HILLSIDE, NJ — Hillside has not caught up with its neighbors, at least when it comes to recording its town council meetings.
Although council members have been asking for years to have meetings videotaped, this has yet to happen. Furthermore, a resolution passed by the council to employ a video company to film the meetings, beginning in January, does not seem to have gone into effect, as council members and residents have not seen any sign of a video camera inside Town Hall.
While many other municipalities record, livestream and post council meetings, residents have had to rely on Hillside Councilwoman Diane Murray-Clements to livestream meetings on Facebook using her personal cell phone.
Murray-Clements points to Hillside Mayor Angela Garretson as the reason efforts to record the meetings have been stymied.
Resolution No. R-17-070, which calls for video production services, states that “there exists a need for video production services in the Township of Hillside to administer Channel 35 television, including the broadcasting of council meetings and other community programming.”
The resolution states that the township’s chief financial officer, Faheem Ra’Oof, certified that “appropriations specified within this resolution have been provided for within the temporary municipal budget and will be provided for in the 2017 municipal budget when adopted.”
In the resolution, the township awarded a contract to Non Stop Show Group, a video production company in Scotch Plains, for services not to exceed $20,000, effective Jan. 1 and ending Dec. 31.
But council members and residents are wondering where the video production company is and why services haven’t started.
Murray-Clements told LocalSource that she has been asking that meetings be recorded for a long time.
“For the past three years, I requested that the council meetings are recorded, and recorded on Channel 35 for the residents to view,” Murray-Clements said in a May 3 email. “Mayor Garretson refuses to record the council meetings because she is hiding the fact that she is part of the reason the town is in turmoil. She does not respect the residents and she thinks the residents are not smart enough to pay attention to rising property taxes and lack of services.”
Garretson did not respond to LocalSource’s request for comment as of press time.
Non Stop Show Group also did not respond to LocalSource’s request for comment as of press time.
Murray-Clements, who has been livestreaming the meetings since November, cited issues such as Hillside’s lackluster economic growth, decaying infrastructure and increasing crime as being ignored by the township administration and said that Garretson does not want these issues broadcast.
“Every town that boundaries Hillside has economic growth through housing development and new businesses,” Murray-Clements said. “If you ride through Hillside, you see abandoned buildings, storefronts and homes. Potholes have become craters on some streets. Residents are upset about packages stolen from their homes and their cars being vandalized. Every time I, along with my fellow councilpersons, ask about the meeting recordings or any unresolved issue, administration never has an answer. I have taken it upon myself to video the council meetings and residents are able to watch it live.”
LocalSource reached out to Ray Hamlin, the Hillside business administrator, regarding the situation last month.
“My recollection is that the videographers are the Non Stop Show Group,” Hamlin responded in an April 13 email. “My hope is that the videotaping can commence at the next meeting — that is my hope.”
On May 3, LocalSource reached out to Hamlin again, who said that he was “still working on it.”
Hillside Councilman George “Tony” Alston told LocalSource in a May 10 phone call that the delay in recording the meetings is unfair to residents.
“You look at all the neighboring towns and you can watch the meetings,” Alston said. “It’s an injustice to the community. Not everyone can come out to the meetings. It’s hindering information from getting to the community. It’s not happening here for whatever reason.”
Hillside Councilman Gerald “Pateesh” Freedman told LocalSource that he had brought up the issue of recording council meetings 20 years ago.
“A councilperson said that they didn’t want the meetings to go public,” Freedman said in a May 10 phone interview. “I reached out to Comcast back then and they had no problem and were ready to go. They gave us the equipment and now it’s locked in a closet somewhere.”
According to Freedman, the administration continues to “throw up roadblocks” when it comes to recording the council meetings, which he called a “torturous, brutal, agonizing two-and-a-half-hour sitcom.”
“It’s going to happen with the next administration,” Freedman said. “ I think this council recognizes that this is something that has to happen.”
Hillside Councilman Sip Whitaker said that, although he is a proponent of recording council meetings, some council members use meetings as a personal platform.
“I think meetings should be taped but there needs to be some sort of policy and code of ethics in place,” Whitaker told LocalSource in a May 10 phone interview.
Alston said he believes that Hamlin is unaware of the situation.
“I think the mayor keeps him in the dark,” Alston said. “The mayor controls everyone and everything. Everybody pretty much just throws up their hands when they’re dealing with her. This mayor appears to not allow people to do what
they are supposed to do.”
Murray-Clements said residents need to be made aware of what is going on regarding all members of council.
“It’s important that residents are aware of who is working hard to make Hillside succeed and who is not,” she said. “Although one councilman disapproves of the tapings, the overwhelming support from residents say just the opposite.
Residents want to know what’s happening in town and they deserve the truth.”