The City was not supportive of the Temple’s expansion plans, and in the period that followed Rabbi Lankry met with Mayor Edelcup on several occasions to work out the differences. The meetings went badly. At one point, Mayor Edelcup allegedly referred to the Sephardic Jewish community as a “bunch of pigs.” When Rabbi Lankry inquired as to whether he could quote the mayor as to his pejorative comment, Mayor Edelcup responded, “I don’t care what the [expletive] you do.” The animosity between the parties now proceeded at full bore: when the Temple rebuffed the City’s attempt to purchase the property on which the Temple was situated (the Temple is apparently located adjacent to city hall), Mayor Edelcup directed the City’s code enforcement officers to inspect the Temple, and between September 2007 and February 2009, the Temple received 12 separate code violation notices from City officials.
At a public hearing held before the full City Commission on September 2, 2010, the same witnesses who had appeared before the Preservation Board appeared again and provided essentially the same testimony. Because the hearing was public, citizens were permitted to take the lectern and offer comments during the proceeding; many took the opportunity to complain about the operation of the Temple, accusing Rabbi Lankry and the Temple of removing memorial plaques from the walls, failing to light candles for deceased congregants, denying access to former congregants, and absconding with the Temple’s Torahs. The City Commissioners—three out of five of whom were members of the Temple congregation before it became Orthodox—also offered public comments before voting on the designation. Commissioner Gerry Goodman, who had previously sat on the Temple’s board of directors, for example, questioned Rabbi Lankry at length about why the Temple seemed to be closed to the public on certain days. Commissioner Goodman had purchased a memorial plaque for a loved one at the Temple some years earlier but had been unable to view the plaque when he attempted to do so. Goodman then began to ask Rabbi Lankry whether the Temple was being leased out, but Mayor Edelcup interjected, admonishing Goodman to “[f]ocus on the issues.” Before closing his remarks, Goodman asked Rabbi Lankry whether Lankry had called him an anti-Semite in the local newspaper.
Yikes. At the end of the day, the Court engages in some technical ripeness analysis but asks the parties for some reflection (which is appropriate at this time of year!):
We do not know who will ultimately prevail between the Temple and the City in this ongoing feud. That question—a merits one—is not ours to answer. We merely decide today that the claims enumerated in the Temple’s complaint are ripe for judicial adjudication. And while we embrace some hope that the parties might bury their strife before the next stage of federal litigation comes to pass, again on that score, only time will tell. At this juncture, it is enough to say that the order of the district court is vacated, and that the Temple’s challenges to the enactment of the historic designation are ripe for review.
Dan Wallach of Becker & Poliakoff represented the Synagogue. Coffey Burlington represented the City.