UNION – Hear ye Hear ye! The township is neither corrupt nor dishonest. Among the mountain of resolutions passed by the governing body each year there are a few that could leave residents wondering – what is that all about?
For example, at the May 27 township committee meeting, the Union governing body passed a resolution that appeared to come out of left field, but actually had a story behind it.
The subject involved governmental secrecy which then “shrouds corruption and engenders public distrust in government and its officials.”
The resolution goes on to say “whether dishonesty does or does not exist is irrelevant.” The real issue is that “secrecy creates a belief that it exists which, if extensive enough, could destroy needed public support for government action.”
“The sole method of combating these notions is to demonstrate their falsity by opening the doors of government so that the truth may be viewed by all,” the resolution said.
Interestingly, this is just the beginning of a rather long document whereby the governing body vows to keep what they do open and transparent.
“While the township is neither corrupt nor dishonest, it agrees with the Supreme Court that the township’s doors should be opened as widely as possible so that the public can satisfy itself that the township is being run in an honest and efficient manner,” the resolution indicated.
The governing body also wanted to ensure the general public can gain access to past meeting’s minutes in the future, which years ago was a problem in many towns, including Union. But, if members of the public expect to get a copy of what goes on at every closed door meeting, think again.
There are instances, such as those involving legal issues, where it could take years to gain access to the minutes, but the governing body is aware that at some point, they will open that door.
“Whenever the township committee excludes the public from its meetings, in accordance with N.J.S.A. 10-:4-12b, it shall make public versions of the minutes of those closed meetings, redacted only to the extent necessary to protect the public interest,” the resolution reads, adding that interested members of the public can obtain copies of those meetings no more than three weeks later.
The township also resolved that any meeting minutes dating back to January 2000 that are redacted, or blacked out, will semiannually, in August and February, be reviewed to see whether legal issues still prevent opening them up to the public.
The answer to why the Union Township Committee felt it was important to pass a resolution about this particular topic was easily explained by Township Business Administrator Ron Manzella.
“Actually, about five years ago there was a gentleman who went around to all the towns trying to get them to adopt certain procedures for closed session meetings by suing them,” the township business administrator explained.
“We don’t have anything to hide so we adopted the procedures,” Manzella said, noting that part of the “settlement” was the township had to adopt the same resolution every year, which they did on May 27.
“The way we see it, if we are not doing something right, let’s change it,” the township administrator said.
However, Manzella said very few, if any, people actually come out to complain at township committee public meetings.
“For example, at our last meeting there was not one member of the public in attendance,” he said, admitting the meeting ended rather quickly after all business was conducted.
He was aware, though, that residents do a fair amount of complaining on local online forums about the township.
Recently, a new Facebook group called, “Union, New Jersey Residents Forum” gained followers rapidly. In fact, in just a few short months over 1,000 people have signed on to become a member of the forum and many attended a Sunday dinner at a local restaurant recently to discuss town wide issues they are concerned about.
The purpose of the forum is for residents to have a venue to air these concerns or ask questions about the township, services or air other issues involving Union. Unfortunately, many that post on this forum complain about the township and their facts are less than accurate. One of the main topics that keeps surfacing is that the township governing body is “corrupt” and all five should be ousted from the township committee.
Taxes also are a popular topic that surfaces on the forum. Interestingly, none of these posters, who all use their names, mentioned that they attended committee meetings to air their grievances.
Manzella said there is always a public session during the meeting where residents can approach the microphone but it is rare for any member of the public to even attend these meetings. Other than one or two people who occasionally question an issue or ordinance, the township administrator said these meetings are deserted.
“We usually have an empty house,” he added, but invited residents with concerns involving any facet of municipal government to attend a meeting and voice those concerns.
“Getting involved is important,” Manzella added.