Follow Edison's Lead
The resolution reads as follows: "Whereas N.J.S.A. 40:69A-185 authorizes the Township
Council to place on the Ballot at the next ensuing General Election any ordinance submitted by the Township Council for voter approval or disapproval and;
Whereas the Township Council has determined that it would be in the best interests of the Township to present on the Ballot a proposition to preclude the Township of Edison from exercising the power of eminent domain to acquire property from any private owner, without such private owner's consent, when the purpose or result of such acquisition is to sell, transfer, lease, or in any way convey such property in whole or in part, to any private entity or party.
Now, Therefore, Be It Resolved by the Township Council of the Township of Edison, Middlesex County, New Jersey, that they hereby direct the Township Clerk, in accordance with N.J.S.A. 40:69A-185 et seq, the following question to the Middlesex County Clerk for the purpose of it being placed on the Ballot at the General Election to be held on November 7, 2006:
Shall the Ordinance submitted by the Township Council providing for a prohibition by the Township from exercising the power of eminent domain to acquire property from any private owner, without such private owner's consent, when the purpose or result of such acquisition is to sell, transfer, lease, or any way convey such property, in whole or in part, to any private entity or party be adopted?"
In supporting this resolution, Mayor Choi stated, "township officials are taking a stand against the use of eminent domain for the sole purpose of government taking someone's land — residential or business — only to hand it over to a private entity for profit. 'That is simply bad government,' Choi said, referring to the landmark 2005 Kelo v. New London, Conn., U.S. Supreme Court ruling that state and local governments can seize private property to make way for private developments. 'Unwilling, working-class people who built homes, businesses and memories have been forced to fork over their properties for the sake of private developers' plans,' Choi said."
This is the kind of bold leadership and vision we so desperately need in Highland Park. Instead, our mayor agrees with editors at the Courier News that putting this important decision in the hands of the people is "foolish" and "ties the hands of government." In fact, she publicly referred to an editorial stating this position as "a beautiful editorial." She feels such a referendum would not be appropriate for Highland Park because unlike Edison, we do not have much land to develop and believes the "tool" of eminent domain needs to be kept in the hands of municipal government as a "last resort."
The problem is, the "last resort" line is the same one used by mayors and councils all over the state and country. Unfortunately, many of those same officials have resorted to eminent domain when a home or business owner refused to sell and "negotiations" were unsuccessful. In contrast, Mayor Choi recognizes that people's homes and businesses involve much more than monetary value. If one believes taking people's property against their will and handing it over to private developers or to other private owners is morally wrong, then it makes no difference how much developable land a town has. Our mayor's logic makes about as much sense as that of people who justify robbing a bank because they, unlike others, have very little money.
Will it tie the hands of future councils? It will do so only as much as any ordinance the council itself passes would. Any ordinance can be repealed. The only difference is that this one would once again require the public to make the decision via another referendum.
Besides, as a public vote, a referendum could go either way. Why is Mayor Frank afraid to let the people of Highland Park make this important decision? If public opinion is truly with her, such a referendum will be voted down in the borough. Refusal to put such an important issue in the hands of the public equates to not trusting the public to make the right decision. In other words, the mayor is afraid that if Highland Park voters are given their say on this referendum, her side will lose.
Unfortunately, the August 25 deadline makes it too late to place such a referendum before Highland Park voters this year. But this is a perfect project for 2007, the year of empowering people in our borough. If you would like to see Highland Park follow Edison's lead and let the people decide an issue as important as eminent domain for private redevelopment, please write the mayor and council at Borough Hall, 221 South Fifth Avenue, Highland Park, NJ 08904, email comments from the web site at http://www.hpboro.com, or call borough officials at (732) 777-6001 and tell them to put this referendum on the ballot for November 2007.
And if you're reading this and live in a town other than Edison or Highland Park, please ask the same of your local officials.
Thank you, Mayor Choi and the Edison Township Council, for your leadership and inspiration in this important issue.