UPDATED Township of Montclair Must Turn Over Resident Contact Info Friday Per Judge Ruling

Updated with statement from Montclair Property Owners Association below and response from Councilor At Large Peter Yacobellis.

If you are a Montclair resident who signed up for Montclair’s alerts notifications, Montclair Property Owners Association (MPOA) will be getting your contact info today.

The Township of Montclair was unsuccessful in its efforts to appeal a decision by Judge Jeffrey Beacham on August 25 to turn over the contact list. Montclair Property Owners Association (MPOA) Committee of Petitioners argued that due to social distancing restrictions during the pandemic it is impossible to circulate petition materials normally needed to secure petition signatures to put the question on the ballot for a public vote.

On Friday, the Township sent out this urgent message from the Mayor and Council:


Yesterday, New Jersey Superior Court Judge Jeffrey B. Beacham, over our strenuous objection, ordered the Township to turn over a “list of electronic addresses used to send emails (email addresses) and text messages (texting numbers)” to a group of plaintiffs that seeks to persuade voters to sign a petition to repeal the Township’s rent control law. Your name, address and other information is on that list. The Township’s intense efforts to protect ​you from a blatant invasion of your privacy from this group, called the Montclair Property Owners Association, were summarily rejected by the judge. Our attempts to stop the order and file an emergency appeal were also denied.

You can be sure that we are all outraged by the Court’s decision.

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. If you are contacted more than twice or are harassed in any way, please email Township Attorney ​Ira Karasick at ikarasick@montclairnjusa.org.

We hope you will join us in helping to keep Montclair the diverse township we all love by preserving rent control.

Mayor Sean M. Spiller
Deputy Mayor William L. Hurlock
Councilor-at-Large Bob Russo
Councilor-at-Large Peter Yacobellis
Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager
Third Ward Councilor Lori Price Abrams
Fourth Ward Councilor David Cummings

Following the Township’s statement, Baristanet received this statement from MPOA:

Statement by Charles Gormally, Charles X. Gormally, attorney for the Committee of Petitioners regarding the Notice of Claim Against Montclair and Elected officials:

It is both outrageous and wholly improper for the Mayor and Council to engage in a campaign to discourage participation in the referendum process and to promote its own self serving agenda.

The Township is clearly trying to poison the well in advance of any communication from the Committee of Petitioners who, as you are aware, are exercising their substantive rights of referendum. It is an embarrassment for anyone who took and oath to uphold the constitution and the laws of this state to behave in this manner.

The Township is now on notice of our intention to bring a claim against the Township for this abusive actions. We will assert a claim for punitive damages and interference with the plaintiffs rights along with a claim of libel and slander for the outright lies in this piece including an accusation that our clients are invading residents privacy. The fact that the Township’s trumped up claim of irreparable injury that was roundly rejected by both the trial court and the appellate court is now converted into political gaslighting is inconsistent with the ethical and legal obligations of the elected officials in Montclair; and will be redressed in the appropriate venues.

Councilor at Large Peter Yacobellis had this to say in response to MPOA:

“They don’t seem to understand that there is a difference between our handing over of newsletter subscriber information vs. information that constituents have provided to us for the purpose of emergency communications (our Swift 911 program). What is being compromised here is that trust between the government and its citizens that when they provide us with their information for emergency communications it would only be used for that purpose. Your average citizen isn’t thinking their information would be shared for any other purpose. If a resident has to now think twice about providing their government with their contact information so that we may contact them with emergency news, that is compromising a core function of what government exists to do — protect the people. The scope of this ruling is unprecedented and the ruling itself is outrageous.”

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4 COMMENTS

  1. Outraged, are you?
    You thought you were all that.
    You played hardball during a pandemic.
    For votes.
    Judge Beacham slapped you pretty good.
    Maybe because the way you passed rent control.
    And now you say it is urgent.
    Seriously.
    You let the horses (with all their identifying private info out of the barn) and you are really silly enough that today it is urgent?
    Why didn’t you warn us months ago (through the alert system) this could happen..and maybe opt out of it to be safe?
    Were proactive steps to protect our personal information not worthy of an Alert System message?
    Or were you acting like all those Southern governors that said there wasn’t a need for a mask?
    You use the alert system now to tell us we’re screwed?
    Well, thank you very much! Keep up that good work of yours.

    #LoveOurMontclair

  2. The Township acted ridiculously here. Of course, their appeal was denied. Forget any equities and arguments for, or against rent control. The landlord opposition group has a democratic, legal right to put this ordinance to a resident vote. The Township has no business trying to prevent them from doing that by inhibiting their ability to get petition signatures during the pandemic.

    Just more political games and dictatorial behavior – to make it more difficult. Tto try and stop them. Bad politics. Especially when the Council passed the rent control ordinance in the middle of max stay at home time. When opposition to the ordinance could really not even get organized or heard.

    No one with half a brain buys the Township’s argument today that this was really about the protection of resident email information. Our town attorney should be embarrassed for even trying to overturn the first ruling. For wasting time and money on an appeal. He’s the same attorney who advised everyone that Mayor Sean Spiller had no conflict of interest sitting on the Board of School Estimate. Again, which a judge said sorry. He certainly does.

    Just continued bad policy and bad politics by some Councilors. When will they and we ever learn.

  3. Peter Yacobellis & Suzanne Miller,

    You two are losing control of this. Fast. I suggest you both get your acts together and come to some resolution. Also fast.

  4. Not correct, Peter Yacobellis. There is an emergency pandemic. People are not able to engage in normal democratic functions as a result. Like voting in person. So we are all being allowed to vote by mail instead. Without anyone requesting an absentee ballot.

    Relatedly, some residents here want to exercise their democratic rights. Put a town ordinance up for a vote. But they can’t timely collect signatures easily to do this and couldn’t do it at all before. So providing email addresses for those wanting to express their rights in a petition drive — to potentially gain a ballot initiative — with democratic voting to follow — is completely in keeping with the same modification principles. And the court agreed. It’s a modification of process and broader use of resident and voting information required — due to the virus impacts.

    I agree with Spotontarget, above. Let’s forget the right and wrong of rent control..or if some modified, or better ordinance should be potentially passed. The Council voted this important policy law which was not given full opportunity for public comment. Not really 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. That’s just a fact.

    And here, they then couldn’t act. Those opposed, could not bring their opinions and supporters to the fore easily at the public hearings and votes. Because of Covid. Yet, your last Council carry-over colleagues still voted the law through — still acted….seemingly with the best of intentions. To help Montclair’s tenants and one would think, also get their votes for the Council election.

    But the attorney for the petitioners is 100% correct now above with regard to your Council’s improper follow-up actions after. What’s really outrageous here and wholly improper is this new Council’s attempt to overturn the court’s decision — to interfere with the litigant’s democratic rights with an advocacy statement disparaging them. I would seriously urge you all to back off now.

    You and supporters need to win this at the ballot box. Not try to prevent the issue from being brought to vote — as is clearly the attempted case from this Council’s statement above. That you all also sent this statement out using the contested emails — lobbying your positions on rent control using this supposed emergency system — is further support for the litigants that they should have the same rights. Not just to collect signatures and why — but to fully argue their policy views and the issues directly. More than just get petitions signed.

    Your Council statement sent without thinking through all the long term ramifications, actually just opened the pandora box. Rest assured others with political agendas now will seek the same rights and use of these emails going forward, for future issues. Not very smart.

    I actually support some modified form of rent control. But I and others, do not support trying to win political issues by inhibiting an opponent’s democratic rights. Too many others are trying to do that today and unfortunately — your Council just acted no differently.

    When you don’t play fair, you get slapped sometimes legally. That’s what the judge just did to you all here. Perhaps, try to learn from it?