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, February 14, 2009

Ticket to Ride

Remember how when she first took office, Mayor Frank kept emphasizing that Highland Park cannot go running to Trenton with our hand out for assistance, how we need our borough to become economically self-sufficient?

Well, not only has that not happened; now, the state is coming up empty-handed, and the borough has turned to the taxpayers in what looks a lot like a desperate attempt to raise enough money to plug a huge budget hole. The means for doing this--a ticket blitz.

About a week after a minor January snowstorm, approximately 500 residents and business owners were mailed tickets for failing to shovel their sidewalks. Now, it's reasonable to assume that some of them really had not shoveled and deserved the tickets. But 500?

Many of those who found a ticket when opening their mail had indeed shoveled their walks, and had done so to meet the borough's ordinance requiring that 40 inches of sidewalk be cleaned so that people using wheelchairs have enough room to maneuver. In fact, some people received two or even three tickets in the mail for the same violation!

And isn't it interesting that a large proportion of those who received tickets are homeowners and businesses who publicly opposed this mayor--including my family, my 2005 running mate, and various people who donated money to our campaigns (campaign donations are a matter of public record).

The mailing of tickets a week after the supposed violations has to raise eyebrows. It makes sense that police officers patrolling the town would come to the doors of home and business owners who hadn't shoveled to give them a summons. But mailing tickets a week later--at which point a lot of the snow had melted, making it impossible for anyone to prove he or she shoveled seven days earlier (unless that person had taken a photo of the shoveled walk with the date stamped on it) strongly suggests that something fishy is going on here.

Ever since the calendar year started, there appear to have been ticket blitzes everywhere around New Jersey for supposed traffic violations. One has to question: in communications with local mayors and council members desperate for state aid, did state officials respond by advising them to seek additional revenue through writing tickets? State officials communicate regularly with municipal ones both at formal events and informally, so it is not unlikely that the heavily in debt state of New Jersey recommended municipal officials turn to the taxpayers for additional revenue.

Also troubling are some of the anecdotes being circulated around town regarding the ticket blitz and people's subsequent experiences fighting tickets in court. Several police officers supposedly told residents that the ticket blitz was conducted expressly as an order from the mayor and urged the people they were ticketing to fight the summonses in court. It is important to note that the mayor is not permitted to dictate orders to the Police Department. If such a directive was given, it was an abuse of power.

And it is well known that there is no love lost between the mayor and the Police Department, with the PBA having endorsed challenger Nancy Wolf in the 2007 mayoral campaign. So it would make sense for the mayor to make the cops look like the "bad guys" and disavow any connection to these tickets, denying she ever gave any order and hiding behind the old line, "they were just doing their job."

When those who chose to fight the tickets went to court, they were advised by the judge upfront to pay the fines because there was no way they would win. That sounds like he had made up his mind before even hearing any evidence in any of the cases! Furthermore, all those in court for snow tickets were told that their cases would be addressed last, only after every single motor vehicle violation was adjudicated. Again, we have another ploy--make people wait for hours until they get so tired they give up and pay the fine or force them to come back to court on another day and do it all over again. That is the same tactic used by the mayor and council when they had to deal with an angry public in any controversial situation.

The good news is that several newspapers have picked up the story, complete with statements by many who swear they shoveled their walks and were ticketed anyway. The best antidote for this type of abuse of power is bringing awareness of it into the light of day.

Because, now, the people are watching. The next time it snows, be prepared to see people out with cameras taking pictures of their shoveled walks the minute they finish cleaning them.

This is one snow job that won't be happening again.