SPARTA, NJ – Sparta Township Council has been holding meetings virtually via Zoom and they are now moving other meetings to the electronic platform. The Zoom meetings, however, are password protected.
Residents who wish to attend the meetings are required to email Sparta.zoom@spartaNJ.org to receive the required password the day before the meeting. This link becomes available 24 hours prior to the meeting.
This was discussed at the May 12 meeting. Under Old Business on the agenda Councilman Dan Chiariello questioned the need for this “barrier” for the public to have access to public meeting. He raised this question at each of the three Zoom meetings of the elected officials.
Mayor Jerry Murphy said Chiariello has “raised it at the last meeting and it was redundant,” before letting him continue.
Chiariello asked Township Attorney Tom Ryan about possible Open Public Meetings Act violations, “requiring two pieces of information to join the meeting,” with the password only available 24 hours before the meeting, violating the 48-hour OPMA notification rule.
“We’re being faced during this pandemic with a lot of interesting situations,” Ryan said. He said as long as the meeting itself was noticed 48 hours prior that was sufficient.
Ryan said since information about the virtual meeting and how to acquire a password was in the meeting notice it is a “reasonable accommodation” for the public as well as “an accommodation for concerns about security, with Zoom bombing and contamination of access to the meeting.”
“Dan, that will suffice. Will we not hear about this again at the next meeting,” Murphy said.
Ryan said, “He has the right to bring it up.” Murphy said, "You can bring it up if you need to," but that it was "getting a little redundant."
Murphy has insisted this password requirement was a “best practice” recommended by the League of Municipalities. He said it was necessary to insure people did not get into the meeting who did not belong.
The League of Municipalities did not respond to an inquiry about this question.
Councilman Dave Smith said he did not thing passwords were a deterrent to having attend the meeting noting there were more people on the remote meeting than usually attend a meeting in person. "If taking 30 seconds to get a password is more difficult than driving to the meeting, so be it," Smith said. He said there were 16 people in the budget hearing meeting which were more people that attended the 2019 budget meeting. Of the 16, however, at least 11 were town officials or representatives and one was TAPinto Sparta.
Township Manager Bill Close told Chiariello he “respectfully disagreed” with his concerns about passwords. Close said the "password is a necessary measure put in place. I think step taken by the township are prudent and practical, given what’s occurred in other municipalities.”
He added the password is at the bottom of the agenda “so local residents who wished to participate rather than outside individuals who would be looking to use their computers modeling techniques and measures to obtain the information, local residents who read through it could see the password at the bottom.” He said the town’s efforts “provide safe and secure conduct of the meeting but prevent disruption by disinterested parties.”
The Zoom platform allows the host to “kick out” any person who may be disruptive. The township is providing only audio to the public, even though the Zoom meeting platform has video capabilities.
Murphy admonishes the public prior to each public portion of the meetings saying they must “practice discipline,” they must “behave” and “be respectful” or they will be removed from the meeting. He repeats this every time the meeting is open to the public, two or three times per meeting.
Questions about public access to meetings continue during the liaison reporting portion of the agenda. Chiariello raised questions about the cancelation of the Environmental Committee not meeting. Murphy said they are just an advisory committee. Chiariello said they do advise the Planning Board but they meet in public to have their discussion before providing the advice.
The discussion was that the Environmental Commission has recently had email discussions that would normally be held in public, reviewing applications and making recommendations to the Planning Board. Chiariello was concerned that these meetings should all be made available to the public. Murphy said the Environmental Commission was just an advisory board.
He said the commission "performs a duty," deferring to Ryan. Ryan said since the commission did not take any action, did not vote, "only passed on information it is advisory in nature" and he did not have a problem with the commission continuing to act as they have been, conducting their committee work via email.
Board and Committee Meetings:
The Library Board meeting was moved to Zoom with the same password requirements.
The Planning Board meeting moved to Zoom for their meeting on Wednesday, May 20 that also required a password secured prior to the meeting.
The Environmental Committee is canceled.
The Senior Advisory Committee has not been updated on the website, still showing an in person meeting at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, May 27.
The Township Council meeting will be held via Zoom on Tuesday, May 26 beginning at 6 p.m. Agenda
- Virtual Meeting Information ZOOM Conferencing link: https://zoom.us/j/8231363278 *
- Email Sparta.Zoom@SpartaNJ.org on or after May 25 to receive required password
- Audio Conference Phone #: (929) 205-6099 Meeting ID: 823 136 3278 *
- Call 973-726-INFO (4636) on or after May 25 to receive required telephone password
The Zoning Board Meeting will be held via Zoom on Wednesday, May 27 beginning at 6 p.m. Agenda
- Email Sparta.Zoom@SpartaNJ.org to receive required password
- ZOOM Teleconferencing Link: https://zoom.us02web.zoom.us/j/89895064882
- Call (973) 726-INFO (4636) to receive required password
- Audio Conference Phone #: (929) 205-6099 Meeting ID 89895064882
- All Passwords available 5/25/20-5/27/20