COVID-19 Economic Taskforce Created; Method Debated

   HOWELL – The formation of a township economic taskforce to address coronavirus impacts on local businesses prompted some strong discussion about how agenda item additions should be handled.

  Council members debated about how and when a last-minute agenda item would be placed on their agenda during a recent council meeting.

  The crux of the debate was whether residents would have a chance to learn about what was being discussed at the meeting ahead of time.

  A resident commented that “add-ons were tough enough for residents to keep up on and a case where an item was added to the agenda but the resolution that it pertained to was not.”

  Mayor Theresa Berger said she did not want to see items added to the agenda on the day of the meeting. “If we get an agenda on Friday, unless it is an emergency, we shouldn’t change the agenda.”

  The mayor asked, “can we make a rule that we just don’t change the agenda? If it is not in by Monday then you don’t change it. If it is urgent, absolutely. I am speaking in general terms.”

  Township Manager Brian Geoghegan cited one instance where a department head had suggested an item be added to the council agenda but “was told no for that reason.”

  “I’m just requesting that we have some kind of a process in place that unless it is urgent or an emergency it should not go on the agenda the same day. I don’t see the need for that,” the mayor added.

  “We’re operating under a crisis right now. I don’t think it is unreasonable to add on an economic recovery tasks force,” Councilman Thomas Russo said in reference to the item that prompted the discussion.

Howell Township Municipal Building (Photo by Micromedia Publications)

  “I said it had nothing to do with that specific item,” the mayor said.

  Council members also discussed whether this also included proclamations, some of which were added to the May 5 meeting agenda.

  “These are proclamations,” the mayor said distinguishing them from actual business items of the agenda.

  “I think we are entitled to use our discretion,” Councilwoman Pamela Richmond said.

  “I always make the stink on this,” Councilman John Bonevich said.

  “Yes, you do,” Richmond added with a chuckle. “I think we are entitled to use our discretion whether it is a proclamation or a business item.”

  “I disagree,” the mayor added.

  “I don’t think the mayor is saying this is particular to Tommy’s item this time. This is the fourth or fifth time probably,” Bonevich said. “We are in a crisis and that was for business and that matters to me but going forward let’s not do this.”

  “Unless it is an emergency I agree,” Russo added.

  “To be fair there are things that come up last minute and if it’s not urgent we need to use our discretion and hold off on it, I agree,” Richmond said.

  Deputy Mayor Evelyn O’Donnell said “months and months ago I had asked that we provide an agenda in a timely fashion for the public and we started to and we began posting it on Friday. There was concern from the public, a couple people specifically but we addressed it and now we do it several days before a meeting.”

  The deputy mayor added, “I understand emergencies. I understand trying to be as clear as we can for the public. It is unfortunate in this case that the business task force clearly is needed but unfortunately it also gives the flavor of, ‘once again they are adding something.’”

  The deputy mayor expressed her view that “we fell short on the deadline for this particular committee but I’m not taking away from the true grit of the need, certainly having (the township) Chamber (of Commerce) in on this is an absolute must as it brings another viewpoint for those who may not be a member of the Chamber can appreciate.”

  Russo explained the point of the taskforce saying, it would tackle the economic issues that have come up due to COVID. He added that he hoped the taskforce “will only be necessary for a couple of months.”

  Ultimately, the task force was created.

  A question from a resident also brought up that January 2016 was the last annual report also known as the State of The Township Report issued from the Township Manager’s office.

  It was noted that such a report was required under the Faulkner Act and that as Geoghegan was celebrating his third year in the township manager’s position that it was past due.  Prior replies to this inquiry stated that it was considered as the budget report.

  The resident disagreed with that answer suggesting it might run contrary to the state statute.

  “As I’ve said several times when this has been brought up yes it is in conjunction with the budget because it is a designated time every year but I also prepare a monthly report to the entire governing body that is very detailed on every department and I’ve asked if there is anything they need to let me know,” Geoghegan said.

  He added, “to date I have not gotten anything so I’ve gotten the impression the governing body is okay with the information that has been provided.”

  The mayor asked about the monthly report that he sends to the governing body “is that only for our eyes? I’m not sure what they are looking for beyond those monthly reports and the budget.”

  “Nor am I,” Geoghegan said adding that he only sends the reports to the governing body.

  As the reports are available through an OPRA (Open Public Meeting Act) request the mayor suggested, “if they are really interested in what is in those reports they can put in an OPRA request as they always do.”