Déjà Vu: In-Person Township Meetings Could Resume In April

Mayor Phil Kramer broached the idea of returning to in-person meetings at the March 8 Township Council meeting.

Maybe the third time is the charm.

The Township Council on March 8 decided to allow for the resumption of in-person township meetings starting in April.

Masks will still have to be worn in township buildings, and senior citizens participating in clubs and other senior-oriented activities will have to be vaccinated and wear masks, according to the resolution passed by the Council.

This is the third time the Council has made the decision to end virtual meetings during the course of the two-year Covid-19 pandemic; the Council first decided to return to in-person meetings in mid-July 2021, a decision that was reversed about a week later in the face of increasing Covid-19 infection rates.

The second stab at returning to normalcy was taken in November 2021, when the Council decided to return to in-person meetings in January 2022. That plan was scrapped when the township’s coronavirus infection rate once again grew.

But now, the township’s Covid-19 infection rate has once again diminished, and the state’s mask mandate has been lifted, as has the medical emergency proclamation by Gov. Phil Murphy.

In January, the Council rescinded a mask mandate for public indoor spaces that it had instituted in December 2021.

In the Council’s latest resolution, those township boards and committees which have to abide by the state’s Open Public Meetings Act can return to in-person meetings as soon as they can hold a meeting that does not have to be legally re-advertised.

Township advisory committees, which are not subject to the so-called Sunshine Law, can choose to continue to hold their meetings virtually.

Visitors to township buildings will still have to don masks, but that policy can be reversed if the state ends its mask mandate in state buildings, according to the resolution.

The resolution ties mask-wearing in township buildings to what is mandated in Somerset County and state buildings; if one requires it, the township will, too. The County has already rescinded its mandate.

Requiring senior citizens who participate in activities at the township Community/Senior Center to be vaccinated was the source of some debate on the Council.

Deputy Mayor Crystal Pruitt said she didn’t think it was fair to require senior citizens to be vaccinated, but not others.

Township Manager Robert Vornlocker said that seniors have pretty much exclusive use of the building during weekday business hours.

“I agree with the intent of protecting the seniors,” Pruitt said. “What about staffing of senior events, or any support … if I want to protect the seniors, I want to protect the seniors the whole way.”

“Are we ensuring that staff is reaching that same level of safety?” she asked.

Councilwoman Shepa Uddin (D-Ward 2) agreed with Pruitt.

“We definitely want to keep our seniors healthy and safe,” she said. “How are we keeping them super safe if we’re saying that just the participants have to be vaccinated?”

“The township staff is not a concern,” Vornlocker said.

“The activities that take place during meetings involve large numbers of participants in the room, seated together, and the concern is that this is a vulnerable part of our population gathering in large groups, indoors, in our building,” he said.

Council member Ed Potosnak (D-Ward 1) said he agreed with the vaccination policy.

“Seniors are more vulnerable … seniors also have a very high participation rate in vaccination,” he said. “They would feel more comfortable knowing that other folks are also vaccinated.”

“I think it’s a balanced policy and aligned with the constituency,” he said. “We’re not going to cover every concern out there, but it’s balanced.”

Pruitt finally relented.

“If the seniors have an issue, if they don’t like it, I’m sure I’ll hear about it and I’ll share it with the group,” she said.

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