The new search for spiritual inspiration by spreading the story

I’ve been talking and writing about a lot of “new” stuff lately: new ideas, new strategies, new paradigms to stabilize and restore our bayshore. It’s clear that “same old” won’t work and we need to explore these new concepts for learning to occur that will break the cycle of failed past policies. This Saturday morning the first thing that caught my attention was this email excerpt from Kristin Lin, Editor of the On Being Project talking about new spiritual outlook:

“In 2005, Rachel Naomi Remen said something that may sound a little more ominous now:

“The world is made up of stories; it’s not made up of facts.”

A decade later, Berkeley sociologist Arlie Hochschild’s book Strangers in Their Own Land, about her time spent living in Louisiana among Tea Party conservatives, offered a different articulation of this with the concept of the “deep story.” “You take facts out of the deep story. You take moral precepts out of the deep story,” she explained in her On Being interview. “It’s what feels true.” Hochschild says we all have deep stories, no matter our politics and no matter the facts.

While the truth of these observations has certainly revealed itself in contemporary American political life, we also need to examine the role that story plays in our personal lives. “Sometimes we need a story more than food in order to live,” Remen says. Stories touch “something that is human in us and is probably unchanging.” They can offer structure or sense, comfort or hope. They are also how we understand each other across time — what Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie describes, particular to Judaism, as a “relay race” of contemplation and interpretation over thousands of years. So if stories are both the bedrock to humanity and part of why we feel so divided right now, where does that leave us?

Maybe the way forward is in editing and reexamining what’s in front of us. “Not everything that we’ve inherited is worthy of being passed on, like trauma and memories and values that have evolved,” Lau-Lavie says. “We need to read some of those sacred words as metaphor, as bygone models, as invitations for creativity.”

For Lau-Lavie, this call to remix and reinterpret has led to initiatives like Lab/Shul, a pop-up synagogue with a tagline that includes the language “artist-driven, everybody-friendly, God-optional,” and Storahtelling, which combines sacred storytelling with contemporary theater to make Jewish tradition more accessible to younger generations.

And perhaps there’s solace in the idea that, as Remen says, “no one’s story is ever finished.” The passing down of stories across generations allows for constant reinvention, both on the page and off. Or, as Lau-Lavie says of Lab/Shul, “We’re finding the in-between. It’s how to be cheeky without being cheesy, and how to be profound.”

It’s clear that I need a spiritual refresher to keep moving forward in a ‘post-drowning’ world. I’m not the only one. It’s easy to see the effects of decades of environmental injustice in our community: depression, substance abuse, mental illness, engrained poverty. The evil, the incompetence and the corruption continue in wealthier government employees. The financial and psychological gap between these government and industry people and the people who pay their lifestyle grows wider each year. We can’t change that. What I can do is isolate and protect myself from this oppression to a limited degree. I can expand my circle of positive people and spread a positive story. We need a story of inspiration.

This week I heard from two people, one retired and one still in government, that the division of opinion within NJDEP is widening. That’s unconfirmed hearsay. Yet I have a new letter on the stationary of the NJ Attorney General, addressed to NJ Superior Court and signed by a state attorney stating that there office has no plans of further action here in the legal assault at Money Island after devastating our community and our local businesses. They are content to extort, pillage and plunder us for decades, sue us into extinction, then leave us to bleed to death on the battlefield. The final blow was when I heard a report, also unconfirmed, that government will step up its financial assault on the few remaining local marinas. Years ago the state took over the financial land use burdens of one marina (Fortescue) but refused to do it for others (Money Island). Now I’ve heard that local taxpayers will take over the financial burdens of operating the Fortescue Marina. The mayor has publicly favored the Fortescue Marina for financial support over the few other local marinas. We’ve known that for years and there may be legitimate (even if unfair) strategic reasons for that. Yet one of the Committee members has direct financial interests in the Fortescue Marina . Yesterday a neighbor called to ask if that member has a legal obligation to abstain from approving the new financial deal that benefits him directly. I replied that the problem is far worse than that; no procedural objection is going to stop the steamrolling of local government over its citizens.

There is simply no way that a private enterprise can compete with the unlimited financial resources of government. Our local marinas lose money, for sure, that is no secret. But ill-advised government strategies, corruption and mismanagement is making this problem much worse.

Yesterday I read a text message from a stranger; apparently I did not see it for several weeks after it was sent; talking about the need for a community group to support decency in our own local community best known for its lack of it. I know good people are out there. I just need to find a way to connect in this crazy world.

So this is where I am. Let’s figure out where to go from here.

New thinking required to cope with bayshore transition

The traditional type of thinking that brought us to this point of social, environmental and economic collapse at the bayshore will not serve to bring us out of it. Radically different strategies and leadership are needed for the coming decades.

While most of the country is in a period of economic growth, the NJ bayshore has been in decline for decades. Real estate values have dropped since a peak in 2006, some appraisals showing as much as a 95% decline. Some neighborhoods are not served by internet, public water or sanitation wastewater systems. Education and income levels trail behind other regions. Life expectancy is lower; substance abuse is higher; and access to basic services like medical care and banking is lacking within a half hour drive. Despite private sector efforts to develop businesses, state regulators impede most job growth.

Tony Novak CPA is available to speak with community and business groups on strategies for stabilization and recovery from our long period of decline. Novak is the primary subject of the soon-to-be-released book “The Drowning of Money Island” that shows how mismanagement of our bayshore resources led to the demolition of local communities. The documentary by New York nonprofit publisher Beacon House follows the path of Novak and others in the years after Sandy as they battled “the disaster after the disaster”. He makes a compelling argument that it is not natural conditions and disasters that are killing our communities but government mismanagement, poorly conceived strategies, corruption and sometimes even more shocking criminal behavior that compound the problem. Novak talks about the impact of the coming wave of strategic retreat in South Jersey in terms of environmental justice and the disproportionate burden on poor communities. Novak talks about new strategies being tested by his nonprofit organization Baysave that include ways to reduce the detrimental role of government in efforts to save our bayshore resources.

A new strategy for fighting NJ police corruption

I’m still reeling after my latest run-in with corruption in New Jersey law enforcement. A month after the resulting conviction, I’m still learning bits and pieces of the story from neighbors who had prior bad experience with the same officers. Of course, it is impossible to use this information now and the details aren’t strong enough to take any other action to reopen the case.

I don’t know why I’ve had so many bad experiences with NJ law enforcement. I suspect that it is related to my activism and outspoken behavior but I can’t prove that. From a different perspective, I could make the case that these are all unrelated events. I am certainly not saying that all officers are corrupt, but I am saying that my own experience has been terrible. Considering the relatively little time I’ve spent in cumberland County, New Jersey compared to other locations and the observation of nearly 100% corruption and/or incompetence happened here, this is statistically significant; making it more disturbing than random anecdotal run-ins. I know that I’m not alone in this finding on a larger scale. A recent 2018 report by the Anti-Corruption Resource Center says “The police force is commonly identified as one of the most corrupt governmental institutions” on a worldwide basis.

Coincidentally, only hours after I drafted this blog post The New York Times and NBC News carried this front page story that reminds me that my police corruption situation could be much worse:

“Tartaglione, 49, is a former police officer in Briarcliff Manor, New York, who was arrested in December 2016 and accused of killing four men in an alleged cocaine distribution conspiracy, then burying their bodies in his yard in Otisville, according to court records. He was charged with drug conspiracy and four counts of murder and is awaiting trial.”

It is scary to think about how bad it could get and I don’t mean to slight the families of people killed by corrupt and incompetent officers. My problems are mild by comparison.

I’ve spent time examining my own behavior. Did I trigger or inflame the officers? I think of myself as calm and calculated. But is that how officers see me? My statements to investigators and my public comments likely irritate many. Over the decades I’ve given statements to multiple investigators including the FBI, federal prosecutors and state investigators. Targets of their investigations included local officers, elected officials, current and former county prosecutors, current and former Attorney Generals and even developer Donald Trump. (To my knowledge none of these criminals was ever prosecuted). Obviously these police officers took great efforts to drive many miles to talk to me at my remote rural address. These confrontations do not happen by accident. One officer testified that she drove to my part time home in New Jersey seven times before she found me there. In fact, the only times we see a police or law enforcement vehicle at my location is when they intend to speak with me. How could I draw so much negative attention? I haven’t, in the last 50 years, been involved in any physical confrontation or aggressive behavior. The last I recall was a playground fist fight in 4th grade. I later heard that guy was in jail after conviction as a union ‘enforcer’. Once, decades later, I grabbed a habitual sex offender by the collar and strongly warned him to stay away from my kids. It was effective; he never came around or contacted them again. But he sued me and I lost in court. But there wasn’t anything that anyone considered to be a sign of violent behavior.

I don’t fall for conspiracy theories but our government relations consultant warned me, on the day he resigned in May, that the state intends to increase criminal and civil prosecutions against me. A short time later, I filmed an officer apparently on a stake-out just outside my home when I was there alone. There was no one else at our small rural town on that morning. A few weeks after that the Attorney General’s office issued a letter saying they did not intend any further action against me. The contradiction is confusing. Also, I am well aware that without the photographs as evidence, a reasonable person would assume that I am paranoid and possibly suffering from delusion. (I’ve already had this conversation with a medical professional).

I think about my younger family members in law enforcement. My step-daughter and her partner are police officers. My son soon starts a career as a prosecutor. I wonder what happens to make a young police officer lie? I really can’t imagine it, though I wrote about this in more detail last month here on my own web site in relation to its potential effect on my professional licenses.

Aside from the analysis, it is clear that police and law enforcement officers pose a high risk for me. I’ve been thinking about this a lot trying to come up with a response plan. I considered leaving the state and my family supports that plan. That is likely to be the end result, but it takes some time to sell properties, relocate businesses and get new professional licenses. Then reading about the recent citizen actions across the nation to combat illegal ICE raids last week sparked some new response ideas.

My best personal strength is the ability to be calm and analytical. I used that skill to review my past experiences.

Back in 2006 I received three death threats by telephone (related to environmental activism) and after the first time I reported each call to the police. I had the called ID number of the threatening call and I had the telephone record showing that I called NJ state police a few minutes later. I turned these records over to my attorney later. As far as I know, the threats were never investigated. Police later denied receiving my calls despite the evidence. From what I see in court, judges almost always believe an officer who directly contradicts the statement of a civilian.

In November 2006 an attacker attempted to kill me in front of my house in front of many witnesses. The threats came after I published an accounting report that could be damaging to local officials. The evidence was clear that the attempt to “take me out” was pre-planned and initiated by an angry politician on the scene just before the attack. The attacker was charged by a Cumberland County grand jury. But that’s where the prosecution ended. The case was admittedly mishandled by the Cumberland County Prosecutor. When I complained to the prosecutor we met in person and she blamed the mistakes on her predecessor and said it wouldn’t happen on her watch. Then her office “lost the file” two more times and my confessed attacker was never charged with any violation. It’s difficult to comprehend unless I assume that there was maligned intent.

Then in 2009 I was assaulted on my rural front yard (only 20 yards from the spot of the last assault in 2006) by a NJ State Police officer while gardening on a Sunday afternoon. Consider that Money Island is so remote It’s a story almost unbelievable except that it was witnessed by my whole family from inside. My kids joke that this was the only time they ever heard me curse in disgust. The officer detained me, charged me, and was later coached by the prosecutor to use language that hid his bad behavior. The witness account and the police report said that I threw my hands up, backed up, turned away and walked back into my house where the officer chased and cuffed me. The prosecutor coached the officer to say that my step backward and hand movement in the air appeared to look like I was taking a “boxer’s stance” to confront the officer and the officer was in fear for his safety. It was a plain lie and everyone there on site as a witness knew it. Even so, I was convicted in municipal court of disorderly conduct and acquitted in appeals court. The officer, as far as I know, was never disciplined.

Then most recently in late 2018 a Fish and Wildlife officer made a fictitious charge based on false accusations, wild assumptions and Facebook posts. All of the witnesses interviewed in the case supported my statements that I was not involved, and was not on site. But the officer said that her superior was pushing her to press charges based on an “anonymous complaint”. I did not know the name of the supervisor at that time. But I knew that a competing business owner had already sent two of his guys, I called them “goons” to warn me that he would shut me down. This happened at my house in front of other people. I was a little shaken up but I did not want to show that. I laughed it off and didn’t take it seriously after that. A few months after the trial the same guy called me and said that I might as well give up because he had the officers on his payroll and would spend money to put me out of business. He admitted to being the person who made the anonymous complaint. It was too late for me to do anything about the officer’s behavior.

Anyway, this month I did some research on our legal rights when approached by a law officer and learned that it is pretty easy to avoid the whole mess by exercising your right to disengage with these four simple strategies:

  1. When approached by an officer, ask if you are being detained. If not (almost always), leave immediately without saying anything more. Get inside your home or vehicle ASAP. If you are being detained, don’t say anything about any topic without a lawyer present.
  2. If an officer shows up and wants to enter your property, ask to see a warrant. If they don’t have one (they won’t) ask them to leave. Tell them that they have no permission to be there.
  3. Record everything on film. The cost of security technology has dropped dramatically while the quality and capabilities have increased. There isn’t anything that happens in my community or vehicles that isn’t recorded and stored.
  4. Educate others. I’ve instructed the people I work with and my neighbors on the law, what is acceptable interaction with law enforcement, and the risks/penalties of engaging with law enforcement officers. Let the message sink in that contrary to what you have been taught, the police are not your friend. Especially when they are speaking to you. I’m pretty sure that my community accepts this position however I still worry that at a moment of confrontation that they won’t have a ‘cool head’ to remember to disengage.

The plan is to avoid any type of engagement that might give the officer the opportunity to accelerate the corrupt action. If they need to conduct a legitimate investigation then they will need to do so without me. In my limited experience, that is the best strategy and the tactic I will take going forward.

Book previews

A few web sites besides the publisher’s published previews of the book prior to its October 1 release. This passages caught my attention:

“The Drowning of Money Island is an intimate yet unbiased, lyrical yet investigative rediscovery of a rural hometown ravaged by sea level rise and economic hardship, and the increasingly divisive politics those factors have helped spawn. In the end, the book offers a glimpse of the future of coastal retreat in America—a future in which the wealthy will be able to remain while the poor will be forced to leave”.

Government greed sinks local boaters

It broke my spirit today to tell long time neighbors and marina members that the bayshore would not be affordable to them again. They don’t understand. They just want to be able to enjoy their passion in their retirement years. They don’t see the big picture. They don’t see the greed and corruption of powerful men in far away cities that rob them of their heritage on the bay. They said the boat is siting in their backyard this year. I don’t have the heart to tell them that’s where it will stay. They don’t see that our region is much less expensive than any other part of the state and that boat slip fees doubled this season and would at least quadruple at a Money Island if I paid state extortion fees.

Over 70% of the recreational boats in our poor rural part of New Jersey are sitting in backyards now according to the Marine Trades Association. It will only get worse. Retired people who can afford the boats and finally have the time to use them don’t have the physical ability to ramp launch them. Without options, this couple must abandon their boating passion that I know means so much to them.

A break from the heat

“Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain”

Vivian Greene

Today, Sunday, is cooler and breezy. The heat and bugs were tough to take this past week. Overall I feel like it just slows down my progress in life. Yet I must work with it, not against it. I did make progress on a handful of projects this week but I’m dragging my feet on getting out to raise investment capital.

I feel frustrated waiting to collect money due to Baysave so that I can reallocate it as needed to other projects. We need a workboat in the water ASAP to pull docks. The boat is done, registered and ready but needs an engine and controls mounted. So far I’ve been patient with waiting. Now I feel that I should make a plan to move forward.

Diamondback terrapin laying eggs along the beach right after a thunderstorm yesterday.

Dragonflies are thick, especially in the reeds and cedar, but don’t seem to have made any difference to the greenheads. Inside I’m focused on the ants and houseflies. The mosquitos are under control after screen repairs.

All Quiet

All is quiet on a Monday. I’ve had one visitor to Money Island in the past 24 hours; except of course the three guys who make a daily drive through past my house. That’s a whole different story. The visitor is a disabled veteran whose son works on an oyster boat. He came down to do a little fishing and watch his son come back in from work.

Part of the reason for few people now is that the greenhead flies are bad. Lance and I were chased in last night after getting only about 200 yards into our planned evening walk. But today on a morning walk I saw the first dragonfly. It seems early for dragonflies that usually come in the middle of July and kill many of the greenheads and mosquitos.

Meanwhile, the recovery plan for my own life and the future of Money Island continues to evolve. The memorandum of understanding letters go out today. I will begin making personal calls to potential stakeholders. The legal and financial model seems to be worked out and ready to move forward.

It’s been one week since I was found guilty of a criminal offense in New Jersey by a judge who said he reviewed the evidence and sided with the officer over me. I was pretty shaken up that day but my thinking is clearer now. I think I understand more of where I went wrong in presenting the evidence and how I could have made my case more effectively. I now understand why the officer lied and the person taking the payment on the “anonymous” complaint is exposed. Moreover, I am reminded that it is not reasonable to expect justice from the justice system when the issues involve fraud as deep as this. But it is too late for that now. I need to focus on maintaining my professional licenses and avoiding facing the same false charge again. Most of those details will be kept private. I did aree to put together a post for an accounting magazine on dealing with fraud within government.

I’ve also been thinking about the two people who ripped off the marina last week. There is little I can do because the arrangements were with Bruce who died a year ago. Unfortunately a few people who owed money saw that as a way to beat their debt to the marina. What this means is that I’ve been unable to pay some creditors. That causes stress. I don’t know how else to handle it except to continue to muscle through.

Memorandum of Understanding on real property

Today I drafted a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ for parties interested in future operations at Money Island. Several parties have expressed interest but we have no written agreements yet. A proposed funders asked for this next step in writing.

Memorandum of Understanding – Money Island Marina Community
1) I have agreed to act as titleholder for the majority ownership stakeholders in a collection of properties known as the Money Island Marina Community. These properties include properties formerly used by Baysave, a consortium led by The Nature Conservancy and Rusty Joe’s Marina, properties in the Newport NJ area, and include properties whose owners wish to remain unnamed in public discussion at this time. These stakeholders are hereafter collectively referred to below as “We”.
2) I may not represent all of the stakeholders of these properties; nor am I saying that all of the stakeholders have been identified and had their claims vetted. Any party to an agreement will be subject to the possibility of other claims of other stakeholders.
3) These properties were formerly used as residences, businesses and research sites. In 2019 these properties are used only as my personal residence. We have no plans to continue using them beyond the current year.
4) The cost basis of the properties exceeds their current market value. We are unwilling or unable to sell the properties except as provided in this memorandum of understanding.
1) We invite requests by other parties to use any or all of the properties for periods up to ten years at no cost under a ‘triple net lease’ with an option to extend or purchase after that period.
2) An offer of use may include the option to purchase at the adjusted cost basis as calculated by the seller and stakeholder(s).
3) An offer of use may include the responsibility to raise financing for redevelopment.
4) This offer is not exclusive. Offers are extended simultaneously to various government, private individuals, businesses, public organizations, nonprofit groups and educational organizations in hopes of soliciting an offer of use for any or all of the properties.
If you or your organization has any interest in expansion at Money Island, I invite further discussion.
Tony Novak

Meanwhile, some photos on this hot and buggy day:

Strategy emerged

I had a strong hunch that if I took time and looked analytically then a response strategy would emerge in the midst of chaos and stress. Heavy dock construction continues on the creek. I focused on a “go dark” strategy with regard to the ways I am monitored. Buy time, protect myself, and rebuild a life elsewhere.

Commercial dock construction continues.every day at Money Island.
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