Monday, March 23, 2009

Small City, Big Problems

By Ezra Dreiblatt

The New Brunswick city council meeting on the night of February 18 started out like any other council meeting, with a roll call followed by the pledge of allegiance. In a wrinkle reserved for wartime, there was a moment of silence for troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. After City Council President Elizabeth Garlatti finished taking attendance, focus shifted to the first important item on the docket. The matter at hand was closing a loophole that allowed a resident of New Brunswick to claim two places of residence on their tax forms. William J. Hamilton Jr., the attorney for the city, said that one reason the loophole needs to be closed is so that landlords cannot claim that a house where students live is a primary place of residence. Basically, the city wants to make sure that the only place of residence citizens list is where they are not only sleeping but also performing basic living activities. In response to this proclamation, residents in attendance at the meeting were concerned that the city would go too far in checking if a resident was performing “basic living activities” at a place of residence. As one woman said, “It seems intrusive to check where people are eating.”

After an intense discussion, one man in the back stood up and asked to be heard. He went on to tell the council and the public that they needed to pay attention to Assembly Bill 3709 as well as Assembly Bill 3648. In Assembly Bill 3709, the man claimed, the state is considering putting fluoride in the drinking water. He went on to say that fluoride could potentially affect the brain, sterility in men, as well as possibly cause cancer. Having captured everyone’s attention, he went on to say that Assembly Bill 3648 would make it easier to eliminate a paper trail when it came to voting in the gubernatorial race as well as senate and local elections. Unfortunately, this same man went completely off track and decided to bash the suggestion that George Street in New Brunswick be renamed Martin Luther King Jr. Street. He started raving about crimes of infidelity that he said King had committed and completely undermined every point he had made before. He also managed to make everyone in the room visibly uncomfortable.

The meeting continued with residents bringing up problems that affected their everyday lives. One man said that he constantly saw cars with license plates that are obscured by decorations. Neither the council nor the police captain present seemed to take his concern that seriously. Another person wanted to know why it was so hard for residents of the city to get parking permits. City officials replied that limited parking space meant there had to be an arduous process to receive a parking permit. At this point it seemed the meeting was coming to an end when a group of people wearing shirts with the message, vote yes on wards, began to make their complaints public. According to Sean Monahan, a young resident of New Brunswick, the current system of representation in New Brunswick does not sufficiently represent the city. He went on to say that three of the five members of city council live in Ward 1. Not coincidentally, he added, that is the most affluent part of the city, as well as the ward where the only two non-failing public schools are located. Monahan believes that the current council is obstructing true democracy and that the city council needs to be enlarged from 5 to 9 members with each ward represented. He indicated that the city attorney, Mr. Hamilton, who lives in Ward 1, is the key opponent against ward representation. Unfortunately, Mr. Hamilton was not available for comment after the meeting. The issue is currently being argued in court with both sides arguing the merits of their cases and holding a referendum. The meeting eventually dissolved with the city council president, Garlatti, looking increasingly agitated while the pro-ward crowd heckled the council. Clearly there is a lot more going on in New Brunswick than just issues concerning Rutgers; it would be wise for students to take notice.

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