NJ and feds investigating Jackson as it settles Jewish lawsuit
JACKSON — On the same night the township council approved a resolution to allow a religious border to be erected in the town, residents learned that state and federal authorities are investigating the township.
Township Attorney Jean Cipriani confirmed to New Jersey 101.5 that the Department of Justice in August subpoenaed documents "pertaining to certain land use issues."
Cipriani said the state Attorney General's Office has also requested similar documents as well as meeting minutes. The township has been collecting those documents, she said.
In recent months, the township has been the subject of litigation involving members of the Orthodox Jewish community. The lawsuits stem from laws blocking religious schools and dormitories from being built.
The legal battles also include the township's enforcement of an ordinance blocking the erection of an eruv, a religious border for the Orthodox Jewish community that allows them to do everyday tasks like carry keys or push strollers on the Sabbath and on Yom Kippur.
Eruvim has been an issue in several towns in New Jersey in recent months despite their existence in other towns across the state for decades. In Mahwah, the township is being sued by a local Jewish group and the state attorney general over an ordinance banning an eruv and another ordinance that banned out-of-state residents from using public parks.
Mahwah officials are expected to introduce an ordinance at its Thursday night meeting to reverse the park ban and table an ordinance that would have banned materials used in erecting eruvim. The ordinance says the parks would be "open to the public and may be used by residents and non-residents alike." The ordinance gives priority to Mahwah residents for usage permits for parks and playgrounds.
Two towns neighboring Mahwah also have been sued in federal court by the religious group over the eruv issue. The state Attorney General's Office has warned municipalities not to follow in the footsteps of Mahwah but has not sued Upper Saddle River or Montvale.
Cipriani said the township will send the state Attorney General's Office the resolution that was approved on Wednesday night regarding the eruv, and the interim settlement agreement with Agudath Israel of America.
The resolution notes that the settlement would "prevent the further expenditure of exorbitant amounts of legal fees," and calls for the township to "consult with the plaintiffs and any applicable experts to consider amendment to zoning to provide for the reasonable development of schools and boarding schools in the township."
The lone vote against the resolution was by Councilman Scott Martin, who said it was based on his opposition to dormitories.
"I believe once one gets approved it becomes increasingly difficult to say no to others," he said. "I believe if we were to go down this road this would permanently and negatively impact Jackson's beautiful countryside and suburban qualities and this is why most people moved to Jackson."
Martin told New Jersey 101.5 he had "no problem with eruvs being placed on already existing infrastructure."
"I firmly believe where a reasonable accommodation can be made we should make every to accommodate any group of any faith as long as what's being asked doesn't negatively impact other residents value and enjoyment of their home."
Jackson officials have been accused of unfairly targeting the Orthodox Jewish community. A report in the Lakewood Scoop claimed that former Council President Robert A. Nixon pushed municipal inspectors to spy on residents in an effort to find illegal houses of worship.
Business Administrator Helene Schlegel responded to Nixon's requests in an email in which she said the township was “wasting valuable time and money checking every complaint that comes in,” and that officials “can’t keep chasing ghosts.”
Nixon told New Jersey 101.5 that the township was not targeting the Orthodox community, and that “there is a huge difference between referring resident concerns to code enforcement and targeting residents. ”
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Contact reporter Adam Hochron at 609-359-5326 or Adam.Hochron@townsquaremedia.com