In Our Opinion: Prasad Must Resign

Here we go again.

For the second time in three years (that we know of), Township Councilman Rajiv Prasad has demonstrated that he is unfit to serve, and must, for the sake of the township, step down.

And once again, that display of his lack of trustworthiness revolves around race, with some backroom dealing added in to spice things up.

Prasad’s latest foray into the realm of unbelievable actions involves his almost obsessive drive to get a monument park built on township open space property, with statues that will pay homage to Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela and Saint Teresa of Calcutta, also known as Mother Teresa.

He’s bundled this into what he calls a “Peace and Nonviolence” monument park. It’s something that he’s wanted for more than a decade, and as his actions show, he’s willing to do or say just about anything to get it now.

Prasad has secured a donor for the statues and the granite and other materials that would be used to build the monument park, as well as about $80,000 to pay for its construction, again, all of which happened before any approvals were given.

During the past few months there has been much teeth-gnashing over this monument park and also a number of questions: Why should it be placed on open space? Who chose the people to be honored? What is the township’s responsibility once it is built? All valid questions.

Even though there are many questions related to the monument park, at this point, they are all moot. Prasad’s recent actions have pushed the discussion beyond the statues and to his behavior.

Reviews of council and township administration email by the Franklin Reporter & Advocate show that Prasad has been very active behind the scenes in not only getting the statues created and shipped here prior to any final approval for the monument park by the council, but also in stifling public dissent while boosting the appearance of support for his pet project.

Prasad knew in at least March that the statues were being constructed overseas. That was two months before the council’s first public action regarding the monument park, and even that was not definitive approval. Who gave him the authority to give the go-ahead to the donor to have the statues made? Did he take it upon himself? Why the urgency?

It took an Open Public Records Act request to get the name of the main donor, someone who was known to Prasad, but who he refused to name. Why the secrecy?

The name of the main donor is not the only aspect of this project that was unnecessarily shrouded in secrecy; the emails show that although Prasad and his supporters knew at least six days in advance that an action item concerning the park was going to be voted on at the council’s Aug. 14 meeting, that item was not added to that meeting’s agenda, as is standard practice.

It was introduced through a clever manipulation of the meeting process. Rather than present it as a regular agenda item, as would be done normally, the action item – Prasad and his followers insist on calling it a “motion” rather than a “resolution” – was introduced at the end of a report given by Councilman James Vassanella during the “council comments” portion of the meeting, which occurs – conveniently for Prasad in this case – after the public portion. That took care of those pesky opposition voices.

At the same time the item was being kept off of the agenda – the agenda being the only real way for the public to find out what the council is working on – Prasad encouraged his supporters to show up at the Aug. 14 meeting to speak in support of the monument park, which they did. For an item that no one else in the public even knew was going to be up for a vote, presenting the impression that most people favored the monument park. (We won’t even go into the fact that some of the supporters weren’t even township residents).

That wasn’t the first time that happened, by the way. At the council’s May 22 meeting, a smaller group of monument park supporters showed up to urge the council to approve it, even though it wasn’t listed on the agenda. But surprise! It later came up during the council comment section – held after the public comment period – and the council ended up moving the project along and establishing an Ad Hoc committee to study it.

One just has to look at the email to find further proof that Prasad did not want any public comment on the item after it was given to the council for a vote on Aug. 14. Prasad was very explicit in one email concerning the upcoming council meeting, in which he flatly stated that there would be no public comment on the item after Vassanella gave his report and made the recommendation.

We believe that’s a blatant violation of the state’s Open Public Meetings Law, also known as the Sunshine Law, which was enacted precisely to prevent governing bodies to slip anything past the public. And frankly, the Mayor and Council should not have let it proceed that way; they should have insisted that Prasad take the conventional route on this issue. (We will give credit where it is due, however; Mayor Phil Kramer did object to the lack of transparency, and Township Councilman Ted Chase managed to slow the approval process by getting the council to approve the concept of the park, rather than the concept plan, as Prasad wanted).

Plus, as we noted in our coverage, a state Appellate panel ruled decades ago that any action taken by a governing body that was not listed on a meeting agenda but was expected to be raised at the meeting, must be voided.

Prasad has further demonstrated the degree to which he is unfit to serve by falling back on one of his favorite techniques of persuasion: accusing his opponents of being racist.

In an email to the person handling licensing issues for the estate of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. checking on the status of the application and making more arguments for its approval, Prasad made a totally baseless and despicable charge.

In the email, Prasad alleged that he was being opposed by “Trump emboldened Republicans who don’t want colored statues in town.”

Baseless, yes. Despicable, yes. Surprising, no.

Just three years ago, when the furor over the proposed Catalpa Park was raging, Prasad turned his ire on a township couple who were advocating against the park and for less development in the township. Prasad’s rationalization was that those two, and the group they represented, were against cricket pitches planned for the park and also against a proposed Hindu temple on South Middlebush Road, so they must be racists. He said as much in an email sent to his fellow council members.

But he didn’t stop there. Prasad contacted the former police chief, and asked him to notify the FBI and report a possible hate group in town, and ask that FBI agents be dispatched to their house for an interview. Thankfully, the ex-chief had more sense than that and let the matter drop.

We said it three years ago – almost to the day – and we are saying it again: Rajiv Prasad does not belong in a position of power in Franklin Township, or anywhere. He consistently demonstrates that he does not deserve the public’s trust, that he will take whatever actions, and say the most ridiculous and incendiary things, to get his way.

That’s the behavior of a recalcitrant child, not an elected official who purportedly represents a township of 65,000 people.

As for the monument park, we believe the Township Council must not approve any plan to place it on township-owned property; to do so would be to simply reward inexcusable behavior and would set a destructive precedent.

Township Democrats did nothing about Prasad’s egregious actions three years ago, and here we are again. The party needs to grow a spine and put whatever pressure it can to bear on Prasad to show him the right thing to do is resign.

And that is our bottom line: Prasad must resign.


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