Is silencing critics becoming a new core skill for municipal governments, including NYC? Judging by yesterday’s NYT’s (Jim Dwyer’s Column “About NY” on the Metro front page, 1/24/10) it is, and at quite the cost to taxpayers. $200,000 awarded one victim.
Did You Work Today to Silence Werner Baumgartner?
Asbury Radio Editorial
Why does Asbury Park persist in jailing its own historian – its most outspoken critic – for not fixing; paving, scraping, and painting his own home? Is it the only municipality with code violation enforcement issues? Some towns simply apply the fines to the owner’s taxes. There are no circus-like court hearings with their inherent overhead for court officers and no subsequent drain on the county penal system. Did you work today to keep Werner Baumgartner in jail for another 28 days?
When asked on the eve of Baumgartner’s latest order to jail last Friday, Mayor Ed Johnson told this resident he couldn’t recall another case of any property owner going to jail for zoning violations. That’s actually saying quite a lot for a city where its decaying once-glorious landmarks have become as renowned as its ties to Bruce Springsteen. Tourists write bemoaning the loss of such gems to neglect. The latest victim is the “Charms” AKA “Elks Building.”
“Maybe he will be the precedent,” mused Johnson. Perhaps he already is. Asbury Park has a long history of punishing those who disagree, either through the loss of a job or business, social isolation or character assassination. With Baumgartner’s third trip to jail we can certainly add the effectiveness of incarceration. The first time, the Op-Ed page of the local paper was ablaze with emails. This time even backers of the city want anonymity. If we consulted an historian he or she might cite the similarity here with past totalitarian regimes. I doubt anyone raised the issue of conflict of interest then either. To quote Thomas Jefferson, “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.”
If the City’s intention isn’t to send a chill through its populace, it could refer the matter to a jurisdiction beyond its authority. There is legal precedent for that. Of course, that authority might reject the frivolous use of its resources.
Maureen Nevin is a resident of Asbury Park.
PS - Let's not forget the still unsolved 911 call that allowed officials to enter Baumgartner's home. What was the issue? Oh, yes, a dead body in his basement. That can't happen to you, or could it?