“Government is a trust, and the officers of the government are trustees; and both the trust and the trustees are created for the benefit of the people.”
The words of the esteemed 19th Century lawyer, orator, and politician, Henry Clay, came to mind as I spoke with a representative of Edison Township’s (New Jersey) municipal government. He had come to one of my business’ offices expecting to find the owner present so that he might collect an outstanding municipal fee.
He was surprised at the owner’s absence, as he (or rather someone else in his office) had made an appointment. Of course, the person booking the appointment never identified herself as a representative of Edison Township’s government nor provided any indication of the purpose of the appointment. Rather, she postured as a prospective client and happily booked the appointment.
We receive many such calls in the course of our business day. But, having taken this call myself, I knew that there was something strange about it. Every question that I posed the caller evoked a hesitation on her part in answering. Nonetheless, we speak with many people, and a small minority are hesitant to provide information in advance of meeting with us. I would not have guessed at that time that the call was part of a covert operation on the part of the Township of Edison.
Why the contrivance? The municipal official in question could have gotten the same result by walking into the office on any day.
The behavior of the Township of Edison in this matter is shameful. It displays an arrogance that should not be tolerated by citizens in a free society. As an aside, the fee that the Township deemed worthy of such extraordinary measures to collect is for a biannual fire inspection ($45.00). This is a pure moneymaker for the Township in that it takes a fire official all of 15 seconds to inspect my small suite of offices. Calculate the hourly rate to get a sense for the enormity of the Township’s haul via this fee.
Below is the text of a letter that I am sending along with my payment:
After our telephone conversation, I thought about the way in which officials from the Township of Edison behaved in this matter.
On Tuesday, my associate who operates our office in Edison took the day off, and I was taking the calls for that office as well as my own. I received a call from someone identifying herself as Donna who asked if the business was still at that address. Assuming that she was a prospective client and not wanting her to make a trip to find that the office was closed, I informed her of same and asked if she wanted to make an appointment. She said “yes,” and we established an appointment for 11:30 AM today (Wednesday, November 16). While on the phone with her, I queried if she had had work done by us in the past. She said “no.” I proceeded to inform her of our exact location within the shopping center. When I requested her last name, she replied “Brown.” I then asked for a telephone number, and she responded “(732) XXX-XXXX (number removed to protect the innocent).” I read it back to her, and she affirmed it.
When my associate arrived this morning, she routinely placed confirmation calls to those with appointments today. She got a voicemail identifying the number as belonging to Chester and Bebe.
My point in relating this story is to express my alarm that the Township of Edison employs such subterfuge in communicating with firms doing business within its borders. To pose as a prospective client (a presumption that the caller should have made given the questions I asked her) in order to setup an appointment for a local official to collect a minor municipal fee is a violation of any governmental ethics of which I am aware. In addition, if the number she provided is indeed not hers or a township number, the individual identifying herself as Donna Brown (if that is her actual name) has inconvenienced another person as well.
I am attempting to identify the individual at the number that was provided. In addition, I am considering transmitting a copy of this correspondence to the office of the Edison Mayor, the Governor, and the NJ State Attorney General.
For those interested, I will keep you updated on any news on this matter via the comments below. Feel free to add comments about your own stories of dealings with municipal governments.
At a time when government at every level has failed its citizens, we should all be ever more vigilant in bringing to light its abuses of power. And so, I say to the Township of Edison, New Jersey – Shame on You!