First Amendment Concerns and Emotional Comments at HTC Meeting

Hopewell Township Municipal Building (photo: M. Galioto)

As he held up an eight-by-ten picture of his young son, Andrew Borders choked back tears while addressing the Hopewell Township Committee at its March 4 meeting. While Borders sits on the Zoning Board, he spoke on his own behalf about the future school children of the Township.

His comments were related to the information presented at the Committee’s February 19 meeting about PILOT agreements, specifically the issue of how many school children a potential redevelopment plan would generate and how much each child would cost the Township.

“My child is not a burden to his community,” said Borders. “No child is a burden and no child should have to hear or read commentary from neighbors that describes them in terms of dollars and cents and discusses those of their generation yet to live here as some kind of approaching natural disaster.”

Borders was not the only member of the public who expressed emotional concerns before the Committee. Tensions were still high between the Committee and the public stemming from verbal altercations at the Committee’s Special Meeting on February 25.

“Last week, the majority of this Committee and Township Attorney Galella illegally stopped me from speaking during public comment,” said former mayor Harvey Lester. “You have been trampling on the public’s right to three minutes of uninterrupted speech at public meetings. You need to stop being a law-breaker and start being a law-obeyer.”

While the Committee did not comment on this specific instance, Mayor Kristin McLaughlin did address the negative comments circulating on the Internet among some Township residents.

“Most of us have developed fairly thick skin over time but we’re still people,” said Mayor McLaughlin. “We’re still the folks you see in the grocery store, and we’re still the folks your kids are on the soccer fields with. I think a respectful dialogue is where we’re all aiming.”

Much of the agenda was tabled due to Committee members John Hart and Julie Blake’s absence, but the Committee did pass an ordinance amending the animal control section of the Township’s general ordinances and proclaimed March to be American Red Cross month. The Committee urged residents to support the organization by either giving blood or making a donation.

Community development manager, Mark Kataryniak, reported that the Arbor Day Society will be hosting its seedling giveaway event on April 6 from 9am-12pm at the Public Works Building. He noted that this was the last year they would be doing the giveaway.

“I think it’s important, that with the damage from [Hurricane] Sandy, we collectively work to rebuild our forests, our forestry, and our tree cover,” said Committee member Kuchinski.

The Committee’s next meeting is scheduled for March 25 at 7pm.

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