In Our Opinion: Prasad Must Resign

There’s no gentle way of phrasing this, and there’s no point in beating around the bush: Township Councilman Rajiv Prasad must resign immediately, and must remove himself from the Democrats’ 2015 council ticket.

We don’t come to this opinion lightly or with any sense of joy; to endorse what is in essence overturning a public vote is a weighty matter. But given the course of events since the end of July, we can come to no conclusion other than that Prasad has exercised such an abuse of his power that resignation is the only option.

An investigation by the Franklin Reporter & Advocate has uncovered what can only reasonably be described as a concerted campaign by Prasad to discredit – if not ruin the lives of – two township residents who did nothing more than exercise their Constitutional right to dissent.

That is completely unacceptable and indefensible conduct by an elected official, the only remedy for which is removal from office.

The residents, Brian and Gina Ulrich of Middlebush, have been outspoken opponents of overdevelopment in the township, and have taken that activism to the social media site Facebook, on which they created a page called “Tranquility Protection Alliance of Franklin Township.”

The Ulrich’s laudable goal is to slow the march of development in the township, and retain what little peace and quiet still remains in the 5th best Place To Live in the United States.

As we will explain in more detail further on, Prasad ginned up the Human Relations Commission to the point where its members passed an ill-informed resolution to condemn what it termed “racially insensitive” language on the Tranquility Protection page – even though the resolution was cleaned up at the following meeting, in the wake of a major outcry, and in a somewhat questionable sequence of events – and asked the township Chief of Police to get the FBI involved in the matter, using language that could have landed the Ulrichs in jail.

The Ulrichs’ target of late has been the proposed Catalpa Park, for which 25 acres at South Middlebush and Old Vliet roads is earmarked. The Ulrichs, along with many residents in that area, contend that the planned use of the park would be too intense for the area and would create unwanted noise and traffic.

Unfortunately for the Ulrichs and their supporters, the park’s plan includes the creation of two cricket pitches. We say that’s unfortunate because it is precisely due to the cricket pitches that the Ulrichs ran afoul of Prasad.

Cricket is a favorite pastime of Asian Indians, and the township’s Asian Indian population has been increasing over the last several years to the point where it accounts for more than 20 percent of the township’s population. There is a demonstrable lack of cricket pitches in the township, and those who play the game have lobbied long and hard for more to be built, much the same as soccer families have asked for more soccer fields.

Prasad has been at the forefront of this lobbying effort, appearing with groups of cricket players at meetings over the last year in which Catalapa Park was discussed, and arguing for the inclusion of the pitches in the park’s plan.

The Township Council held a special hearing on the Catalpa plan on June 30, during which a number of residents – including the Ulrichs – expressed their opposition to the park. Many of the comments were aimed at the cricket pitches, which, it should be noted, represent the only feature of the park that would be used by formal sports organizations.

The council ultimately approved the park’s concept plan, with Republican Mayor Chris Kelly casting the lone “no” vote on one phase of the project.

The Ulrichs and their supporters then went to their Facebook page to express their dissatisfaction over the vote, with many pledging to vote against the Democratic council members up for re-election who voted for the concept plan: Prasad, Deputy Mayor Kimberly Francois, and Phil Kramer, who is opposing Kelly for the mayoral seat. (Councilwoman Shanel Robinson is also on the ticket, but she was appointed after the June 30 vote to fill the seat vacated by former Councilman Brian Regan.)

Following the overdevelopment theme, some commenters also expressed opposition to a planned temple on South Middlebush Road, arguing that such an intense use does not belong in what is essentially farmland.

It was apparently the Facebook page comments on cricket and the proposed temple which irritated Prasad to the point where he started his campaign against the Ulrichs.

His first stop was the July 27 meeting of the Human Relations Council, during which Prasad claimed the opposition to the park was race-based, saying that comments about “cricket players” and “temples” were shielded slurs against Asian Indians.

“Statements have been made to the effect that, we’ve got cricket coming in, now we’ve got Indian temples coming in, and somebody even went to the extent of making the statement that I got away from Edison to get away from this,” Prasad told the commission.

The commissioners didn’t need Prasad to go much further – let alone show any proof of his claims – before they decided to create a statement, which was to have been read at the Aug. 11 Council meeting, but ultimately was not, in which they would note that there is an “overt campaign out there to kill the project, and it definitely has racial overtones,” and that the commission is “against this biased language …” according to one commissioner.

But that was only the beginning; Prasad showed no reticence in helping township Police Chief Lawrence Roberts “connect the dots” in a July 28 email.

In that email, Prasad told the chief that there might be “a potential hate speech and crime group mushrooming” in the township, referring to the Tranquility Protection Facebook page. We don’t think that choice of words was an accident; Prasad is an intelligent man and surely knows the weight members of law enforcement put on that phrase.

Prasad also asked Lawrence to use the latter’s FBI contacts to “interview” the Ulrichs so that “they will think twice before resorting to violence.”

Prasad noted in that email that commenters on the Tranquility Protection Alliance Facebook page are opposed to the Catalpa Park cricket pitches and the South Middlebush Road temple.

“What do these two things have in common,” Prasad wrote, “Indians and South Asians.”

And, as Prasad wrote in a July 29 email to his fellow Democratic council members and the township Democratic Party leadership, “When you oppose a Hindu Temple and Cricket in Catalpa Park, it becomes racial, as the common denominator is Indians.”

We beg to differ, Mr. Prasad.

It is, in fact, possible to oppose the development of something simply on the basis of its affect on the quality of life of those who live around it; it is possible to oppose the development of any religious building on a road that is already choked by rush-hour traffic, in an area that is not meant for that intense of a use; it is possible for people to oppose the creation of an active-recreation park simply on the basis of their desire to not have to listen to the noise, and not have “race” play any part in that opposition.

The fact that you can be so blinded to those realities and have such a knee-jerk reaction to that opposition to the point where you would ask that two of your constituents be investigated by the FBI for no defensible reason, and label them to the town’s chief law enforcement officer as purveyors of hate speech where none exists, demonstrates that you are unfit to sit on any governing body.

It is time for you to go, Mr. Prasad.

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