SPARTA, NJ – By the time the township council meets again on June 23 they may not have to worry about discussing password protected meetings but last week, it was a contentious issue.  For the third consecutive virtual meeting last Tuesday passwords became a heated topic.

Discussing “old business” Councilman Dan Chiariello renewed his objection to requiring people to email 24 hours before the meeting to request a password. Mayor Jerry Murphy immediately tried to cut off the discussion.

Chiariello said, having spoken with legal counsel from the New Jersey League of Municipalities, he learned no other towns follow the process established in Sparta where a password had to be requested 24 hours before a meeting. Deputy Mayor Christine Quinn said, "That's not true."

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“There are some towns that do require passwords but that is only employed when there are bandwidth limitations and that password is included in the meeting notice,” Chiariello said the League of Municipalities council told him. That person did say they were not suggesting this is a violation of Open Public Meeting Act Chiariello explained.

“I brought it up because I learned someone recently wanted to attend,” Chiariello said when he was cut off by Mayor Jerry Murphy who said he was “calling a point of order because we have rehashed this a number of times.”

Murphy asked Chiariello to “move on.”

Chiariello instead moved a resolution to discontinue the use of passwords, “unless it is included in the required in the 48-hour notice.”

Quinn jumped in. “The president of Zoom has actually published a statement encouraging the users to protect every meeting.”

She said, “Our colleagues and our neighbors found that by not password protecting these meetings they will be ‘Zoombombed’.” She indicated neighboring towns had their meetings interrupted and mentioned pornography was involved.

“The password is not designed to keep good people out,” Quinn said.  “It is designed to keep the bad actor out.”  She reiterated that passwords are published in the agenda and has even been published on TAPinto Sparta.  Quinn said she has “sheets and sheets of references” and that it is “based on industry standards.”

Murphy said he “had the floor,” when Chiariello tried to speak again. Murphy said without a second Chiariello’s motion “died.” A member of the public “unmuted” herself and seconded the resolution so there could be discussion.  Murphy explained a member of council had to second. 

At that point Councilwoman Molly Whilesmith said she wanted to discuss the issue but Murphy said “Actually Molly I’m going to shut the discussion off, I called a ‘point of order’ and I’m sticking to it.”

As Whilesmith tried to share communication she had received from the community on the topic, Murphy continued to interrupt and tell her “If it’s any discussion involving password that’s final we’re done.” Whilesmith seconded Chiariello’s motion to allow for further discussion.

Quinn tried to put forward her own motion to have a password required for any Zoom meetings.  Murphy continued to object to any discussion of passwords. “We are done discussing any password for a Zoom meeting. End of discussion right now.”

As Chiariello asked to have his motion considered Murphy continued to object.  Whilesmith suggested the township attorney could chime in about Robert’s Rules as they pertain to a “point of order.”

Quinn said she voted "no" on the point of order.

Attorney Tom Ryan told Murphy if there is a motion and a second it needs to be discussed.  After clarifying which motion Whilesmith she had seconded the discussion continued.

Whilesmith said she seconded Chiariello’s motion in order to be able to share a communication she had received from a past president of the Woman’s Club regarding confusion about passwords. Whilesmith said there was confusion because of the way it has been communicated.  Quinn agreed. 

Quinn wanted the council to put out a statement about the use of a password to protect the meeting.

“Unfortunately I think the way this has been presented to people in the past, that we are trying to keep them out.” Quin said. “That is not the case.”

After Chiariello shared the information he had learned from the League of Municipalities legal counsel, Quinn told Chiariello they are not trying to block people out, and “I wish you would stop spinning like that,” Quinn said.  “It is simply not accurate.”

Tensions remained high.  When Chiariello tried to respond Quinn said she was speaking; “my turn now.”

Murphy said he was calling another point of order, “we have discussed this ad nauseam” and called for a vote.

It continued to be contentious to the end. When Ryan suggested Murphy clarify the resolution for the record and to remind council members, Murphy groused, “Well, if they don’t know by now counselor…”

The final vote was 4-1 with Chiariello the lone yes vote.

Whilesmith then asked for another motion to “communicate the rationale to the public to justify the use of a password,” which was quickly seconded by Quinn.  Murphy said it could be handled administratively, “I don’t think we need a motion.”

“I think I made a motion and I have a second on the floor Mayor,” Whilesmith said. 

Councilman David Smith said he liked the idea and that it could be put on the township website.

That resolution was passed 3-2 with no votes from Chiariello and Murphy. The statement about password protection has not yet been released.

The next township council meeting is scheduled for June 23.  It is posted on the township website as occurring in the municipal building at 7:30 p.m.

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