To the Editor:
I’ve written before about how discouraging it is to go to Piscataway Town Council meetings and find a stonewall of non-response from the Council and Mayor when residents raise important issues. Last night, we saw them actually respond, with hostility and personal animus, around two issues:
- why the town only represents a Christmas Tree in its holiday display in front of city hall, and does not acknowledge Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Diwali when it falls in this season;
- how the town ensures that Piscataway residents get access to jobs at the municipality and its contractors, and that these jobs meet good labor standards.
These are legitimate issues that deserve a reasoned and open discussion. Instead, several Council members dismissed, interrogated, belittled and harassed the resident who first raised them, Staci Berger. Ms. Berger is a leader of the Piscataway Progressive Democratic Organization. She is also the elected Democratic Committee member from Ward 3, District 2, a position she won by challenging the entrenched Democratic organization, the faction to which the Council members and Mayor belong.
Clearly, the hostile response of the Council to Ms. Berger’s comments reflect their partisan political loyalties. But this is not behavior we should expect or accept from office holders, who are pledged to represent all of the town, respect the democratic process, and act in the public interest. In fact, the kind of ad hominem attack directed at Ms. Berger discourages public participation, dissent, inquiry, debate, and of course, change. It’s called a “chill effect,” and it threatens a high price for participating, let alone challenging the local establishment.
I also can’t ignore a final swipe at Ms. Berger taken by Mayor Wahler, speaking out of order at the close of the meeting, to attack Ms. Berger via her husband, retiring school board member Bill Irwin, around the local jobs issue. Wahler’s heated outburst was truly uncalled for, as well as being downright sexist.
This is not a healthy culture of government. It doesn’t help us grow as a community or deal with real problems. How can we change this? Not by ignoring council meetings or remaining silent.
I’d like to try a fundamental principle of democracy: transparency. I’m asking that the Township publicly broadcast Council meetings, as do many towns across New Jersey. While the PPDO and ACLU won the right to livestream the meetings from cell phones, this shouldn’t depend on volunteer efforts and amateur video.
Piscataway has a broadcast center. Town Council meetings can be available on a regular basis for all to see. Then let the people judge the way issues are being aired and the standard of behavior we hold public officials accountable to.
Ann Bastian, 113 Fountain Ave.