Video: Long Morris Township meeting ends with housing vote–and altercation

Morris Township police subdue a man removed from municipal meeting, May 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Morris Township police subdue a man removed from municipal meeting, May 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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A special meeting of the Morris Township Committee ended Thursday with four police officers struggling to subdue a heckler, who was removed to the parking lot moments after a contentious 3-2 vote approving a package of affordable housing measures.

Committeeman Matheu Nunn, a Republican who supported the measures, was explaining his differences with dissenting Democrats Cathy Wilson and John Arvenites when catcalls came from the back of the meeting room.

Video: Police remove heckler:

“You said you weren’t running. What are you doing?” a man blurted at Nunn, who is stepping down this year to move to a nearby town. “Are you running for Congress?”

Mayor Peter Mancuso admonished the man to quiet down. But the man persisted: “He’s not my councilman!”

Nunn, who is a lawyer, kept his cool and finished his remarks. Then the focus shifted to the back wall. Two police officers took hold of the man and began ushering him out, while Mancuso urged the audience to return its attention to the dais.

As the three-and-a-half hour meeting concluded, people were mingling at that dais when Township Administrator Tim Quinn suddenly bolted.

The former police chief nearly bounced off Mancuso as he scrambled to the parking lot. In the glare of patrol car lights, before a gaggle of onlookers from the meeting, four officers grappled on the grass with the man, attempting to handcuff him.

He appeared to be physically fit. A woman who said she observed the start of the parking lot episode described the man as vigorously kicking at two officers.

Police managed to climb onto his back, pinning him flat long enough to get his hands cuffed behind him. Then they allowed him to sit up.

“There’s no game! What is wrong with you! I just want to go home!” the man yelled, distraught and agitated. An ambulance arrived.

We’ll provide updates as we get them.

FAST AND FURIOUS TWEAKS

It was a bizarre finish to an evening that saw a resident declare he is not a racist, despite comments at the last meeting that disturbed a black minister.

Committee members and Township Planner Paul Phillips had raced to tweak the ordinance, right up to the vote, with amendments pitched that same day by residents of the Liberty Greens townhomes and their newly hired lawyer, Rob Simon.

The ordinance rezones chunks of the Township, so officials can meet a June 15 court deadline to prove they are serious about implementing a December 2017 affordable housing settlement.

Over two meetings totaling nearly 10 hours this month, residents complained that the Committee left them in the dark about immensely complicated plans they fear will choke the Township with traffic and harm property values.

Residents only received copies of the ordinance on Thursday afternoon. Their proposed amendments were flying so fast and furious at the meeting that Wilson admitted she was not quite sure precisely what the Committee was voting on.

Explaining her no vote, Wilson said the governing body needs greater transparency and should pro-actively educate the public about affordable housing, to avoid more angry nights.

Arvenites said the courts’ affordable housing mandates are wrong. Development would be too dense under the Township’s plan, he asserted, explaining his opposition vote.

But Mancuso and Nunn both said the Township has negotiated an affordable housing “fair share” quota far lower than the 1,100 units the Fair Share Housing Center sought to impose.

While Township officials had difficulty defining that exact number on Thursday–745 units? 400 units? –Mancuso and Nunn warned that housing density could grow much worse if December’s settlement is ignored and the courts take over.

West Windsor and Princeton both fared badly when they let the courts determine their affordable housing obligations, Nunn said.

Stay tuned for more.

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