The board of adjustment boycott that began shortly after last year’s reorganization meeting is continuing until the City Council concludes a stalled inquiry it opened more than three month again, said boycotting members on Thursday afternoon.
“If we go back now it will seem like we had a personal agenda against a commissioner,” said commissioner Aheya Khan referring to the removal of three board of adjustment members earlier in the month.
Council members replaced Geraldine Rayfield, Alaur Khondokar, and Benny Tavarez with community activist Roger Grier, Jersey City police officer Ehab Abdelaziz, and city resident Ramon Joaquin.
The members were removed after their term on the board expired on June 30th, 2016.
Rayfield and Khondokar were involved in the controversy in which three Muslim members of the board alleged members and applicants were being treated with prejudice and racism.
Khondokar, Khan, and Montaha Deeb began their boycott after being subjected to alleged prejudice from other members, said Khan at a public meeting earlier in the year.
“My attendance remains unsettled given the City Council has not completed the hearings to address the concerns raised by the three BOA members,” said Deeb. The council questioned Khan and Rayfield at formal hearings in March and April, but has not scheduled any other hearings to interview the rest of the individuals involved in the controversy.
“It’s clear the issue has not been resolved,” said council president William McKoy, who has the authority to restart the hearings. He said the board members have not taken the suggestions of the council to amend their behavior and conduct.
Khan said he is willing to return to the board at the behest of the council. “If the city council tells us, we will return,” he said.
The council president said Khan’s bid is “out of order” and “impertinent.” He said he would not deign to respond to Khan.
“He doesn’t run the city council or the city. He was appointed by the council to do a job. If he’s not prepared to do the job, he should resign,” said McKoy.
“If they want to take me out that’s fine, but I cannot participate on a board where the city fails to recognize bias,” said Khan.
Though some council members have said the boycotting members were failing to meet their obligation to attend meetings and ought to be removed others have argued the members are involved in an act of civil disobedience.
Khan has characterized the controversy as a moral fight against the perceived wrong being done on the board. He has said applicants with Muslim names are subjected to irrelevant questions. For example, some members would point out conflict of interest every time a developer with an Islamic name appears before the board.
Rayfield had difficulty explaining conflict of interest to council members when she was interviewed by the council.
Khan said there were other instances of alleged unprofessional behavior from board members and the board’s secretary Margarita Rodriguez. For example, he said, the secretary has yelled at Deeb when she was chairwoman of the board of adjustment.
Khan said he would like to see the inquiry completed and actions taken to rectify the alleged conduct at the board.
“The whole point is to make everyone feel equal,” said Khan. “There has to be some type of closure.”
“I appreciate the council’s willingness to hold the hearings and work to resolve the problems,” said Deeb suggesting she too would like to see the inquiry brought to a conclusion.
The council president indicated the hearings will be restarted. “How we’re operating now is unacceptable. We’ll take the necessary steps to bring back some order and discipline to make sure the board of adjustment can function properly as it was intended.”
It has been a full year since the issue emerged on the board of adjustment.