BERKELEY – The Township Council will meet only once a month for most of the year, according to a new schedule change.
Council President Sophia Gingrich explained that the fewer meetings will not result in less accessibility for the residents. Council members frequently appear at homeowners association meetings, senior community meetings, civic events, sporting events, board of education meetings, and veterans events. In the summer, they are also at the concert series.
“The amount of meetings we go to a month is unreal,” she said. Additionally, when members of the public call, they try to get back to them that day.
There are still many opportunities to get in touch with members of the governing body, she said. However, the council members felt that they could go down to once a month and still deliver the same amount of services.
“If we need more, we’ll schedule more,” she said. In fact, a meeting was scheduled for 11 a.m. on January 17 in order to make one change order. There will likely be additional meetings when the town’s budget is being worked on, and an additional one in December to clean up financial issues before the new year.
The Berkeley Township Council meetings all follow the same format, where there is a caucus meeting followed by a regular meeting on the same night. The caucus meeting is when issues are discussed. The regular meeting is when issues are voted upon. Because all the discussion is done, the regular meeting can take only minutes. Sometimes, there is an executive session scheduled in between, in which the governing body discusses personnel issues or litigation that the public can not hear. In these cases, they leave the courtroom where the public meetings are held and discuss the issues in a small room, then come out and hold the regular meeting.
The change in meeting schedule will inadvertently save the township some money, chief financial officer Fred Ebenau said. At every meeting, there are three professionals that attend: the township’s attorney, engineer, and planner. On average, these three professionals each make about $150 an hour, he said. If the meetings last two hours each, and there are a dozen fewer meetings, then the township will be saving approximately $10,800 a year.
The Berkeley Township Council will meet at 6 p.m. at the municipal building at 627 Pinewald-Keswick Road, on the following dates: January 30, February 27, March 27, April 24, May 22, June 26, July 24, August 21, September 25, October 23, November 20, and December 18.
Mayor Carmen Amato emphasized he will still be keeping evening office hours as well as regular programs such as “Meet the Mayor” and “Town Hall” events.
The next public evening office hours are from 5 to 7 p.m. on January 23 and February 13 at Berkeley Town Hall.
“Elected officials have an obligation to be as accessible as possible to our constituents. During my time in office, I have held countless ‘Meet the Mayor’ and ‘Town Hall’ meetings, regularly meet with constituents outside of regular business hours, and have created additional avenues for residents to contact local government.” Mayor Amato said.
He also pointed to a “hot line” in place as a sort of “one-stop access to Township government, enabling the township to more effectively and efficiently respond to resident’s suggestions, concerns or complaints.”
That number is 732-244-7400 ext. 203, and is available 24 hours a day.
“I look forward to continuing my dialog and outreach to residents in 2017.” Mayor Amato said.