To the Editor:
I have attended many Township Committee and Planning Board meetings and have felt that public participation is being suppressed.
Residents wishing to speak at public comment are subjected to time limits and are unable to respond to answers given. In what feels like an effort to intimidate the public, at some meetings a police officer has been present and at many meetings, residents are sworn in before speaking, as if we were testifying at a trial rather than attending a local meeting.
Additionally, there has been no transparency. Both the Township Committee and Planning Board have only recently made meeting minutes available to the public, as required by law. The minutes had not been posted for over a year. Is this an effort to keep facts out of the eyes of the taxpayers?
Our elected and appointed officials represent the residents of Hopewell Township so dialogue with the public is key. However, decisions are being made before there is a chance for any public input. It appears the Planning Board simply rubber stamps decisions that were already made behind closed doors by our officials and private developers. At the February meeting, one of the Planning Board members commented before a crucial vote, “A lot of what we’ve been asked to approve are things that have already been given to us because they are part of some other settlement agreement.” This kind of maneuvering violates the spirit of open government, and prevents the Planning Board from fulfilling its role to protect the township.
We, as taxpayers, have been denied the opportunity to have any real say in this process. I would urge all township citizens to attend these meeting to shine as much light as possible on township activities. Those who are chosen to serve the residents of Hopewell Township owe the taxpayers transparency in the process and a realistic opportunity to participate in important discussions, after all, we are the ones who will be paying, both literally and figuratively, for the decisions that they make for years to come.