From: Pamphlet, Teaneck Collection at Teaneck Public Library
Published and Distributed by Teaneck Taxpayers League
Chapter 1: THE GENESES
In 1929, after nine years of increasingly inefficient and costly administration, the local government of the Township of Teaneck finally reached a crisis. In that year the Township reached its liberal debt limit and in 1930 exceeded it by approximately $1,500,000.00.
In 1929 the Township's gross debt was well over $6,000,000.00 and the annual interest on it more than $300,000.00. In fact, the amount appropriated in the annual budget for debt service was more than half the total to be raised by taxation for Township purposes.
The per capita net debt of the Township -- that is, the gross debt less the amount of cash on hand available for debt payment -- increased; from $237.00 in 1922 to $480.00 per capita in 1928, or a trifle over 1000;0 in six years.
In the nine years from 1920 to 1929 the annual budget increased 1560 per cent; the per capita cost for the Township's government increased from $9.10 in 1920 to $43.30 in 1929, or nearly 400 per cent. The tax rate increased from $4.29 in 1920 to $5.97 in 1929, or $1.68 on each $100.00 of assessed valuation.
The cost assessed on abutting property for street improvements had risen as high as $20.00 per front foot. In 1928 the Township paid for engineering fees a total of $50,000.00. In 1929 it paid for attorney's fees $10,650.00 and for auditor's fees $10,040.00.
Prior to 1930, Teaneck's government consisted of a Township Committee under partisan or bipartisan control. The people of Teaneck had tried both Republican rule and Democratic rule but saw no improvement in their local government under either party.
In the year 1929, the people of Teaneck awoke to the principle set forth in the Declaration of Independence that whenever any form of government becomes destructive, it is the right of the people to alter it and to institute a new government, laying its foundations on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.
It was in protest against the conditions already recited that Teaneck Taxpayers League was organized in 1929 under the leadership of Capt. John J. Wilkins, a retired U. S. Army officer.
The League's Principles
The only declared object of the citizens who organized Teaneck Taxpayers League was to "secure and maintain a non-partisan, efficient municipal government". To that end they adopted the following thirteen principles:
- Home Rule;
- Non-partisan government;
- Businesslike administration by the employment of a city manager;
- Reduction of taxes by efficient, progressive and economical government;
- Employment of qualified, disinterested and efficient public servants;
- All Township business to be conducted in public, and all Township records to be open for inspection by taxpayers;
- Detailed financial statements of the Township to be made semi-annually and immediately published in local papers;
- Public credit not to be mortgaged for private speculation and advantage;
- Comprehensive planning and execution of public improvements in general interest without extravagance;
- Streets, sewers and water mains not to be built without financial protection to the general taxpayers;
- Zoning ordinances for the protection of the individual home owner;
- Adequate fire and police protection;
- Civil service system for subordinate employees.
The avowed object and the principles of Teaneck Taxpayers League were set forth in an application for membership in the form of a pledge which every member of the League was required to sign. The signed pledge-application of each member was filed with the secretary of the League.
Chapter 2: THE FIRST CAMPAIGNS
IN THE SPRING of 1930 Teaneck Taxpayers League began its active campaign for the adoption by referendum vote of the New Jersey Municipal Manager Act. An intensive educational program was conducted through the public press and by circular. At the same time a canvass was made to secure the required number of signatures to a petition calling for a referendum election. All sections of the Township were systematically and thoroughly canvassed from house to house during these combined campaigns.
The petition was filed with the Township Clerk on Monday, August 25, 1930. It contained four times the number of signatures required to call the referendum election, which was held, as provided in the Act, on the fourth following Tuesday, namely on Tuesday, September 16th. The League used as its campaign slogan:
"Government is only valuable insofar as it is beneficial to the people. By our united and untiring efforts and with the spirit of sacrifice to the ideals of good government, we will make more valuable our government."
The campaign of only four weeks, following the filing of the petition, was furiously carried on by both the League, as sponsors of the new plan of government, and the political, partisan opponents of this non-partisan form of government, opposing its adoption.
The League did not have among its members a single person then active in partisan politics. Its members were almost exclusively professional and business men and women.
Nearly all leaders of both political parties united in desperate efforts to defeat the adoption. The Teaneck Republican Association passed resolutions opposing it, and charged in a circular distributed throughout the Township that Teaneck Taxpayers League was a "radical and obstructive organization." They resorted to every political trick. Misrepresentations, threats, whispering campaigns of vilification and appeals to prejudices were all used in their efforts to defeat adoption of a law that would take Teaneck's government out of the grasp of party politicians.
These opponents of the plan contended that government was good or bad only according to the men elected to the governing body; that the form of government was not important.
On the evening of September 10, 1930, these issues were debated at a general mass meeting in Teaneck High School Auditorium, which was filled to capacity. That the speakers in favor of the adoption, all members of Teaneck Taxpayers League, had won the debate, became evident six days later when the referendum proposal received a majority of fifty votes - 2,279 votes for its adoption to 2,229 against.
First Council Elected
The election of the first Council under the Municipal Manager Act was held, as required by the Act, on the fourth Tuesday following the referendum election, namely October 14, 1930. Teaneck Taxpayers League endorsed five non-partisan candidates, pledged to the principles of the League and to the faithful conduct of the government in accordance with the letter and spirit of the Municipal Manager Act. Five other candidates who called themselves "The Minute Men" were supported by the local Republican organization. Two others were supported by the local Democratic organization, and there were several additional candidates who had no organized support.
All told there were nineteen candidates. All five of the Teaneck Taxpayers League candidates were elected. The public press in reporting the results of the election said:
"When the smoke of the political battle fought in Teaneck for the past few weeks to rid the community of the tentacles of partisan politics had finally cleared early this morning, the five candidates sponsored by the Teaneck Taxpayers League to insure the success of the municipal management plan, emerged victorious by a large majority. The voters of the community struck a telling blow in the crusade to clean up Bergen County politics by rolling up the biggest vote in the history of Teaneck."
To celebrate the League's success in its first great fight, which was only a mild prelude to the long series of hard fought battles to come, a victory dinner was held on the evening of November 11th, 1930, at the Swiss Chalet -- first of the League's annual dinners, which are always held on or about November 11th.