Governor’s proposal would jeopardize democratic values and right to self-determination in Atlantic City and beyond

NEWARK - The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey has issued a statement on Governor Christie’s proposal to grant the State the authority to take over New Jersey municipalities with troubled finances.

The following statement is attributable to ACLU-NJ Executive Director Udi Ofer:

“Governor Christie’s plan for a state takeover of Atlantic City raises troubling concerns for the rights of its residents. All New Jerseyans have the right to an elected local government that is responsive to their needs and accountable to the people, regardless of whether their community is struggling financially. This is a cornerstone of our democratic values.

“The proposal under consideration would allow the state to take over any function and power of the Atlantic City government related to its fiscal condition or recovery. The State of New Jersey would have the power to dissolve any of Atlantic City’s municipal authorities, boards, departments or functions and abolish any non-elected positions in the municipality. Any vote of the City Council could effectively be vetoed by the State, which could also unilaterally terminate contracts and collective bargaining agreements. The State could overturn and rewrite old ordinances, and it could institute entirely new city laws.

“We need not look further than Flint, Michigan, to see the disaster that can befall a community when state managers assume authority to take extreme measures without any accountability to local concerns. The Governor’s takeover proposal for Atlantic City — and any other municipality that may fall within its criteria in the future — would give State overseers enormous power to slash or dismantle critical municipal programs and services without meaningful input or the consent of the people who call it home and raise families there. The proposal also grants those State overseers the authority to sidestep our open meetings laws and make decisions in greater secrecy.

“Far too often poor communities, working families and communities of color see their rights undermined in the name of their protection. We urge New Jersey policymakers to consider the fundamental rights of Atlantic City residents and the values of a democracy before advancing any takeover plan. Regardless of whose plan it is, our lawmakers must guarantee Atlantic City residents a meaningful say in determining the future of their community.”