FLEMINGTON, NJ - The governing body of Flemington is taking care of business via the Internet, and trying to find a way to keep interested residents in the loop.
The March 23 council meeting was the second to be held on “GoToMeeting” and later posted on the borough website through YouTube.
According to borough attorney Tara St. Angelo, “These are unchartered waters, but this may be the new normal for the next month or two.”
St. Angelo said that based on briefings by the governor’s office, even when people are allowed to go back to work, public meetings will be off the table likely until May or even June.
“The governor was very clear about this,” she said.
The audio for a little over the first five minutes of the meeting did not function so some of the early discussion was lost. When the sound came on, the discussion was centered around how to handle the public comment portions of the meeting online.
The attorney suggested using the “Chat” function on the GoToMeeting site to send over questions that can be read by the designated meeting host, either Mayor Betsy Driver or borough clerk Sallie Graziano. Another possible option would be for people to submit their questions in writing to Graziano prior to the meeting.
“It’s going to be trial and error,” St. Angelo explained, as there are no guidelines for this.
Councilman Michael Harris raised concerns about the public comment, noting that often people’s comments are based on council discussions so submitting comments or questions in advance of the meeting would be an issue.
St. Angelo said there could be a resolution passed to keep public comment periods for ordinances and budgets open after the end of meetings.
Driver said public comment was never meant to be a back and forth discussion and that perhaps, “it is time to get back to the spirit of what public comment was meant to be, hearing comments.”
Both Councilmen Chris Runion and Harris said they had been contacted by a resident who does not have Internet access at home. When needed, they used the library’s computers, but that isn’t possible now.
“Absent Internet, how does one participate in these virtual meetings?” asked Runion.
St. Angelo pointed out that there is a call-in feature for people to listen in on their phones.
“It’s not a perfect solution but it’s the best we can do right now,” she said.
It was also decided that the clerk will leave copies of council meeting agendas at the front door of borough hall for pickup.
Driver informed the council that Gov. Phil Murphy has told municipalities to continue with the introduction of their budgets, so that process will move forward.
At this time, a decision has not been made about whether commission and planning board meetings will be held online.
In other business, the council passed Resolution 2020-74, which waives fees for home inspections that are required for home sales and occupancy changes, such as smoke detection certifications, during this public health emergency.