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Prasad Apologizes To Council For ‘Inappropriate Statements’ He ‘May Have’ Made On Catalpa Park Opponents

8-11-15 Meeting29

Township Councilman Rajiv Prasad (D-At Large) has apologized to his fellow council members and mayor for any “inappropriate statements” he may have made concerning online opponents to Catalpa Park.


Updated
(At end of story)

The township councilman who earlier this month came under fire for claiming that a social media page opposed to Catalpa Park is race-based – then denied making the claim – has now apologized to his fellow council members for “any lapse in judgment” in making any “inappropriate statements.”

The apology, emailed on Aug. 20 from Councilman Rajiv Prasad (D-At Large) to the mayor and council, came nearly a month after Prasad defended himself in another email, declaring in that missive that “I do not have to apologize to anyone.”

In his apology to the council, Prasad wrote that, “(f)or the last few weeks I have supported needed recreation in the southern part of Franklin Township. During emotional moments I may have said or written inappropriate statements and did not mean to imply any racial bias.”

“As a public servant, I apologize for any lapse in judgment,” Prasad wrote. “I hope you can forgive me for it.”

Prasad came under fire for comments he made at the July 27 meeting of the township Human Relations Commission, in which he said that a social media page’s opposition to the park – targeted for about 25 acres at South Middlebush and Old Vliet roads – was race-based.

Prasad said the Facebook page, “Tranquility Protection Alliance of Franklin Township,” contained comments about “cricket players” that were thinly veiled slurs against Asian Indians.

While he did not expressly ask for action, Prasad’s comments about the site propelled the commissioners to vote to create a statement condemning the “racially insensitive language” that was used. The statement was to be read at the Aug. 11 Township Council meeting, but that plan was scrapped after the initial uproar over Prasad’s comments.

Just nine days before his apology, at the August council meeting, Prasad denied saying that race was a factor in the Catalpa Park opposition, after he was roundly criticized by members of the public, including Brian Ulrich, the creator of the Tranquility Protection Alliance Facebook page.

Ulrich said in an interview that Prasad should have also apologized to him and “all 982 people who are on my page. I think he owes all of us an apology.”

Prasad had a differing opinion in a July 28, 2015 email sent to commission chairman Gary Rosenthal, in which the councilman said it was Ulrich who should offer an apology.

“The Commissioners of their own volition felt that a statement should be made to the Council in the form of a Resolution that should be presented to the Council by the Chairman, that such Hate Speech on their website is unacceptable to the Commissioners,” Prasad wrote in the email, obtained by the Franklin Reporter & Advocate through an Open Public Records Act request.

“I do not have to apologize to anyone,” Prasad wrote. “Their postings speak for themselves. If anyone needs to apologize it is the Page Creator and his followers, for their hateful derogatory postings.”

Prasad said he “just reported the facts as they were posted,” and suggested that township attorney Lou Rainone could be consulted to advise “us, if there is any legal action that needs to be taken in the matter.”

The emails obtained by the FR&A show that several commissioners corresponded about what the commission’s next steps should be, with one, commission secretary Jonelle Joseph, noting that Commissioner Jamie Yeh had recorded the meeting.

“However, I believe there may be some legal ramifications in using this recording to refute any errors that may have been reported by the Franklin Reporter,” Joseph wrote. “I don’t believe all members and guests were aware that the meeting was recorded, and their prior consent is probably necessary to move forward in that fashion. I would love to use the recording, but again, someone would need to let us know if that action wold be legal.”

In other emails, written prior to Prasad’s apology, commission members contend that Prasad did not make any racial statements.

In fact, Rosenthal, the commission chairman, praised Prasad in an email – the subject of which is “Bravo” – written shortly after the Aug 11 council meeting.

“Watched very intently and Bravo the way you handled yourself as well as all of the Council (not mayor),” Rosenthal wrote. “As you requested I purposely stayed away from the meeting.

“We all know that ‘race’ was never mentioned at the HRC meeting when you made your usual Township report. The newspaper article was not correct as the HRC resolution stated that we discourage any kind of hate speech denouncing any discriminatory language,” he wrote.

Rosenthal was originally going to read the HRC’s statement at the Aug. 11 meeting. That plan changed, he said in a July 31 email to the commissioners, because after “speaking with our Deputy mayor, our New Jersey Assemblyman and my careful review of this issue which I have reflected has become sensitive it has been decided that I will not make any presentation at the next Council Meeting. It will be to everyone’s advantage to just let this matter drop now as we do not want to give anyone an opportunity to further continue this.”

On Aug. 12, Rosenthal emailed the proposed minutes for the July 27 meeting to the commissioners for their review; the minutes of the July 27 meeting included the statement from the July 31 email.

One commissioner, Nora Quesada-Catiis, suggested in an email that the commission probably should have deferred on taking any action after Prasad’s report.

In the Aug. 12 email, Quesada-Catiis wrote, “In retrospect, and with hind-sight being 20/20, I think that the HRC should have deferred making any decision/action at the HRC meeting UNTIL everyone had a chance to read and review the Facebook page of “Tranquility Protection ..” This would have avoided our being accused of acting, based solely on what Councilman Prasad said.”

Rosenthal emailed Quesada-Catiis back, saying that she was “right on target.”

Update:

 

After a spirited discussion, the Human Relations Commission at its Aug. 24 meeting voted to amend the resolution suggested by chairman Gary Rosenthal, and which was included in the draft minutes of the July 27 meeting.

Also at that meeting, Prasad apologized to the commission.

The resolution that was amended was one whose concept was approved at the July HRC meeting, and the final version of which was to have been read by Rosenthal at the Aug, 11 Township Council meeting.

The amendment was suggested by Commissioner Marilyn Altman, and included language from the HRC’s mission statement.

The amendment states that the HRC will “continue to attempt to foster goodwill, cooperation and conciliation amongst groups and inhabitants of the community.”

The underlying resolution made no mention of the talking points discussed at the HRC’s July meeting, including the statement that some commenters on a Facebook group opposing Catalpa Park used “racially insensitive language,” and that the “overt campaign to kill the project definitely has racial overtones.”

The resolution will be sent to township attorney Lou Rainone for his review before it is presented to the council.

In his comments to the commission during the August meeting, Prasad said he’d had to time to reflect on what he’d said the month before.

He noted that he had sent an apology email to the mayor and council because they “rep[resent the township.”

“The only thing that was asked for at the (Aug. 11) meeting was an apology,” he said. “The only people I could give that apology to, who represented the township, was the mayor and council.”

“If my role was in any way inflammatory, I apologize for that,” he said. “This doesn’t get us anywhere.”


This is a developing story.

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