Teaneck’s Tuesday evening public council meeting started at 8:00 and extended beyond 11:30 with debate over its budget, farewell statements on its departing members, attendees expressing enmity toward its quick-to-anger Mayor, an accusation of slander against another member, and some twenty persons who expressed strong disapproval of three proposed ordinances. Although such council meetings can be long, sometimes boring, and rife with dissension, their outcomes have an outsized impact as they affect conditions in our own municipalities where we spend so much time. An on-line 250-page Packet Agenda was available for the meeting filled with useful budget and other data for those interested, but probably too overwhelming for most people. There were also multiple copies of a printed more digestible 8-page Agenda Outline available on a table for those in attendance.
As background to Tuesday’s meeting let me backtrack to the council nonpartisan election in May. Control of the council, which also elects the mayor, was at stake. Four of its seven seats were up for election. Sen. Loretta Weinberg, long a reform-oriented activist in Bergen County politics and a Teaneck resident, backed four candidates. Current Teaneck Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin also backed four candidates. One of Sen. Weinberg’s candidates won, Gervonn Romney Rice, but her three other choices lost.
One division between council members is those who seek development (or overdevelopment) as opposed to those who want to retain Teaneck’s more suburban, family oriented and less commercial ambience. In his ELEC statement ending January 15, 2017, Elie Katz, who won re-election, reported receiving multiple $2,200 donations from Sanzari family members totaling $11,000. Alfred Sanzari Enterprises is one of NJ’s largest construction firms, has several facilities in Teaneck, including Glenpointe. It has a decade long $10,000,000 tax appeal pending. The Mayor
Katz was also accused by an attendee of unethical and vicious slander against two opposing candidates during the elections. As seen above Teaneck offers easy walking paths or a long bike trail adjacent to the Glenpointe complex.
The budget debate became heated and complex with one attendee demanding more transparency. Three of the council’s budget meetings in February and March had been cancelled as had its March, April, and May open council meetings. So it was no surprise that Teaneck still has no current-year budget and is not in compliance with the state’s statuatory deadline. Although the council approved the budget last night, the Mayor introduced amendments with which the council concurred. However, the amendments first require Public Notice, so there still is no final budget. During the discussions the mayor was booed several times. Quick to anger, the Mayor responded that their attitude toward him was because of his Muslim faith, which they rejected with more boos.
Some 20 attendees rose during the public hearings to speak out loudly against three proposed ordinances. One would allow front yard fences, which now may not exceed 4 feet in height, be allowed up to 6 feet. Another would allow unlimited driveway width in front yards. A third would allow side yards to be paved entirely to within 2 feet of the property line.
Outraged residents prized greenery over pavement. Some said they left boroughs of NYC and NJ’s Union City, where entire properties were bounded by concrete to come to Teaneck where grass, plants, trees and bushes flourish. “We don’t need high fencing; keep our city beautiful,” one person said. Some felt the unlimited driveway ordinance would permit an entire front yard be devoid of grass. The rumor was that the ordinance was being urged by only one influential person with a huge house who wanted to park some eight cars. With so much paving there was concern about run-off problems during storms. Real estate agents said these ordinances would lower property values. Another complaint was that the proposals for these ordinances offered no brief explanation as to their benefits. Two residents supported the ordinances.
As background, the argument given in favor of the ordinances was that these are issues which are regularly coming in front of the Boards of Adjustments for variances, so shouldn’t we just revise the law to accommodate them? Well, at around midnight the council voted to table the three ordinances. This resolution was suggested by Councilman Alan Sohn, who was supported by Sen. Weinberg but not re-elcted. He proposed that the ordinances were too broad, and needed to be reviewed, reworded and reintroduced.
Many Teaneck residents have been concerned about the council’s eagerness to support developers, which increases the town’s revenue but renders Teaneck more commercial. As one example, had the Weinberg team won the four council seats, it is unlikely there would be any further movement to develop and to create a hotel zone along Route 4 in an historic Greenbelt district. After a year of discussion the issue has yet to be resolved. Residents both in support and opposition addressed the council. While “green'” is abundant in Teaneck, one resident pointed out that the town has been slow to adopt solar panels for more “green” energy.
On a state-wide controversial issue, Councilman Henry Pruitt received agreement from the council to have an ordinance drawn up to forbid marijuana sales in Teaneck. There was mention that Teaneck might otherwise be the only town in Bergen County to allow it, based on 2 or 3 of 70 towns passing such ordinances. It appears opponents of legalization are going to try to overrule the state’s possible approval of legalization on a town by town basis.
July 2 is the council’s reorganization meeting, with introduction of new members and an election of a new mayor who presides at council meetings. Mayor Hameeduddin was not up for re-election. The next open session meeting is scheduled for July 17.
A raucous municipal council meeting is nothing new in New Jersey. It’s a place where you often have an opportunity to see democracy at its best, with neighbors passionately debating issues important to them. If only more folks actually voted, it woulds be even more democratic. Let us know what is happening in your municipalities.
P.S. as a 38-year resident of this town, I enjoy living here, but have no qualms about mentioning its warts.