LIVINGSTON, NJ — An ordinance prohibiting certain activities inside Livingston’s 9/11 Memorial Garden located at the Oval was adopted during Monday’s Livingston Township Council meeting after a recent incident involving a personal trainer and client who refused to relocate their session despite requests from both a police officer and a small group of residents participating in a 4th of July ceremony nearby.
Under this new regulation, which has been added as an article of the township’s ordinance for “parks and recreation areas,” sporting or recreational activities including exercising (individual or classes); making loud or unreasonable noise; picnicking; loitering; littering; engaging in commercial activity; soliciting and/or vending; and willfully misusing, defacing, destroying or damaging any of the structures or benches in or around the 9/11 Memorial Garden are now prohibited.
According to Mayor Rudy Fernandez, who attended the event with other members of the township council, some participants were bothered by the exercise session occurring inside the garden that day and felt that the two individuals were disrespecting the purpose of the memorial.
The memorial, which was created in honor of the Livingston residents who died in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, is primarily intended as a place of private reflection—although there has not previously been any signage or ordinance in place that officially prohibits other activities.
Fernandez explained that when a volunteer fireman, acting as a concerned citizen, approached the trainer and his client and calmly asked them to exercise elsewhere on the day of the incident, he was met with backlash and walked away so as not to make a scene. As the training session continued, citizens flagged down a patrol officer who was driving by the Oval and asked for assistance with the situation.
Witnesses to the incident recounted that the officer respectfully explained the purpose of the garden and asked the duo to relocate to another part of the Oval. According to the mayor, it was another 15 minutes before the two individuals finally complied, and they still only moved a few feet outside the memorial to continue their exercise.
Describing the incident as “strange” and “completely inappropriate,” Fernandez said the council felt strongly that officers should have another tool at their disposal in these rare situations when simply asking for compliance does not work.
“When we first saw this, the police officer went over there and reminded the two that were there to please leave and explained the purpose of it, being very polite and very kind,” the mayor said. “A sign was not going to stop them because they then turned to the police officer and said, ‘We’re not leaving.’ Being there for private reflection, I don’t think anybody would consider that loitering, and I don’t see a police officer asking anybody to leave if that’s happening.
“The reason this came up is when the police officer very respectfully, very nicely asked the personal trainer and his student to leave, they would not…If it could have been done with a simple, ‘please leave,’ we wouldn’t be here; but obviously people think that’s a perfectly fine place to work out.”
At the suggestion of resident Scott Goldman, who spoke during Monday’s public hearing on the ordinance, the council members agreed to consider installing signage that indicates which activities are not allowed within the 9/11 Memorial Garden.
Councilman Michael Vieira said the signage would help visitors better understand the purpose of the garden, and Councilman Ed Meinhardt said it would give officers a physical tool to point to on the scene—similar to a “No Dogs” sign—before resorting to fines for noncompliance.
“I think the memorial is special to this town, and we have a very big ceremony around that memorial and people really care about it, so I think that protecting it is not a policing issue,” said Deputy Mayor Shawn Klein. “There’s only been one time where we can remember anything happening to it, so there’s not all of a sudden be a lot of policing around it and certainly in Livingston, we like to believe that all of our police officers are all respectful and kind in the way that they carry out their jobs.”
As adopted on Monday, the ordinance calls for a $2,000 fine for those who violate these provisions.
In response to Goldman’s suggestion that a hefty fine might not be “appropriate for this particular issue” despite the “rude, crass, nasty behavior that brought [the township] to this ordinance,” council members reiterated that this was a rare occurrence and that they do not expect many future situations to reach the extent of needing a fine.
“In all these years, we’ve only had this one problem, [so] I don’t see this as being a pervasive problem with or without the ordinance,” said Fernandez. “But the unfortunate part is when the police officer was there, there was really nothing they could do to make them leave and get their rubber bars off the entranceway and everything else that they were doing there.
“I think it’ll work exactly the same way if somebody’s there exercising and a police officer see them, they’ll ask them to leave, and I’m sure in 99.9 percent of those interactions, the person will leave…This is for the .01 percent of the people that won’t; that’s really the purpose.”
CLICK HERE to read the full ordinance.
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