall not give orders to any subordinates of the manager, either publicly or privately.  Nothing herein contained shall prevent the municipal council from appointing committees or commissions of its own members or of citizens to conduct investigations into the conduct of any officer or department, or any matter relating to the welfare of the municipality, and delegating to such committees or commissions such powers of inquiry as the municipal council may deem necessary.  Any council member violating the provisions of this section shall, upon conviction thereof in a court of competent jurisdiction, be disqualified as a council member.
NJSA 40 § 69A-91

Timeline:

  • May 26, 2023: Judge Suarez denies Goldberg’s motion to dismiss the defamation claims against her in her individual capacity
  • May 30, 2023: Teaneck Today reports the result of the Motion to Dismiss and publishes the opinion from Judge Suarez
  • June 1, 2023: Councilwoman Goldberg, in her official capacity attempts to have news@teanecktoday.com removed from the Teaneck Police Department PR listing.

“Dean why is Teaneck Today on the list for press releases??! That is a toxic Facebook group, not a news source that should be on a press release distribution group. Please either remove Keith- he can opra like everyone else.”

  • June 1, 2023: Manager Kazinci responds to Councilwoman Goldberg that the Police Department maintains the list, but if she wishes, others can be added (e.g. Teaneck Voices)

    “Hillary:I do not send press releases to Teaneck Today. I receive them from the police department. They maintain the email list.I can have the Chief add Teaneck Voices if that’s helpful.”

  • June 1, 2023: Township attorney responds with [redacted] legal advice to the Manager.

 

At this point, the matter should be settled.  But Councilwoman Goldberg is not done.

  • June 1, 2023:Councilwoman Goldberg asks the manager:

“Do we know how Keith got himself on that list? If Keith is on there so should Bill Orr, Chuck, Alan and Stephen Gruber.”

This begs the question as to why those others “should be” on the list.  Anyone may request to be added to a Press Release list.  The Appellate Division in In re January 11, 2013 Subpoena by the Grand Jury of Union Cnty., N.J. discussed the statutory factors regarding who may receive the benefit of press-shield laws, and such, but assuming they meet the generally accepted criteria, anyone requesting, should have been added to the PR list.

Did they ever request to be on the list and find themselves denied?  No.  A request for information to the municipality found no one was denied.

Is it acceptable for a Government agent to request certain “news” orgs be added to a list?

For the sake of clarity –  all should agree that if those organizations meet the criteria, and request to join, they should be added.

The question is whether or not organizations that are “favored” by one pol can be added for access at that pol’s request.

And what is it about those particular individuals Goldberg mentions that merit their inclusion on the release list, even as Councilwoman Goldberg seeks to have Teaneck Today removed?

Is it because Goldberg considered Teaneck Today a “toxic Facebook group, not a news source”, while she views those other outlets differently?

Content-Based Distinctions by Government Actors

In REED et al. v. TOWN OF GILBERT, ARIZONA, et al., the US Supreme Court stated:

Because content-based laws target speech based on its communicative content, they are presumptively unconstitutional and may be justified only if the government proves that they are narrowly tailored to serve compelling state interests. E.g., R. A. V. v. St. Paul, 505 U. S. 377 . Speech regulation is content based if a law applies to particular speech because of the topic discussed or the idea or message expressed. E.g., Sorrell v. IMS Health, Inc., 564 U. S. ___, ___–___. And courts are required to consider whether a regulation of speech “on its face” draws distinctions based on the message a speaker conveys. Id., at ___.

Whether or not Councilwoman Goldberg considers the opinions in Teaneck Today to be “toxic”, she may not target them with official action based on the communicative content or because of the topic discussed or the idea or message expressed (although she’s free to remove herself from the group).

To demand that the manager take such action also violates the NJ Statute (40:69A-91).

Later in the afternoon, the manager told Councilwoman Goldberg that:

1) he doesn’t maintain the list and
2) if she has an issue with it, perhaps they can post them publicly elsewhere e.g. Facebook:

“I do not maintain the news media list. I’m going to speak to [town attorney] Mr. Salmon. As this appears to be an issue, it may be easier to just post releases on the TPD Facebook page which is open to the public.”
– Dean Kazinci to Hillary Goldberg

And Councilwoman Goldberg responds, removing all doubt as to what her issue truly is:

At the end of the day I am fine with the real press (emphasis added) of course. But either all the Teaneck media
(Voices, Blue, Today, Tomorrow, and Newsroom) gets it or none and they all go via opra. Keith cannot get special
treatment.
Thanks please let me know asap.
Hillary

Special Treatment?

Teaneck’s Manager, Dean Kazinci is a man of principle and would not offer or accept special treatment.  He responded to that charge quickly:

Hillary:
Keith does not get and/or receive special treatment. If you know of someone who is doing so that violates any of our internal rules or regulations, please let me know. I will address it immediately. I’m sure Keith submitted something to the PD under Teaneck Today for press releases.

The final demand:

“Keith knows to inquire….
Again please either remove Keith and only the formal press gets them and Keith can get from social media.”

I do know to inquire – just like I know that a government actor seeking to define a “news” organization as “legitimate” is going to fail out of the gate (NJ has extended bloggers and other news protections, including media shield laws).  I also know that choosing one type of speech (Teaneck Tomorrow or Voices, etc..) over another like Teaneck Today, is an outright violation of the First Amendment Councilwoman Goldberg gave an oath to uphold.

The demand to have the Manager and Police Chief remove someone, based on their opinions and the content of their ideas is certainly a colorable violation of 40 § 69A-91, which ends with:

“Any council member violating the provisions of this section shall, upon conviction thereof in a court of competent jurisdiction, be disqualified as a council member.”

Councilwoman Goldberg, if you attempt to block access to public information again, you may well find yourself in court.


Emails obtained from Open Public Records Act request:

 

2023 Teaneck BOE Ballot Positions

The Bergen County Clerk has chosen Ballot Positions for the Teaneck Board of Education Race

The ballot positions will be:

  1. Gerald B. Kirshenbaum (Achieving Excellence Together)
  2. David Gruber (Achieving Excellence Together)
  3. James Wolff (Achieving Excellence Together)
  4. Nadia Hosein (Excellence Progress Equity)
  5. Seleene Raquel Wong (Excellence Progress Equity)
  6. Jose Zenon (Excellence Progress Equity)

 

Best of luck to everyone participating.

You can watch the drawing for ballot placement below