Updated with statement from Montclair Property Owners Association below and response from Councilor At Large Peter Yacobellis.
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 firstname.lastname@example.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.”