Apathy: A Habit that can be Changed (Part IV of a Tale of Two Boroughs)

Apathy. Indifference. Lethargy. Laziness. Boredom. Ennui. Unconcern.

Call it what you may. It’s the one thing people in both Highlands and Atlantic Highlands have in common.

In bulk ...

But that is not to say these qualities are limited to these two communities. Not at all. they are a plague that has permeated our society at every level.

They’re prevalent all over when it comes to local government, energy on changing what should be changed or not changed, educating oneself on the proper way to do things and standing up and making a position known.

Sure, both towns have their select groups, the “fors” and the “antis”, the “want-to-change-everythings” and the “but-it’s-always-been-this ways”. They’re healthy and necessary, if the truth be told, though boring, repetitive, loud and long-winded at times. At least they make themselves known.

Not the majority of people.

The “Oh, What can-you-do-about it?” and the “It’s- no use” thinkers make up the grand majority of voters and/or residents in both communities. They are the ones who let the habitual "fors" and "againsts" take up time and make decisions.

No, the majority of folks would rather get on Facebook, share photos of their latest dinners or favorite craft project and complain about the things over which they have absolutely no control.

An example of that is comments on Facebook this week about Covid, who knows what about it, what’s good or bad about certain medications or mandates. Lots of time and opinions spent on the subject. In one case, there were at least 130 comments in response to one statement on who knows what about Covid.

One hundred thirty people took the time to read something they can do nothing about, took added time to add their own comments, merely to express themselves and feel good about letting their own frustration out.

But it doesn’t change a darn thing.

Yet this is one subject where it’s true, there is absolutely nothing talk can do about it. Covid is here, it makes people sick in some cases die, and it’s never pleasant. But talk isn’t going to take away Covid.

Making time and writing the Governor or legislators to question where the statistics come from, demanding proof why masks should really be necessary might stir up thinking. But nobody does that.

On the other hand, talk could have made a difference at the local level in both communities in many instances. But it didn’t happen.

As one example, in Highlands, years ago, when the borough first started talking about acquiring the OLPH parking lot for the new borough hall, there weren’t enough questions asked.

No one asked at that time how long will it take the police to get through the Route 36 traffic block at Miller St. on a Fourth of July weekend?

Or what happens when a non-driving senior citizen wants to access records or file a complaint himself but really can’t walk up that hill?

No one questioned the cost or what would be included in the building. Or why particular things were necessary to be included.

So Borough Council, or councils, since a few have been in charge over the years, took the actions the few thought were the right, or best, or most convenient, or easiest, or whatever. And now many are complaining about the $10 million Taj Mahal yet to be built and for which they will be paying heavy taxes for years to come.

Because the people were apathetic or too busy with other things in their lives to pay attention.

Remember just a short time ago when the Taj Mahal was on the agenda and the bonding for it requires four votes? There were only three, because Councilman Martin voted against it, along with Councilwoman Mazzola. There wasn’t any talk in favor of the Taj Mahal that evening from the public.

The Ordinance was voted down to applause.

The very next meeting, the exact same ordinance the council had voted down was up again and approved for introduction in the absence of Mr. Martin. When it came time for the public hearing and second vote on it, this time Councilman Martin was present and voted for it, explaining he’s a complex person.

Nobody questioned why a defeated ordinance was put up again the following meeting, and if that wasn’t bad enough, nobody even questioned how or why Mr. Martin changed his vote. Saying he is complex might be so, but the people need a better explanation when they’re spending $10 million on a building on the highway.

But nobody questioned any further.

It’s things like that that make one think the governing bodies aren’t always the bad guys. They just get stuff done the way they want it because the folks in town let them get away with it.

Or how about the switch in long laid plans on sewer repairs? Only one woman spoke out, a woman who always does her research, saves all her notes and records, and also has a great memory. But nobody backed her up. Nobody questioned how the entire section of Waterwitch could just suddenly be taken out of the plans.

Even the people directly impacted by the now absence of sewer repairs on their streets didn’t complain or back up the one objector. But they’ll wonder down the line why their sewer lines are broken and in real need for it.

Or about the folks in Waterwitch who didn’t complain about the berrylium, the soil being dumped on taxpayers’ land, the high cost, not only in money but in time and energy, in having to have it analyzed and removed? There were only a couple of folks who questioned all of that. Others, like some council members, merely scoffed that “it was only a bit and that little bit won’t hurt.”

Atlantic Highlands does not limit speakers at any of their meetings. Occasionally they remind a speaker that he has to address the governing body, not another resident in the room. But they let them express their opinions, most of which are done courteously, politely and with sufficient information to warrant a response. As a result, their meetings sometimes go on. And on.

Not so in Highlands. The three-minute limit on speaking, as has been documented here before, is sometimes followed, sometimes not so much, depending on the speaker, the opinion and the topic. So their meetings are much shorter. It all depends on the mayor.

There is an interesting phenomenon noticeable since virtual meetings have taken center stage. People will talk more from the comfort of their own homes or offices. There are even some who talk before because they’ve had a libation or two in advance of the meeting, or during the course of the meeting.

Some say in at least in one of these towns even and occasional member of council appears to have had a libation or two too many in advance of a meeting. But when you listen to all the talk from those virtual locations, it’s more just to, well, talk. If nothing is done, oh well, I said my piece and they didn’t listen. Sometimes, you have to say your piece twice. Even three times.

Sometimes you have to support your opinion with facts. Sometimes you have to get answers to questions.

What’s evident in Atlantic Highlands is lots more folks attend virtual meetings than they do in person. Of course there are many reasons for this, inconvenience, lack of time, handicaps that make attendance too challenging or impossible. But it’s clear that folks talk more and longer when they are at home rather than in person. Many of these people, however, do come armed with facts and figures, and some of them, those you already know are concerned about the town, continue to ask their questions if they don’t get answers. But in Atlantic Highlands, they have an administrator who not only has all the information at his head or at his fingerprints and he’s generous in sharing it. In Highlands, the administrator isn’t always at the meeting and provides answers only when directed to by the Mayor.

It’s probably as true in Highlands that some people come armed with facts, figures and decent arguments. But with the three minute limit and selective second time speakers, it’s hard to tell.

This is by no means to criticize virtual meetings. If there’s any one thing the Covid crisis has taught us, it’s that municipalities have the wherewithal and the system to have every one of their meetings virtual. Let the governing bodies come together to conduct business just as they do for their executive meetings that the public cannot attend. But keep that equipment going for regular and special meetings, workshops and hearings, so everybody can be heard and everybody can hear.

On the other hand the public also should learn to handle the privilege a bit better. Quit the talking to hear yourself, don’t argue or criticize another speaker, and don’t repeat what someone else has said, other than to simply concur if that’s important.

There are guilty folks in both towns on that one.


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