Petition to Force Referendum on $28 Million Bond Ordinance Rejected in Berkeley Heights

Berkeley Heights Mayor Robert Woodruff. Credits: Barbara Rybolt

BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Mayor Robert Woodruff said on Friday a petition filed by residents to force a referendum on the $28 Million bond ordinance to finance the new Municipal Complex is "illegal." 

A "Committee of Petitioners" comprised of Edmund Maciejewski, Thomas Foregger, Dmitriy Agafonov, Helen Gabara and Edward Delia, presented a petition on Feb. 27, to the Township Clerk, asking for the township to hold a referendum on the $28 million bond ordinance adopted by the Township Council on Feb. 7, 2017. 

Township Clerk Ana Minkoff responded on March 15 that, after giving the petition to the Township Attorney for review, "The Township Attorney advised that the Petition fails as a matter of law pursuant to N.J.S.A. 40A:12A-28 as same seeks to challenge an ordinance adopted pursuant to the Local Redevelopment and Housing Law, N.J.S.A. 40A:12A 1."  In particular, N.J.S.A. 40A:12A-28 states, "No ordinance, amendment or revision of an ordinance, or resolution under this act shall be submitted to or adopted by initiative or referendum, notwithstanding any other law to the contrary."

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In other words, redevelopment law prohibits referendum and, Woodruff said, "This has been presented to the public for four years," people have known that if the township adopted a redevelopment plan for the municipal complex, there could not be a referendum.

Daniel Brown, said the Committee of Petitioners replied to Minkoff's March 15 letter on March 20, asserting that under the "Faulkner Act, Berkeley Heights residents enjoy the right of Referendum, and can reject any ordinance passed by the town council." 

Brown provided a link to the  letter, which disputes Woodruff's and the town's position, "the statue in no way gives you [Minkoff] authority to refer a petition to the township attorney for review and also does not give the township attorney any power to direct you to refuse to certify a petition based on his interpretation of the law. The town attorney’s intervention in this matter at this stage of the process is, in our view, completely inappropriate and is a violation of statute."

Woodruff said the clerk was not going beyond her responsibilities. "It's illegal, it can't be accepted," or certified. "They are asking her to violate the law ... She cannot certify something (the township) cannot do."

Woodruff said the township is "moving forward." As for the petitioners, he suggested they should "sit down with a lawyer who does Planning Board (and land use) work and learn how it works."

As for why the township chose the redevelopment route, Woodruff said, "If your goal is to promote redevelopment" in a community, there are advantages, "the biggest of which is you control every aspect of the redevelopment," from the size of the project to the design details. In addition, you don't have to take the lowest bid for the project, there's no five percent down to float the bond ordinance and, there's no referendum, he said. As for why there is no referendum, he asked a rhetorical question, "Will people vote to raise their taxes -- No -- and that's the bottom line."

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