After years of having a public comment portion at the Municipal Land Use Board (MLUB), Chairman Loren Harms announced at the July 20th meeting that the Board, starting in September, will be doing away with the section that allows residents to speak during their meetings on any general land use topic. This public comment is separate from a public hearing for specific applications presented before the MLUB, which will remain but those who speak will be restricted to providing comment or asking questions only on an application being presented.
“What we’re going to start doing, starting in September, this will no longer take place – the public portion,” stated Chairman Harms, “We’ve checked. All municipalities, all municipal land [use boards] within the area here in Union County, nobody has it. This way it’ll just speed up the particular meeting [so] that’s where we’re going to go.”
A review of Planning Board as well as Zoning Board Of Adjustments agenda and minutes for various municipalities in Union County show that, in fact, at least nine of them actually have a public comment portion that is separate from public hearings for applications: Clark, Cranford, Fanwood, Garwood, Kenilworth, Plainfield, Scotch Plains, Roselle, and Springfield.
Roselle Park, unlike other municipalities, combined its Planning Board and the Zoning Board Of Adjustments into one Municipal Land Use Board. Ever since they were separate meetings, members of the public could speak on various general topics. The practice continued until the announcement made last month. At MLUB meetings, at most, usually two members of the public speak during the public comment portion.
According to New Jersey’s Open Public Meetings Act – or OPMA – the only two government agencies that require a public comment portion are a municipal governing body and a Board Of Education. NJSA 10:4-12 reads:
7. a. Except as provided by subsection b. of this section all meetings of public bodies shall be open to the public at all times. Nothing in this act shall be construed to limit the discretion of a public body to permit, prohibit, or regulate the active participation of the public at any meeting, except that a municipal governing body and a board of education shall be required to set aside a portion of every meeting of the municipal governing body or board of education, the length of the portion to be determined by the municipal governing body or board of education, for public comment on any governmental or school district issue that a member of the public feels may be of concern to the residents of the municipality or school district.
Even though not required by law, no compelling reason was really given as to why the MLUB came to such a decision other than it will ‘just speed up the particular meeting’. Such a move will prevent any resident from providing a comment or even a suggestion publicly and relegate such matters to a letter or e-mail that might never get read into the record.
The Board’s Rules and Regulations – specifically the removal of Article III, Section 7, Subsection (f) – will need to be changed by way of a vote in order for the decision to take effect in September.
The next MLUB meeting is scheduled for Monday, August 17th at 7 p.m. in Borough Hall. It will be the last opportunity – unless the Board reverses its decision – for members of the public to comment on something other than a specific application.
Below are copies of both the MLUB’s bylaws as well as agenda/minutes for boards that allow a public comment: