NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ – In a tie broken by a rare mayoral vote, the borough’s governing body turned down a request by the Board of Health to post restaurant inspection ratings on the borough’s website.
The proposed action would have placed the names of all borough establishments that serve food on the website, accompanied by a recent history of health inspection ratings. In addition, web visitors could also link onto the actual heath inspector’s report which is often three to five pages in length.
Councilman Dr. Bob Robinson who serves as liaison to the Board of Health introduced the proposed measure. He said all the information was in the public record and could be obtained from the Board of Health, but could be made more accessible through the website.
“If someone wants the information we should make it easier not harder,” Robinson said. Supporting his viewpoint were council members Rob Munoz and Jim Madden.
Those opposed were councilmen Michael Gennaro, Gary Kapner and Armand Galluccio, whose arguments coalesced around well-meaning individuals that visit the website, but misconstrue the information and spread it like wildfire on social media, thus harming innocent businesses.
They also argued that if an establishment has been deemed to have health violations by the Department of Health, the business will be cited and, depending on the severity of the violations, closed. They also said that every business is required by law to post its health certificate in a visible location at the entrance to their business.
“Why do we need to put a scarlet letter on the door,” said Gennaro, alarmed about the misuse of social media.
Gennaro, along with Kapner and Galluccio, said there was already a very high level of public protection in place through the Board of Health and annual inspections.
“No one is sitting back saying the public is in danger,” Mayor J. Brooke Hern said.
The mayor added that the likelihood of someone visiting the proposed site and leaving fully informed was less than 100 percent and said he found that unacceptable. “With the power of social media, it can spin out of control.”
There are times, the mayor said, when restaurants have received a less than satisfactory rating for reasons that do not directly pose a public health threat and could be misunderstood.
As an example, he cited an incident a couple of years ago that occurred at The Shack that serves the high school’s football field.
It was closed down for three games because it had a double and not a triple sink.
“I would not say The Shack was closed because of a public health threat,” Hern said.
During the public hearing, resident Bonnie Vohden chided the council for their concerns with social media. “You’re responsible for the health of the residents, not just the businesses,” she added.
Resident Ira Krauss disagreed, stating that information such as this posted online is stale and outdated.
Reached the next day, Robinson told TAP into New Providence that while disappointed, information is still available through the Board of Health. “That information is not being blocked from the public.”
He added all restaurants are required to display their ratings. The grades are satisfactory, conditionally satisfactory and unsatisfactory.
In other council business, representatives of the Greater Union County United Way were on hand to receive a proclamation noting the week of Sept. 14 as United Way Week.