FLEMINGTON, NJ – Officials here aren’t happy about comments made about borough employees on social media sites such as Facebook, and say they’d like it to change.
“Some say the pages are out of control,” said Mayor Phil Greiner at last night’s Council meeting. “Technically, they are. We have free speech.”
Although its members didn’t mention it specifically, Borough Council was reacting to some acrimonious comments made on Facebook in the wake of a post from its tax collector. She sought to remind property owners that even though the Business Improvement District has been “de-designated” and the new Flemington Community Partnership is ramping up to replace it, the special assessment tax used to fund the group is still due during the transition.
“The assessment was determined in 2015 and we are required by law to collect it through the second quarter,” she explains, pointing readers to more detail posted to the borough website.
She issued the reminder because, she said, some businesses were withholding the tax. Her notice explains that under state law late payments are subject to penalties and interest.
The mayor praised the borough’s staff and promised, “We’ll do what we can to minimize feedback” of the sort that targets employees.
Councilwoman Michelle Oberst said of the staff, “We respect them and we hope the public would as well. ... using social media to be negative is not appropriate.”
Oberst said it isn’t the criticism to which she objects, but the choice of platforms.
If you have a complaint or concern, “Go to the person directly,” she said. “Verify, before pointing fingers.” Oberst added that her phone number –as well as the phone numbers of other Council members – are plainly posted on the borough’s website.
Council President Brian Swingle called some of the comments “quite sad” and “cowardly.”
Swingle said, “We have a right, an obligation to protect our employees,” and he suggested Borough Council seek legal advice about its options regarding the objectionable comments. Swingle said he’s concerned that some commentary “crosses the line” of what is appropriate.
This isn’t the first time that Facebook has been criticized in Flemington. In December, residents and business owners alike railed against the negativity that Market Roost restaurant owner Carol Todd called, “our biggest enemy.”
Among those who have criticized the tax is Robert Shore, who owns SDG Alarmtronics.
Shore called the tax “unethical, possibly illegal” and he asked Council, “When can I get a rebate or refund?”
Shore objects to the tax because Borough Council “de-designated” its Business Improvement District, and created a new group – Flemington Community Partnership – to replace it. The new group expects to hold its first public meeting on May 16 and have a budget prepared for May 23.
Greiner repeated that the law requires the borough to collect the tax and he said that the borough has not disbursed the funds. That money will either go to the new FCP, he said, or be returned to taxpayers.
Money remains in the BID’s coffers. Swingle said he’s working with the BID to audit its finances. At the end of December, the BID reported about $160,000 in its accounts, Swingle said, and there’s about $60,000 remaining. “There’s some concern regarding what it was spent on,” he said of the difference, and he called the cooperation of the BID members “a collaborative effort. It’s a team effort” to understand how the money was spent.