MONTCLAIR, NJ - The Montclair Property Owners Association is locked into a public battle with the Township of Montclair over the release of residents' contact information.
On Thursday, New Jersey Superior Court Judge Jeffrey B. Beacham has ruled in favor of the property owners obtaining phone numbers and email addresses of residents in order to circulate a petition to repeal the Township’s rent control law.
Soon after the ruling, the Township sent correspondence to the entire list stating that the Mayor and Council were "...all outraged by the Court’s decision."
The statement read:
"Yesterday, New Jersey Superior Court Judge Jeffrey B. Beacham, over our strenuous objection, ordered the Township to turn over a “list of electronic addresses used to send emails (email addresses) and text messages (texting numbers)” to a group of plaintiffs that seeks to persuade voters to sign a petition to repeal the Township’s rent control law. Your name, address and other information is on that list. The Township’s intense efforts to protect you from a blatant invasion of your privacy from this group, called the Montclair Property Owners Association, were summarily rejected by the judge. Our attempts to stop the order and file an emergency appeal were also denied.
You can be sure that we are all outraged by the Court’s decision.
You may be contacted by someone asking you to sign a petition concerning rent control. Please be aware that the petition seeks to repeal Montclair’s reasonable rent protections and put our tenants at risk. While the petition is not unlawful, it is not authorized or supported in any way by the Township. If you are contacted more than twice or are harassed in any way, please email Township Attorney Ira Karasick at email@example.com.
We hope you will join us in helping to keep Montclair the diverse township we all love by preserving rent control.
Mayor Sean M. Spiller
Deputy Mayor William L. Hurlock
Councilor-at-Large Bob Russo
Councilor-at-Large Peter Yacobellis
Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager
Third Ward Councilor Lori Price Abrams
Fourth Ward Councilor David Cummings"
Hours later, the Montclair Property Owners Association (MPOA) responded, stating, "...there was a previous clear attempt to circumvent the Judge's order by encouraging residents to opt out of the notification program in order to avoid getting email about the Referendum."
The MPOA is represented by attorney Charles X. Gormally. He stated raised concerns that Montclair Township officials were engaging in a campaign to discourage participation in the referendum process. He added that they intend to sue the Township for punitive damages, libel and slander.
"The Township is now on notice of our intention to bring a claim against the Township for this abusive actions. We will assert a claim for punitive damages and interference with the plaintiffs rights along with a claim of libel and slander for the outright lies in this piece including an accusation that our clients are invading residents privacy. The fact that the Township’s trumped up claim of irreparable injury that was roundly rejected by both the trial court and the appellate court is now converted into political gaslighting is inconsistent with the ethical and legal obligations of the elected officials in Montclair; and will be redressed in the appropriate venues," Gormally continued.
His statement is as follows:
"It is both outrageous and wholly improper for the Mayor and Council to engage in a campaign to discourage participation in the referendum process and to promote its own self serving agenda.
The Township is clearly trying to poison the well in advance of any communication from the Committee of Petitioners who, as you are aware, are exercising their substantive rights of referendum. It is an embarrassment for anyone who took and oath to uphold the constitution and the laws of this state to behave in this manner.
The Township is now on notice of our intention to bring a claim against the Township for this abusive actions. We will assert a claim for punitive damages and interference with the plaintiffs rights along with a claim of libel and slander for the outright lies in this piece including an accusation that our clients are invading residents privacy. The fact that the Township’s trumped up claim of irreparable injury that was roundly rejected by both the trial court and the appellate court is now converted into political gaslighting is inconsistent with the ethical and legal obligations of the elected officials in Montclair; and will be redressed in the appropriate venues."
Ronald Simoncini, who is listed as one of the committee of petitioners, has accused Township officials of "hypocrisy and a lack of ethics."
The MPOA is also in receipt of a letter Montclair Township sent to the Montclair Center BID on June 5. The letter admonishes the BID from getting involved in the "public campaign to undo governing body action. In the letter, Township Attorney Ira Karasick stated, "It is highly inappropriate to spend taxpayers money or effort and time paid for by the bed properties, for this purpose. We expect a formal response that this activity has ceased and will not reoccur." (The letter, in its entirety, is attached in the photo cache.)
"As a result of today's unprecedented attempt to squelch the voice of the Citizens, we have received the attached correspondence indicating yet another layer of how far the Montclair government will go to prevent a dialogue around rent control.
In addition there, was a previous clear attempt to circumvent the Judge's order by encouraging residents to opt out of the notification program in order to avoid getting email about the Referendum.
And finally, just today the Montclair government used this same system, which is intended for emergency notifications and was only made available to the Petitioners to protect the right of Referendum, to send a politically-oriented message.
Hypocrisy and a lack of ethics. What must be at stake for the elected officials in Montclair?"
Both the Tenants' Organization of Montclair (TOOM) and Montclair Citizens for Rent Control, issued a statement following the ruling. They have sided with Montclair Township officials in support of the Rent Control Ordinance.
“Concerning the release of residents’ personal emails and phone numbers to a property owners’ group seeking to overturn rent control we are unmoved in our efforts to continue fighting for rent control implementation. With the aid of a high-powered real estate attorney, and a judge willing to make “new law” during a pandemic, the MPOA has managed to shuck many – but not enough. This small group of property owners will be stopped with our greater numbers of supporters. Now the MPOA has demonstrated that it not only disrespects tenants’ rights, but every resident’s right to privacy concerning their personal information.” said Ahava Felicidad, President and Toni Martin 1st Vice President of Tenant's Organization of Montclair in a joint-statement.
The statement continues as follows:
"TOOM worked tirelessly, and in public, for a year before the pandemic occurred to persuade the township Mayor and Council that the need for rent stabilization and enforcement of tenants’ legal rights was an urgent matter. This has been an issue in Montclair for nearly 40 years. The town’s first rent control ordinance was passed in April 2020. The MPOA was formed two weeks before the ordinance was adopted – and it has thrown every roadblock possible in the way since.
Why? The MPOA was formed by an anti-rent-control public relations professional who is paid by developers and real estate people to oppose tenants’ rights. Ron Simoncini, the PR pro, is the executive director of the MPOA. He resides in Ridgefield, and what we know of him is that he runs the same game in towns all over New Jersey – and employs the same attorney, by the way, to bring the hammer down wherever possible on progress.
TOOM has recently been joined by the growing Montclair Citizens for Rent Control coalition. It embraces many homeowners, property owners, community leaders, the NAACP and a diverse group of Clergy who believe that rent control is the only way to stabilize our diverse community. Even though the MPOA has now been supplied the means to harass the community with its propagandistic anti-tenant statements, our coalition and our goal remains the same. We are available to answer any questions about the fight to get our ordinance implemented.”