The Cranbury Township Committee this week declined to create a civil rights commission, despite calls from some residents saying such a municipal board is necessary.
In April, supporters of the idea approached the governing body with a proposal to have Cranbury join other towns, including Princeton, that have such boards. They pointed to the lack of a “formal governance structure exists to address issues of concern to the town’s minority groups, nor to promote interest in and awareness of diverse groups.”
Mayor Glenn R. Johnson, addressing the issue at the committee’s meeting May 14, said he felt the proponents “did not prove their case” that Cranbury needs to have a civil rights commission. For instance, he said it had been suggested the commission would get reports of hate crimes and bias crimes.
“In Cranbury, the only authority qualified to determine whether an incident rises to the level of a hate or bias crime is the police department,” he said. “That’s where the incidents need to be reported.”
Johnson later voted with committeemen Daniel P. Mulligan III and Jay Taylor against having the township attorney draft an ordinance to establish a civil rights commission. Committeeman Matthew A. Scott and Michael P. Ferrante voted to take that step.
During the meeting, each member of the governing body had a chance to weigh in.
Mulligan said based on his research, no complaints of discriminatory acts had been filed with police. He said federal, state and local laws protect everyone in town.
“If there is anything that’s done that is discriminatory, on any level, there are avenues for you to raise your voice, raise your hand, and the proper authorities will help you,” he said.
Mulligan said he looked at civil rights commissions in other towns and found they address immigration-related issues of sanctuary cities and the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and are involved in school hiring practices and school disputes.
“I’d like to think our Board of Education and our school does a really good job,” he said. “We don’t need another resident board getting involved.”
“If people feel they want to get together, I absolutely support it,” Taylor said. “But I also see it as the first step being a private entity and doing it on a private basis and seeing if they can get the volunteers.”
Scott, a nine-year-resident of town, shared his impression that Cranbury seemed to him to have a “closed-off mentality” and a “lack of diversity of thought.”
At a committee meeting in April, Scott had spoken in favor of creating a civil rights commission. This week, however, he said that when the idea had been proposed, “I kind of backed off from that as well because I thought to myself, well, you don’t really have any evidence of civil rights being violated.”
He said he favored a proposal by Ferrante to form a human relations commission which would focus on how to bring people in the community together.
“I think we need to do more on the governance side to really make it feel like the welcome mat is there and that the door is open,” Scott said.
Officials, in a separate 3-2 vote, declined to have the township attorney draft a measure to form a human relations board. All five committee members voted the same way as they had on the civil rights commission vote.
Earlier in the meeting, Johnson addressed how the fact that the five members of the governing body are white men “keeps being raised.” He said he received an email on May 14 in which the female author of the message referred to them as “white heterosexual men.”
“That young lady has had no specific experience with me that qualifies her to identify me as a heterosexual. I must have quite an aura,” Johnson said in getting a laugh from some members of the public.
“I don’t get this labeling and this identity politics,” Mulligan said. “That’s a divisive tone in this community when we’re going to point out differences in who we are.”
Johnson, who chairs the Cranbury Democratic Party, also touched on his efforts to recruit Township Committee candidates. Of all the women he asked, only one, Susan Goetz, a former committeewoman, agreed to run, he said. Johnson said the other women turned him down saying they had children.
“This is an upscale community and not all of the women work outside the home. And I can state categorically that every woman who doesn’t work outside the home and whose children are in school six or seven hours a day can serve on the Township Committee,” he said. “The only matter in question is whether she’s willing to do what it takes to win an election and then do the job.”
Johnson touched on examples of past and current officials who had to juggle other responsibilities, including one who continued serving as mayor despite battling breast cancer.
“So the next Democratic woman I ask to run for Township Committee is going to have to get pregnant to avoid running, “ he said, “because I have a story to rebut every other excuse she can throw at me.”
One woman at the meeting, objecting to his remark, called out, “You are so obnoxious, it’s beyond belief.”
Resident Jessica Irons, a supporter of forming the civil rights commission, said during public comment the notion that “an informal group is equivalent to something with township backing is just crazy to me. It’s a bit insulting, frankly.”