BRIDGEWATER, NJ - An application from council president, and mayor-elect, Matthew Moench calling for the New Jersey Superior Court to give an order stopping the planning board from using special meetings on short notice to fast track the Center of Excellence application has been denied, and the meeting scheduled for Monday evening will be held as planned.
The court denied the application Monday morning, and said the planning board can continue with any special meetings as long as they are properly noticed in accordance with the Open Public Meetings Act and Municipal Land Use Law.
Moench filed the application with the court on behalf of himself Thursday after the special meeting was announced following a regularly scheduled hearing Tuesday.
"Short notice of special meetings makes it hard for the public to juggle their work, family and personal schedules to make arrangements to attend meetings," Moench said in a release Monday. "Multiple meetings close together also make it harder for our senior citizens to sit through long late meetings."
Moench filed the emergency application to the court against the planning board to seek to prevent them from having special meetings to hear the application for the Center of Excellence.
In October, Moench said, the planning board planned two back-to-back meetings to hear the Center of Excellence application. But the second meeting was canceled because they failed to properly notice the public.
Then, the planning board heard the application again on Nov. 12, and announced they are having a special meeting Nov. 18 to continue the hearing with a traffic engineer.
The argument filed stated that they shouldn't be allowed to file special meetings on short notice to get the application done.
Moench said he was asking the court to stop the planning board from meeting on Monday, and to further say they should not be able to have anymore special meetings on the application.
"While the applicant is entitled to a fair and timely process, the public should not be harmed because the planning board wishes to rush this application for a vote before Mayor (Dan) Hayes leaves office," he said following the court's decision. "Decisions like this by Mayor Hayes and this planning board are what has caused an erosion of the public trust in the planning board and its decisions. Last year, I supported an ordinance to ban political contributions from redevelopers and asked for the resignations of two planning board members who I believed had the appearance of a conflict of interest. Those two members have since resigned."
Moench said Monday he is now calling for the creation of the position of public advocate, authorized under the New Jersey Municipal Land Use Law, to represent the public interests on future redevelopment or major development applications before the planning board.
"The position of public advocate is filled by an attorney who represents the public interests at planning board meetings on projects within the scope set forth in the enabling ordinance," he said in the release. "The public advocate is accountable only to the public, not the politicians, and can guarantee that the public's interests are always represented before the planning board."
The planning board will meet for its special meeting regarding the Center of Excellence Monday at 7 p.m. in the municipal building courtroom.