FLEMINGTON, N.J. – Wednesday’s special meeting of Borough Council was unusual for several reasons.
It was an unscheduled meeting, which is not common in the borough, although it did meet the state-required 48-hour advance notice for such a meeting.
The “sole purpose” of the meeting was to cancel the regular Council meeting planned for Monday, Mayor Phil Greiner explained, although officials also approved the payment of bills.
And it was odd because the public comment part of the meeting – which is required under the state’s Open Public Meetings Act – lasted longer than the business part of the meeting itself. The entire meeting was about 39 minutes long, with public comments taking up more than 24 minutes of that time.
Explaining the reason behind canceling Monday’s meeting, Mayor Phil Greiner said, “The primary reason is there is nothing at all pressing on that agenda. There are just a couple of items on it to begin with.”
But resident Chris Runion, who is running for election to Council, asked whether the meeting was being canceled for a lack of business or Councilperson John Gorman’s expected absence Monday.
“It’s a combination,” Greiner acknowledged. “There is no pressing business ... It’s as light an agenda as I’ve seen at this point in the process. We don’t have any public hearings.”
“We’re in the middle of some important steps that affect the borough and ... it’s my feeling and I believe the majority of the governing body that it’s best if we just meet as a full Council without having any problems creep in,” Greiner said.
“You’re saying now that we’re going to govern by the Gorman vacation schedule,” Councilperson Betsy Driver answered.
Gorman’s absence matters because the Council has been evenly split on matters related to Jack Cust and his Flemington Urban Renewal LLC’s plan to redevelop the Union Hotel and surrounding properties. Gorman sides in favor with the Mayor, along with Councilpersons Marc Hain and Brooke Warden. They’re opposed by Councilpersons Michael Harris, Susan Peterson and Driver. When Council splits evenly, the mayor casts the deciding vote.
Driver argued that Monday would be the only opportunity for residents to ask questions and comment about the financial agreement with Cust before its public hearing next month.
“We are denying them the opportunity,” Driver said, “to come in and ask the governing body questions about a very important document that will be voted on at the following meeting on Oct. 9.”
“That is the purpose of the public hearing,” the Mayor answered.
Peterson asked if Greiner didn’t think the pending streetscape project alone was important enough to warrant discussion on Monday, and Greiner answered that, “There’s nothing to vote on the streetscape (plan) on Monday.”
Resident Robert Shore called Wednesday’s meeting “lunacy.”
“You called a meeting to conduct no business, except for the sole purpose of canceling a meeting some date in the future in which we’re not going to have any business,” he said.
Driver said canceling the meeting denies the public an opportunity to interact with public officials. In a letter to the editor, Driver, who is opposing Greiner for mayor in November, said she’ll be at Borough Hall on Monday “for a community listening session starting at 7 p.m.” She invited Harris and Peterson to join her.
Harris told the Mayor that his repeated votes to break Borough Council tie votes is eventually “not going to work.”
“We only have four more meetings this year,” Greiner said.
Perhaps the greatest revelation at Wednesday’s meeting came from borough attorney Barry Goodman who – in response to a question Harris has been pursuing for several meetings – said a “super-majority” vote of Council will be needed to approve a bond ordinance that is part of Cust’s redevelopment plan.
As things stand now, that “super-majority” doesn’t exist.