New Jersey GOP lawmaker calls for government regulation of the media, free speech

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Campaign photo showing Steven Chisolm (CENTER)
Campaign photo showing Steven Chisolm (CENTER)

JACKSON TOWNSHIP, NJ – A self-proclaimed conservative Republican member of the Jackson Township municipal council is calling for government regulation of free speech and the media. The demand came from Steven Chisolm, the co-owner of a tree company that came under fire after it was reported by an independent journalist that his company, which he co-owns with his father and brother, raked in $173,000 in public contracts in the township where he serves.

Chisolm took issue with the public release of his company’s financial connections to the township, in particular, an ordinance he championed that could see his family tree-cutting business getting tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars more of taxpayer funds annually.

Richard Ciullo, the author of posts that criticized Chisolm’s apparent conflicts of interest, was the target of Chisolm’s scorn at Tuesday night’s town council meeting.

Chisolm started his rants at this week’s council meeting by slamming the U.S. involvement in Syria and Ukraine. He routinely calls out what he feels is corruption at the state and federal level of government, typically by Democrats.

This week, when he was the focus of claims of political corruption, he called for the government regulation of journalists.

Chisolm compared Ciullo’s article that raised questions about the councilman’s involvement in a new shade tree ordinance that could send tens of thousands of dollars more in public funds to the councilman’s family business.

“Maybe we should license journalists,” Chisolm said. “I heard somebody come up with that idea recently. Probably a good idea. We license nail salons. Which one causes more harm today? Journalists or nail salons? I think you know the answer to that.”

Chisolm later said he was not a co-owner in the company, but on the Aspen Tree website, it shows he is a co-owner in a sister business connected to his father’s company, Aspen Tree Expert Co. Chisolm also admitted to working in his father’s division which reaps the rewards of lucrative annual contracts with Jackson Township.

In response, Chisolm made an obscure reference to James Callendar, a colonial journalist who often criticized American leaders and reported on their otherwise unreported scandals.

In the referenced article, Ciullo raised concerns over conflicts of interest in Chisolm’s new shade tree ordinance that could send even more public money his family’s way. That ordinance would empower the government to force residents to cut down trees, plant trees and pay fines for not following the shade tree commission rules.

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That work is often contracted to Chisolm’s company. Essentially, the ordinance gives Chisolm’s father, who is the commissioner of the shade tree commission the authority to force residents into requiring tree removal services, or face a penalty of a $1,500 fine.

“Indeed the windfall [Chisolm’s company] stand[s] to gain from this proposed ordinance revision doesn’t just stop there however.  When the tree maintenance and removal business is slow, Chisholm Sr. and McCabe could write their own meal ticket simply by instructing employees to drive around town, search for trees that are in questionable condition and report back to them the addresses of the properties,” he wrote. “Both men could then simply show up at a property address, issue a violation and fine with their newfound enforcement authority, and then have their own companies perform the mandated work while lining their own pockets.”

Chisolm’s demand for government regulation of free speech and the media contradicts the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances,” it reads.

Freedom of the press is one of the cornerstones of American identity. It allows journalists to act as a fourth estate to oversee those in power and inform the public of the government’s wrongdoings, corruption and day-to-day events.

On Chisolm’s website Aspen Tree Experts Co., and Aspen Treen and Turf, his sister business, are used interchangeably and even use the same vehicles and equipment to perform their jobs duties, according to photographs on the page.

Both companies use the same address and phone number.