Raritan Twp. Pursues 'Open Government,' But Won't Post Audio of Meetings

Bill Bray and Rose Sollena at his Acting Township Clerk appointment last May. Credits: Curtis Leeds / TAPinto Flemington-Raritan file photo

RARITAN TWP., NJ – Open government will be on the agenda at Tuesday’s Township Committee meeting, a topic officials here have been wrestling with for months.

They have made some progress. For example, the meeting schedule of the township’s various boards and committees are now posted to the township website. Minutes of those meetings are also being posted to the site.

Draft resolutions and committee correspondence are also now posted, and appear before the end of business on Fridays before a meeting.

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The so-called “packets” that Committee members receive in advance of a meeting have been added to the posted content. They include correspondence to officials that may be related to matters on the Township Committee agenda.

But posting audio of the Township Committee meetings isn’t something likely to happen anytime soon.

The question of whether governing bodies should post audio of their meetings has haunted some public officials for more than a year.

Flemington has a long history of not only posting audio of Borough Council meetings, but video, too. That stopped when its crowded public meetings were moved to the old Historic Courthouse, where officials told the public they weren’t able get their video equipment to work properly in that location.

Jennifer Stevenson and her Paws and Rewind, LLC have since stepped in to help fill that void. Most recently, the local marketing company posted video it made of the March 13 Council meeting to YouTube, then shared the content on Facebook, where it has been widely shared and viewed.

County Freeholder Rob Walton has argued that his group should also post the audio of its meetings – a proposal that that his fellow freeholders often say they favor, but which they have so far opposed. Freeholder Matthew holt has said he’s concerned about security, and the possibility that the audio could be manipulated by the public or used in unintended ways. Holt has said he’d favor posting the audio so long as its security can be guaranteed “like every other document” posted to the county website.

Township resident Barbara Sachau has pleaded with the Freeholders and her Township Committee to post audio but while the freeholders mull the possibility, Township Committee members rejected the idea at their last meeting.

The proposal, which was supported by Committeeman Craig O’Brien, drew words of caution from Township Clerk Bill Bray.

“You have never heard your recordings,” Bray told officials March 7 about the digitized audio of their meetings, which he uses to help draft meeting minutes. “ The microphones before you are extremely sensitive.”

Bray said that virtually every utterance is caught on the recordings, including breathing, mumbling and even a vibrating cellphone.

“Unless you sat down and listened to many, many hours” of the recordings “and realized exactly what you said, consciously and subconsciously, I would as a friend ... caution you very strongly, not to be posting audio online,” Bray said.

Of the Committee members, only O’Brien disagreed. “If you’re going to sit up here and say something, you should be willing to answer to the public for it,” he said.

Bray noted that copies of the audio are readily obtainable through his office.

The clerk also told officials that they’re not obligated to record their meetings.

“You could direct me to turn this off right now,” he said of the computer that makes the audio recordings. “There’s absolutely no requirement for you to record your meetings.”

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