The Berkeley Heights Democratic Party is opposed to the Township Council’s apparent intent to approve new rules that would effectively deny residents the right to attend meetings of 4 official township committees: Communications, Downtown Beautification, Memorial Park Renewal, and Peppertown Park. These committees would be permitted to hold meetings without notifying or inviting members of the public, and without releasing any statements, minutes, or either audio or visual recordings of their actions and discussions. These rules are expected to be formally approved by the Council at their next meeting on Tuesday ,February 7th.
“Berkeley Heights residents have the right to participate and be heard in town government, including the committees the Council creates to give them advice and make proposals,” stated the Berkeley Heights Democratic Committee in a formal statement. “To deny residents that right by blocking them from even knowing about their actions, even if it is legal, sharply reduces transparency in local government. We share the outrage expressed by most residents who have heard of these restrictions, as well as their opposition to them.”
Because they recognize the importance of encouraging volunteerism to help improve our town without fear of harassment or intimidation, the Berkeley Heights Democratic Party is proposing amendments to the proposed rules that would balance transparency with protecting the rights of volunteers. Under its plan, the Council would establish clear guidelines for how the committees ought to be run: they would remain open to the public, schedule publicly announced meetings in advance and releasing full, comprehensive minutes of each meeting. This would mean the committees would be following the same standard of transparency set by the Open Public Meetings Act. To protect volunteers’ privacy, residents would not be allowed to record their meetings, either in visual or audio, without the consent of all individuals in attendance.
“These committees are officially part of the process of local government, being part of the official Township Code, with Council members serving as representatives to the committees,” the Democratic Committee noted in their statement. “Closing these meetings to the public would mean that only a select few, appointed by the Mayor, have a voice in taking actions and offering advice that the Mayor and Council has almost always accepted. We view this as unacceptable. There is no need to choose between supporting our volunteers and supporting our right to be informed and involved: our plan means we can do both.”
As strong believers in both transparency and public involvement in local government, the Berkeley Heights Democratic Party calls on the Mayor and Township Council to adopt their plan, thereby keeping the governing body’s campaign promise of greater transparency and inclusion for all residents. They also call on all residents who share their outrage to publicly express their opposition at the Tuesday, February 7th Council meeting, 7 p.m. at Town Hall, 29 Park Avenue.