Town Attorney, Tenants Organization Respond to Having Resident Contact Info Released To MPOA

Montclair has been ordered to turn over the town’s alert list with resident contacts.

The statements keep coming.

Montclair Township attorney Ira Karasick sent this response Friday to a statement made by attorney Charles Gormally for Montclair Property Owners Association, after news that the Township would have to hand over a contact list of Montclair residents:

“As I advised you previously, we did not intend to release any personal information without receiving permission from the person involved. Since the timeframe of the court’s order precluded obtaining consent, it became incumbent on the Township to notify those persons affected that this information is being disclosed, and that it was ordered by the court over our strenuous objection and for purposes of persuading voters to sign a referendum petition. I am surprised that you think that this truth “poisons the well.” I am also both disturbed and astonished by your intemperate comments and threats, which appear to arise out of a fundamental misunderstanding of the rights of our citizens and the duties, responsibilities and ethical obligations of those of us who work in local government. The Township in no way seeks to discourage participation in the initiative and referendum process – quite the contrary. As you nastily put it, the Township does have a self-serving agenda – self-serving, if that means serving everyone who lives, works, and has property or a business in Montclair – and that agenda is to protect and further the public interest and to promote the health, safety and welfare of the public.

Reluctantly, I am not going to respond to the rest of your invective and whining. It would, at least for now, be unheeded, particularly if you can’t see that the forced disclosure to a third party of the personal information of an individual who provided it for other purposes in order to contact that person for a political campaign is an invasion of privacy, however legal.

Also, if you intend to file a notice of claim, there is a required form available from the Clerk’s office.”

Then there was this, in response to the Township sending out an email to residents, from MPOA’s Ron Simoncini:

“As a result of today’s unprecedented attempt to squelch the voice of the Citizens, we have received the attached correspondence indicating yet another layer of how far the Montclair government will go to prevent a dialogue around rent control.

In addition there, was a previous clear attempt to circumvent the Judge’s order by encouraging residents to opt out of the notification program in order to avoid getting email about the Referendum.

And finally, just today the Montclair government used this same system, which is intended for emergency notifications and was only made available to the Petitioners to protect the right of Referendum, to send a politically-oriented message.

Hypocrisy and a lack of ethics. What must be at stake for the elected officials in Montclair?”

The Tenants Organization of Montclair and Montclair Citizens for Rent Control, also weighed in with a statement Friday, saying they stand with Montclair town officials in their unwavering support of the Rent Control Ordinance:

“Concerning the release of residents’ personal emails and phone numbers to a property owners’ group seeking to overturn rent control we are unmoved in our efforts to continue fighting for rent control implementation.

With the aid of a high-powered real estate attorney, and a judge willing to make “new law” during a pandemic, the MPOA has managed to shuck many – but not enough.

“This small group of property owners will be stopped with our greater numbers of supporters. Now the MPOA has demonstrated that it not only disrespects tenants’ rights, but every resident’s right to privacy concerning their personal information.” said Ahava Felicidad, President and Toni Martin 1st Vice President.

TOOM worked tirelessly, and in public, for a year before the pandemic occurred to persuade the township Mayor and Council that the need for rent stabilization and enforcement of tenants’ legal rights was an urgent matter. This has been an issue in Montclair for nearly 40 years. The town’s first rent control ordinance was passed in April 2020. The MPOA was formed two weeks before the ordinance was adopted – and it has thrown every roadblock possible in the way since.

Why? The MPOA was formed by an anti-rent-control public relations professional who is paid by developers and real estate people to oppose tenants’ rights. Ron Simoncini, the PR pro, is the executive director of the MPOA. He resides in Ridgefield, and what we know of him is that he runs the same game in towns all over New Jersey – and employs the same attorney, by the way, to bring the hammer down wherever possible on progress.

TOOM has recently been joined by the growing Montclair Citizens for Rent Control coalition. It embraces many homeowners, property owners, community leaders, the NAACP and a diverse group of Clergy who believe that rent control is the only way to stabilize our diverse community. Even though the MPOA has now been supplied the means to harass the community with its propagandistic anti-tenant statements, our coalition and our goal remains the same.

We are available to answer any questions about the fight to get our ordinance implemented.”

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  1. Just wanted to add some more to this morality play:

    Mar 9 – Governor declares a State of Emergency (COVID)

    Mar 10 – Montclair Council reviews multiple versions of a rent control ordinance and votes to introduce an amended version…during an untelevised Conference-type meeting in the 2nd floor conference room. (No reported COVID cases or deaths in Montclair)

    Apr 7th – Council holds virtual public hearing and passes rent control ordinance. (203 reported COVID cases and 22 deaths)

  2. I am most troubled that this organization texted me in June with a link to their petition but the text said it was to lower property taxes. So they are purposely misleading with this text not just putting up a non biased link to review. The claim that residential taxes would go up due to the relative devaluation of rental properties is a big leap as may other outcomes including increased ownership could occur.

    Given their possession of the list, and their previous liberties with the text from June, what is to prevent them from tying any political message they desire to a new email or text with the claim it’s somehow connected to rent control? Can they send a text saying “click this petition to stop immigration” if they make the case that less immigrants will move into town if we stop rent control?

  3. The new Council and Township attorney just blew it big time. What’s good for the goose is now good for the gander …legally and politically.

    Forget the underlying issue of rent control. It doesn’t matter where you stand on this. That can be decided now at the ballot box next. This is really about fairness and democratic rights today.

    The new Council and Township Attorney have acted very foolishly. They just proved the Petitioners point — by using the supposed “emergency” contact system to advocate their own POV after losing in court. Effectively, lobbying now to advocate residents against signing a petition opposing rent control, even warning residents they may be contacted about this — AFTER the judge ruled Petitioners had a legal right to the resident contact information due to obvious petition collection difficulty issues created by Covid.

    This is no different conceptually than Trump and Republicans removing mail boxes and trying to make it hard for people to vote. To inhibit an exercise of political rights where mail in voting is required all over. It is a resident right here to bring this issue to a referendum. And the Council has an obligation to support that right, not to inhibit collection of signatures — just because they are aginst the underlying positions of those trying to bring that referendum to a vote.

    Again, let’s forget particulars of the rent control law passed..or if some modified, or better ordinance should be potentially crafted. The last Council voted for this important policy, which was not given full opportunity for public comment. Not really publicly vetted during readings and passage. Sure, it was kicked around for months before. But most of the time people do not get exercised and oppose Council actions — until the end game. Until it’s real. That’s a fact here.

    But opponents couldn’t really act back then. Because of the Covid stay at home orders. Those opposed, could not bring their opinions and supporters to the fore easily during public hearings and votes. Yet, the last Council carry-overs — Russo, Schlager, Hurlock and Spiller — still voted the law through — still acted. Yes, seemingly with the best of intentions. Both to help Montclair’s tenants and one would think, also get their votes for the coming Council election.

    That’s why the attorney and representative for the petitioners are now 100% correct. With regard to this new Council’s improper actions afterward. What’s outrageous and wholly improper here, is this new Council attempt to overturn the court’s decision — to interfere with the litigant’s democratic rights (which both trial judge and an appellate court confirmed). And now, to use the supposed emergency contact system for the Council’s own rent control law advocacy while disparaging the Petitioners who oppose that and attempt to inhibit their signature collection efforts legally allowed — to limit their support.

    Rent control supporters and Councilors need to win this issue at the ballot box. Not try to prevent a law in dispute from being brought to referendum vote and overturned — which is a resident RIGHT. Instead, that was clearly the Council’s intent from their statement.

    The current Council’s rent control advocacy, using now the contested emails and text contact system to send out a statement — is just further support for the Petitioner-litigants rights. That they should have the same opportunity now. To not just help them collect signatures and explain why — but also argue their own policy views contesting the entire rent control issue. Because that’s what the new Council just did using the supposed “emergency” only information contacts.

    Worse, this actually just opened Pandora’s political box. Rest assured others with political agendas now will seek the same rights and use of these resident emails and texts going forward, for future political issues. Not very smart new Council. You come off like sore losers.

    Many actually support some modified form of rent control. But we do not support trying to win political issues by inhibiting an opponent’s democratic rights. Too many are trying to do this today and unfortunately — our new Council has acted no differently.

    Again, forget the rent control issue itself. When you don’t play fair politically and try to undermine people’s legal rights, you get slapped legally sometimes. That’s what the judge just did here to our Township Council. Perhaps, they and the town attorney should learn something from this?

  4. Let’s not pretend that the last council did anything improper or sneaky. They were duly elected and made a decision to exercise the power we gave them.

  5. Pretend? The Jackson Council and this Spiller Council acted improperly. There is no question on that point.

  6. Maybe I would go easier on the Jackson Council if:
    – they had not campaigned on ethics and one of their first acts was to revise the ethics ordinances…and made a big deal about it
    – Spiller & the BoSE
    – Schlager & the Planning Board
    – taking away housing diversity for veterans and assisted living seniors
    – the 2 extra stories on Valley & Bloom
    – the Lackawanna Redevelopment Plan 1 & 2 (the 65,000 SF supermarket with 7,500 loading dock area)

    Do I need to go on?

  7. As a resident of Montclair, I totally object to the MPOA’s obtaining my email address and especially my cell number with no limits on how they will use it. I do not want my email address or cell sold or used by any property owner. I gave my information to the township specifically to receive notices from the township regarding events in the town. The MPOA can do what every other commercial business (restaurant, realtor, etc.) does to reach out to Montclair homeowners – buy a mailing list of addresses in the town and send a letter via the USPS to each homeowner and resident. There is no reason for them to force the township to provide email addresses and cell numbers. Furthermore in response to MPOA’s attorney, Charles Gormally, the township never sent out an email or text for or against the rent control ordinance. The only communication I received from the township was to explain why they released my electronic contacts. I respectfully request the right to opt out of the court directed order and do not give the MPOA the right to use my private information in any way. I request that they delete my information from whatever data base they receive from the township. My name is Bill Beren.

  8. I am shocked that a judge would agree to allow the release of our private information like this. This action by the MPOA is deeply offensive to me. I wanted to let them know directly, but could not find a way to contact them. Their website just has links to sign their petition. And by the way, their Director is also the director of other property owner associations in other towns. I had not formed an opinion yet about the rent control issue, but I just learned that the rent control that passed is: annual max increase of approx 4% (2% for seniors); hardly egregious to rental property owners (I’m one myself, just not in Montclair, though I’m a home owner in Montclair). By their actions, the MPOA has lost my support in any regard.

  9. Birdman and bkind. Why are you not also shocked and dismayed that the Township itself just used the alert system now to advise you — not just that your information was being passed on for an equity legal accommodation the Court determined should be allowed to Petitioners in trying to exercise their democratic rights but also — that it was just used to advocate the Township’s position on rent control as well?

    This below is overt political lobbying by the town, not just advising you on the disputed use of your information:

    “you may be contacted by someone asking you to sign a petition concerning rent control. Please be aware that ​the petition seeks to repeal Montclair’s ​reasonable rent protections and put our tenants at risk. While the petition is not unlawful, it is not authorized ​or supported in any way by the Township.”

    Isn’t this the same kind of advocacy commentary you do not want to get that Petitioners could potentially send, having gained access to the contact information?

    The Courts were pretty clear here. Covid prevented these Petitioners from the ability to undertake a normal signature solicitation effort to create their sought after election referendum. And the leveling of the playing field was to give on-line contact info access to town residents — for this particular solicitation effort. Look at the collection of signitures for their position against rent control as an “event” too, and you might understand the legal thinking behind the attempt at equity.

    But since the Township now foolishly went beyond this and chose to lobby its political position on rent control within their warning send now about the possible coming use of your contacts, they themselves may have just opened up a precedent for using the alert system for wider political purposes. Not just events and emergency type warnings. Do you get it?

  10. To Right From Wrong:
    What I “get” is that “two wrongs don’t make a right”, pun intended. I don’t disagree that if the original ordinance wasn’t done correctly, it should be addressed. Just not in this way! I’m the one being penalized just because my contact info is on the email list. A more appropriate remedy would have been to reach all residents through the regular mail. Another point: not every town resident is even on that email list because you have to opt into it.

  11. I think more than a few others get it, too.

    It is also clear to me that the Township, under State of Emergency conditions, was able to assemble and email the list to Judge Beacham Friday.

    Which means, that I can file an OPRA request this week for this same list information.
    Which means the Township can’t refuse this OPRA request by citing the State of Emergency conditions in A3849.
    Which also means I – or anyone else – gets to follow their our own set of morals in how to use the personal data…if someone did OPRA it.

    OK, I will stop whining now. The Township hates it when we do this.

  12. LOL. Now you can sue the township and Councilors. For obtaining personal contact info under “false” pretenses and using it instead now for political purposes.

  13. @bkind,

    I recommend you review the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy when you registered yourself with Swift Networks’ 911 notification service. These documents will provide a plain language explanation of your rights, recourse and jurisdictional review.

    You can also OPRA the Township’s signed EULA with Swift Networks.

    Lastly, I would recommend you review your personal voting record for your elected Council representatives.

  14. I don’t understand the judge’s ruling. I PAY FOR MY EMAIL ACCOUNT; I PAY FOR THE ABILITY TO SEND AND RECEIVE TEXTS. How is this legal? Not only is the release of both an invasion of privacy, since I pay for both,it would appear to me that access to both would be my prerogative. And yet, it seems that I have no control over the ownership. What is this world coming to????

  15. An aside down memory lane, I remember party lines and then private lines…listed, with our addresses, in the New Jersey Bell phones books dumped each year in vestibules, porches and driveways. Of course, if you were rich, you could pay, yes pay, for a unlisted number. Wow.

    There is an alternative narrative out there. Hard for me to believe, but there are a fair amount of people living in other North Jersey towns that don’t think as highly of us as we do. That we don’t demonstrate the values we brag about. We do like to share… a lot.

    It is also entirely possible (likely?) our long string of Superior Court losses is simply about being misunderstood, or out-lawyered, or not getting the breaks? Speaking for myself, the odds are we will break the streak of courts loses in 10 days with Lackawanna. But, if we don’t, add another log on the fire.

  16. “And yet, it seems that I have no control over the ownership. What is this world coming to????”

    Montclair is struggling to make progress with our Aging In Place Initiative. – do you really think we can stop the world from changing around us?

  17. This drama gets better and better…with the Township doing most of the heavy lifting of putting logs on the fire.

    The ‘must-read’ June 5th Township letter admonishing the Montclair Center (Downtown) Business Improvement District for advocating against rent control in its buildings. Using taxation to control free speech?

    The Spiller Council will lose this case, too.

  18. RE: The ‘must-read’ June 5th Township letter to the BID

    I’ve been chastised for my lack of clarity, so I hope this helps.
    The BID – the commercial property owners downtown are subject to a second property tax assessment beyond the basic tax assessment. If you are property owner with apartments over stores/offices, you are also assessed because it is a mixed-use building (a mix of commercial and residential).

    For this 2nd tax, the property owners can not, as a group (the BID) exercise the same free speech rights against the governing body (the Council) as a other business associations here in town (e.g. UMBA) . At least, that is what the Township government is saying. It is not clear from the Township what the BID – the commercial property owners downtown received in return for giving up some free speech. Commerce being commerce, it must have involved a great deal of value in return, year after year. I mean, who would give up free speech just because the Council asked you to? No, clearly, there must have been a quid pro quo.

    I know there must be a win-win agreement here. I am also sure residential property owners are also benefiting from this win-win agreement between the Township and the BID. The win-win where the BID gave away some free speech rights. And when you give up free speech – or squelch it – and then layer over that the repression of the COVID State of Emergency, you have this thing of ours we call Montclair.

    Anyway, the most important question you should have was what was the BID’s written response the Township demanded. Now, that just has to be a fascinating answer. It would go a long way to understanding the downtown BID/municipality dynamic.

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