To the Editor: I am a volunteer on the Downtown Beautification Committee and was looking to extend my volunteering to the Communication Committee. I make the time to volunteer because I understand that in a small town like Berkeley Heights, our resources are limited, but our shared hopes for a better Berkeley Heights are not. And I believe in the end goal of the Downtown Beautification Committee—creating a better, beautiful downtown. So do my fellow committee members, all of whom bring amazing skills to their volunteer work.  

But lately, there’s been a hitch: We’re finding our meetings live-streamed on social media. Some of us are small business owners who are careful about their reputation in town yet want to volunteer. Others are simply uncomfortable on camera.

The truth is, as volunteers, we hold no decision-making power so it’s hard to understand why this would be necessary. All decisions are made by Town Council. We simply propose new ideas, present them to Town Council at a public meeting, take questions from Council members and residents, and then revise ideas accordingly. Once an initiative is approved, we implement it. This process has led to the clock in Peppertown Park, standardization of downtown streetscape requirements, the branding now seen on welcome signs, and the seasonal banners and flags that line downtown. We’ve also run several successful fundraisers to underwrite our efforts.

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These initiatives take time to brainstorm and develop, and are best cultivated in an environment that doesn’t spur political rhetoric or shut down participation. My fellow volunteers don’t seek the limelight but simply want to make a contribution. That’s why they volunteer their time and considerable talents. We all care.

But the law as it stands today only provides two options for public meetings—public or non-public. And if a meeting is public, it can be recorded without the consent of the meeting participants.    

Despite discomfort with streaming our working meetings, we do want Berkeley Heights residents to know what’s going on in our Committee meetings and to participate with us. That’s why we operate under a transparent structure. We create and post to the town website our agendas before meetings and our minutes afterwards. We encourage residents to contribute their ideas and comments—our email address is  DBC@BHTWP.com.

I am not in favor of live streaming volunteer Committee meetings. Yet, those of us who do not want to feel as if a committee meeting is akin to a reality TV show does not in any way diminish our honesty, care, competence, commitment, passion and desire to make a difference as a volunteer. While some people are better versed in front of a camera than others, that does not mean that it is appropriate to require all volunteers to be on camera. To dismiss or deny the efforts of volunteers would be a shame, because volunteers truly make a difference and should be considered an asset to a town.

The truth is, Berkeley Heights needs more, not fewer, volunteers.

Gail Nelson

Berkeley Heights, New Jersey