Don't Blame Zoom





The chaos, rudeness, lack of control and total collapse of a government meeting left me wondering for a long time today how did it all happen and who is to blame? Further, how could it be avoided? And finally, but really foremost, why ever aren’t the people who depend on their elected officials to run their town concerned about this chaos, something so very new and most disturbing at an official meeting in Atlantic Highlands?

This week’s council meeting was so unlike the Atlantic Highlands of the past, it seemed like a different town altogether.. Was the Mayor just having a really bad night? Was one councilman so annoyed with spending time at a meeting they he wanted to cut talk and vote, regardless of hearing all the facts?

Let’s start with the Mayor. She is a very nice lady whom I really like, who has an extremely good and generous heart, and who loves her town as much as the rest of us. But she is also big on giving so many reasons for not wanting Zoom meetings.


That means she is not wanting EVERYONE who wants to know what’s going on in Atlantic Highlands to have the opportunity to at least participate in meetings, ask questions, or give opinions. At almost every meeting, she makes some reference to how awful Zoom meetings are, frequently says the borough council is NOT going to have them, and lists everything wrong with them.


Well, let’s look at some of the things she says are wrong with them.

The Mayor said there’s so much background noise, so much feedback, “it would be heaven” to have it silenced. She gave a very sarcastic “Well, thank you, Jon” to the councilman who told her at the most recent meeting that he could hear her just fine.


Not one of the other council members has any trouble with hearing or speaking. The reason that the Mayor….and only the Mayor of all the professionals and council members at the meetings…..complains about feedback is really because she is in Borough Hall in a room with others and with more audio equipment for all….that’s too much and yes, it causes feedback.


There are a couple of quick and easy solutions to that one, none of which comes close to canceling all ZOOM meetings and not letting ALL residents know what’s going on. For one….Mayor, why don’t you just ZOOM the meeting from home, like every other council-member does?


Or here’s another idea.


Borough Hall is a nice size building: if you feel you have to be in that official building, why not move to a room separate from the professionals who are there? For that matter, why do the attorney, even the administrator, and the engineer have to be there? Haven’t any of them conducted or participated in business meetings from their homes or offices?


If somebody asks a question the Mayor can’t answer, it should not be a case of her turning to the attorney or administrator or engineer and asking them for some information. She could simply tell the questioner on ZOOM, “well, that’s a question for MR. Engineer/Admin/Attorney, let me have him answer it for you” And then the professional could take the floor to give a response.


Sounds easy enough.


One person should be trained and assigned to run all ZOOM sessions. They do it in court rooms and municipalities big and small, throughout the state of New Jersey.

The Mayor said there are “lots of people” who don’t want to go on Zoom, don’t know how to use it, and because meetings are on ZOOM, they “are very upset!”


Really?


Upset?


Have they written any letters to complain?


Has the mayor brought up any of their complaints to members of Council or at a Council meeting?


Has she done anything to help introduce them to Zoom, or as one resident suggested at the meeting , made sure they know they can even call in on their phones and listen, or even talk at a meeting simply from their phone?


Aren’t they solutions?


Of course, the most disheartening part of hearing about those “lots of people” who are “very upset” is thinking that someplace in Atlantic Highlands or beyond there are “lots of people” who don’t care about the impaired and disabled people whose only recourse is to participate in a meeting on ZOOM. Besides those for whom in person meetings aren’t possible due to physical disabilities, there are the parents who can’t get a babysitter, or can’t afford one to attend a meeting, those who have someone at home they have to be present for, or those who can’t drive or don’t have a car.


Aren’t all those people entitled to attend a meeting, even if a handicapped person is not?

Ok, do you want to talk about upset? There are many of us who have respect for this governing body and this Mayor but who are pretty upset about how she acted at the most recent meeting and how she treated a concerned resident.

During the public portion, after an earlier part of the meeting when the Mayor made that seemingly sarcastic “thank you” to the councilman who said he could hear her speak just fine, resident Mark Fisher was recognized to speak.


Mark is a frequent speaker at council meetings, but one who comes armed with facts, bundles of research and intelligent questions. He has his questions in order, refers back to why he’s asking them simply to refresh the memories, I suppose, of council members, then calmly asks his questions and waits for answers.


The regionalization of the school districts…education is the largest portion of every local tax bill, and the possibility of joining schools into larger regional districts will be a major issue for every municipality in New Jersey this year. That is because the Governor recently signed a new law approved by every single member of both houses of the Legislature that could open the doors to beaucoup savings for taxpayers for school expenses. Hopefully, all the knowledge gained this year will lead to the regionalization question of Highlands, Atlantic Highlands and even Sea Bright being on the ballot in November.

At the last meeting, the Mayor said there was going to be a meeting of the Mayors of the three towns. When she did not report on any such meeting, Mr. Fisher asked if the meeting was held and who attended.


The Mayor said it was held and the three mayors met. Mr. Fisher asked if anyone else was at the meeting? Instead of taking the question as a serious Mayor listening to a concerned citizen, the Mayor simply laughed and said the Mayors went to Woodies.


That was her entire response.


So Mr. Fisher said “so the waiters, the busboys, were there. Was there anyone else? The Mayor said, again with a laugh “I had Fish Tacos.” Fisher mumbled “you’re not helping” and finally elicited the response that apparently there was a meeting of the Mayors of Highlands, Atlantic Highlands and Sea Bright, alone, with no one else in attendance, and that’s why there’s a closed session Monday night at 6 p.m. to talk about what they talked about.

That was it.


But it was embarrassing.


Why couldn’t the Mayor give the citizen the same courtesy he gave her? Was she making a joke because she was nervous? Was she being sarcastic because she doesn’t like Zoom meetings? Or did the Mayors talk about things maybe they shouldn’t have discussed among themselves and she couldn’t say?.

In another instance, the “lost in translation” line was truly an insult not only to the questioner at the meeting but to every resident.


The Mayor has said she does not want any of the meetings on the all important question of cannabis to be discussed until meetings are held in borough hall. She wasn’t specific, simply said that things get “lost in translation,” whatever that is.


Everyone speaks the same language, be they in front of the mike in borough hall or in front of the screen at home. What’s the translation that’s needed?


The resident quietly pointed out that the parking issue is another big issue in the borough. There were workshops on that major issue, well attended at that. All done on ZOOM. And the attorney is drawing up an ordinance now about parking that will be introduced at the next meeting…which of course, will not be on ZOOM because the Mayor cast the deciding vote against letting everyone in on the meeting by saying no ZOOM in February.


How rude is that to the disabled, the residents without vehicles, the moms who have to stay at home with kids because dad is working an extra job to pay taxes on that new house in town?


If the workshops and information gathering and sharing for an issue like parking could be done on ZOOM why not cannabis as well?

Statistics show lots of people attend ZOOM meetings….more than come to a regular meeting at borough hall. What about those folks? Is it wrong to want to be able to sit at home in quiet, be able to take notes, know you can raise your hand and ask questions, and participate in the business of your town?

Raising a hand to ask questions. Ah ... that’s another good point. One councilman, Brian Dougherty, quietly, politely, and very professionally showed how that’s done at a meeting. A council member who wants to be heard simply raises his hand, the Mayor recognizes him, he gets to speak, and voila! Everybody listens....because the Mayor can mute everyone else and let the raised hand receive courteous attention.

So here is a suggestion for the Mayor to consider.


Think of the beauties and benefits of ZOOM. You can train and appoint an operator who can manage the entire procedure for recognizing hands raised, listening to directives to mute, keeping count of those who want to speak, all kinds of things. You can be in the quiet of a separate room; your professionals can be anywhere. You as Mayor simply runs the meeting, call for specific people to be heard, either on council or in the meeting, and maintains your own standard of professionalism and excellence. Keep in mind that rude people who don’t want to be courteous will talk over each other, shout at each other and create chaos regardless of where they are.


It isn’t Zoom that dictates their personalities or their emotions.


But after this week’s meeting of the Mayor and Council, it seems that at the very least, Mr. Fisher and Mr. Brown, deserve an apology.

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