In an unusual move, council went into a closed session as soon as the Mayor & Council meeting of June 7th began and returned to immediately change two (2) aspects of the public portion of their meetings. The first was that the governing body agreed to no longer respond to comments made during the public portion. The second was that the public portion section of their meetings would be moved to after awards and certificates are presented.
Borough Attorney Richard Huxford spoke at the return from closed session and vaguely related to the public a non-specific threat of potential litigation regarding conversations that sometimes occur between Mayor Joseph Accardi – the chair of Mayor and Council meetings – and some residents during the public portion and the absence of such verbal exchanges with other residents.
Mayor Joseph Accardi, who was absent from the meeting, implemented a rule shortly after taking office as mayor that there would be no interactive discussions with residents during the public portion section of Mayor & Council meetings. This after a long practice of the governing body, including the mayor, doing so for years.
Mr. Huxford stated, “It was recommended and it’s my understanding that the governing body has agreed that this point forward public portion – public comment – will be just that, public comment. The public will have the right to comment on any topic for seven (7) minutes. It will be comment only. There will be no question nor questions can be answered. It’s my understanding that mayor and council will not answer those questions.”
The measure was put into effect without a formal vote nor public discussion from the governing body.
The Borough Attorney added that if the public has any questions for any department head, they can send a written letter to that department head. Mr. Huxford continued and stated that, effective immediately, mayor and council would change the agenda and move the public portion to occur right after any awards and certificates. This also was done without a vote or public discussion from council.
The public portion occurred just as stated, before the governing body gave its reports and recommendations and before the reports of departments. Former councilman Jacob Magiera, who was celebrating his 80th birthday that day, was the only member of the public to speak. His requests for information from the governing body were not addressed after he spoke and the public portion was closed.
Other members of the public came to council chambers during the meeting in order to speak, only to find out that the public portion had occurred already. One residents asked, “What’s the point of coming to a meeting if they’re not going to answer our questions? And they [council] say they value our input.”
Second Ward Councilman Marc Caswell was the only council member to comment on the matter. During his report he stated, “I am somewhat dismayed. I’m a big fan of people having their say with the government and being able to voice their concerns and have us try and help him.”
He referred to the threat of a potential lawsuit and continued, “It’s a shame but it’s unfortunate that we have to do it.”
He later clarified his statements when he was asked if it would be easier for the governing body to simply change its policy to allow an interactive exchange instead of not publicly addressing residents. When asked for a comment he said regarding the newly implemented policy, “I’m not in favor of it. I think it sends out the wrong message. People should be allowed to come to give their input and ask us questions and expect an answer.”