An Open Letter to the Teaneck Council: Transparency and Process Matter

Dear Mayor Pagan and Council,

Council has announced it will be voting upon new members of the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Adjustment (“Statutory Boards”) at the next Council meeting on June 27th, 2023.
The following is a list of the positions for which the Council is seeking to vote on nominees:
Planning Board:
  • Class III Member
  • Class IV Member (2)
  • Alternate Member (1)

Zoning Board of Adjustment

  • Regular Member (1)
  • Alternate Member (2)
The public discussion at the June 13, 2023 Council meeting indicated that a subcommittee of the council consisting of Mayor Pagan, Deputy Mayor Gee, and Councilwoman Goldberg interviewed some 16 individuals to fill the seats listed above.
As stated by Councilmembers Schwartz and Orgen and confirmed by the Mayor and subcommittee members, no interviews were held by the full council in contemplation of filling these potential vacancies and no interviews or requests for interviews were sent to those currently holding the positions, in order for the Council to determine if the members wished to be re-nominated / continue serving.
(see discussion at June 13th, 2023 Council Meeting between 8:38pm and 8:47pm)
I write to you because it would appear that the council has announced six nominees to fill expiring positions, in a manner that does not follow the law.
In order to effect a transparent and open system through which all members of the public have an effective opportunity to volunteer and be noticed when vacancies occur, the council created procedures to govern nominations and votes to fill seats on advisory and statutory boards.  These can be found in the Teaneck Code as Attachment 1 (Appendix I Council Rules of Procedure) to Chapter 2 (Charter/Administrative Code) of the Township of Teaneck (“procedures”)

Continue reading “An Open Letter to the Teaneck Council: Transparency and Process Matter”

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

UPDATE: Judge denies motion brought by [Councilwoman] Hillary Goldberg, to dismiss the action.
(note: Ms. Goldberg was sued in her individual capacity)

UPDATE 2: Counsel for Ms. Goldberg sent a response***.  It is appended below in full.

UPDATE 3: Teaneck’s Township manager sent a response****.  It is appended below in full.

UPDATE 4: Hillary Goldberg submitted an Answer, Demand for Discovery and Jury Demand on June 5th.

A request for comment was sent to all parties and the post may be updated with replies


For those unfamiliar with the saga that is Wayne Puppies, Teaneck, I will offer a brief recap:

  • 2018: Teaneck banned the sale of dogs and cats in retail stores*.
  • 2021: Wayne Puppies (which has existed in Wayne, NJ for some time) sought to create a “store” on Cedar Lane.  That store would sell dog supplies, food, etc… and would house puppies too young for sale (which would eventually go to the Wayne location when appropriate).

“All puppies will be delivered approx. at the gestational age of 8 weeks and will be thoroughly checked by a licensed veterinarian before classifying as fit for sale. If at any case the animal is not fit for sale, we will set the animal for adoption. The puppies will continue to be under veterinary supervision for weekly checkups. The only supply sold in our store will be the same pet food (wet and dry) that is used in our store to feed the puppies with.”
– email from Alexandra Hofman, owner of Wayne Puppies to Teaneck Zoning Officer dated 9/9/21

The idea was a sort of “take a look at this doggie in the window… and buy it elsewhere” type model.

  • The Township initially gave Wayne Puppies a certificate of occupancy, with the understanding of all parties that they could not sell animals in Teaneck.

Description of Work / Use:
LIVE PET STORE – PUPPIES ONLY AS PER DOCUMENTS SUBMITTED THROUGH 10-20-2021.
NO SALE OF LIVE CATS OR DOGS PERMITTED
PER SEC. 6-68

  • 2022: The plaintiff alleges that the Township eventually changed positions and the company sued Teaneck and Hillary Goldberg, claiming:

“…the Township of Teaneck is not entitled to any deference in its revocation of its approval of the business plan as it was not based on an interpretation of any statute or Code, but rather based on outside forces, including political pressure placed on the Township members; especially with an election upcoming in November 2022.”
Complaint at paragraph 39

Why Hillary Goldberg?

According to the complaint, while running for a seat on the council, [now Councilwoman] Hillary Goldberg is alleged to have created a petition on change.org which the plaintiff (Wayne Puppies) claimed was not only defamatory but done in order to raise her position as a candidate.

Hilary Goldberg Defames Wayne Puppies to Gain a Political Advantage:
(emphasis in original)

In the legal action (a copy of the docket is available here), attorneys for Ms. Goldberg sought to dismiss the case, saying that nothing Ms. Goldberg said was, in fact, defamatory or created tortious interference.

The claims made against Ms. Goldberg include:

  • Defamation
  • Tortious Interference with Contractual Relations
  • Tortious Interference with Prospective Economic Advance

 

Ms. Goldberg filed a Motion to Dismiss the Complaint, contending that:

  • The mischaracterization of the Petition is in bad faith and further proves that Plaintiff’s defamation claim is meritless.
  • The fact that Plaintiff specifies that the only alleged interference was with prospective clients demonstrates that no actual contracts existed for Ms. Goldberg to interfere with and this claim must be dismissed as a matter of law.
  • Ms. Goldberg’s actions are not malicious and do not meet the necessary requirements to be deemed tortious interference with a prospective economic advantage.

The full briefing of the motion is available below.

 

The plaintiff (Wayne Puppies) states in their opposition to Goldberg’s motion to dismiss:

“Goldberg’s argument reminds me of my childhood teachers accusing “someone” of wrongdoing, staring right at them, and stating “I am not naming names, but you know who you are.” The purpose of the petition is clear, and it was not to simply argue the virtues of adoption. Instead, it was a targeted and purposeful attack on Wayne Puppies, that amounts to actionable defamation.”
– Opposition to Motion to Dismiss

In response, Goldberg states in reply:

“Folksy wisdom aside, this is what is required for a defamation claim as a matter of law, and thus, Ms. Goldberg’s Motion to Dismiss must be granted.

“Unfortunately for Plaintiff, this motion will be decided in a New Jersey Court, not in counsel’s former elementary school. Here, where the Change.org petition does not actually make the alleged defamatory statements about Wayne Puppies, this motion to dismiss must be granted.””
– Reply to Motion to Dismiss

The motion was indeed heard and decided in a New Jersey Court on May 26th.

Unfortunately for Hillary Goldberg, the motion to dismiss the complaint was denied (for the reasons stated on the record**)

A request was sent to all parties to obtain the reasons stated on the record and the post will be updated with additional information / replies / comments.

Stay tuned.

June 5, 2023: An answer was submitted by Hillary Goldberg


* At the time this law was passed, I objected to the passage because it was poorly written and could would lead to a scenario such as this one.
** I was not able to watch the proceedings (held via zoom) because they took place over a religious holiday.  I did reach out to all sides of the litigation to request the video/transcript as well as if they had any comment on the decision.  I will post any responses received, in full, under this post.

***  At 4:40pm on 5/30/2023, Counsel for Ms. Goldberg, John Coyle responded to my request for comment:

Hi there:

This is John Coyle, counsel for Ms. Goldberg.

When Wayne Puppies was not able to open up in Teaneck, it filed this frivolous lawsuit against Ms. Goldberg, the Town, and others.  Against Ms. Goldberg, the Complaint claims she defamed it by calling Wayne Puppies a “puppy mill.”
However, counsel for Wayne Puppies admitted that at no point in the Change.org petition did Hillary Goldberg actually say that Wayne Puppies was a puppy mill.  Despite this, he argued to the Court that people who read the petition would have thought she meant it about Wayne Puppies and the motion to dismiss was denied.
It is undisputed that the New Jersey Attorney General found that Wayne Puppies committed 27 violations of the Pet Purchase Protection Act for its failure to adhere to laws designed to protect consumers from purchasing unhealthy pets.
The truth is the ultimate defense in a defamation action.  We fully expect Ms. Goldberg and all defendants to be vindicated and this frivolous lawsuit to ultimately be dismissed.
John D. Coyle, Esq.
COYLE & MORRIS LLP
201 Littleton Road, Suite 210
Morris Plains, NJ 07950
T: 973.370.3519

****  At 8:50am on 5/31/2023, Township Manager Dean Kazinci responded to my request for comment:

Good morning. The Township possesses no record/transcript regarding the motion recently heard in Court on the matter involving Ms. Goldberg as a private citizen. Also, the Township does not comment on pending litigation in which we’re listed as a defendant.

Thanks,

Dean B. Kazinci, CPM CHR
Township Manager
Township of Teaneck
818 Teaneck Road
Teaneck, NJ 07666
201-837-1600 ext. 1001

Has the Teaneck Cannabis Subcommittee been operating in violation of State law?

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 Council may only act as a body, not as individuals or even a subcommittee (a group of 1-3 members of 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

Continue reading “Has the Teaneck Cannabis Subcommittee been operating in violation of State law?”

Sometimes it’s appropriate to fight city hall

I got a ticket.

I parked in front of my house on October 10th and I got a summons for doing so.

The summons alleges that I violated  Ordinance 36-12.1 — PROHIBITED PARKING AT ALL TIMES EXCEPT SAT, SUN, HOLIDAY

And in fact, I admit that is the correct ordinance for my block (the code is now text searchable, so it’s easy to find).
I will also admit that the correct signage exists (my car was parked right under the sign). Continue reading “Sometimes it’s appropriate to fight city hall”

AUCC Lawsuit Update: Dismissed

In October 2020, the Al Ummah Community Center (also known as AUCC) commenced a lawsuit against the Township, the Zoning Board of Adjustment, Building Department officials, and others.

This week, Judge Kevin McNulty dismissed the amended complaint (without prejudice) largely for the reasons I outlined back in October 2020.
Teaneck was represented by Thomas B. Hanrahan of Hanrahan Pack, LLC.

11/15/2022 127 OPINION. Signed by Judge Kevin McNulty on 11/15/2022. (sm) (Entered: 11/15/2022)
11/15/2022 128 ORDER that the motions to dismiss 94 , 95 , 96 and 97 are granted. ***CIVIL CASE TERMINATED. Signed by Judge Kevin McNulty on 11/15/2022. (sm) (Entered: 11/15/2022)

What was the suit about?

UPDATE (11/20/22): Plaintiffs filed another amended complaint on Friday, 11/18.  It will take a little while to evaluate the new / changing claims)

As per Plaintiffs:

“This case is about religious liberties and the discriminatory and unequal practices of the Teaneck, its employees, and its Zoning Board of Adjustments… Despite years and thousands of dollars spent to appease the Defendants’ unlawful and discriminatory requirements, Defendants continue to act in violation of the Constitutions of the United States and New Jersey, as well as the Federal law explicitly prohibiting religious discrimination by discriminating against the Plaintiffs and imposing an unlawful burden on the practice of their faith.”
– Page 2 of amended complaint (Introduction)

Did the town discriminate against AUCC? Or was something else going on?

As it turned out, Judge McNulty said the case was more about the difficulties of land use and getting projects through boards.

“AUCC’s frustration is palpable. It emphasizes in the amended complaint that it has been “going through this process for years with no end in sight.” (Compl. ¶213.) Adding insult to injury, the ZBA has demanded that AUCC put up more money to fund its continued application process. (Id. ¶162.) The delay and AUCC’s frustration, however, are hardly unique in the annals of local land use regulation, and the process does seem to be at least potentially moving ahead, on a revised legal basis.”
Opinion at page 14

Let’s run through the opinion: Continue reading “AUCC Lawsuit Update: Dismissed”

Election Results: November 2022

The “unofficial” results from the town are below.

Note: These do not include Early Voting or VBM, which will be added in by the County (not all numbers are yet available on their site).

But the “live” numbers (available here) seem to include the early voting totals.  Based on this data, it would appear that at least 3 of the challengers Continue reading “Election Results: November 2022”

Combatting Misinformation: Teaneck Is Well-Run

Teaneck is a well-run town!

But don’t take our word for it!  There’s independent proof.

Every year, independent auditors review our municipal financial records and processes and Moody’s rates us for bonding.

Moody’s rated Teaneck with the second highest rating “Aa2

Here’s the bottom line on our deficiencies:

Combatting Misinformation: Stop & Shop (American Legion Drive)

In my previous post, I spoke about misinformation regarding bonding and how taxation works for various projects.  Today, I want to speak to the projects contemplated for Stop & Shop, American Legion Drive, and Cedar Lane.

  • Fact: Teaneck wants and has always wanted, Stop & Shop to stay and thrive (and even expand) in its current location.
  • Fact: Teaneck never asked or pressured Stop & Shop to close or move; Stop & Shop is not looking to close or move.
  • Fact: Other than concepts discussed by the parties, no plans exist for the area and no plans have been approved either by the Council or the Planning Board.
  • Fact: Any future plans for the area are still subject to many open public meetings, with legal notice
  • Fact: All plans being contemplated are voluntary to help businesses in the area.

So what’s been happening with Stop & Shop?

Of all the issues I speak to residents about, this may be one where the most misinformation is being spread.

Let’s talk about what’s been happening here.

Most people agree that we want a robust Stop & Shop that serves the needs of the town.  At that point, the rumors spread like wildfire.

On the Township Website, Stop & Shop & the Township posted a joint statement:

“Stop & Shop, in conjunction with the Township of Teaneck, is issuing this memo in the hope of dispelling the rumors circulating in the community that Stop & Shop’s Teaneck store might close.  The Township never asked or pressured Stop & Shop to close its store and Stop & Shop is not looking to close or move from its present Teaneck location on American Legion Drive.”

So what is the Town trying to do?

Continue reading “Combatting Misinformation: Stop & Shop (American Legion Drive)”

Combatting Misinformation: Bonding

One area which has a lot of people sharing misinformation is Municipal Bonding.
FACT: Teaneck’s Bonding Ratio is the lowest of neighboring municipalities (links to State numbers below).

Bonding or municipal debt is a terrific thing when used appropriately. The current council has one of the lowest bonding percentages compared with neighboring towns and comparisons to other parts of your tax bill show the benefits.

Let’s explain the basics:

For the following three projects, would you prefer the Town / BOE tax or bond the items?

  1. 5.35 miles of road repaving (cost is approx. $1M per mile)
  2. $5.35M for Renovation of Kindergarten Building & Admin Offices by Thomas Jefferson Middle School

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?

Let’s see how it works for two theoretical homeowners (you and a neighbor)

As you can see below, by bonding for roads, we pay them over time.  If you choose to move, you only paid for the period you lived in Teaneck and used the item.  But when the Kindergarten renovations and BOE Offices were taxed directly through the local levy, you paid all of it — in 2019 dollars, despite the fact you may not have intended to live here the following 20 years.

Interest Rates Matter Continue reading “Combatting Misinformation: Bonding”

Re-Codification of the Teaneck Code: August 30, 2022

At this evening’s council meeting, we will vote on ordinance 21-2022:
ADOPTING A REVISION AND CODIFICATION OF THE ORDINANCES OF THE TOWNSHIP OF TEANECK

When the Township Council passes a law, we do so by ordinance.  Each ordinance lasts until it is removed.

That creates problems, such as when the State makes an update that pre-empts a local law.

Sometimes this type of State Law rule change is benign: A Teaneck-specific hands-free car phone use ordinance was passed decades ago.  When the State of NJ passed a similar State statute, it nullified ours, but because it was duplicative, nothing much changed as far as practice went (other than police citing a different rule when issuing a summons).

Sometimes, this type of State Law rule change is not benign: A resident called me a few years back because their neighbor had a pool without a fence and our code mandated fences around all pools — and they feared the worst for their kids and others.  Except, it turns out that NJ adopted Continue reading “Re-Codification of the Teaneck Code: August 30, 2022”