WAYNE, NJ – Since her election, Fifth Ward Councilwoman Fran Ritter has been pushing to amend the current format of Town Council Meetings to allow for more time for the public to speak and address the council. See Story – See Story
According to Ritter, she submitted a new proposed ordinance for introduction at the March 18 Council meeting, but discovered when the meeting agenda was published that her ordinance was not included.
Township attorney, Matt Giacobbe had advised against it.
“We were following state guidelines to keep the agenda to non-controversial, essential items,” said Giacobbe.
Ritter found this unacceptable. As an experienced attorney, she knew that it was her right as a member of the Town Council to propose ordinances. She pushed, and the introduction of her ordinance was placed on the agenda the day of the meeting.
By that time, Ritter had changed course and was trying to get the meeting postponed, stating the risk of spreading the coronavirus was not worth having the meeting; that the public would not be able to participate; that they were setting a bad example. See Story
The council meeting went on without Ritter’s participation. She was given the opportunity to call-in but chose to boycott the meeting. In her words: “Responsible Absence as opposed to Reckless Participation.”
Her proposed ordinance came up on the agenda and was read aloud by acting Council President Franco Mazzei. There was no discussion on the item before the council members participating in the meeting voted on whether it should move forward.
Sixth Ward Councilman Jon Ettman and Second Ward Councilman Al Sadowski were the only two ‘Yes’ votes. The ordinance was defeated 2-5.
Councilman-At-Large David Varano and Councilwoman-At-Large Jill Sasso have shown support for a change to the public comments portion of council meetings in the past but voted 'No' at this meeting.
Varano would not comment after the meeting and Sasso has not replied to requests for a comment as of this writing.
Ettman explained why he supported the ordinance: “I never loved the way the public portion was handled in terms of the way people sometimes were cut-off mid-sentence and couldn’t finish their thought. It’s the next best thing to having a semblance of dialog.”
He did feel that the timing was bad. “I think it would’ve been a good idea to hold off,” he said the next day. “I support it, but in terms of its viability and visibility, it would’ve been better suited to be introduced at a time when the public could be there. I’m not sure about the urgency of having it introduced last night.”
“I wasn’t expecting that bill to move without its sponsor,” admitted the rookie Councilwoman. “I’m new.”
She was clearly frustrated with the process. “I didn’t even know they were going to facilitate a conference call until two hours before the meeting.”
“The irony here is that the public comment ordinance failed on a day when the public did not feel safe to show up,” said Ritter in an interview. “Not even its sponsor.”
For Ritter, this was just a setback. “I am going to reintroduce this. It’ll come out in a different way, but it’s not going to die.”