A New Jersey mayor has rescinded a bill he sent to an 18-year-old activist for $2,500 in alleged police overtime charges after she organized a fair housing protest earlier this summer.
Englewood Cliffs Mayor Mario Kranjac, a Republican (surprise!), took back the bill this past Saturday but has not offered an apology to activist Emily Gil, who organized the protest on July 25.
“We always bill...the bicycle race or running race or any other event, where our police are used, including utility work, people pay for the overtime,” the mayor said, according to CBS News.
“I was told that all private events requiring police overtime should be paid for by the organizers. It was never intended as a fine, but rather as a fee,” he said in a statement addressed to Gil.
Gil’s Black Lives Matter protest last month was intended to highlight the lack of affordable housing in the small town in northern Jersey. As CNN reports, Englewood Cliffs is only 1.4 percent Black, compared to 15 percent for the rest of the Garden State. Her modest protest, which drew 30-40 people to the city’s administrative building, lasted roughly 90 minutes.
“I was shocked when I read that I had to pay to exercise my First Amendment right,” Gil told CBS News. In a separate interview with CNN, Gil said that police were present at the beginning of the rally, then went indoors. Law enforcement only came back out to move plastic barricades.
Englewood Cliffs City Council President Gloria Oh said that Kranjac acted “unilaterally” in sending Gil the bill. Under normal circumstances, the council would decide whether a person should be charged for police service, and protests or other First Amendment-protected gatherings would be exempt from such charges.
Amol Sinha, executive director of the ACLU of New Jersey told CNN the mayor’s bill was “clearly unconstitutional.”
“You cannot require protesters to foot the bill for protected First Amendment activity.”
Mayor Kranjac appeared to throw another public official under the bus for the decision, blaming the bill on “advice I received from our Borough Administrator.”
“I always want to make certain that everyone’s Constitutional Rights are fully respected,” wrote to Gil. “We will have to adjust the Borough’s ordinances accordingly.”
But the Englewood Cliffs Democratic city councilmembers aren’t willing to let Kranjac off the hook so quickly.
“He has still refused to apologize and our Borough Council members are still exploring ways to hold the Mayor accountable,” the councilmembers said in a statement shared with WABC TV. “It’s sad that rather than take responsibility Mayor Kranjac is now trying to pass the buck, once again showing his characteristic lack of leadership and thin skin. We hope that this embarrassing situation will shine a light on the many other abuses Mayor Kranjac has inflicted on our community and that residents will rally against him this November by rejecting his chosen candidates for Borough Council.”