Updated: Township May Stay With Virtual Meetings Into 2022, Move Cleared With Governor

Mayor Phil Kramer will probably advocate for a continuation of virtual township meetings when the Township Council meets on December 14.

Update: The Township Council on December 14 unanimously passed a resolution continuing the mandate that all township meetings would be held virtually until March 31, 2022.

Mayor Phil Kramer said there has been a sharp spike in the number of Franklin residents who are testing positive for the virus.

Several weeks ago,. Kramer said, the seven-day average of positive tests was 10. Now, he said, it’s 29.

“The numbers have been climbing, alarmingly,” Kramer said, noting that 54 new cases were reported earlier that day.

Township Councilwoman Crystal Pruitt said that she had been told by some senior citizens that they are “struggling” with not being able to congregate. Club activity has been curtailed in the senior center.

“Some of our communities, who really rely on the ability to socialize,” she said. “They are having a really hard time reconciling the decisions that we are making.”

“It’s important to keep people as safe as possible,” Pruitt said. “While I think this makes sense, there are also consequences to our most vulnerable populations.”

Original Story:

The Township has Gov. Phil Murphy’s blessing to continue holding meetings virtually next year, in light of a major increase in the number of residents testing positive for the coronavirus.

The issue will be a topic of discussion at the December 14 Township Council meeting.

Murphy’s Executive Order allowing town governments to hold virtual-only meetings, issued during the height of the pandemic, is set to expire on January 1, 2022.

But a major spike in the number of Franklin residents who are testing positive for the coronavirus – more than 100 in the last week – prompted Mayor Phil Kramer on December 9 to ask Murphy to reconsider his order.

“Governor, I rarely text you,” Kramer began. “The recent rise in COVID numbers, however, compels me to do so.”

Franklin Township, Kramer wrote, “has had a 2 orders of magnitude increase in the 7 day average of cases, from less than 1/day in July to over 17/day now.”

“I’m asking you to consider extending the authorization allowing municipal meetings to be conducted virtually,” Kramer wrote.

About eight minutes later, Murphy responded.

“Phil. Got this. I will speak with the team ASAP. Keep well. Stay strong.”

About two hours later, Kramer said, he was notified by Tim Hillman, Murphy’s deputy chief of staff, that the township could continue to meet virtually, and that the state Department of Community Affairs “would send out clarification next week.”

As of December 10, 7,509 Franklin residents – about 11 percent of the township’s 68,364 residents – have tested positive for the coronavirus since mid-March 2020, with 170 positive tests recorded so far in December. The deaths of 215 Franklin residents have been attributed to the virus.

The transmission rate in the township on December 10, Kramer said, was 1.55; it was 1.25 on December 7. A transmission rate above 1.0 indicates that the virus is spreading.

Kramer, a physician who has taken a conservative stance on the virus since it first surfaced in Franklin, said on December 11 that he was probably going to advocate to continue meeting virtually.

“I hate to predict Covid before I have to,” he wrote in a text message, “but unless there’s a dramatic change, yes.”

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