It got to the point that Jackson Township’s Business Administrator Helene Schlegel, MS, MPP, CPM was begging former Council President Robert A. Nixon to stop his hunt for alleged hidden gatherings of Jews in local homes throughout Jackson.
Helene details how code enforcement checked out several of the reported homes and repeatedly came up empty of illegal behavior: “We are wasting valuable time and money checking every complaint that comes in. … We have other more serious issues, heroin drug houses, etc. These are the issues that we need to be concentrating on.”
The above email was among the trove of stunning revelations found in the latest OPRA release from the Township. The emails reveal an obsessive hunt for alleged hidden gatherings of Jewish residents to pray on Friday evening and Shabbos, even though there was no illegality, noise, traffic or other bothersome activity alleged. Despite peering in windows, and counting pedestrians and cars, Jackson code officials found nothing, despite repeated directives from the town to track the Jews down. Ignored were the home prayer groups held by a long time Jackson pastor in his home for over 20 years, for his group no such directive was issued.
Councilman Nixon – who serves as Director of Government Affairs for the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association, and as a Professor of Government at University of Pennsylvania – was exceptionally active in the Jew hunt.
Why would a Town zealously pursue legal home peaceful prayer assemblies while sidelining issues such as drug dens?
The publicized emails reveal a frightening pattern reminiscent of Americans’ worst fears about “Big Brother Watching.” Counting the number of people walking into a home, how many cars are parked in a driveway, at what time people arrive and whether “a Bible” was observed. In one stunning email, Zoning Officer Jeffrey Purpuro even observed how two of the targeted homes, on separate streets, “both have the same style blinds on all of the windows, first and second floors.”
On at least one occasion, Councilman Nixon personally drove down towards a property that has been cleared by Code Enforcement in order to report back that a greater number of cars were seen in the driveway the following week. In one mostly redacted email to Township Attorney Jean Cipriani, Mr. Nixon appears to have searched online for an Orthodox Shul directory and appears to relay a Jackson address for investigation.
The Jackson Attorney, part of the law firm of the powerful Ocean County law firm owned by power broker George Gilmore, later relayed to Mr. Nixon a draft ordinance that would more effectively limit allowed places of assembly, which “would better survive (legal) challenge.” On another occasion, Mr. Nixon vowed to a complainer “I’ll drive by, take picture” regarding a curb allegedly damaged by residents.
It is particularly ironic to note that Orthodox Jackson residents have repeatedly reached out to Mr. Nixon and other Township officials, seeking a constructive dialogue on the construction of proper synagogues that respect Township and resident concerns. The Township refused to cooperate with them.
On the other hand, the emails reveal that Mr. Nixon made himself extremely accessible and helpful towards residents complaining about Orthodox neighbors and seeking to enact ordinances in response to their existence. For instance, Mr. Nixon invited Kelly Kanis, a vocal agitator, to call or text his personal cell phone and promised, “I am always open to new ideas.”
The paranoid Nixon hunt is reminiscent perhaps of the infamous Richard Nixon paranoia. Jackson’s Nixon’s actions are no surprise: given Mr. Nixon’s own words regarding the diversification of Jackson. In one email, he responded to a resident who complained about Orthodox Jews who had moved in; “Breaks my heart” the Councilman remarked. He used similar language in an email regarding Jews buying homes in Jackson’s Harmony Farms neighborhood: “It’s heartbreaking.”
“It breaks many hearts and likely the law, that a leading Township official finds that the presence of Orthodox residents to be heartbreaking,” remarks one distraught Jackson resident. “It is sad that Mr. Nixon invests so much personal time and effort to find non-existent violations amongst Orthodox residents, as opposed to focusing on issues far more important to all residents of our beautiful town. It is even more frightening that he is misdirecting official public resources and dollars in his hunt,” said the resident.