The Warren County Freeholders heard an hour of comment from the public about two issues on Wednesday that were not on the agenda: a potential resolution commenting on sanctuary status for undocumented immigrants, and a Jaindl Land Co. proposal to put warehouses in White Township.
Several county residents spoke against the board passing anything resembling a recent Monmouth County resolution opposing the idea of New Jersey becoming a sanctuary state for immigrants. Monmouth County did not pass that resolution.
Jason Sarnoski, director of the Warren County Freeholders, noted that the county has not considered such a resolution. After the meeting, he said Freeholder James Kern is reviewing a potential resolution that would comment on concerns about sanctuary status but nothing is formal yet.
"We are not anti-immigrant," he told the audience of about 40 at the Wayne DuMont Jr. building off Route 519 in White Township.
The issue stems from New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal's order limiting the cooperation of state, county and local law enforcement with federal immigration authorities, including ICE - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The directive does not bar police from assisting federal agents in cases of serious crimes or final deportation orders.
Supporters of Grewal's directive say local police should not do the work of federal immigration authorities, and that the order can create trust between immigrants and police. Opponents say it makes New Jersey into a "sanctuary state."
Reggie Regrut of Phillipsburg waited outside the meeting with a sign pointing out that many farm workers are deemed to be "illegal immigrants."
"We need them in our economy, and especially in agriculture," Regrut said.
Stuart Ridley of Phillipsburg told the freeholders, "I'm a proud immigrant to this country." Ridley, a native of England, said becoming a permanent resident was difficult for him, even though he is a native English speaker.
"It's an opaque and bureaucratic process," he said.
Iris Perrot of Port Murray echoed what many said: "New Jersey is not a sanctuary state," and that Grewal's order will not protect criminals.
When she criticized the potential resolution, Sarnoski pointed out, "We don't have a resolution. You don't know what's in the resolution."
Sarnoski declined to speak on behalf of Kern, who was not at the meeting. Freeholder Richard Gardner was present.
"I worry about what such a symbolic resolution says about the people of the county," Carolyn Cerbone told the freeholders.
The one person to speak in favor of resolutions opposing immigration was from Bergen County. Brian Cameron, who said he is an Army veteran and who wore a Donald Trump hat as he addressed the freeholders, said the idea that America is a nation of immigrants is promoted by Marxist professors.
The conversation shifted to the other non-agenda item, the Jaindl Land Co.'s proposal to put about 6.3 million square feet of warehouses on a tract of about 592 acres off Route 519 in rural White Township. No formal plan had been submitted as of Wednesday night's freeholder meeting, as the township's planning commission was also holding a meeting to discuss the plan.
David Jaindl said in April that the plans were preliminary and that any development would comply with all laws and codes.
Residents said building several warehouses could change the nature of the township forever. Traffic would soar, Route 519 would need to be expanded, and air quality would suffer, they said.
County Administrator Alex Lazorisak said the county has met with Jaindl and seen the same presentation made earlier to the township.
"We are not discussing anything else until we have an application in front of us," Sarnoski said.
"Can we buy Jaindl out?" a man asked.
Sarnoski reminded the audience of the process a development has to go through.
"Zoning and land use lies with the municipality," he said. The county will not take any position on the proposal at this time.
As the meeting closed, Sarnoski thanked all who spoke for their civility, to applause from the crowd.
"Thank you all for the decorum you have shown," he said. "These are hot-button issues."