On Monday evening, June 24, 2019, more than 150 Hopewell Township residents descended upon the Municipal Building to remind our government that Hopewell Township is not for sale.
At issue, a revised Ordinance that would permit the sub-dividing of the Bristol Meyers Squib complex with chemical manufacturing on-site.
The local government, spooked by their 4.68 percent tax increase and the imminent departure of BMS from the township in 2020, appears yet again to have invited corporate interests to re-write township regulations.
On June 12, 2019, a hastily called Special Planning Board Meeting mustered up the minimum five votes for approval. The Township Planner acknowledged that the proposed rule changes were not consistent with intent and purpose of the land use element of the Township’s Master Plan. Incredibly, Mayor McLaughlin, sitting on the planning Board, voted to make a recommendation to herself and the Township Committee.
The Township Committee made no effort to have the proposed rule changes reviewed by the Township’s Environmental Commission, a logical step given the potential air, water, and sound impacts to the surrounding residential neighborhoods.
Making matters worse, residents were provided with minimal notice of the newly- scheduled meeting.
In this age of social media, the Watershed Institute caught the meeting notice and reached out to neighbors, who attended in great numbers. There were experts of every stripe, reminding our government with their thoughtfulness and experience, that this had not been, as Mayor McLaughlin insisted, “a thoughtful and thorough process.”
During this meeting, we witnessed Mayor McLaughlin’s shameful scolding of Watershed Institute Director Jim Waltman, for sounding the alarm, rather than offering up an apology for the slap-dash nature of the process.
Right after the end of the public comment session, Mayor McLaughlin invited the corporate interests to speak, thereby, not giving residents the opportunity to question them. When my husband, a former Mayor, spoke out-of-turn to expose these unprecedented procedures, Mayor McLaughlin threatened to give him a 15-minute time out. When another resident echoed the desire to question these corporate witnesses, Mayor McLaughlin called for a 5-minute break in the meeting that turned into a 20-minute break. When the meeting resumed, residents were still not permitted to question the corporate representatives.
I wish that the process had been slowed sufficiently to permit review by the Township Environmental Commission, a step that the Township strangely avoided, but in the end, the Township did agree to remove the most offensive language from the Ordinance.
As we move forward, our local government must keep in mind that they work for us. They have an obligation through precedent and reason to administer a transparent process and to involve their constituents thoroughly before bringing ordinances up for a vote.