To the Editor:
The latest Township Committee meeting showed exactly why the residents have been calling for the Committee to suspend all non-essential business until this pandemic is over and we can go back to meeting in person. Mayor Kelly sat on his perch and decided who was allowed to speak. When he didn’t like what a resident was saying, he just clicked the mute button or dropped the individual off the Zoom meeting altogether. When called out for muting the residents, he did not deny it, he either stated “your time was up” or “I did it because I wanted to interject”.
There is one explanation for why Mayor Kelly was acting in this manner; it is because he didn’t like the overwhelming criticism of his actions and he simply didn’t want to hear it anymore. These actions could not be further from the intent of the Open Public Meetings Act. Residents have voiced their opposition to continuing non-essential business in this manner and the Committee has openly rejected their warranted pleas. The Committee has twisted state-mandated directives regarding these public meetings to conform them to the Committee’s agenda. The Township will most likely lose should any of the actions taken at these meetings be challenged in court, which they most likely will be as there is one open legal action against this Committee already.
Mayor Kelly knows how unpopular his agenda is and he does not care. The Mayor and his Deputy Mayor, Tracy Ness are determined to push their agenda through during this unprecedented lockdown, before the residents have the ability to pack the room again and line up at the microphone where Mayor Kelly won’t have access to a mute button.
Prior to this lockdown, the Township Committee meetings with affordable housing on the agenda were regularly standing room only. They often went late into the night because matters being discussed were of such importance to the residents they felt compelled to show up in person and have their concerns heard. Now that meetings are being held on this Zoom platform, far fewer residents are able to participate, the technology glitches are obvious to anyone watching, and the Committee feels emboldened to trample on resident dissent now that they don’t have to look residents in the eye.
If you tuned into last night’s Committee meeting, you were probably as frustrated as we were. If you were watching on TV, it was very difficult to hear the residents calling in, as well as the Committee Members/Township Attorney that were remoting into the meeting on the Zoom platform. If you were following along on the Zoom platform, it was difficult to concentrate on what was happening, as the meeting administrator kept popping cameras on and off the different participants, and the audio of the Township Administrator and Attorney was very poor quality.
Towards the end of the meeting, Mayor Kelly went one step further in exercising his new-found ability to stifle the residents’ free speech rights, and decided that the meeting had gone long enough. The residents on the Zoom meeting, with their hands up, and on the phone waiting to speak, didn’t have a right to be called on, and in the Mayor’s own words, “could come back next meeting”. He ended the meeting and went home without allowing all the residents a chance to be heard.
If we were meeting in the normal forum, where residents participate at the municipal building and stand in line to speak, Mayor Kelly would be on an even playing field and there would be no mute button or ability to simply click and hang up. The Mayor is taking advantage of our citizens knowing this and that is why he is charging forward, full steam ahead. He believes that if enough steps are taken now, it will be too costly to reverse these decisions later and he will have essentially committed the town to his unpopular agenda.
We reject this course of action, believe it is unlawful, and call for it to be halted immediately. No more non-essential business should be on any Township Committee agenda until the state of emergency and stay at home orders are lifted and we can gather again in person.
Stay safe and healthy everyone…
Ashley Felice and Mark Hamilton,
Candidates for Chatham Township Committee