Planning Board To Resume Open Public Comment Periods

Michael Orsini - 1

Allowing an open public comment period at Planning Board meetings is an “open government good thing,” said board chairman Michael Orsini.

Calling it a move toward more transparent government, the Planning Board chairman Jan. 20 convinced his fellow board members to resume allowing general public comments at board meetings.

The comment period will last 30 minutes, and will occur before the board begins its hearings each meeting.

Board chairman Michael Orsini said that in addition to the public comment and question period during application hearings, “if someone wants to bring up a planning or zoning issue, I think they should have the right to do that.”

Orsini said he was inspired to suggest the move after speaking to board member and Township Councilman Ted Chase, who was named on Jan. 12 to the township’s reconstituted Green Team. Part of the Green Team’s charge is to help the township reach “Silver” status in the statewide Sustainable Jersey program, and encouraging public participation in governmental meetings can help lead to that designation.

Board member Robert Mettler noted that open public comment was once part of the board’s regular agenda.

“I was surprised to see it was taken off” when he returned to the board after several years’ absence, he said.

“I would support that,” Mettler said.

Vince Dominach, the township’s chief zoning officer, said general public comment would be simple to institute because it’s already called for in the board’s bylaws.

Alex Kharazi, who was appointed to the board this year, said that he, too, supported the idea.

“Obviously, we are here to serve the public,” he said. “Having the public involved is the right thing.”

Orsini suggested that each speaker be limited to three minutes, with no more than 30 minutes allocated for all speakers.

“I can’t recall any time when someone has wanted to address the board for longer than that,” he said.

The public comment period will be held after the board’s housekeeping is done, but before application hearings.

“We can’t do it after the hearings, because there’s no predictability as to when it will end,” he said. “In deference to applicants, we can’t have it go on forever because people are here paying for their experts.”

Orsini said that if the topic warranted it, “we have the flexibility” to extend that 30 minute time period.

“This is an open government good thing,” he said.

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