The Berkeley Heights Mayor, Bob Woodruff along with the Berkeley Heights Township Council have spoken out publicly multiple times about their distaste of transparency in the form of the Open Public Meetings and Open Public Records Acts ( OPRA and OPMA). They also have refused to publicly read the Berkeley Heights Sunshine Act, an ordinance written and presented by a group of Berkeley Heights Residents to promote transparency in Berkeley Heights. It was presented to them in a request to be added to the Council Meeting Agenda.
The Mayor and Council have also shown their distaste for public participation through initiative and referendum by rejecting a request from over 15% of the voters in the last General Assembly Election to put the $28,000,000 bonding on the ballot for the residents to vote on.
Thereby it comes as no surprise that the Berkeley Heights Clerk, appears per her own statements, to be acting under the recommendations from the Township Lawyer, has rejected the Berkeley Heights Sunshine Act. These actions are grossly inappropriate for an initiative and referendum which is a directly requested by the residents of Berkeley Heights.
It is clear that the residents are asking for additional transparency while the Mayor and Council are trying to reduce transparency. Initiative and Referendum is a right afforded to New Jersey Residents for around a century.
At any time, the Mayor and Council can choose to read the Berkeley Heights Sunshine Act, discuss it publicly, and vote on it. They can even negotiate. But rather than do so, they seem to prefer to look for excuses and technicalities to disallow the residents to have any say in the Township Process.
In an abundance of caution I have remediated the signature requirements and am re-submitting to the clerk with nearly the maximum number of signatures allowed without bringing it to a special election.
The Berkeley Heights Sunshine Act is now back in the Hands of the Town Clerk. 40:69A-187 is explicit about the limited responsibilities of the Town Clerk for Faulkner I&R:
“All petition papers comprising an initiative or referendum petition shall be assembled and filed with the municipal clerk as one instrument. Within twenty days after a petition is filed, the municipal clerk shall determine whether each paper of the petition has a proper statement of the circulator and whether the petition is signed by a sufficient number of qualified voters. After completing his examination of the petition, the municipal clerk shall certify the result thereof to the council at its next regular meeting.”
It is inappropriate for the Mayor, Council or Township Attorney to interfere with her role in certifying these signatures. Their prejudices about transparency should not influence or coerce the role of the Clerk in performing her duties.
In any case, there is really no excuse for the Council to NOT read this publicly. The Council should just put aside their distaste of transparency and add the Berkeley Heights Sunshine Act to the meeting agenda, publicly read it and let us have true open public discussion on it.