Blog for Highland Park

Welcome to the Blog for Highland Park, a weblog chronicling events in Highland Park, NJ from an alternative perspective to the often one-sided slant of the official borough newsletter.

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Location: Highland Park, New Jersey, United States

I am a freelance writer and community activist who has worked on many progressive and Democratic political campaigns over the last 25 plus years and a lifelong resident of Highland Park, NJ. I have a BA in Journalism from Rutgers University, an MA in Middle East Studies from Harvard University, and an MEd in English Education from Rutgers Graduate School of Education. An enthusiastic amateur astronomer, I have just completed Swinburne University Astronomy Online's Graduate Certificate of Science in astronomy and am pursuing a Masters of Science in astronomy at Swinburne. I am also an actress with experience in theatre and film and have written a full length play. I am currently working full time on a book "The Little Planet That Would Not Die: Pluto's Story."

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Citizen Action Endorsement Inappropriate

New Jersey Citizen Action is an advocacy group that does wonderful work on behalf of consumers and our most vulnerable people. They advocate for national health care, affordable utility rates, campaign finance reform, and other very needed policy changes. However, they have made a very serious mistake in involving themselves in Highland Park's mayoral primary by endorsing Meryl Frank.

Citizen Action has on numerous occasions been approached by candidates for endorsements and each time staff members articulated the policy that the organization does not endorse candidates in elections. The group did endorse Frank in 1999 but one year later changed its official policy to prohibit endorsements of any kind.

There are many issues at stake in this election in Highland Park, including the refusal by Mayor Frank to rule out the use of eminent domain for private redevelopment. The Sierra Club and the New Jersey Environmental Federation have both taken a formal stand opposing such use of eminent domain, which almost always benefits wealthy, politically connected developers at the expense of low and middle income homeowners and small business owners. Unlike Frank, candidate Nancy Wolf is committed to taking formal action restricting any use of eminent domain for private redevelopment in Highland Park. It is disappointing that Citizen Action would choose to side with a politician who in her own words wants to maintain the "tool" of eminent domain over one who is committed to statutory action to prohibit its use against vulnerable home and business owners.

If open government is the issue, Highland Park is hardly a model. The borough has two outstanding complaints before the Government Records Council for violations of the Open Public Records Act (OPRA). OPRA requires local officials to respond to requests for public records within seven days. If obtaining the records will take longer than seven days, local officials must contact the person requesting them within that time and explain the status of the request and when it is expected to be fulfilled. Here in Highland Park, on two separate occasions, the administration blatantly violated this law. A request for copies of correspondence between the Department of Transportation and the borough on Centennial Park took a whopping two and a half months to fulfill while a second request for a copy of a videotape of a council meeting took two months to obtain.

Highland Park is one of the only municipalities in the area that postpones the public comment section at Borough Council meetings to the meetings' very end, after all reports are given and ordinances and resolutions passed. Meeting agendas call for two public comment sessions, one early in the meeting and one at the end, but Mayor Frank almost always eliminates the early session, forcing residents who seek to comment to wait until the end of sometimes long meetings to have their say. An inevitable consequence of this is that senior citizens and/or those who have to get up early the next day for work end up leaving without having a chance to speak.

Frank's work on family leave a decade and a half ago is both exaggerated and not pertinent to local issues facing the town today. It is exaggerated in that Frank misleads the public to believe she alone worked on this legislation when the reality is she was one of thousands of activists across the state and country who did so. Family leave legislation is to be commended, but it is a state and federal issue, not a local one.

It is unacceptable for New Jersey Citizen Action to operate under a double standard where in some cases a policy of not endorsing candidates is invoked while in other cases that policy is tossed aside. There must be a uniform policy that applies to all candidates and campaigns across the board. If Citizen Action does make endorsements, then it is only fair that they establish a procedure of sitting down and meeting with all candidates, allowing all to make their cases before any endorsement is issued.

Please contact Citizen Action and urge the organization to uphold its tradition of fairness by creating a uniform policy and sticking with it and, if the group does decide to do endorsements, create a procedure that gives all candidates a chance to seek it. You can reach the directors and staff of Citizen Action at the following web site: