BARNEGAT, NJ - Amid the pandemic, schools and government buildings shut down to avoid the spread of the virus. Barnegat Schools will likely return to at least some in-classroom instruction in September. The Township Committee hopes to start the month by opening their September 1 meeting to the public.
“We are anticipating opening our public meeting pending instructions from our governor,” said Martin Lisella, Township Administrator. “We are concerned that the numbers are still rising. We plan to follow whatever guidelines the governor has in place in September.”
When meetings do resume, Barnegat plans to comply with the guidelines as far as percentage of capacity and social distancing. Masks will also be required. According to Lisella, the township plans to assign someone to perform temperature checks before allowing meeting access.
Ocean Township (Waretown) opened its committee meeting to the public for the first time this month. The Township Clerk socially distanced chairs in advance of the meeting. Lacey and Point Pleasant appear to be the only two other Ocean County communities that are continuing their meetings without public attendance.
“I love the back and forth with the public in person,” shared Mayor John Novak. “Years ago, I lobbied for and instituted in-person workshop meetings. We even set up donuts and bagels for everyone.”
The Barnegat Township Committee has always made its meetings available by live stream and cable television access. Since the town hall shut down, public commentary is submitted by email and read aloud by the clerk. Some have questioned why the governing body refused to use a virtual format. This month a resident requested information about the plan to return to allow public attendance at the meeting.
“You are our community's governing body, and we deserve to be heard in our own voice, not relegated to having someone other than ourselves read our concerns to you in hopes that our point is clearly made,” wrote George Fedorczyk.
Fedorczyk, a lifelong Barnegat resident, expressed his views on other issues related to accessibility to the committee meetings. He questioned the decision to alternative meeting times between day and evening.
“As it stands now, the 10am meetings every other month realistically only provide a select group of the community the opportunity to attend in person.,” Fedorczyk wrote. “This is something I brought up at the February 2018 meeting, to then Mayor Caputo.”
Novak addressed the issue of virtual meetings, saying that others have reported nightmare episodes with them. He said there is also the potential for people to use a pseudonym or fake name to deter from the meeting format.
“Whatever we do here is open. It’s honest, and there are minutes,” shared Novak. “You can file an OPRA request …we have nothing to hide.”
“It must be the political season,” Novak concluded.
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