A Voter’s Remorse

An Open Letter about Mayor Susan Knudsen, Village Of Ridgewood

In May 2014, I voted for Susan Knudsen to become a council member in our village. At that time, I had known Susan for just a few years as a colleague on the Ridgewood Zoning Board of Adjustment where we sat next to each other once she became the vice chair of the board. That event, the board’s reorganization meeting in July 2013, should have been a sign of what was to come. Susan essentially manipulated the board to jump over more senior members to move into the vice chair position.

The next sign for me was Susan’s very last vote on the board, this coming after she had already been elected. It involved the temporary cell tower over on Route 17. She passed up her vote, waited for all of us to approve the temporary tower, and then voted NO. In my opinion, this was pandering to the residents who were there in objection to the application.

Nepotism

I think my biggest disappointment with Susan came shortly into her term as a council member. In the summer of 2014, the council was considering changes to its hiring practices. One of the questions considered was whether Ridgewood should maintain a residency requirement for police officers and firefighters at the point of hire or open its hiring process to a larger, more competitive pool of candidates. Knudsen advocated strongly that Ridgewood jobs should be given only to Ridgewood residents, particularly when it comes to public safety positions, and, despite some debate among council members, she joined her colleagues in voting to maintain that requirement.

See Ordinance No. 3429: An Ordinance To Amend Chapter 3, Article VIII Of The Code Of The Village of Ridgewood Entitled “Residency Requirements.”

The problem, however, was that Knudsen had kept secret the fact that her three sons were not only interested in public safety jobs in the Village, but that they were already on the Civil Service list of potential hires. In fact, she didn’t disclose this important fact until about 8 months later, a disclosure that led to some heated village council meetings, including a very revealing argument between Knudsen and the Village’s labor attorney.

Not surprisingly, within weeks of becoming mayor, Knudsen administered the oath of office to two of her sons to become Ridgewood police officers. Months later, she administered a similar oath to her third son to become a paid firefighter. That certainly makes Knudsen a great mother, but maybe not so much a good shepherd of Village affairs and finances. IF THIS ISN’T THE DEFINITION OF NEPOTISM, THEN I DON’T KNOW WHAT IS!

Added to the nepotism is the fact that Mayor Knudsen has continued to participate on many matters, including budget discussions, related to the Police and Fire Departments, regardless of a perceived conflict of interest. As has been the practice in other communities in this county, she should be recusing herself on any votes affecting those departments. This isn’t about personal gain but about public service.

Unethical Behavior

It seems to me that since becoming the mayor, Knudsen’s only agenda has been to undo whatever the previous administration enacted or put in motion. A large part of that is the ever contentious parking garage. We can all agree that the village is fairly well split over this issue, but steps were taken in late 2015 and early 2016 to move on this matter and to secure funding for a garage. There was a unanimous vote by the council to approve the funding for a garage, including Knudsen’s vote to APPROVE the funding. All of that changed once Knudsen became mayor, and the new council was in place.

First, there was her questionable acceptance in June 2016, of a large cash prize from the Academy of Our Lady, the school affiliated with Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Although no one questions the School or the Church, several people have questioned whether Knudsen, as the incoming mayor, should have taken the grand prize of $25,000 — that’s right, $25,000 — from an organization at the center of the parking garage debate. (She later tried to justify keeping the large sum of money during a September 28, 2016 council meeting.

Regardless, ever since July 2016, she has stalled action on a new garage with one maneuver or another, her favorite one being a new study of one kind or another. Meanwhile, resident commuters as well as business owners continue to suffer, while shoppers and diners are increasingly choosing to go elsewhere.

I was also disturbed when I discovered that three village council members attended a meeting at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church on May 23, 2017. Three members represent a majority of the council, thus requiring public notice. The only notice that was provided appeared in the church bulletin in part: The Village will hold a special information meeting for all concerned residents on Tuesday evening, May 23rd, at 7:30 PM in the Parish Center. The three members who attended the meeting were Mayor Knudsen, Deputy Mayor Sedon, and Council member Hache.

I have no idea what transpired at the meeting. I am not a member of the church, nor was an official notice to the public posted for this meeting, as should legally have been required. Nor were there meeting minutes made available to the public, also a legal requirement.

Intolerance

Knudsen, who struggles with democratic dissent, has begun to wage war on several of the volunteer boards and committees that have been serving to the benefit of our community for many years now. In my view, volunteers are the backbone of any community, including Ridgewood.

Thus far, the Financial Advisory Committee has been disbanded. The Parks and Recreation Committee has been largely neutered. Other committees, including the Historic Preservation Committee, have been hampered by Knudsen’s heavy-handedness and insistence that her supporters be allowed to secretly audio and video tape meetings. And the Community Relations Advisory Board (CRAB) is continuously threatened by the actions of Knudsen and her supporters who have suddenly started to appear at monthly meetings with the apparent intent to sow discord. (Full disclosure, my wife is the current co-chair of this committee). I know most about this committee which has been in operation for well over 20 years to address issues of bias, race, culture, bullying and other sensitive matters, well before the previous administration had anything to do with it.

It all seems to have reached a fever pitch when in the spring of last year CRAB decided to ask the village to fly the gay pride flag at Village Hall for the month of June. CRAB members authorized the co-chair to make the presentation to the village council as well as the Glen Rock council since the committee serves both towns. The experiences were like night and day. The village council stalled on the issue for months and finally denied the request. It was a hurtful decision for many of our residents, and I think the village suffered quite a black eye in the press and to its reputation.

The community reacted in its own way. Right after the denial, gay pride flags were flying all over the central business district and outside residents’ homes. It was quite heartening.

My wife made the same presentation to the Glen Rock council, and the reception could not have been better nor more starkly different from what happened in Ridgewood. The response was essentially “what can we do to help.” When the gay pride flag was raised in Glen Rock, the ceremony was incredibly moving and even attracted the presence of Barney Franks, the first openly gay representative in Congress. The police officer who helped raise the flag is an openly gay officer in the Glen Rock Police Department. Could it have been more fitting?

Following the bad publicity and divisive public debate, a gay pride banner was eventually placed between two garden stakes at the Northwest corner of Van Neste Square, not exactly ceremonious. And that, even though Knudsen and the council had promised that the flag would fly on the flagpole at the square.

I have been a resident of Ridgewood since 1995 and have always been proud to say that I am a resident. I find Ridgewood to be incredibly generous in the services that are housed within our community, from mental health treatment to group homes to age friendly initiatives to that amazing Social Service Administration located at the train station that provides food to those in need. We have housing for those who cannot afford much, housing dedicated to senior residents, and we have always seen ourselves as an inclusive community willing to open our arms to just about anyone. We have amazing houses of worship that serve our diverse community. On my street you can find people from all over the world who have chosen to live here because of our reputation for excellence and tolerance.

For me, some of that good feeling went away over Village Hall’s handling of the gay pride flag issue. I blame the Mayor for all of that. She sets the tone. She is the one trying to exert total control over this village, I suspect because that is her true nature.

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In addition to these ethical and moral transgressions, I also question Knudsen’s mismanagement of Ridgewood’s finances. I mean, let’s face it; during her almost 2 years as our mayor, taxes and fees have gone up, while services have gone down and money has been wasted on parking “experiments” to no good result. Just drive around town and count the increasing potholes and shoddy roads that are rattling our cars. This alone serves as a powerful symbol about how she is destroying our community.

    Beyond all of this, there are many unanswered questions that people in town have been talking about lately, including:

  • Questions about the appropriateness of the Knudsen family running a tire business out of their home on Circle Avenue.
  • Questions about the appropriateness of Knudsen (who does photography for the annual RHS Jamboree) reportedly profiting from the non-profit event by charging participants for her services, while everyone else donates their time, services and money for the annual fundraising event for college scholarships.
  • Questions about the appropriateness of Knudsen developing and distributing to Ridgewood school children a coloring book with her image on it. And this during her re-election campaign?
  • Questions about how the mayor and village manager handled the request from students for a march in town to raise awareness of gun violence. They were told that they would have to raise thousands of dollars to pay for village services. I don’t recall that the right to peaceful assembly in our Constitution comes with a price tag! How about encouraging student civic involvement rather than pouring cold water on it? How about we don’t waste $23,000 in parking experiments?

Clearly, we need better representation on our village council, and clearly, we deserve it. My hope is that we will vote her out of office on May 8 and elect new people to serve on our Village Council, people who won’t hire family members, engage in unethical behavior or further divide our community.

Hans-Jurgen Lehmann
Ridgewood Resident

Mayor Knudsen: Volunteering… to sell merch

Mayor Susan Knudsen has made a big deal about her volunteer work at the annual RHS Jamboree and is shocked, shocked that anyone could think that she would make any money off such a valuable event.

Let’s See the Proof(s)

The following are screenshots taken from Susan Knudsen Photography’s website.

Profit-seeking or altruism?

If Mayor Knudsen volunteered her time and shot pictures of RHS students and their families during an event, then sold, say, a $112 poster-sized photo back to one of those families, it would seem like she was taking her constituents’ money and donating it to the RHS Jamboree under her own name while benefiting from the tax write-off. Is this altruistic or is it self-serving? And, why does her photography sales website say nothing about any portion of any sales going to the Jamboree? Were the sales of these photos tax-deductible for the families who bought them? Did anyone keep receipts?

Accomplishments or Alternative Facts?

An Open Letter About the Knudsen/Sedon Mailer

I reviewed the Knudsen/Sedon mailer, and I need to share my view of what Ms. Knudsen and Mr. Sedon stated in this document. Once I got started, I quickly came to the realization how difficult it is to arm wrestle a puff piece. I will try anyway.

My critics wonder what is motivating me to be a vociferous critic of the Knudsen/Sedon team. Do I have anything personal against Ms. Knudsen or Mr. Sedon or their families? No, I don’t. Why should I?

I care deeply about Ridgewood, and I worry about the direction it is heading–a slow decline to oblivion. And, in my humble opinion, this decline is being accelerated by having Knudsen and Sedon in power.

I am an American by choice and have lived in the US since 1958, when I emigrated from Lebanon to attend college. I never looked back, and I am now happily ensconced with my family in America. I know the country well, having traveled the highways and byways from sea to shining sea, and have been to 49 states. In June I will visit my 50th, Alaska.

I have studied America’s history and institutions and all that makes America great! And, like many naturalized Americans, I feel that the greatest gift we have as citizens is the U.S. Constitution. I urge parents with young kids to go out and purchase copies of the Constitution for their children.

Thanks to the Constitution, when it comes to expressing my views and opinions, no one will silence me. If the Mayor thinks she can browbeat me with her bullying or slander, such as claiming that I am perpetrating “fraud on the Ridgewood residents” or finding me out of order whenever I say something she does not like, I say to the Mayor: Save your breath. Go and bully someone else.

The Knudsen/Sedon mailer mentions five accomplishments and in my opinion these claims fit the definition of alternative facts. Let me address them one by one. Continue reading “Accomplishments or Alternative Facts?”

Robocall and Response

Transcript of Hache’s Robocall from April 18, 2018 edited with comments made by Hans-Jurgen Lehmann on April 22, 2018.

Good evening! This is Councilman Ramon Hache, and I would ask you to please listen and don’t hang up.

This local election has turned so negative Ramon! You might want to consider the source of the negativity. I am only reporting on the activities of your two allies on the council. You can’t make up this stuff. It’s out there in the public eye every week. against Mayor Susan Knudsen and Deputy Mayor Michael Sedon that I now feel compelled to respond. I wanted to remain neutral in the campaign, however I now feel the need to speak out.

A recent piece of mail received by residents spoke about one voter’s remorse. I read it with disbelief, because none of it was truthful. I encourage you to read the full letter where I supply documentation to support my remorse. Given your message, I suspect that you have never taken the time to read the full letter nor click on the links that I supplied. In fact, it was so negative and deceitful strong words for a statement made with lots of supporting documentation that I found it disgusting. What does one say to this type of language other than you betray your ignorance when you speak in this manner? To accuse Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church, where I am a parishioner, of somehow colluding with Susan Knudsen was a new low in politics. Ramon, I think you misread this part of my letter. At no time (here or in my subsequent email to you) do I state or imply that there is collusion between the Mayor and Mt. Carmel. In fact, the word collusion is yours, not mine. I would never accuse a vaunted institution like your house of faith of even considering a quid pro quo with the Mayor. The idea is so ludicrous I am shocked you would even say the words! The issue is all about the optics of a sitting council member taking the grand prize of $25,000 from the one institution in town whose parishioners are vocally opposed to a parking garage on Hudson Street. In my world, I could have admired the Mayor if she had returned the money to the school which probably had a better use for it. Just think of how noble that would have looked!. And, to continually accuse her of nepotism is ridiculous. The Council has no hiring authority and testing is governed by the State of New Jersey. Ramon, this kind of language is a red herring at best. Yes, the Council does not hire or fire; that is left to the Village Manager. Yet, none of that takes away from Knudsen’s affirmative vote on Ordinance 3429 on August 13, 2014, requiring Ridgewood residency for uniformed services civil service candidates, all in her full knowledge that all three of her sons were already on such a list. Her subsequent vote on an ordinance governing non-uniformed candidates is totally unrelated to this issue. For the Mayor to hang her hat on this particular vote is, in fact, deceitful and an attempt to bamboozle residents. Surely you are smarter than to not see this!

By the way, I have never attacked her children for having these jobs. I made that clear in the email I recently sent you. Whether they hold those jobs or not, someone would have been hired to fill those positions, and the cost to the Village would have been the same. If you don’t get the idea that the Mayor paved the road for her children to obtain their jobs, then you truly do not understand the idea of nepotism!

I ask you to know the facts before you vote. We have no place in our town for this type of low down politics. We are better than that. You bet there is no place in Ridgewood for this type of politics, low down though they may be, and without the current Mayor and Deputy Mayor, we will be better than we are now. I have never understood your vote and role on the question of the gay pride flag. We pride ourselves on being an inclusive community, and for you and the Mayor and Deputy Mayor to waffle on making a decision to a simple request and then to give a flat out “no” months later based on some dubious advice from our Council attorney, how sad! Mayor Knudsen and Deputy Mayor Sedon have been committed to our community, and they deserve re-election. Say no to this type of divisive politics. It will only hurt our community.

Thank you for listening, and have a good night.

This message is paid for by me, Ramon Hache.

An unedited transcript of Hache’s robocall follows. Continue reading “Robocall and Response”

Seriously disappointed by robocall

Credit: Flickr user, notionscapital.

Councilman Ramon Hache
Village of Ridgewood

I was disappointed by your robocall the other day. You did not use my name even though I signed the letter, A Voter’s Remorse. Your uninformed remarks led me to believe that you have not read the expanded version of the letter on my website, www.ridgewoodvotes2018.com.

At no time have I attacked the Catholic church. In fact, I am certain that the raffle holders acted honorably in awarding the Grand Prize to Susan Knudsen. It is even listed in Mt. Carmel’s church bulletin from June 19, 2016, the month before she became Mayor (with your help I might add). From that point on, the optics around this prize went horribly wrong. A sitting Councilwoman, and then Mayor, accepted a $25,000 prize from the one institution in town that positioned itself vehemently against a parking garage? Even you must be able to see how bad that looks! The mayor then stumbled through a rather strange explanation as to why she was keeping the money. It just keeps getting worse! Continue reading “Seriously disappointed by robocall”