To the editor:
Raritan Township’s resolution opposing enhanced open government inadvertently shines the spotlight on itself.
With bipartisan co-sponsors, state Sen. Loretta Weinberg - a champion for open government - crafted bills S1045 and A2699 to expand open and transparent government. These increase public participation rights earlier in the governmental process, specifically in committee meetings now exempt.
The Raritan Township Committee cited mendacious excuses, such as “unnecessary, unpopular, burdensome to staff, time-consuming, expensive” and the like. Employee assignments and workloads are expenses to serve the public …not to be cited as an obstruction to it.
The state’s Sunshine Law is needed for the public’s effectiveness in fulfilling its role in a democratic society. Shrouded government restricts knowledge, interest, concern and participation. Elected officials are cognizant that this minimizes citizen interference and facilitates government control.
Previously, Weinberg introduced legislation to restrict officials’ exploitation of new technologies - such as wireless and virtual communications - that compromise the letter and spirit of the Sunshine Law. Disingenuously, the League of Municipalities constructed a generic resolution in opposition. The League’s pattern is to lessen citizens’ rights and increase government control. Because League membership fees are funded by taxpayers, we are actually paying for our own disenfranchisement! This must be addressed further.
Early participation is necessary to prevent corruption; here is a common ploy. Officials create an appearance of open mindedness. A façade of diverse residents are empaneled for research and advice. Unbeknownst to others, all panelists share the officials’ intended outcome. Biased research is presented and recommendations adopted, often at the same open meeting. Constituents could not know the committee was formed around a pre-determined agenda.
Shame on Raritan Township and other municipalities that vote to impede open, transparent, honest and forthcoming government. Municipalities that are genuinely open should voluntarily expand their transparency beyond the minimum required by law.
Remember when voting; these officials are not acting to represent their constituents - but to further empower themselves.
Please visit TheCitizensCampaign.org.
Janet Piszar, Chatham