JACKSON – A recent Township Council meeting opened with a tribute to a long-time volunteer, continued on to adopt a multi-use commercial zone and concluded with some strong words defending Jackson’s character.
As Mayor Mike Reina had pointed out toward the close of the meeting, it proved a mixed bag of subjects which he said was very representative of the diverse nature of the community.
Reina, Councilman Robert Nixon who resigned in November of 2019 and current Council President Barry Calogero among other public officials, have been the subject of critical social media commentary – which they have refuted as being the work of those outside the community seeking to defame their character and that of the township itself.
Resident Eleanor Hannum, who heads the local branch of the organization CUPON, an advocacy group of citizens seeking to look at development in the community, spoke up saying that the township was being unjustly criticized and big money was involved.
“I know there are a lot of pressures that are instigating politics…and there have been numerous horrible comments made not just about this government but about the residents of Jackson Township of which I have lived my entire life. I am asking that this government does not succumb to pressure,” Hannum said.
She added, “the amount of money being thrown outside of this township to negotiate not in the way that residents would like.”
Township Attorney Gregory McGuckin asked Hannum to explain her comment further. “What are you talking about money?”
“The amount of money that is being used in media to portray Jackson and residents in town in such a poor light, it is a lot of money and from my perspective in order to use that much money to portray Jackson as such an awful place to go, it is being done so that people of other areas hear the name Jackson and see turmoil. It is being done by people with a lot of money and it is being done by design,” Hannum clarified.
Hannum added, “it is very, very disheartening to see what is being said about my town. This is a good town with good people, good organizations, and people with consideration for each other. What is being said by outside sources is absolutely appalling.”
Related to this issue was a lawsuit concerning the denied Jackson Trails application which failed to gain approval last year.
The lawsuit filed on Feb. 3, alleges that Jackson officials rejected Jackson Trails residential development application to stop Orthodox Jews from moving into the township. The plaintiff, Jackson Trails LLC, named Jackson Township and the Jackson Planning Board as defendants in the legal action.
Representatives of Jackson Trails sought to build 459 housing units and a house of worship on a 130-acre property near Jackson’s border with Manchester Township. The application was unanimously voted down by the Planning Board late last year.
According to the lawsuit, the Planning Board denied the application “bowing to severe anti-Semitic pressure from local residents and fears that Orthodox Jews may purchase homes and reside in the development, and due to the inclusion in the development of a house of worship that may be used as a synagogue for Orthodox Jews.”
It also maintains the board’s decision to deny the application was “part of a rising tide of anti-Semitism in the township.”
Shlomi Klein, an Orthodox Jewish resident of Lakewood, spoke several times during the night. He said developers that are coming in “want to take advantage of a situation in which Orthodox Jews want to leave Lakewood – which is seeing a population boom that includes a sizable Orthodox Jewish population – by attempting to develop housing in Jackson.”
Klein added that the idea of Jackson Trails LLC suing Jackson in order to have a development approved did not have to involve religion. “(The developers) got the idea of suing the town and getting their way from this (HCMU) ordinance. They did not have to hijack the whole Jewish religion to do it. They could just sue the town.”
Resident Sheldon Hofstein said that the FBI recently released data concerning bias incidents that occurred and that in New Jersey 172 towns were listed.
“Jackson finished 167 with one bias incident, Lakewood for all the yelling and screaming and complaining about us finished 50 so they have their own house to take care of. Jackson is one of the most inclusive towns you will find,” Hofstein said.
Reina said that while he wasn’t planning on making a statement during the evening that he felt he needed to respond to some of what was said.
“Jackson has come together more times in my 32 years here than I can remember,” the mayor said. “Our neighbors, which is you, me and everybody who resides in Jackson … there is no division line … that is fabricated on social media and in unworthy news press,” Reina said.
“You are not hearing all these horrors you are reading on social media and some of these drive-by press reports, whether it comes from inside the town or not,” Reina said.
Reina added, “what you see here tonight is real, we all came together. That is what matters, this is what you hear with your own ears. Then you decide where you take it. Not everyone is evil. Not everyone is corrupt.”
The mayor said business conducted at Township Council meetings were factual and “if you can’t handle the facts, maybe it means they are not for you, and social media, sitting behind the computer and listening to the rantings of a few stark raving maniacs, well, that is nothing we can help you with.”
“This council sits up here, week after week, and is asked questions, and they constantly answer every single one. My office does the same and so does the municipal clerk,” Reina added saying that there were people seeking a smoking gun. “Ladies and gentlemen, the only smoking gun in Jackson is in the minds of people who get themselves immersed in social media drama.”
The mayor concluded saying, “Jackson is a lovely place to live, work and play. The only hate here is from a few hate-mongers, it is not from your neighbors, it is not from across the street and it is definitely not what you see on (social media). It is nonsense.”