FAIR LAWN, N.J. — Eighty-eight years ago, the Radburn Association in Fair Lawn decided how officials representing the neighborhood would be elected. The process has not changed significantly since then.
But it could.
New Jersey Senator Robert Gordon (D) and other state officials are trying to pass a bill that would change the bylaws of the Radburn Association.
"Dictators can thrive if they take care of their people," Gordon said during a community meeting on Thursday night dedicated to the issue.
"Here, people not only have limited control over the process, the governing organization is unresponsive or hostile to their concerns."
The Association, a corporate entity that's not liable to follow the same laws as public offices, has been heavily criticized for lack of transparency and uncooperative behavior with residents.
"If I want to see my financials right now I have to make an appointment, I cannot take a notepad or take pictures, — I can’t discuss it with anyone but this is my money," resident Liz Kuriyama said during the meeting.
Gordon introduced an amendment to the state senate that would allow open elections for organizations like the Radburn Association.
The bill has passed state senate and an assembly committee. However, the bill can still be amended at this point in the process.
Residents are blocked from running for office themselves due to the 88-year-old system's stipulation that only members of the Board of Trustees can be elected. In order to become a member of the board, you have to be selected by a current trustee.
"It’s easier to run for the state senate than for the board of trustees of Radburn," Gordon said.
Proponents of the system have petitioned to stop the bill .
They argue that the current system prevents the neighborhood from being overrun with political agendas and moneyed interest groups. Additionally, changing the election process could fundamentally alter the identity of the neighborhood.
"Fundamentally altering is part of the American process. Starting with the American Revolution: no taxation without representation," Resident Manfred Weidhorn said.
Gordon described the situation as one he "really wanted to avoid," but was petitioned by members of the community to do something about their lack of representation.
After receiving multiple complaints about the Radburn Association, he reached out to the organization to hear their side. Their response was unexpected.
"They sent their lawyers who were extraordinarily condescending to me," Gordon said.
"I asked them: 'What kind of changes can we make that you can live with?' Radio silence. For months."
The tone of Thursday night's meeting was mostly in favor of the bill. Gordon hopes to see it pass state assembly by June later this year.
The senator expressed that the situation could have been avoided if the Radburn Association had worked with its constituents.
"In my office, we try to solve problems for people, we don’t respond with hostile acts. They created this revolution themselves," Gordon said.