Edison, NJ – On June 3, a group of local residents and community activists delivered 4,958 signatures for a petition that could trigger a public vote on whether the township should have permanent, public ownership, operation and management of its essential water and sewer systems.
Now, only days prior to the Township Clerk’s deadline for certifying that petition, several residents who signed the petition are reporting that they were visited by representatives from the Edison Utility Improvement Program inquiring about whether they actually signed the petition and why they signed the petition.
“A group of people saying they are the "Edison Utility Improvement Program" is going around talking to the Edison water & sewer petition signers, urging them to sign an affidavit that challenges whether or not they signed the petition, or if they were misled in some way to signing the petition,” said Junior Romero, a Regional Organizer for Food & Water Watch.
Two individuals, Richard Brescher and Anthony DeAmorin, who were involved with the petition drive said they caught up with one of Edison Utility Improvement Program’s workers at Edison’s North Branch library.
“He said he knows nothing. He said he was checking signatures and he works with a nonprofit, yet he would not share any contact information or any information as to who they work for,” said Mr. Brescher.
The representatives from the Edison Utility Program are apparently carrying forms titled “Petition Signatories Background Information” and the forms ask for the signatories contact information as well as their signature.
It is unclear what or whom the Edison Utility Improvement Program is, but it is not an unit of Edison’s Municipal Government.
“To my knowledge, these are not Township employees,” said Councilman Ajay Patil. “We need to find out who is behind this, who is paying for this, whether the law was broken,” he said. “I am renewing my call for an investigation of the Suez deal so we can use the power of the subpoena to investigate this.”
In February, Councilman Patil and Councilman Joseph Coyle called for the Edison Township Council to exercise its powers to investigate the Mayor’s proposal to lease Edison’s sewer and water systems to Suez North America. The resolution failed 5-2. Council President Alvaro Gomez along with Council members Leonard Sendelsky, Michael Lombardi, Sam Joshi, and Bob Diehl did not support the proposal, stating it was too soon to go that route.
Mr. Romero stated that his organization believes that the activities of Edison Utility Program were meant to intimidate residents. “Food & Water Watch believes this effort to intimidate and challenge the public's petition of their government is an attack on Edison residents, and their mandate to keep local control of the water & sewer systems,” he said.
“So they’re trying to give people the impression that this petition is going to prevent them from getting their utilities fixed, which is very deceptive,” said Keith Hahn, one of the organizers of the petition.
It is unknown what connection, if any, Edison Utility Improvement Program has to the proposed Suez deal, but Mr. Romero pointed out that Kent Rowey, an attorney with the New York based law firm Allen & Overy LLP, made an OPRA request for a list of the petition signers from the Edison Township Clerk office on June 11.
According to this his profile on the firm’s website, Mr. Rowey “is a partner in the Projects, Energy & Infrastructure.” According to news reports from 2012, Mr. Rowey represented KKR in a 40-year concession agreement with Bayonne, New Jersey. KKR, a private equity firm, is also a partner with Suez in the proposed 40 year agreement with Edison.
“I am calling for the Edison Police Department to investigate the activities of the so called Edison Utility Improvement Program” said Councilman Joseph Coyle. “If Edison residents are being intimidated or harassed there needs to be immediate action. I also believe the Township should issue a formal notice that this group is not acting on behalf of Edison Township so that any confusion is cleared up,” he said.
Allen & Overy LLP has not returned a request for comment.