Herald should be careful not to harm Green's case
We cringed when the Herald recently ran a story about a controversial plan to drop a drug treatment facility into bucolic Green Township, Sussex County, and used these words to describe those concerned residents who formed a group to monitor the process:
"...Greenfield Action Committee -- a citizen action group formed to prevent the facility from coming to Green..."
In describing the residents in this way, the Herald is playing into the hands of an out-of-state corporate group that has used such characterizations to harness the power of the federal government to compel local governments to accept such facilities or face punitive consequences. Fortunately, one of the citizen group's organizers clarified the group's purpose in a letter to the Herald. It is printed in full, below:
Clarification about committee in Green
Posted: Jun. 22, 2017
It was terrific reading the story about the Green Township Land Use Committee meeting in the Herald this morning, and thank you Katie for attending the meeting and giving our organization, the Greenfield Action Committee, a voice.
We do have a concern about one aspect of your story: You described us as a citizen action group formed to prevent the facility from coming to Green.
We're not comfortable with that characterization. We formed to ensure the conditional use variances Ambrosia seeks on Pequest Road were denied, believing suitable and appropriately designated areas already exist in the community that would be much less impacted.
We are not opposed to Ambrosia or its mission.
And while we are discussing the Herald and its coverage of this issue, we should note that while the Herald is very vigilant regarding making anyone connected with a political campaign clearly identify who they are associated with and what position they hold, they are not so with corporate entities who have as much or even a greater impact on our community. Individuals who are clearly associated with the addiction/mental health/rehab industry (and it clearly is an industry, just as your stockbroker if you don't believe us) are permitted to post on the Herald website without disclosing their affiliations. This would never be allowed if it were a political campaign, so why is it allowed on something so important to not only Green Township, but to all of Sussex County?
And there is a political angle to all of this too, in the presence of Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, an attorney representing the addiction/mental health/rehab industry giant that wants to build the drug treatment facility in this rural community. For some reason, the Herald misses this fact and never mentions the political muscle brought to the table. Assemblywoman Schepisi, who is only identified as an attorney in the Herald story, is quoted at length and appears to have some hostility towards the residents:
Holly Schepisi, attorney for Hunting Bailey, LLP, and representative for Ambrosia Real Estate, said that her client did not feel that a second variance would be necessary due to the nature of the proposed facility and that fact that it would be intended for one principal use.
At the suggestion of the board, Schepisi elected to use a five-minute recess to confer with her clients, who were present.
"One aspect of this facility cannot exist without the other," Schepisi said, speaking after the meeting had reconvened. "They are part and parcel. We still strongly believe that there is no need for an additional variance, but in order to avoid dragging this process out for my client, we have decided to return to this matter at the next meeting in July."
Schepisi said that her clients had agreed to submit an application for a second variance...
Schepisi said during the meeting that several members of the community had crossed the line from concerned to aggressive throughout the course of the proceedings so far.
"Many of the residents have been great, and are here tonight because they don't know what is being proposed, and they are here to ask intelligent questions and get a better understanding of what my client does," Schepisi said at the start of the meeting and prior to any objection. "But there are other people sitting here tonight who, unfortunately have expressed vitriol against my client, against the property owners, personal attacks against members of my firm, and personal attacks against me. Some of the people sitting here tonight went so far as to urge people to call a corruption tip hotline on me to try to scare me off from doing my job. We are here to set the record straight and to explain what it is my client is trying to do."
With the greatest respect to the Assemblywoman, her client has crossed the line many, many times when it has compelled local communities -- forced them, against their will, even as they screamed "no means no" -- to accept their facilities. The addiction/mental health/rehab industry has been guilty of this over and over again.
There is a perverse Darwinism at work here that is called "conservative" by some, like the Koch Brothers, but is in fact just capitalism sucking a crack pipe filled with money, greed, and corruption. One upon a time there was an America of place. Our nation was a community of smaller communities. Both Republicans and Democrats agreed on this. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's good friend Arthur Morgan wrote a book about it called, "The Small Community: Foundation of democratic life."
Today we have a United States Supreme Court that allows corporations to use eminent domain for no better reason than to generate cash. We have a State Supreme Court that uses COAH to destroy the rural aspect of communities and bring architectural blight to historic towns. We have people, like the Koch Brothers, who believe that whoever has the most money should get their way and if they want to build a toxic waste dump on the village green they should be allowed to do it -- simply because they are richer and can buy more influence. And if they don't get their way, they use federal law to cook-up some case to crush the small community that stands in their way -- just like the addiction/ mental health/rehab industry has been doing for years and years.
The addiction/mental health/rehab industry's mouthpiece, posting under the Herald article, threatened as much:
"...ultimately, the protection will be for the corporations and industry....the Town Leaders have a responsibility to the taxpayers. A long and costly battle with risk of federal penalties and fines isn't in the best interests of the taxpayers. Historically, Ambrosia has prevailed when it encountered community resistance."
Should any community have to lay down for a threat like that?
Maintaining the local democratic governance of the small community -- this conservatism of place -- is something that should concern not just Green Township, but all of Sussex County. This is something, not only for the Sussex County League of Municipalities, but for the state League of Municipalities. And not just this state -- but all states -- all small communities everywhere. Reach out to other communities where this corporation has had its way or is threatening to have its way. Reach out to all communities threatened by the Darwinian capitalist model used by this industry and others to have their way. They can pick-off small communities like Green Township one by one, but banded together it becomes a much more difficult prospect.
Assemblywoman Schepisi should understand this. In her role as a legislator, she recently conducted a public meeting on the effects of the unelected State Supreme Court's COAH rulings that mandate subsidized housing in New Jersey. The un-democratic, politically-appointed Court has consistently pissed on local democracy, ignoring basic issues like clean drinking water for ever-expanding populations in the most densely populated state in America, while crushing the rights of a supposedly free people to determine how their communities will grow.
We strongly, but respectfully, suggest to Assemblywoman Schepisi that she think of the small community of Green Township, and of the cause of local democracy, when engaging in negotiations with the residents there. Maintain greater patience and calmly answer their questions and their process. Make it work for the residents by showing on paper how it will lower their property taxes (and if it doesn't, have the corporation voluntarily pay a surcharge so that it will). Make it so advantageous for the community that they are willing to put up with the changes to their beloved town that will most certainly come. Convince them, do not attempt to compel them. Remember, the only truly moral law is that derived from the consent of the governed. All else is no more than brutal force under the guise of law.