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Lakewood "Davids" Take Legal Aim at Gov't, Biz "Goliaths"

March 1st, 2011

Editor's Note: At 5:38 a.m. on March 2, 2011, this story was edited for style, content and accuracy.]

Business could be better for Lakewood developer Aharon (Aaron) Rottenberg.

Local, state and national taxpayers supporting him would agree.

On January 3, Lakewood residents Michael and Catherine Stillwell filed a lawsuit in state Superior Court in Toms River against Rottenberg and the Lakewood Zoning Board of Adjustment.

Michael Stillwell is chairman of the Lakewood Shade Tree Commission.

Last year, Stillwell praised public policy after committeemen adopted a tree-save ordinance.

This year, he and his wife are challenging public policy by suing the township zoning board, which the Stillwells charged improperly approved a use variance requested by Rottenberg, whom they are also suing.

According to zoning board meeting minutes, the use variance and related approvals will permit Rottenberg to build a dense "transitional" townhouse development in an area zoned for three single-family homes per acre.

The Stillwells are not only paying to challenge public policy, as Lakewood taxpayers, they also will be paying to defend it.

In legal papers filed by the Stillwells' attorney, Edward Liston, Jr. of Toms River, which Liston provided to NJ News & Views, the couple charged in count one of their lawsuit that the use variance and related approvals granted Rottenberg in a December 20 resolution were "arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable, oppressive, unlawful and against the great weight of evidence presented to Defendant the Lakewood Township Zoning Board of Adjustment at the hearings held by it at said application."

The Lakewood zoning board heard Rottenberg's application on October 4 and November 1, 2010.

According to zoning board meeting minutes, the board held a public forum on the application at its October 4 meeting, but did not hold a public forum prior to voting on it at the November 1 meeting. Instead, Rottenberg's attorney, Abraham Penzer, summarized the application before board members voted to approve it.

Lakewood zoning board meeting minutes also report that both Michael and Catherine Stillwell were among the speakers during the October 4 public forum and that Michael Stillwell identified himself as chairman of the Lakewood Shade Tree Commission.

Meeting minutes also report that Rottenberg made an agreement with residents of a development behind the project site in exchange for their support.

Meeting minutes do not report that Rottenberg made an agreement with his other neighbors to solicit their support as well.

Following the board's November 1 vote, Rottenberg received a use variance to construct a 22-lot townhouse unit with a total of 66 attached townhouses, referred to as a "triplex." Each triplex building, built on 18,000-square-foot lots, would include three dwelling units and a rentable basement apartment.

One of the lots would be designated a detention basin.

When fully leased or sold, as many as 2,000-3,000 people may live there.

The 15.9-acre site is located on Blocks 190.04, 190.05, 199, 200, 201 and 202 in the R-15 single-family zone at Burnside and Creston Avenues - where they are not a permitted use, .

According to zoning board meeting minutes, the site is over 500 feet east of Brook Road.

Brook Road is a narrow, winding county road.

Meeting minutes did not report any discussion of parking on the site, but according to comments by professionals quoted in them, a traffic report will be submitted with the application for site plan approval.

Meeting minutes did not report that Rottenberg would also submit an environmental impact statement.

Lakewood is located in the Barnegat Bay Watershed, which consists of wetlands. Wetlands form a transitional area that permits stormwater runoff to flow through the Barnegat Bay Estuary and into the Atlantic Ocean.

In the years before state and Federal government acted to slow development of environmentally sensitive land, developers received approvals to cover much of it with concrete, asphalt and macadam.

State and Federal agencies are still engaged in a race against time to save what is left.

At stake are bogs, marshes and swamps that are part of a network of interconnected waterways called the Barnegat Bay Watershed.

The Barnegat Bay Watershed encompasses 660 square miles located in most of Ocean County and parts of Monmouth County. Half-a-million people living in 38 municipalities that include Lakewood are located in the Barnegat Bay Watershed.

The Barnegat Bay Watershed includes the 35-mile-long Barnegat Bay Estuary, a partially enclosed body of water formed where fresh water from rivers and streams flow into the Atlantic Ocean and mix with salty seawater.

Freshwater wetlands form transitional areas between dry land and waterways such as the Cabinfield Creek, which flows through the area.

Freshwater wetlands filter out chemicals, pollutants and sediments that can clog or contaminate drinking waters, soak up runoff from heavy rains and snow melts, provide natural flood control, release stored flood waters during droughts, provide critical habitats for endangered, commercial and recreational fish and wildlife species, and provide open space that contributes to recreation and tourism.

Half the nation's wetlands have already been filled in through past development and approximately 40 percent of New Jersey's 1.5 million acres of wetlands have also been developed.

In meeting minutes, Planner/Engineer Brian Flannery explained why his client, Rottenberg, was requesting a use variance to build an unpermitted project.

"The Smart Growth Plan says that the demand for housing in Lakewood is going to far exceed the availability to provide the housing," Flannery told the zoning board on October 4.

Last year, Lakewood submitted its Smart Growth Plan to the state in conjunction with its application for state Plan Endorsement. If approved, the township would be eligible to develop larger tracts of impervious cover and vegetative cover regulated under the Coastal Area Facility Review Act (CAFRA).

Despite that inducement, Lakewood has continued to show little inclination to protect its wetlands or to punish anyone that builds on them without permission.

In 2007, Oorah, a local charity, not only built on wetlands governed by CAFRA, but installed a petting zoo in an area not zoned for agricultural use. Charity personnel did not feed or clean up after the animals. Children that fed the animals were exposed to the same contaminants that may have seeped into wetlands that feed into public drinking waters of the Metedeconk River.

Instead of investigating the incident, DEP officials washed their hands of it.

More recently, at the April 22, 2010 meeting of the Lakewood Township Committee, Esther Moskovits of 59 Glen Terrace told committeemen that four homes were being developed on a wetlands site at 844 South Lake Drive, located in the R-12 zone.

The rear of the Moskovits property is adjacent to the rear of 844 South Lake Drive.

Moskovits said no permits were issued to the developer of 844 South Lake Drive and that there was a "tremendous amount of water damage to the adjacent property," located at 868 South Lake Drive.

Yehuda and Tziporah Yanai live at 868 South Lake Drive, facing Lake Carasaljo.

Moskovits said trees were chopped down to clear the site around 844 South Lake Drive and never cleared away.

Last year, both women discussed the unapproved development with a visitor.

Yanai invited the visitor to inspect damage to her property since the neighboring home was redeveloped four years ago.

"Come in and look at the water," she said.

At the far left side of her property, adjacent to the single family home planned for redevelopment as a multi-family development, a swale of water stretched from one end of the yard to the other, expanding in size with the slope of the terrain.

Yanai said she bought her home six years earlier, set amidst a lovely wooded area. Now heartbroken by the many problems developers created through flooding and ponding of displaced freshwater wetlands, Yanai said she would likely have to remove the few remaining trees on the property. She said water damage to their root system could cause them to topple onto her home in strong wind and heavy rains.

Trees and shrubs not only provide aesthetic appeal for homeowners, they aid in stormwater management.

When precipitation falls to the ground, trees, shrubs and soils soak up rainfall and store it. After the flood peak has subsided, the water is slowly released as groundwater or stream flow. In a natural watershed that contains numerous wetland and forested areas, plants soak up 40 percent of all precipitation, 50 percent becomes ground water and just 10 percent is surface runoff.

Areas with a greater amount of impervious coverage, such as roads, sidewalks and other hard surfaces, have higher rates of stormwater runoff and flooding. When precipitation falls to the ground in areas with a higher amount of impervious coverage, 75 percent of all water becomes surface runoff, while only 25 percent is either groundwater or is soaked up by vegetation.

Freshwater wetlands form transitional areas between dry land and waterways. They filter out chemicals, pollutants and sediments that can clog or contaminate drinking waters, soak up runoff from heavy rains and snow melts, provide natural flood control, release stored flood waters during droughts, provide critical habitats for endangered, commercial and recreational fish and wildlife species, and provide open space that contributes to recreation and tourism.

Displaced wetlands not only redirect flood waters onto neighbors' properties, they also eliminate wildlife habitats.

Yanai said that in the past, geese would congregate on the existing wetlands and pond at 844 South Lake Drive. Since construction began on the property, geese instead congregate on the Yanai property, polluting the home's now-soggy lawn.

Yanai asked the visitor, "Who will fix the flooding on my property?"

No one.

On April 22, 2010, Lakewood Mayor Steven Langert mocked DEP attempts to regulate Lakewood wetlands in his discussion of development at 844 South Lake Drive.

"That's part of the Smart Growth process," he said. "This is what the DEP says."

According to Flannery, there is a wetlands corridor to the north of the Rottenberg development site with a 300-foot buffer on either side. That doesn't mean the proposed development will not impact the environment or taxpayers' wallets any less than other proposed projects built with and without local approval in Lakewood.

Dense development creates increased demand for municipal and school district services.

It also creates the potential for increased profit.

"(The applicant) could construct 44 conforming single family homes," Flannery continued in zoning board meeting minutes. "They are asking for 66."

Despite Rottenberg's use of the term "triplex," each attached townhouse building will likely house at least four dwellings units, not three.

"They will be putting basements in the units, (but) there will be no bedrooms in the attics," Flannery said in zoning board meeting minutes.

In his reported testimony, Flannery maintained that Brook Road could "handle" the increased traffic.

Despite Flannery's assertion, increased traffic would mean increased repairs to Brook Road at county taxpayer expense.

Ironically, members of the Lakewood Township Committee told the public three years ago they were selling the land to generate revenue.

On August 28, 2008, members of the Lakewood Township Committee held a public land auction that included several parcels that comprise the site. With the exception of Block 199, Lot 1, which Lakewood investor Ovadi Malchi won for $7,000, Rottenberg won Block 190.04, Lot 41 for $4,000; Block 199, Lot 3 for $8,000; Block 200, Lot 5 for $11,000; Block 200, Lot 1 for $6,000; Block 201, Lot 1 for $12,000; and Block 202, Lot 1 for $14,000.

Rottenberg paid a total of $55,000 for the six blocks and lots he won at auction, but not one cent of the $291.17 he owed at that time in back taxes on other Lakewood property.

Resident Gerri Ballwanz asked committeemen during the public forum why Rottenberg was allowed to participate in the auction if he owed the township back taxes.

Lakewood Township Attorney Steven Secare said one thing had nothing to do with another.

Ballwanz said the size of five of the seven parcels up for auction were incorrectly advertised in legal notices and that the minimum bids of the parcels were lower than their assessed values.

She also expressed concern about the parcels' proximity to the Cabinfield Creek, which flows from Lakewood into Jackson and into Monmouth County.

The Cabinfield Creek, a state-protected waterway that aids in stormwater management, is located at the periphery of Lakewood High School athletic fields in a small wooded copse, surrounded by a chain link fence. It continues to flow under an adjacent construction site, where Somerset Development LLC is currently building out The Gardens at Village Park on the corner of Somerset Avenue and East County Line Road in the R-12 zone.

Although the homes being built at The Gardens at Village Park are described as single family, each will include a rented attic and a rented basement.

Prior to the August 28, 2008 public land auction, committeemen removed Block 853, Lot 1 from the agenda. Committeemen said the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) opposed sale of the environmentally sensitive site near Pine Street.

Several months earlier, committeemen attempted to sell environmentally sensitive public land located off Chestnut Avenue, near the Kettle Creek, another state-protected waterway.

Prior to first reading and committee vote on the ordinance to sell the land at the February 14, 2008 meeting, Deputy Mayor Marc (Meir) Lichtenstein denounced the state's efforts to control the township's growth.

"We're having a lot of problems with the DEP ," he said. "We need land for affordable housing and education."

In 2004, Mayor Raymond Coles announced that the township had identified suitable public land for construction of affordable housing near Oak Street, even though the Kettle Creek flows through the area. Since the parcels identified for affordable housing were not contiguous, the township began exchanging public land for private property assessed at lesser value. Many of the parcels were owned by developers that profited from the exchange.

In 2005, committeemen also began auctioning off township land in the area for construction of non-public schools.

On March 13, 2008, committeemen yielded to state pressure and killed an ordinance on second reading to sell the environmentally sensitive Kettle Creek site for construction of residential housing and non-public schools.

In the years before state and Federal government acted to stop development of environmentally sensitive land, developers received approvals to cover much of it with concrete, asphalt and macadam.

State and Federal agencies are still engaged in a race against time to save what is left.

They are failing in that mission.

After the August 28, 2008 public land sale, NJ News & Views interviewed Rottenberg about his plans for the property he just bought at auction.

Although Lichtenstein told Ballwanz the parcels auctioned off were nowhere near the Cabinfield Creek, Rottenberg told NJ News & Views the land was mostly wet.

Rottenberg also said there was no water or sewer in the area, but that he hoped to develop the land with residential housing in the future since there was demand for it. In the meantime, Rottenberg said he planned to hold onto the land as an investment.

Rottenberg changed his mind two years later.

State law requires that five out of seven zoning board members must approve Rottenberg's application for a use variance. Last year, Rottenberg needed every vote he could get for approval.

"On November 1, 2010, only five members of Defendant Lakewood Township Zoning Board of Adjustment were present to vote on the application of Defendant Aharon Rottenberg," legal papers reported. "One of the Board members present and voting on Rottenberg's application was Elliott Zaks, who on information and belief is the nephew by marriage of Defendant Aharon Rottenberg in that Elliott Zaks' mother and Defendant Aharon Rottenberg's wife are sisters."

According to count two of the Stillwells' lawsuit, Zaks improperly voted on the application.

"The affirmative vote of Board member Elliott Zaks to approve the application of Defendant Aharon Rottenberg, his uncle by marriage, constitutes a clear conflict of interest which requires this court to declare null and void the approval granted by Defendant Lakewood Township Zoning Board of Adjustment to Defendant Aharon Rottenberg," legal papers charged.

Zaks is not the only public official that may have used his position for personal benefit.

For years, the Lakewood Township Committee has appointed a liaison to the Lakewood Zoning Board of Adjustment, even though the zoning board is a semi-autonomous body that grants exceptions to local ordinance adopted by the township committee.

In 2003, the year Lichtenstein, a Democrat, was elected to the township committee, he served as chairman of the zoning board. After being affirmed onto the local governing body in January 2004, Lichtenstein served for years as the zoning board liaison.

According to sources, Lichtenstein, a property manager, may have used his position as liaison to solicit employment from zoning board applicants in exchange for development approvals.

In 2009, Republicans won a majority on the township committee and appointed their newest member, Langert, to replace Lichtenstein as zoning board liaison.

According to sources, Langert, a real estate investor, also may have used his position as zoning board liaison in 2009 and 2010 to influence the board's vote on development applications in which he or his relatives stood to profit.

Last fall, a reporter for NJ News & Views asked committeemen why there was a liaison to the zoning board of adjustment. Committeemen said the liaison communicated with the board, but did not disclose the specific communication required between their liaison and zoning board members.

Committeemen's appointments will cost taxpayer dollars to defend.

The Stillwells are asking for reversal of all approvals granted Rottenberg by the zoning board, denial of his application to develop the site and award of all court costs incurred by the couple.

In 2007, Lakewood resident Steven Scher filed a lawsuit against the township that alleged the Lakewood Planning Board had approved an application to develop a site near his home according to zoning recommendations made by members of a township committee advisory board that included lobbyists, developers and their professionals. Scher charged that although the advisory board recommended the zoning changes, the township committee never adopted them through local ordinance.

Scher's wife, Janet, was a member of the advisory board.

So was the developer of the approved project, Toms River planner Brian Flannery.

New Jersey Superior Court Judge Vincent J. Grasso, sitting in Toms River, acknowledged in his judgment that members of the advisory committee included individuals that stood to profit from their appointment, which Scher had charged in his lawsuit.

Despite that acknowledgement, Grasso remanded the case back to Lakewood's planning board, which included voting members that had not filed their state-required financial disclosure, which NJ News & Views requested to inspect through the Open Public Records Act (OPRA).

Upon remand, planning board members upheld their previous action - at taxpayer and the Schers' expense.

The Stillwells may face a similar challenge to proving their case; unless it is settled before next year, Grasso will hear the couple's prerogative writ after discovery ends on May 9, 2012.

Rottenberg's recent legal problems are not isolated to his employment as a real estate developer; despite Rottenberg's development proposal to build near Brook Road, he is also earning a living transporting Lakewood school children to class since purchasing Negba Bus Service Inc. in 2007.

During the same time period the Stillwells sued the zoning board and Rottenberg for improperly approving a request for a use variance, the state charged Negba with failure to safely operate its school buses according to New Jersey motor vehicle law.

According to the company's online profile, Negba earns an annual revenue of $2.2 million and employs a staff of approximately 50 people.

The company's profits aren't being reinvested into its fleet of buses.

The February 17 Lakewood Municipal Court calendar included 47 summonses issued by the state Department of Transportation (DOT) to Negba Bus Service, Inc. in December 2010 and January 2011.

Last week, Municipal Court Clerk Carol Jenkins told NJ News & Views that the DOT summonses issued to Negba were not adjudicated as scheduled on the court calendar, but were instead rescheduled for a March 31 trial date.

Jenkins said that the municipal court prosecutor may negotiate a settlement with Negba owner Rottenberg before that date.

Last week, a reporter for NJ News & Views inspected the DOT complaints through the Open Public Records Act.

The complaints charged Negba with violation of N.J.S.A. 39:3B-22 based on failure to present or make available a school bus for inspection and/or falsification of any document or record.

Documents attached to several of the summonses included inspection reports and color photos of Negba buses that DOT officials examined at Reliable Truck Service.

In a Drivers School Bus Pre-Trip Inspection Report for the week ending January 8, 2011, an inspector noted in his remarks, "Where's the sticker? Some dashboard lights out. (Speedometer registers lower speed slowly, resulting in a delay of the passenger door opening.)"

The report was signed by Negba school bus driver Binyomin Atlas.

In a November 26 report that was not signed by a Negba school bus driver, the inspector noted in his remarks, "Bolt missing on door. Won't close all the way (fixed)."

A New Jersey Vehicle Inspection Report from December 21 noted the following Out-Of-Service Safety Conditions in a 1999 school bus that state officials inspected:

"Emergency Egress: Ignition - Interlock; Door slide bar; Emergency Egress: Door hinges; Push out buzzer broken - L; Emergency Equip: Inspection Tag; Body: Hoods; Underhood: Fuel Leaks; Exhaust System Leaks."

In a December 24 Drivers School Bus Pre-Trip Inspection Report, state officials noted there were problems with the school bus tires and heater.

In color photos included with the report, school bus tires appeared to be bald. In other photos, clear transparent tape was all that held school bus passenger doors closed.

In an undated letter addressed to Rottenberg, former Lakewood School District Business Administrator Robert S. Finger wrote, "As you are aware the Board has serious concerns about your company's performance."

Finger asked Rottenberg to attend a meeting with the Lakewood Board of Education on October 27.

In a January 24 letter sent via certified mail to Rottenberg and his wife, Sheilah, board attorney Michael I. Inzelbuch advised the couple of board concerns regarding Negba school bus service:

"As you are…aware there have been on-going concerns with regard to the failure of NEGBA Bus Company/Service to provide transportation in accordance with their obligations including, but not limited to, the on-going and repeated failure to provide timely service, failure to provide transportation ("no shows"), and failure to provide transportation in a safe manner."

Inzelbuch indicated in his letter that the Lakewood board's concerns were shared by at least one other district.

"I have been advised by the district's Transportation Department that allegedly there exists similar issues with another district that NEGBA services," Inzelbuch wrote.

Inzelbuch informed the Rottenbergs of the board's dissatisfaction with Negba's performance.

"The (board) has voted to have NEGBA forfeit fifteen (15) routes to be determined by the Transportation Department based on the attached information/documentation," Inzelbuch told the Rottenbergs.

The attachments, reportedly totaling 105 pages, were both hand-delivered and sent to the Rottenbergs via first class and certified mail - at taxpayer expense.

On February 17, a reporter for NJ News & Views attended a board hearing of the district's concerns with Negba.

Rottenberg asked for a private discussion with the board in executive session, which the board approved.

Prior to the start of the executive session, board Vice President Abraham Ostreicher arrived late to the meeting and entered the executive session meeting room with other board members.

After the board returned to public session, Ostreicher did not return with them. Instead, he left the building, according to a public announcement by Inzelbuch.

Ostreicher did not return a call for comment.

According to required ethics disclosures, some board members either work for or own non-public schools in town that receive district services they vote to fund.

According to sources, other board members do not disclose the conflict of interest on ethics disclosures.

Before going into closed session with Rottenberg, Inzelbuch asserted board members would take no action behind closed doors.

Following the board's public hearing, members disclosed they had agreed in private session with Rottenberg to allow him to pay the difference between Negba's contracted cost per student to provide school bus transportation and the state's current amount per student of Aid-In-Lieu-Of (AILO), which is $884.

AILO is paid to parents or guardians of a public or non-public school student when no bus transportation is available to service the district route.

After the board resumed their public hearing, Transportation Director Gus Kakavas said he discussed complaints about Negba with Rottenberg.

Inzelbuch said the complaints were 271 pages long.

The discussion did not go well, according to Kakavas.

"He threatened not to fulfill his contractual obligations (if the number of Negba routes were reduced)," Kakavas said.

Kakavas made his recommendations to the board.

"The…board can cancel his contract and call for forfeiture of his performance bond," Kakavas said. "The prudent thing for me to do for the board…is the right thing for the children (of Lakewood)."

"(What) if the county disqualifies him?" asked board member Yechezkel Moshe Seitler. "He's agreeing to take 15 bus routes instead of 22."

Seitler is married to BP Graphics employee Miriam Laya Seitler.

BP Graphics is owned by Binyoman (Ben) Heinemann, a government lobbyist.

Heinemann is also an investor in a non-public school located in the Lakewood Industrial Park, which receives school district transportation services.

A man in the audience asked, "Why wasn't this discussed in public instead of a back room?"

A board member responded, "It was."

Inzelbuch summarized the board's agreement with Rottenberg in executive session.

"Mr. Rottenberg is agreeing to pay the difference if you don't go for the bond," he told board members.

The board agreed to proceed with a county superintendent hearing, which will be conducted by the executive superintendent of Atlantic County in the absence of a new Ocean County executive superintendent. However, the board declined to call Rottenberg's bond.

By putting up some of Rottenberg's routes for rebid and allowing him to keep the routes no other companies would bid on, board members and Kakavas said they hoped Rottenberg would be able to improve service.

After the close of the hearing, Inzelbuch announced that board members would be going into closed session to discuss their insurance.

After the adjournment of the board's February 24 meeting, a reporter for NJ News & Views asked Lakewood Superintendent of Schools Lydia Silva when the district's 2011-12 tentative budget would be introduced to the public.

Silva told the reporter that the board would not be introducing next year's school budget before the county deadline of March 4. She told the reporter the board was attempting to balance district finances.

Although Silva attributed the delay to the cost of opening the district's new pre-school program, the board has reported a transportation shortfall at least four times over the past decade.

At the board's February 14 meeting, Kakavas made four recommendations to reduce transportation costs and increase transportation efficiency.

Kakavas said the board could realize as much as $1.4 million in savings just by changing district policy with regard to the maximum amount of time students commuted to class in the morning.

"There are over 146 routes in the morning with half-full buses," Kakavas said.

Kakavas recommended changing the language of the district policy from "shall be" to "should be," giving the district more leeway to transport a greater number of children to class on the same bus, even if traffic congestion increased the length of their commute.

"Our goal is to fill up every empty (bus) seat," Kakavas said. "That's how you get the highest rate of efficiency at the lowest cost."

Kakavas also recommended multi-destination routes for a savings of up to $620,000.

"Instead of having 10-12 (students) on a bus, you would have 34," he said. "Our goal is to maximize the number of seats filled and minimize the number of buses (contracted)."

Kakavas said that the busiest hour of the morning to transport children was 9 a.m., when the district made 281 deliveries within the district. The next busiest transportation "tier" had 57-96 deliveries.

Kakavas said that if the district could work with schools to negotiate a different morning delivery drop-off time and afternoon pick-up time, the district could save as much as $2.4 million.

"In order for us to remain competitive, vendors must make (bus routes) cost effective," Kakavas said.

Kakavas also suggested "bundling" routes for bid, instead of putting them up for bid individually.

"We don't have the authority to tell schools when to start," Kakavas said. "We do have the authority to sit down and talk to them and explain (the need for cooperative partnership to reduce service cost to taxpayers)."

Lastly, Kakavas recommended that the board establish safe walking areas to schools through installation of sidewalks or crossing guards.

"Do parents like losing a bus?" Kakavas asked. "No, they never do, but they understand the need for cost savings."

Kakavas urged the board to establish a relationship with Lakewood police to cooperatively work toward reducing the number of hazardous bus routes in town. He said the goal was to create the most safe walking environment possible for school children.

Working in partnership with municipal government and its police department could save the board another $328,000, Kakavas said.

He advised the board they did not have to implement all four recommendations at once.

"You can pick some (recommendations) to start and move forward," Kakavas told the board.

The board will need to budget district transportation dollars.

Under state law, any increase in Negba's insurance costs will be shared by Lakewood taxpayers as long as the Lakewood board continues to employ Rottenberg's company.

During the board's February 24 meeting, members discussed the possible consequences of continuing to do business with Negba.

Board President Meir Grunhut asked Kakavas, "What if (Rottenberg) goes bankrupt?"

Kakavas defended the board's previous action at its February 17 hearing.

"This will give him a chance to prove himself," Kakavas told Grunhut.

Board Vice President Avrohom (Abraham) Ostreicher asked Kakavas if the board's action could lead to future liability.

"We don't want to do something penny-wise and pound-foolish," Kakavas responded.

"But (Rottenberg) doesn't vote and we do," Ostreicher said. "If we get sued or taken to the cleaners, we're responsible."

As long as government officials promulgate public policy with taxpayer dollars, they will always risk the possibility of a legal challenge to it.

In 2006, Lakewood resident Lynn Celli challenged district transportation policy in municipal court and prevailed.

That same year, Fairways resident William Hobday challenged township zoning authority in state Superior Court and also prevailed.

Both residents were successful in holding government officials accountable for their actions.

Not all Lakewood residents challenge public policy in a court of law.

Some take their case to the court of public opinion.

At the June 26, 2008 meeting of the Lakewood Township Committee, members held second reading of an ordinance to hold a public land sale of blocks and lots near Brook Road.

During the public forum that preceded the vote on the ordinance, resident Gerri Ballwanz urged committeemen not to sell environmentally sensitive land near the Cabinfield Creek that is now the basis of pending litigation in state Superior Court.

Ballwanz compared her opposition to public policy with a biblical confrontation that brought down a giant.

"You be Goliath, I'll be little David all by myself," she said.