West New York commissioners pass sign ban, opponents react
The West New York Board of Commissioners voted 3-1-1 late Wednesday night to approve an ordinance banning a wide range of signs, pennants and business flags. Mayor Felix Roque and Commissioners FiorD’Aliza Frias and Ruben Vargas voted to pass it, while Commissioner Count Wiley opposed it. Commissioner Caridad Rodriguez abstained.
The ordinance bans signs affixed to the exterior of a glass window or a light pole, as well as a large variety of portable signs, including those attached to vehicles. The ordinance was introduced in January, then made less restrictive before being approved on Wednesday. The revised version was re-introduced earlier this month after outcry from local residents. The ban does not apply to residential signs.
The meeting was no dull matter, with multiple members of the public being ordered to exit the municipal chamber over the course of the evening. Political opponents of the mayor, as well as some local business owners and residents, have claimed he is infringing upon their First Amendment rights.
The mayor denied the accusation, saying that it does not ban any language or opinions, but rather governs the manner in which they are conveyed.
“Our ordinance does not prohibit religious political or personal messages and it does not prohibit content,” he said in January. “It prohibits the way that content is portrayed, considering quality of life and safety.”
Roque claimed that the ordinance is meant to clean up West New York’s business district along Bergenline Avenue, where windows full of multicolored neon and fluorescent signs are a common sight. Ahead of a possible Formula One race that would be run through West New York and Weehawken in 2014, Roque said he thinks that with possible investors visiting the town, it should be cleaned up.
“My goal is not to hurt the businesses of West New York,” Roque said. “My goal is to improve the town’s economy.”
But Frank Ferreiro, a Sayreville resident and West New York business owner who heads the organization Residents for a Better West New York, accused Roque in a press release of practicing political corruption “not seen since the days of Frank Hague,” the infamous Depression-era Jersey City mayor.
“Even with the massive public outcry over this illegal ordinance and blatant abuse of constitutional rights, Mayor Roque once again showed his incompetence and inability to effectively govern,” he said. “This is further proof that a change in government is needed immediately.”
Ferriero’s organization has been advocating for a change in government from the mayor/commissioner system (in which five candidates run together and one acts as mayor) to a mayor/council system. Under this system, the town would be geographically split into wards, as is done in Hoboken and Jersey City, and each ward would elect its own councilperson.
Residents for a Better West New York staged two protests over the sign, during which they carried signs comparing Roque to former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, two weeks ago and Wednesday night before the ordinance’s hearing.
After the meeting, Ferriero said his group would be pursuing legal action against the ordinance.
Union City commissioners loosen restrictions in videotaping ordinance
Mayor Brian Stack and the Union City Board of Commissioners made last minute changes to a controversial ordinance regarding the videotaping of public meetings Tuesday night before adopting it by a unanimous vote.
The ordinance, which previously would have required anyone wishing to videotape public meetings to provide prior written notice and an unedited copy of their footage to the city clerk’s office, raised eyebrows in recent weeks due to questions about whether it violated First Amendment rights.
But, following comments from city residents, Stack proposed an amendment to the ordinance, striking out the requirements to provide prior notice and an unedited tape.
Thus, the only major change to the town’s existing resolution regarding guidelines to public meetings, which was adopted a few years ago, stipulates that all videotaping equipment must be unobtrusive and situated at the back of the room.
After the meeting, Stack, who introduced the ordinance on Jan. 15, said that he felt compelled to amend the requirements in order to ensure democratic ideals.
“You know, even though there are people who videotape these meetings for their own political purposes, I still want to ensure that we are protecting democracy in Union City,” he said.
Critics of Stack, including the Union City Concerned Citizens Group (UCCCG), had previously argued that the ordinance infringed upon their right to free speech. However, Stack said that it was simply meant to maintain order at the meetings, a sentiment echoed by many residents who expressed annoyance at the various cameras typically seen at public meetings.
Stack also said that he felt the ordinance was too strict on citizens who wished to videotape meetings for their own purposes.
“If we have a student come who needs to videotape a meeting for a project or something like that, I don’t want to make it a big deal for them to have to do that,” he said.
Hudson County CASA recruiting to help foster kids
Hudson County CASA, a non-profit organization, is currently recruiting volunteers to advocate for the best interests of abused and neglected children. CASA works through trained community volunteers to insure that needed services and assistance are made available to children while helping to move them toward safe and permanent homes.
CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) and its volunteers speak for children in court, serve as fact finders for the judges and safeguard the interests of the children while they are in the foster care system.
An information session for those interested will be held on Tuesday, March 5, at 6 p.m. in Room #400 of the Hudson County Administration Building, located 595 Newark Avenue, Jersey City.
Hudson County has nearly 700 children in foster care; most have been removed from their homes for abuse or neglect. For further information, please call (201) 795-9855, e-mail email@example.com or visit our website at www.hudsoncountycasa.org.
Hudson County Community College celebrating sixth annual community literacy day
Hudson County Community College (HCCC) announced this week that it will hold its Sixth Annual Literacy & Family Day on Saturday, March 2 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the college’s Culinary Arts Institute/Conference Center, located at 161 Newkirk Street, just two blocks from the Journal Square PATH Station in Jersey City. There is no charge for admission, but all children must be accompanied by an adult.
HCCC President Dr. Glen Gabert said the event, which is prepared and presented by the college’s Academic Affairs Division and the Culinary Conference Center, is an annual celebration of the birthday of Theodore Seuss Geisel, who is better known to generations of Americans as Dr. Seuss, author of Green Eggs and Ham, The Cat in the Hat and 44 more beloved children’s books.
The event will include a whole host of interactive activities for children of all ages, including a Dr. Seuss Reading Theatre, a preschool reading station, game table, arts and crafts, Dr. Seuss-themed refreshments and giveaways.
“This is a great opportunity for families from all over the County to come together for a lot of fun, and more importantly to teach our youngest children about the importance of reading,” Dr. Gabert said. “It’s also one of the few family events to be found that is free,” he added.
For additional information, call HCCC’s Academic Affairs Office at (201) 360-4010.