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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Chris Christie in Union City: Moscow on the Hudson?

Soviet-style government repression of the public's core Constitutional rights to free expression under the First Amendment is in vogue on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River. Some town governments are apparently afraid of their own people.

Under the shadow of New York City's skyscrapers, two postage-stamp-sized towns, West New York and Union City, are proposing town ordinances that evoke horrible memories of Communism in the minds of some older residents who fled Fidel Castro's Cuba. UPDATE -- On February 20, 2013, the West New York, NJ board of commissioners APPROVED the controversial anti-sign ordinance despite heavy public opposition from a crowd of over 200 people who jammed the small town's city hall to protest at the meeting.  In reality, both towns are controlled by men fighting growing local political opposition and using such ordinances to hit back at opponents or even neutral, non-supportive parties. Union City's mayor and state senator, Brian Stack, is somewhat of a media celebrity, having earned not one but two passes into the Fox5NewYork Hall of Shame "for abusing his power."  There is significant danger of serious abuses of power by these overreaching elected public officials.

West New York's town government, run for the moment by a mayor (Dr. Felix Roque) under federal indictment for hacking into political opponents' websites (and whose son is a co-defendant), wants to have the power to tell businesses what type of sign, flag or display they can have.

Under the utopian guise of town appearance, this ordinance would give the town government to determine winners and losers, and to impose fines that could ruin a business or force its owners to sell or move. Such an ability to impose fines for arbitrary penalties is a precursor to bribery and other white-collar felony crimes.

The ordinance will drive up the cost of doing business, and I predict it will drive out good businesses. This will cause the value of West New York real estate to drop -- at least, until the ordinance is declared unconstitutional -- as homeowners find it less attractive.  This ordinance helps no one -- unless you are a business owner with friends in town government and need their interference on your behalf to give you a competitive advantage.  (Hmmm, maybe we're on to something.)

Union City's ordinance is no more respectful of the Constitution. Invoking the need to protect the town's governing board of commissioners from its own people (that is, "to maintain order"), its ordinance seeks to discourage videotaping of meetings by concerned citizens and the news media. If the ordinance is passed, videotapers can be prevented from taping public meetings if they don't give the town 24 hours' prior notice that they want to tape a meeting. Moreover, videotapers will be confined to the back of the meeting hall, so they can get the worst audio and video shots and get blocked by audience members or political thugs. The ordinance all but declares the press and public to be enemies of the state, and clearly is aimed at making it hard for anyone to get an unvarnished, impartial view of their local government in action.

The Union City ordinance warms up with one paragraph that reads:
"WHEREAS, proper preservation of any videotapes made is one means of safeguarding the integrity of the recording and ensuring that the public is afforded all of its rights without otherwise creating disruption and detriment to the public..."
Get this, folks? Union City is getting you ready for the wholesale seizure of your videotape. To ensure accuracy? Let's just have a total embargo on the media and a government-run media monopoly!

Another particular section reads as follows:
"[I]n order to enable the Board of Commissioners to ensure the accuracy of such videotapes and prevent disruption of and detriment to the Board of Commissioners, the public good and the municipality as a whole, a person intending to videotape a Board of Commissioners meeting must give prior written noticce to the City Clerk's office by 3:00 pm on the day before the meeting.  Failure to comply with this requirement may be grounds for denying future taping."
When government officials start invoking "the public good," that is a code word for violating your individual civil rights. It seems the lessons of Dixie, Bull Connor and the Civil Rights Movement have been a guide to learn how to oppress the population.

The timing of the Union City ordinance is not coincidental. It is being introduced after a few months of heightened scrutiny of town government by both citizens' groups and, um, the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

This ordinance revision would replace a current ordinance that actually permits Union City to require anyone videorecording a meeting to provide the city with videotapes, of course, "to ensure accuracy," as a condition to having videotaping privileges in the future. The current ordinance remains on the law books and its enforcement has recently been announced -- to resistance from various concerned citizens' groups.

What's really crazy about the Union City ordinance is that its proponent, Mayor and State Senator Brian Stack, is a key ally of New Jersey's Republican Governor Chris Christie. This ordinance would stop Christie from going on tape without prior notice and providing a tape to Union City as a price to pay for being able to videotape ever again. The inconsistency is solved when you realize Christie's camera-friendly mask is confined to times when it's HIS camera, the event is staged and scripted and the audience is screened and handpicked. This manipulation would not be allowed for 15 seconds on the New York side of the Hudson River...or in Washington, DC, for that matter.

You can see these ordinances are all about control, by elected New Jersey leaders who are insecure control freaks and who love to use (some would say, abuse) government power for personal benefit.

Such attitudes and transformations were the hallmark of totalitarian, repressive, economically-suffering regimes in the 20th Century. There is no reason why these towns, with coveted, enviable locations, shouldn't be havens for development, commerce and luxury commuter-friendly housing. I sense the residents of these towns are starting to agree on this point.

Eric Dixon is an investigative and corporate attorney who is a member of the bar of New York and New Jersey and handles sensitive business, political and personal matters.

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