BERNARDS TWP., NJ _ An idea that has been kicked around for a while _ and requested by some members of the public _ was approved by the Bernards Township Committee last week, when a majority of members agreed to add a second public comment section to meeting agendas.

The public comment opportunity at Township Committee meetings has long been placed near the beginning of meeting agendas, for up to five minutes of spoken input on any topic that isn't listed as a separate agenda item. Ordinances up for second and final hearings have their own separate public hearings.

The second public session will now be placed at the end of the meeting, with members of the public able to speak for up to five minutes apiece.

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The committee's vote on the subject came after a discussion of whether the second public comment opportunity should be shorter, in order to prevent one person from dominating the meeting.

The committee ultimately voted 3-2 to approve placement of the second public comment session at the end of the meeting, with another five-minute limit _ although the mayor or committee person leading the meeting will have the discretion to lift that limitation.

"We want to encourage public input," said Mayor Carol Bianchi, who voted to make the change along with new Township Committee members Joe Esposito and Joan Harris.

Deputy Mayor James Baldassare Jr. and Township Committeeman John Carpenter voted against the revision of the meeting rules of order to set a second public comment session.

Later, Baldassare said that the current rules of order allow any Township Committee member to request that a second public session be held at any meeting, as he said might be likely if there is an issue that has attracted much public interest. 

"I'm all for that," he said, but added, "I am not just for changing things for the sake of change."