Teaneck residents and Food & Water Watch have filed to go to court against the township for their refusal to accept petitions that were signed electronically in support of an ordinance for a 100% renewable Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) program.
This ordinance would authorize the town to bulk purchase electricity from clean renewable sources and offer it to residents at discounted rates.
Under the Faulkner Act, Teaneck residents have the right to initiative and referendum, meaning that any group of five residents (a Committee of Petitioners) can introduce an ordinance via a petition with signatures from ten percent of the number of votes from the last state assembly election. That amounts to 791 signatures in Teaneck. Typically these petitions are required to be circulated on paper. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, Governor Murphy signed several executive orders allowing for Faulkner Act petitions to be collected electronically to protect public health.
Residents and clean energy advocates collected signatures electronically until the executive order expired on July 5, and switched entirely to paper petitions after that. Residents and activists delivered approximately 875 to the clerk for review in early July. Following the 20 day review period, the committee of petitioners were notified that all signatures collected electronically were rejected because they were delivered after the executive order expired. Food & Water Watch and Teaneck residents understood that the end of the executive order meant that electronic signature gathering must cease, but did not mean that petitions must be turned in before the expiration.
“We were horrified to learn that the signatures on our petitions, collected electronically because of an order from Governor Murphy to keep residents healthy and safe during the Covid pandemic, were rejected,” said Paula Rogovin, Committee of Petitioners member and Teaneck resident. “The rejection of signatures was a crude effort by the township to stifle democracy. We will not give up our effort for a clean, green future!“
Food & Water Watch has worked with residents to win similar 100% clean energy programs in Edison, New Brunswick, Collingswood, Asbury Park, Piscataway, East Brunswick, South Brunswick, and Red Bank. This year, the organization also supported residents to submit petitions for this program in Woodbridge, Long Branch, and North Brunswick. These three municipalities accepted the submission of electronic signatures collected before the executive order expired.
“By rejecting electronic signatures Teaneck has chosen to suppress the democratic will of their constituents and undermine a measure put in place by Governor Murphy to protect public health during the worst days of the pandemic,” said Food & Water Watch organizer Sam DiFalco. “But the fight for clean energy, clean air, and a livable climate continues. We are bringing this issue to court to seek relief and are hopeful we can resolve this matter quickly so that Teaneck residents can hold a vote on adopting this program in the upcoming election.”
The plaintiffs are represented by the New Jersey Appleseed Public Interest Law Center, who have experience dealing with legal issues associated with Faulkner Act petitions.
“Food & Water Watch did their due diligence in preparing for petition circulation. The group cleared their plan for circulation and delivery of electronic petitions with the township clerk before petition collection began, so it is unfortunate that is the line Teaneck has decided to take,” said Renée Steinhagen, attorney with NJ Appleseed representing the plaintiffs in this case. “We expect the Bergen County Court to prioritize this case so that we can this resolved before the November ballots need to be sent to the printer in mid-September.