Edison, NJ - By a 4-3 vote the Edison Council narrowly rejected a proposed ordinance that would have placed Edison's essential water and sewer systems under public control.
Councilmembers Ajay Patil, Joseph Coyle, and Samip Joshi voted in favor of the ordinance.
Councilmembers Robert Diehl, Alvaro Gomez, Leonard Sendelsky, and Michael Lombardi voted against it.
“I am deeply disappointed,” said a visibly upset Mr. Patil after the vote. “We had a chance to do the right thing. My colleagues on this Council who voted against the ordinance did a disservice to Edison tonight,” he said. “They need to answer my question - whose side are you on? For me the answer is I stand with the people and not a private equity firm.”
Mr. Coyle, who was travelling this week said he flew back to New Jersey to cast his vote in favor of the ordinance. “I heard it was going to be a tight vote. So I flew in from North Dakota this morning, 6:35 in the morning from Bismark, because this was that important. I am disappointed that it didn’t pass, but we will be back. Our fight for clean, affordable and dependable drinking water continues,” he said.
The Ordinance was placed before the Council after a group of local residents and community activists delivered 4,958 signatures as part of a petition calling for the permanent, public ownership, operation and management of the Township’s essential water and sewer systems.
The campaign took off after residents learned about a 40-year, $811 million proposal to lease the Township’s sewer system and part of its drinking water system to Suez and the private equity firm KKR.
“The people of Edison want a chance to operate their water system in the public interest, not to be forced into a decades-long privatization deal. That’s why residents went out into their communities to talk to their neighbors about giving ordinary people a voice in this process,” said Food and Water Watch organizer Junior Romero.
Since the Council did not pass the proposed ordinance on Wednesday night, the question will now be placed on the ballot, in a special election slated for September 10, for the voters to decide. Although an official estimate has not been released, some have estimated the cost of the special election to be approximately $100,000.
“We went to almost 40 or more different locations in town to get the 5,000 signatures. We’re just totally disappointed in the outcome of this – we had the confidence in the council to get this voted yes. Fortunately, it’s going to go to a vote on September 10 and I’m very positive that the citizens are going to vote this down. It’s unfortunate that the town has to spend 100 grand to do something that 7 members could’ve done in five minutes,” said Jerry Shine, who served as one of the organizers for the petition drive.
Many in the packed council chambers viewed the vote as political, with some faulting Mr. Diehl, who has been widely viewed as the deciding vote.
“Mr. Diehl is obviously a Tom Lankey supporter, and [Councilman] Sendelsky and Councilman Lombardi are Tom Lankey men, and obviously they have something against Mr. Brescher and Coyle and its very political on the Democratic side,” said Mr. Shine.
“I’m just disappointed- we have 5000 signatures, and like Joe Coyle, and Ajay Patil and Sam Joshi, they could have voted yes and voted this whole thing down,” said Lisa Zmyewski, another resident who attended the meeting. “I feel that the people who voted no - it was politically driven. I think there was some resentment coming from them with their votes and I feel it is unfair to the people.They knew the right thing to do and they used politics, instead of the best interest of the people.”
But the Councilmembers who opposed the ordinance defended their position, stating that they were voting No on the ordinance to ensure a township-wide vote on the issue, arguing at times that the intent of the petition’s nearly 5,000 signatories was for there to be a referendum and not for the Council to actually adopt the ordinance contained in the petition.
“It is important to remember there are over 59,000 registered voters in Edison. A public referendum will allow more voices to be heard,” argued Mr. Sendelsky. “Seven council people should not be making this decision,” he said.
His sentiment was shared by Mr. Diehl, who said “I’m going to vote No tonight so that we have an opportunity to bring it to the full township. In that period of time, between now and that vote, that we get as much, that we get real information.”
“We should not be circumventing the taxpayers,” said Mr. Sendelsky. “Having spoken to the people around town, they are still confused as to what the costs of this petition on the taxpayers will be.”
But their arguments fell short for many in the room, who stated that the Council’s decision did not reflect the will of the people.
“I think the spirit of the signatures was that the people did not want the [Suez] deal but it seems like the council is twisting their logic by saying that we do want them. It just seems like a waste of time for the people who signed the petition – they were all against the deal. So it's just at the expense of time and effort,” said John Hsu, a resident who attended Wednesday’s meeting.
“We got 5,000 signatures, and they should be respecting those signatures and voting yes and closing the deal rather than now, it’s going to cost our Township 100 thousand plus, and also so much manpower,” said Akhil Malhotra. “So I think the Council didn’t decide correctly, and I’m very upset,” he added.
“The council had a chance to take truly groundbreaking action that would have served as a model for other municipalities seeking to restore public control and oversight over their essential resources. They failed to do so, but the thousands of residents who took part in this campaign will turn out to make sure their voices are heard,” said Mr. Romero.
“In my opinion, holding our future in our own hands is a far better path than leasing our future to a for-profit company answerable to shareholders and not the public,” said Mr. Patil