Friday, March 6, 2009

Empower Our Neighborhoods vs. City Council

By Jason Scharch

Rent control, traffic light cameras, and icy sidewalks were all addressed at the city council meeting on February 18. But one thing that was not was the recurring efforts of the civic group named “Empower Our Neighborhood.” The group, which is formed mainly of Rutgers students, is fighting for a ward system that will allow different sections of the city to elect their own representatives for city council. The current city government has successfully avoided the implementation of such a system, and the tensions showed the straining relationship between the individuals involved.

Charles Kratovil, the Co-Campaign Manager of Empower Our Neighborhood, or EON, took an active role at the meeting, bringing questions from members of EON to the meeting and taping the responses. The group handed out flyers during the meeting explaining their goals, and how others can help.

The antics of the EON were only tolerated for so long, as the council members quickly lost their patience when attempts were made to debate during a public meeting. When asked about why the council meetings could not be video taped for cable, and archived online for all to see. Council President Elizabeth Garlatti responded in a sarcastic reference to the topic of cameras at streetlights, “Maybe we’ll set up a picnic table at the intersection with the camera and take care of that.”

EON is having a hard time gaining respect from the city council, partly because most students are only temporary residents. The two organizations are in a legal standstill currently. Mayor Jim Cahill expressed to The Daily Targum his concern about whether their petition was signed by students who had a full knowledge of its purpose. Cahill said, “The petition should have contained a clarification that it was the intended purpose of this petition to place on the ballot two questions calling for two different kinds of government: one by ward and one at large, both consisting of nine council members.” Additionally the city council expressed concern that signatures were located on the back of the petition, and did not clearly display the purpose.

Stress levels are high on both sides of this struggle, seeing as how it has moved to the legal system for settling. According to Sean Monahan, another EON representative, the city has spent over $50,000 on the current legal battle, fighting the petition presented by EON. Monahan disagrees with the action the city has been taking, “It just doesn’t make sense, they are using the taxpayers money to pay for their lawyer who is fighting against a system designed to work for the taxpayers.”

The meeting was rushed to a conclusion before more representatives from the Empower Our Neighborhood group could continue their barrage of questions. The straining of professional relationships was seen on both sides in a meeting full of unanswered questions. Afterward the council members rushed out of the room, while the EON representatives stuck around to talk and answer questions from all of those at the meeting.

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