RARITAN TWP., NJ – It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money.
In both the township and in Flemington, that’s what advocates of more open government are saying about their efforts to improve government transparency.
“Openness and transparency form the foundation for good government,” said Raritan Township Committeeman Craig O’Brien. “As elected officials we have an obligation to be transparent and allow the debate to happen in front of the public. I’ve seen too many bad decisions and groupthink happen behind closed doors. Once in a while, someone needs to pry open those closed doors and let some sunlight in.”
At tomorrow’s Township Committee meeting, O’Brien said he’ll propose “four simple and easy-to-implement items with little or no cost that make us more accountable to the public.”
While O’Brien says his motivation is to be responsible to residents, he said officials have other incentives to be transparent. Municipalities are “under pressure” to comply with the state’s Open Public Meetings Act – also called the “Sunshine law” – and the Open Public Records Act, he said, and “towns are being sued” for “improper” practices.
That includes the Flemington-Raritan School District. TAPinto Flemington reported earlier this month that it sued the district in Superior Court to obtain meaningful copies of about $122,000 of legal bills. The suit claims that the district’s failure to properly disclose the documents “creates a justifiable impression that the public trust is being violated.”
O’Brien’s proposals will include limiting last-minute changes to Township Committee agendas so that residents will be better abler to participate in discussions, improved minutes of closed-door meetings and more promptly approving meeting minutes so that they can be made available to the public.
In Flemington, first-year Councilperson Betsy Driver ran on a platform that included more open government. The former journalist is working to return Borough Council to the practice of live streaming of its meetings, something that will require permission from the county Freeholders for access to their Wi-Fi network in the old Historic Courthouse, where Council has been holding most of its meetings.
It isn’t clear whether Council will obtain that permission or not. For years, Freeholders have resisted requests that it post audio of its meetings online to the county website. Freeholder Director Matt Holt says he’d allow posting audio only if computer security experts can show him the audio would be secure from any manipulation after it is online.
Tomorrow’s Raritan Township Committee meeting will be held at 7 p.m. in the Municipal Building off of Route 523 here.