Attorney responds to Mayor’s letter about the sidewalks

To the Editor:

An Open Letter to the Community:

As the attorney who defeated HP in New Jersey Superior Court sidewalk litigation, I must correct the inaccuracies in the Mayor’s recent open letter.

HP clearly lost the suit I brought against them.  The only reason the suit was eventually dismissed– with my consent– is that my clients had won an injunction and had achieved their goals: all summonses were rescinded, the ordinance was amended and the ruthless, mean spirited, unconstitutional issuance of punitive summonses ended.  Many residents have thanked me for defeating a municipal government that bullied blind people, a disabled 87 year old veteran, elderly women and hundreds of others, threatening them with $2,000 fines.   Typically, the “offense” penalized was living near a shade tree that ever-so-slightly raised sidewalk sections.

The sidewalk replacement crusade has damaged and removed hundreds of these large shade trees.   Does the Mayor think the town looks better– and is “greener” — without these trees?  Further, numerous large trees whose roots were cut to accommodate sidewalk replacements fell during Sandy.  If additional large trees fall during the next big storm, and land on houses or people instead of power lines, will the Mayor take responsibility?   If the sidewalk replacement crusade was such an enlightened idea, why is HP the only town in NJ–and perhaps in the US–to implement an aggressive, punitive enforcement campaign like HP’s?

Now the Mayor is claiming poverty. She irresponsibly attributes this poverty to the $60,000 that HP spent on its unsuccessful attorneys in the sidewalk case. This misspent $60,000 is a tiny fraction of the overall municipal budget. HP wastes money in many ways, including on a $1.3 million environmental center that is scarcely ever used and would have been much more “environmental” if trees had been planted there.   Many municipal officials make high salaries and receive expensive benefits, including pensions, which most residents don’t receive. The Code official who spearheaded the sidewalk crusade made $103K/year from HP and simultaneously held a position in at least one other town.  If one is affluent and/or politically connected, one might have supported the sidewalk replacement crusade.   Others did not.

When HP’s government imperiously fined and required residents to collectively spend hundreds of thousands of dollars out of tight household budgets on sidewalks that did not need replacement, the government did not care about the financial effect on residents.   Pay it over time, the government said. Now that HP’s government faces costs for its own conduct, the Mayor whines that HP doesn’t have the money.   Perhaps HP’s government can pay these costs over time.

HP had a clear opportunity to prevent the sidewalk suits against it.  The record shows that I warned HP several times that its sidewalk crusade was unconstitutional and that it should stop mistreating citizens before I brought suit.  They ignored me.  Such arrogance and incompetence caused them to lose the case I brought and has placed them in a bad position in the class action recently filed by another attorney.

Highland Park’s government seemed happy to push people around during the sidewalk crusade. But justice and karma can be rough.

Mark D. Oshinskie

Attorney at Law

Highland Park, NJ

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