In Your Opinion: Don’t Rush Approval Of ‘Peace And Nonviolence’ Park

By Arnold W. Schmidt, Somerset.

Franklin Township Councilman Rajiv Prasad performed the impossible at the August 14th Township Council meeting.  We live in a beautifully diverse town and Mr. Prasad managed to transform the proposed construction and celebration of a “Peace and Nonviolence Park” into a controversial, divisive issue.

Mr. Prasad is the organizer and main proponent for this project.  A Township Council meeting that is routinely attended by 5-10 people had a packed house.  Nearly 100 people came to discuss, for the most part, the park, during the open public portion of the meeting, an item that was not even listed on the agenda.  How did these people know to be there, many of whom were not Franklin residents including the Edison Township Council President?  It’s speculated, if not obvious, that emails and phone calls were made to these select people to come and provide comments to sway the Council on this non-agenda item.  Well-played, Mr. Prasad.

For several years this project has mostly been discussed behind closed doors.  On August 14th it was finally brought into the proverbial light of day as a non-agenda item to then be voted on with no time for township residents to be legitimately advised beforehand.  There was no allowance for public comments between the times the Council discussed this project and before they voted on it.  Is this how our democracy is supposed to work?  The answer is an emphatic no.

As per protocol, a detailed agenda was published online for all to review prior to the meeting.  The agenda included items the Council was prepared to discuss and the public was prepared to hear about.  There was no agenda item and no resolution supporting the park for the public or even the Council members to pre-review prior to the meeting.  The plan for the park, to be installed on the township-owned Consolata Missions property on Route 27, was handed out to the Council members, by Mr. Prasad, at the beginning of the meeting.

Mr. Prasad’s initial plan for this was presented as bronze statues of Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. and busts of Mother Theresa and Nelson Mandela.  By the time this concept, for a plan, was approved by Council, it was expanded to include lighting, sidewalks, security measures and television screens with streaming educational videos.  The educational videos may be the reason why this park would be allowed to be constructed on township-owned property recently purchased with our Open Space tax dollars.  This leads to more questions, including: What will be in the videos?  Who will have final approval for what is in these videos?  The donors footing the bill?  Council?  Our Board of Education?  Has this even been officially discussed with the BOE as an educational component?  What input if any will Franklin residents have?

The content of these videos is of the utmost importance.  They must present an unbiased truth about these four people; education should include the good, the bad, and the ugly.  If we teach only one perspective of history the lack of full disclosure about these people won’t do justice to the educational process.  They sacrificed and performed great deeds but they were not perfect.  If we only teach the admirable aspects of their lives we diminish the truth.  Sir Winston Churchill stated, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it”.  We need to teach that even good people make mistakes and that their mistakes are just as educational as their noble acts.  For full transparency, Google the history of the people proposed to be honored so you are fully aware of the scope of their achievements as well as their flaws.

What will be the criteria for the next statue or bust that the Council is asked to approve?  If Donald Trump helps broker peace with North Korea and someone donates money for a Trump statue, shall we erect it in Franklin?  Where will it end and will these decisions be based on which political party is in power?

In my comments to the Council on August 14th, I requested that they hit the pause button on this project and take additional time for some more thoughtful discussion.  I believe now more than ever that this is necessary.


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