Council Debates Change In Meeting Format

Howell Township Municipal Building (Photo by Micromedia Publications)

  HOWELL – Council members reopened discussion on whether to change the meeting format so that the first meeting of the month is a workshop meeting

  Currently, the Council has two monthly meetings. That would not change, Deputy Mayor Evelyn O’Donnell has said. Each meeting, the Council discusses items and then votes. The debate is whether to go back to an older format, where the first meeting of the month was used to go over each item listed and ask questions of professionals. The votes would be held at the second meeting of the month.

  Deputy Mayor Evelyn O’Donnell said that “the idea of the workshop is that things could be vetted better.”

  Councilman Thomas Russo asked for the matter of restructuring the meeting to be tabled until it was looked into further.

  “I do like the way we do the meetings now but perhaps we can talk more about it,” he said. “If we are talking about adding a workshop meeting what exactly does that entail?”

  Mayor Theresa Berger and Councilman John Bonevich said they didn’t like the idea.

  “I don’t like the concept. I prefer to have the meeting in the way we are doing it now,” Berger said.

  “I like that we take the vote soon after we hear from the public; I like it the way it is,” Councilman John Bonevich said.

  Councilwoman Pamela Richmond said she favored the O’Donnell’s idea of having the first meeting be a workshop.

  “What are we waiting for? Obviously you (referencing the mayor) don’t like the idea of changing the meeting which is fine. We’ve discussed it and Councilman Bonevich has too,” Richmond said.

  “It is a format that the Council has used in the past,” O’Donnell said.

  “I looked at YouTube at meetings of prior meetings and I could not find this structure,” Russo said. “The meetings I came across have the same structure of what we do now so I don’t have anything to base it off of. That is why I am sitting on the fence.”

  “Right now we have a pre-agenda meeting and occasionally we will speak of something and there may not be an objection (from the public) and then we get to a regular meeting and then an objection may arise so we are not really vetting anything at the pre-agenda meeting so I thought if we had a workshop meeting where we truly vet everything then at the regular meeting that would be the voting meeting,” O’Donnell said.

  Township Attorney Joseph Clark said the pre-agenda meeting was meant more for the professionals and not to discuss business by the council or for the public. “A workshop would deviate from the pre-agenda meeting in the sense that it would be an open meeting with discussion among council.”

  O’Donnell said that the benefit of a workshop meeting would be for everyone to get the information at the same time and not require a council member to reach out to one of the professionals for clarification.

  “That is the benefit of the workshop structure as opposed to having the council members reach out to the professionals as we do now,” Clark said.

  Richmond said “the problem we are coming across is that some of us are very busy and we have a lot going on and we are not able to see each other until we come here. And then we talk a little bit and go into executive session and come out here. I think at the workshop, in my opinion, is a way to prepare ourselves and to talk and get things out there because when we have a quorum, obviously, it has to be in public so we don’t get that opportunity to get three, four, five of us in the same room and discuss things until today and that puts the professionals at a disadvantage because they are repeating themselves.

  “I think it is beneficial to discuss these things at the same time and helps us be better prepared.” Richmond added.

  Berger disagreed. “What would be the difference is if the issue comes up we discuss it right now and we go to the next thing. I don’t know why we need to separate it out?”

  “The difference mayor is that we talk about it and deal with and not talk about everything and do 10 votes at the end of the day. I’d rather deal with one issue at a time and deal with it,” Bonevich said.

  “To me we are all representing different people so we are going to vote according to the people we represent so if we are up here voting and we don’t agree, that’s okay, so I would prefer to keep it the way it is,” Berger said.

  The prior format was in use in 2013-2014 and workshop meetings have been archived for viewing. Berger and Russo said they would review those meetings.