FLEMINGTON, NJ - A routine Flemington Council vote on allowing a property owner to put plantings along an easement got a bit heated Monday night, prompting a call for imposing council bylaws.
Councilman Michael Harris wanted to know how the borough’s environmental commission had weighed in on the idea. He also wanted to know why the planning board had required the plantings in an easement, which is supposed to be free of plantings in case the borough needs to dig it up to access utility lines.
He pressed Councilman Jeremy Long, the council planning board liaison, for an answer.
Long responded, “We need to present a little bit better for the public. We’re all frustrated here. We don’t need to go at each other.”
In that vein, Long and fellow councilwoman Jessica Hand suggested enacting council bylaws, like the ones used by Madison Borough Council, to “help set expectations for council members and make us all work together," Long explained.
"We want to make sure the discussions are civil and have really great discussions," he said.
Councilman Chris Runion questioned whether bylaws would make a difference, suggesting that council members instead explain their reasoning before voting, especially if their position is an unpopular one.
“I always say to my students, you're not learning if you're not feeling uncomfortable," he said.
Long said bylaws would be more like lesson plans, specifying elected officials’ responsibilities and offering ways to hold them accountable if they don’t step up.
“You've got to agree things are nasty right now and we want to get back to good stuff, focusing on bylaws that are going to help,” he said. "Maybe Flemington can be a part of something, one little step.”
"This makes public engagement easier, that’s a specific thing I was drawn to," added council president Caitlin Giles-McCormick.
Harris pointed out how the bylaws could help define some of the murkier areas of responsibility in the borough, such as who has control over adding information to the borough’s website or when executive session minutes can be released without redaction – a battle he waged and won when borough attorney Tara St. Angelo announced that executive minutes through 2017 would be made public immediately, with those from 2018 and 2019 under review and expected to be released shortly.
“I wholeheartedly support this, but I don't want anyone to come out of this meeting thinking bylaws will solve our problems,” he said. “I'd like to be wrong.”
Council members agreed to read over Madison’s bylaws and give comments to Long and Hand, who will them report back to the governing body with recommendations.
“I think this is a stepping stone,” said Hand. “It’s a good forum to discuss issues and see what we can agree on.”