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In Your Opinion: Return To The Rule Of Law

By Mark Grieco, Somerset.

There has been a recent uptick in COVID-19 in the township and one theory is that as we open up, people are getting lax about wearing masks. That is one possible explanation, but it points to a larger problem in the township: the dwindling ability to enforce the rule of law.

As an example, I recently observed employees at a major food store in Franklin either not wearing or improperly wearing masks. This is the fourth time I observed this behavior at this store. This time, about five employees, including a manager who I discussed the problem with, were in violation of the state’s executive order regarding masks.

I have had previous dialogue with store management, contact with the chain’s corporate headquarters, and discussion with township officials about the problem at this store.. Under the advice of a township official, I called the police to see that the mask order was enforced. But in truth, I am reluctant to call the police for something I consider primarily a public health matter, especially when the Franklin Police Department is critically understaffed and already has a heavy mission load. We had 120 officers ten years ago with a smaller population. Now we are down to 100 officers with a larger population, with an uncertain commitment to reach the arguably inadequate, authorized level of 108 officers.

The shortage in the police department mirrors that of other critical enforcement services. Years ago, against the advice of the township’s Advisory Board of Health, the Township Council disbanded the township’s Department of Health and contracted with Somerset County for health services. It appears the County Health Department is not enforcing health regulations in food stores as it pertains to COVID-19, and so it falls upon the shoulders of our understaffed police department.

The County Health Department is also charged with enforcing noise ordinances, but there’s little chance of getting a response from county health officials at night when parties rage into the early morning. So, again, the call to enforce noise ordinances goes to the police, who have a shortage of equipment and certified operators for the equipment to measure noise levels needed to enforce the law. Without the proper equipment and training, it is unlikely a summons would be issued to violators, who then have no deterrent to continue their disruptive behavior in the future.

Inspectors to combat the illegal conversions of single family homes to overcrowded tenant housing are also critically low. Research has shown overcrowded housing has negative health effects on its occupants, and the likelihood that the tenants are low-paid essential workers, with increased exposure to COVID-19 at work, only makes matters worse. We have yet to see data on which residential neighborhoods in Franklin have been hit hardest by COVID-19, but my hunch is that it is the northeast section of the township with the poorest and densest population.

The COVID-19 crisis has laid bare the township’s shortcomings in enforcement and the slippage in the quality of life in the township. The horrific shootings in the past year only add to the sense that things have gone off the rails. Franklin has moved from a rural/suburban community to a more urban/suburban one, with the urban challenges that come with that shift.

But at times it seems the municipal government hasn’t grasped that fact, and is not delivering services that are appropriate to a larger, more urban population. The lack of enforcement of the wearing of masks by people handling our food is just an indicator of a larger problem in the township . If we don’t see more of a commitment by leadership to the rule of law in Franklin, we may witness the exodus of stable middle-class families to more orderly municipalities.

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