On Tuesday, October 7, Princeton Borough decided to join 182 other municipalities in the country and stand up against the Patriot Act.
Mayor Marvin Reed was forced to break a tie twice during the resolution discussion in the public portion of the Borough Council meeting. First, the council was split in half on whether the resolution should be voted on during the meeting or postponed until the following week. Then, there was a tie between those for and against adopting the resolution opposing the government's Patriot Act.
The issue was not whether or not the council was against the Patriot Act, but whether or not this was a national issue that should be acknowledged in a Borough meeting. In the end the resolution was passed, with a vote of 4-3.
The Borough was the second municipality in the state to pass a resolution against the bill that was passed by Congress 45 days after the September 11 attacks. Willingboro Township also passed a resolution opposing the bill last month. The Patriot Act, created to increase safety in the country against further terrorist attacks, was passed by overwhelming margins in both the Senate, 98 to 1, and the House of Representatives, 356 to 66. However many criticized the 342-page bill after it was passed because of how it infringes on citizens' rights.
The Patriot Act allows the government to perform a more thorough investigation of those thought to be connected with terrorism. The bill says the government has the legal right to search private medical records, library records and student records without a warrant, and without notifying the individual being investigated. All municipalities are required to hand over this information if the government demands it.
The Borough's resolution does not state that it is against government activity to combat terrorism, but that the borough is against certain aspects of the Patriot Act. "The mayor and Council reaffirm their support for increased security measures to protect our citizenry from terrorist attacks, but also believe that such security must be provided only in a manner which will not unduly and unneccesarily infringe upon the constitutional and other rights and liberties of the American people," reads the resolution.
Approximately 15 Borough residents came to the meeting to present the resolution to Council. These residents are part of an organization they call Citizens Opposed to the Patriot Act. Formed in July by Peter Wolanin, group members have met regularly to research the Patriot Act and find ways in which they can combat it.
Karen Pizarro, one of the organization's members, said she was happy the council decided to pass the resolution. "I am proud that Princeton, a world-class learning community, is now among those communities challenging and opposing the Patriot Act," she said. During the meeting she cited three other similar college towns that have passed a resolution against the Act, Cambridge, Ann Arbor and Amherst.
Four women from the organization, including Ms. Pizarro, spoke in front of Council to argue why the resolution should be passed. While the Borough adopted resolutions opposing the war in Iraq and the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, the resolution was discussed and debated by Council for approximately an hour.
"If [the resolution] doesn't directly affect the work of Princeton Borough, we shouldn't address it here," said Council member David Goldfarb.
Councilwoman Peggy Karcher agreed. "I'm not going to support [the resolution], not because I'm for the Patriot Act, because I'm not," she said. "This is just not the best forum for us to vote on these issues."
However other Borough Council members said that what was important was what the resolution stood for. Councilman Roger Martindell said that while the Patriot Act is a national issue, it affects the community and families that live in Princeton.
Councilwoman Wendy Benchley, who appeared to be the strongest advocate of the resolution, spoke up several times in favor of passing it. "I will support this," she said. "If there is any [issue] that affects us on a local level, this does."
Mayor Reed said he was recently affected by the works of the Patriot Act when he received a letter from the State Office of Counterterrorism warning against domestic terrorists. However the letter asked that the mayor keep the information private. "What really got me was that it said that under no circumstances should this [letter] be distributed to the public," he said.
The resolution passed, with three votes against, Peggy Karcher, David Goldfarb and Mildred Trotman, and three votes in favor, Roger Martindell, Wendy Benchley and Joseph O'Neill. The mayor voted in favor of the resolution, breaking the tie.
Ms. Pizarro said the organization's next step will be to take the resolution to the state, and convince New Jersey to pass a state resolution against the Patriot Act, just as Alaska, Hawaii, New Mexico, and Vermont have done.
"This sends a message to Congress that ordinary citizens are extremely concerned about any infringement upon our liberties," she said.