MONTCLAIR, NJ - The Montclair Township Council had a quick conference meeting on September 15 before moving into executive session to discuss personnel matters. (No action was taken after the executive session). Public comment was brief, and the prevailing topic was the rent-control issue.
On September 3, Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Beecham ordered the township to give the e-mail addresses and telephone numbers of Montclair residents to the landlords petitioning for a ballot question on whether to keep or revoke the rent-control ordinance, so they can ask residents to sign their petition without going door-to-door during the COVID-19 pandemic – over the township’s objections. Public comment included calls of gratitude (the meeting was once again held remotely due to the pandemic) for Mayor Sean Spiller, Township Attorney Ira Karasick and the councilors for standing up to the landlords seeking repeal of the ordinance. The rent-control ordnance was passed on April 7 but has remained in limbo due to a lawsuit against it from landlords.
Ahava Felicidad and Toni Martin of the Tenants Organization of Montclair both called in to thank the governing body, and they both reaffirmed their group’s commitment to ensuring the implementation of the rent-control ordinance. Felicidad noted that the Tenants Organization of Montclair continues to organize to press for that goal, and Martin noted that their hard work at researching the issue was what got the council under then-Mayor Robert Jackson to act in the first place. She also alerted the council to possible violations of the rent freeze ordinance, a different municipal law, asking what could be done about landlords who raise rents due to the COVID-19 emergency. Mayor Spiller thanked Felicidad and Martin for their input, and he advised anyone who detects a rent-freeze violation to contact Township Manager Tim Stafford or Township Attorney Karasick about it. For his part, Karasick said that landlords have seemed to be cooperative when faced with the freeze, but he reiterated Mayor Spiller’s exhortation to contact his office. He said that any persistent violations would eventually be taken to the Superior Court, but he hasn’t seen any violations necessitating such action yet.
William Scott of the Montclair Housing Association and the Montclair NAACP called in to concur with Felicidad and Martin, and he also was quick to identify himself as a landlord as well. He said he believed that the rent-control ordinance was necessary to prevent further gentrification.
“I think the council took the right step in trying to stabilize the rents,” Scott said. He also reached out to the Tenants Organization of Montclair in his capacity as a Montclair NACCP member to encourage the two organizations to continue working together on the issue.
Only two resolutions were up for a vote at this meeting, both authorizing renewal of liquor licenses. On the former ordinance – which authorizes the renewal of alcoholic beverage consumption licenses – Councilor-at-Large Robert Russo asked Deputy Township Clerk Juliet Lee for clarification. He wanted to know what an “inactive” or “pocket” license was. Lee explained that such a license is a license that is not being actively used. It may cover a specific location, like the closed jazz club Trumpets, or it may not have any approved premises. It may be renewed for two license terms – two years – after it became inactive, but a special ruling from the director of the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control is necessary before it can be renewed after that. Both that and a resolution authorizing renewal of alcoholic beverage distribution licenses passed unanimously.
In the go-around of comments from both the elected and unelected officers of the council, Attorney Karasick wanted to bring items to light that he felt needed attention at the council’s September 29 meeting. He noted that everyone on the council received a copy of the municipal audit and a document that had to be signed with respect to the audit. Karasick said a resolution is needed regarding the audit for the next meeting, so every council member would be getting it. There is also a contract for the tax appraiser that has to be extended, and Karasick said he would also send the council the details on that, as well as parking reconfiguration issues involving South Fullerton Avenue that Police Lieutenant Stephanie Egnezzo asked him to bring to the council’s attention.
Third Ward Councilor Lori Price Abrams asked for clarification as to the location of the main drop box for mail-in ballots that are not entrusted to the Postal Service. Manager Stafford said that the drop box is at the front door of the municipal building, and Karasick asked about boxes at polling places where ballots could be delivered on Election Day. Mayor Spiller confirmed that there will be, but the number of polling places will be greatly reduced due to the pandemic. No one, he said, should assume that their regular polling station would be open.
“If we might be able to, through the township channels of communications, make sure that people know these options are available, that would be something that would help the public,” said Councilor Price Abrams. “All of these mechanisms should help ensure people’s confidence in the election process.”
Fourth Ward Councilor David Cummings took the opportunity to announce that Amazon is holding a job fair at the Wally Choice Community Center at Glenfield Park on September 24, followed by a COVID-19 testing event there on October 1.
Also, Mayor Spiller noted that Montclair has maintained its AAA bond rating, allowing the township to save money on interest and maintain flexibility during the COVID-19 crisis. He also said that the credit agencies rated the township highly on its environmental policies, giving it strong marks for its energy aggregation program, which is now finishing up. Mayor Spiller was pleased that it helped with the rating and helped make Montclair a leader in environmental preservation as well as fiscal prudence.