Piscataway Leaders Congratulate Voters on Historic Transparency, Access and Public Engagement (TAPE) Ballot Question Landslide Victory
Call for Immediate Implementation by Township
Piscataway, NJ – The Committee of Petitioners, members of the Piscataway Progressive Democratic Organization (PPDO), which helped support the ordinance, and local leaders committed to improving Piscataway’s future thanked and congratulated voters for passing the Transparency, Access and Public Engagement (TAPE) ordinance by an enormous margin of victory in the November 2 General Election.
The voter-initiated ordinance, believed to be the first of its kind in the Garden State, will require the town to make Council, Zoning and Planning Board public meetings easily accessible for all to participate, through interactive meeting technology like Zoom, and to share recordings of these meetings online and on its local cable access channel. It also requires these bodies to share public information, like agendas and minutes, online for seven years.
Passing by a margin of over 40 points, the ordinance received 8,247 yes votes and 3,141 no votes, according to the Middlesex County Clerk’s most recent update. While mail, provisional and emergency paper ballots are still being tallied, they celebrated the decisive win for the community. While mail, provisional and emergency paper ballots are still being tallied, they celebrated the decisive win for the community.
“The decision to sign on and put this ballot question before voters was easy. Transparent and accessible government is an obvious choice,” said Laura Leibowitz, a member of the Committee of Petitioners and Possumtown area Democratic Organization representative. “As I looked around at neighboring towns and throughout the state, I saw how this is accomplished for a very reasonable cost. This was apparent to our community as well, with the overwhelming majority by which this ordinance passed.”
The grassroots effort to put the question on the ballot began earlier this year, when residents in the state’s seventh most diverse municipality, and one of its bluest on paper, launched an online signature collection effort. The petition was supplemented by handwritten signatures, and certified by the clerk in early August. The Council did not act on it, sending it to the ballot. Dozens of volunteers collected signatures, leafletted homes and maintained a vocal presence on social media. The committee of petitioners represented a wide cross-section of residents concerned about the community’s future.
“We look forward to seeing this extremely popular law implemented by the Township, without any further delay or deceit,” said petitioner Staci Berger, PPDO President and Democratic Committee member in the Heights neighborhood. “The voters have spoken very loudly and very clearly. We hope our officials will not waste any more taxpayer monies or time. We urge them to respect the will of the people and put TAPE into action.”
Berger said there were isolated reports from voters who were shown the wrong interpretative statement on the voting machine during early, in-person voting. County election officials were aware of the issue and, prior to Nov. 2, put printed, hard-copies of the interpretative statements for all state and local state questions directly above the voting machines. They instructed poll workers to inform voters to read the language above the machine if they encountered a problem. Voters received sample ballots with the correct interpretative statements, which were also available at every polling location. Approximately half of the ballots cast were by mail, where the interpretative statements appeared correctly. Berger said she was confident there was no voter confusion, as the results were overwhelming.
Piscataway Youth Progressive Organization president Jace Pastras, a petitioner and Piscataway High School 2021 graduate, said they were encouraged by the landslide victory. “Transparency is how we as a town can take steps towards a better future. It is so important to be engaged locally, and even more important for our local leaders to make the engagement accessible.”
Other local leaders agreed that transparency and accountability is crucial to community involvement. “The public overwhelmingly chose to be informed. Elected officials have a responsibility to research and represent the interests of the people, and not to be self-serving. The community has a right to know about how the decisions, even the hard choices, are being made,” said Lt. Ralph Johnson. Although Lt. Johnson is a member of the Piscataway Board of Education (BOE), he supported the TAPE ordinance in his private, personal capacity. He noted that he is not speaking as a representative of the Piscataway BOE, nor is he authorized to speak on behalf of the Piscataway BOE.
The Democratic Mayor, council and entrenched political machine, including the Piscataway Democratic Organization (PDO) Chairman and legislative aide for State Senator Bob Smith, LD-17, campaigned against the TAPE ordinance. They also opposed another ballot question to create a volunteer advisory committee overseeing EMS in the Community. The PDO sent multiple mailers to voters and took out ads on local media sites, without clear authorization from committee members.
“The Council illegally placed competing questions on the ballot, used taxpayer funded communications and local machine campaign funds. They used every dirty trick they could come up with to make voters believe these common sense initiatives would force a local tax increase,” said Berger. “Piscataway voters just said no to the lies and scare tactics of the Piscataway so-called Democrats, Mayor Brian Wahler and his cronies.”
The committee of petitioners also thanked the public interest law center, NJ Appleseed and its executive director, Renee Steinhagen. Steinhagen drafted the ordinance, and led the successful legal challenge to remove the Council’s non-binding, competing questions from the ballot. The Township government has appealed that decision.