In Tabernacle, the mayor has the power and responsibility to set the agenda in advance of an upcoming public meeting. Typically, the mayor works with the township clerk the week before Monday’s meeting. The clerk posts the agenda on Tabernacle’s official website late Friday afternoon. Usually, the posted agenda includes the resolutions, ordinances and the bill list that will be addressed at the meeting.
This is the way the system works for the committee’s ordinary business, such as the granting of parade permits, raffle licenses or the appointment of residents to a public committee.
Advance notice allows the public to see what the committee will consider at the township meeting.Without advance notice, residents don’t have time to read the proposed documents (resolutions or ordinances) or develop thoughtful comments for the committee.
But when the committee tackles substantive or controversial issues, such as emergency services. it’s not unusual for documents to be mysteriously absent from Friday afternoon’s posted agenda. If, at the meeting, the public complains that there hasn’t been advance notice, the mayor typically says it won’t happen again. But it usually does.
Sometimes the missing documents show up on a chair at the beginning of the meeting; sometimes they are handed out at the meeting. At the July 24, 2017 meeting, residents expressed their annoyance that Ordinance 2017-7, (creating a Department of Public Safety with a new public safety director position), wasn’t attached to Friday’s posting. Township Clerk Barber said she posted the ordinance at 10 am Monday. Why would residents, who checked the website on Friday or over the weekend, think to re-check the website the Monday of the meeting?
Mayor Lee seemed surprised to hear of this. It’s not that the ordinance wasn’t available. He said committee members had their copies before the agenda was posted on Friday. He promised that next time the public would have the revised draft ordinance in advance.
Ordinance 2017-7, which had been tabled at the July 24, 2017 meeting, so that revisions could be made, is now listed on the Monday, September 11, meeting agenda. Township Clerk Barber posted the agenda on Friday, September 8. She included other resolutions and documents are attached to the posted agenda. But proposed Ordinance 2017-7 is missing.
Residents might think that every mayor would direct the clerk to attach all pending ordinances and resolutions to the Friday posting. That would be a huge advance in transparency with little cost. That doesn’t happen in Tabernacle.
Residents might also think that when the mayor tells the public that there will be advance notice, there really will be advance notice. But that doesn’t happen either.
In addition to Mayor Lee’s recent promise to post the revised public safety ordinance, TTJ readers will recall former Mayor Barton’s promise at the January 27, 2014 meeting when he appointed a subcommittee to study the dissolution of the fire district. He also said the public would have advance notice.
So far as the petition, we will have it on the agenda, it will be noticed, you’ll see it; and this governing body will take action on the petition that was presented to us.
But the public never received advance notice of the dissolution. The mayor never placed the resolution to dissolve the fire district on the agenda. The committee brought it up; feigned interest in public comment, which occurred only after people strenuously objected to the process, and voted for dissolution.
Mayoral unwillingness to give important documents to the public in advance of meetings happens too often to be a mistake. The mayor and the clerk were clearly able to post the first Ordinance 2017-7. And the mayor promised that the revised version would be posted well in advance of the Monday, September 11 meeting.
As of this TTJ posting, Ordinance 2017-7, still isn’t on the township website. Perhaps, it will posted by the close of business Monday or placed on a chair before the meeting.