The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled the dismantling of the Camden City Police Force to have been an undemocratic process. The creation of the Camden County Metro Force was handled by the elected oligarchy, all while today, the State’s highest court says that the residents should’ve had the ability to vote on the issue via referendum.
Let’s take a moment to remember how it went down, and then, we will compare this event to several others that have happened, or are still in the process of happening, all in Camden City.
According to an article from Philly.com, Mayor Dana Redd announced the firing of the City Force, and the introduction of the County Force, in early August of 2012. Ignoring all opposition from the residents of the city, the Camden County Metro Division was born May 1st, 2013, just nine months later. An entire police force gone, and another one hired, within a nine month time frame.
In late March of 2013, Governor Chris Christie announced the takeover of the Camden City Public School Board, by which he eventually appointed Paymon Rouhanifard as Superintendent, leaving the Camden City School Board powerless. The State Board of Education voted to unanimously approve of the Governor’s plan to take effect as of June 25th, 2013. That was roughly a two-three month time frame.
Most recently, we saw another rushed power grab, but this time within the healthcare sector. A bill sponsored by Assemblyman Gilbert Wilson and Senator Nilsa Cruz-Perez, both State representatives of Camden City, was introduced to the legislature on June 8th, 2015. The bill was designed to, “Revise certain requirements concerning provision of emergency medical services”. The bill also made Virtua hospital no longer able to provide EMS services to Camden City, and instead, the services were given to Cooper Hospital. Governor Chris Christie signed the bill on July 6th, 2015, which was less than a month later. This bill has been deeply questioned due to the circumvention of the State Health Department’s authority to decide who should be providing EMS services.
With these past three examples, we have seen how the politicians will do what they want in Camden City, and anything will be pushed through fast, no matter what the residents want. We now have proof, from the Supreme Court of New Jersey, that this approach to governing is not legal. Although nothing can be done to retroactively give Camden residents a say about their city’s police force, the highest legal voice has ruled that the move was unjust and should not have been allowed to happen.
Before we get into what needs to change, let’s revisit one other event that happened in Camden City. In 2012, Governor Christie held a press conference about the state of higher education in New Jersey. Within his press conference, he nonchalantly mentioned that Rutgers University’s Camden campus would no longer belong to Rutgers, but instead be merged into Rowan University by the strike of his pen. This was designed to be another fast moving power grab, strategically giving little time to react. However, in this example, the Rutgers Community erupted and fought back with vigor, and there were plenty of law professors eagerly pointing out contracts between the State and the University, leagally forbidding such a scenario.
So, in the case of Rutgers-Camden, we saw a large response from current students, professors, and alumni. There was money behind a legal defense, if needed. Students created their own petitions and eventually defeated the R2RMerge, or the RutRow Crisis. For Camden residents though, they do not always have an alumni body of more than 460,000 to stand up for them in the face of greedy politicians. Camden residents do not always have millions of spare legal dollars for a fight in court. But Camden residents do have a voice, and they can use it audibly and digitally in order to have themselves heard.
Camden City and Camden County politicians (local, state, and federal) need to start trying harder to listen to their community.
New Jersey as a State also needs to protect its residents from these swift legislative actions. When something is so blatantly controversial, there needs to be a better way to receive a referendum, rather than turning around three years later and having the Superior Court say, “Yeah, Camden politicians were wrong, and they shouldn’t have done that. Look at me shaking my finger”….
We need a way to prevent an oligarchical override of our Democracy here in New Jersey.