Middletown to put proposed resolutions online

From yesterdays Asbury Park Press – comment to follow:

Residents soon may be able to read the details of proposed resolutions and ordinances before attending Township Committee meetings. But once a meeting begins, a new ordinance will regulate how they can record the proceedings.

Officials plan to speak with at least one volunteer who has said he is willing to scan copies of the proposed resolutions and ordinances onto Middletown’s Web site the Friday before a Township Committee meeting, said Anthony Mercantante, the township’s administrator.

During its meeting on Monday, the Township Committee voted unanimously to institute the new online policy.

For months, Committeemen Sean Byrnes and Patrick Short advocated for the information to be posted on the Web site, saying it would allow residents to be better informed before attending meetings. Currently, only a one-sentence description of each proposed resolution or ordinance is posted on the site.

But Township Clerk Heidi Abs repeatedly said her office was already overwhelmed with work and could not find the time to do the scanning without additional manpower.

Bernard Reilly, Middletown’s former township attorney, had also said there could be legal issues in posting information that could be withdrawn or amended before the start of a meeting.

During a committee meeting earlier this month, Mercantante suggested hiring a part-time employee to do the scanning. But Short said it made more sense to find a volunteer to do the work.

“We’re talking about someone scanning documents for a couple of hours twice a month,” Short said on Tuesday.

Mercantante hopes someone will be trained and able to do the scanning in time for the April 6 Township Committee meeting.

Also on Monday, Middletown Township Committee voted 3-2 to approve an ordinance that prohibits residents from using video devices — including cell phones — to record the meeting from the room’s front half when there are more than 30 people in the room.

Township Committeeman Anthony Fiore — who voted to approve the ordinance along with Mayor Pamela Brightbill and Deputy Mayor Gerard Scharfenberger — said its objective is to prevent video equipment from getting in the way of people who wish to see what is going on.

“I don’t think any of us object to anybody videotaping the meetings,” Fiore said.

Byrnes said he does not understand how someone using a handheld camera while sitting on one of the room’s benches could pose an obstruction to someone else.

After Scharfenberger said he had received several complaints, Short asked him to enumerate them. Scharfenberger did not answer.

“We just put something in law just speculating that there will be a problem,” said Short, who noted that the only person he had ever seen recording meetings was Patricia Walsh, a Middletown Board of Education member who unsuccessfully ran against Brightbill and Fiore in 2008.

During the meeting, Walsh commended Township Committee for approving the new online policy but criticized members for the video recording ordinance.

“If I were grading you on open and transparent government, I’d give you an F,” Walsh said.

 I assume that the resolutions are typed on the computer. why can’t they just be copied and pasted to the Web site instead of printed and scanned back in by a volunteer? 

As for the video taping or recording of meetings, the ordinance that past on a strictly party line vote is an obvious attempt at trying to stop people from their rights to information. It is interesting that when pressed by Patrick Short, Deputy Mayor Scharfenberger could not or would not name one resident that complained about being distracted from the proceedings due to  Pat Walsh videoing them. It is a clear sign of partisen politics at its worst.

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Filed under Asbury Park Press, Middletown, Middletown Democrats, online policy, Patricia Walsh, Patrick Short, resolutions and ordinances, Sean F. Byrnes, sunshine laws, Video taping or recordings

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