ATL.HIGHLANDS – Regardless of whether she opposed the idea at some point or always supported it, Mayor Loretta Gluckstein made it clear this week that meetings of the governing body will be virtual, including enabling the attendees listening at home to have the opportunity to speak during the public portions of the meeting. She declined to say, however, when the virtual meetings would resume.
“I have always been in support of this, “ the Mayor said, “I campaigned on the people being able to be heard. I just want to be sure it’s done correctly.”
When asked about the planned virtual meetings, Borough Administrator Adam Hubeny confirmed the borough is working with a distributer to acquire recording equipment and he expects it to be here within three months. The current system in use is almost ten years old, he said, and is used for recording meetings of four different departments of local government. The anticipated new equipment will be more efficient and will be put into use as soon as it is available at Borough Hall.
At last month’s meeting, three republicans on the council, James Murphy, Steve Baracchia and Brian Boms said they were supporting the mayor and voting against virtual meetings so long as in person meetings are permitted. Democrats Lori Hohenleitner and Jon Crowley opposed the measure, and Roy Dellosso abstained.
Gluckstein said it is possible she was misunderstood since she wants every resident to have the opportunity to be heard, but wants to be sure everything is in place and personnel are in place to maintain the program. The mayor added she is fully aware meeting swill go on hours longer, inasmuch as the present use of virtual meetings has shown that far more people want to be heard at virtual meetings than do when all have to be present in the meeting chamber.
“I’m delighted the Mayor is in agreement that the meetings should be virtual,” said Councilwoman Hohenleitner, “ and I think it should be someone, perhaps the administrator or clerk, to run the system, rather than a member of council.” The councilwoman said she has been handling the meetings at the very beginning of the Covid-related virtual meetings, since she is most familiar with zoom. However, Borough Administrator Adam Hubeny took over in early spring this year; Hohenleitner continues to handle almost all other municipal committee meetings on Zoom, including the planning board. “I am happy we now have everything in place and can continue with virtual meetings for the residents.”
Mayor Gluckstein said she is not certain when the virtual meetings could be restarted…although meetings were available live at last week’s meeting, there was no access for virtual attendees to speak or ask questions….. but said it would be “sooner rather than later. I just want to be sure we have it right, so we don’t have to go back and do it again or have frustrated residents trying to speak and have something go wrong.”
“I certainly want everyone to be able to speak,” the mayor continued, “because there is no secrecy of action on this council. But I do not want yelling and fighting or addressing anyone other than the council. These are council meetings, we are here to conduct council business, and I want to be certain it is all completed properly.”
This week, Lesley D'Almeida and Brian Dougherty, Democrat candidates for the two council seats open in the November elected, posted a statement saying they were surprised to learn Mayor Gluckstein always intended for public comment via virtual means to occur. “None of this detail was shared during the previous meeting where Councilman Murphy cast the deciding vote to prevent virtual public comment during Mayor & Council meetings.,” their post said. Dougherty and D’Almeida added “For 15 months, all Council and committee meetings were held virtually, with the able assistance of Borough Administrator Adam Hubeny and Councilwoman Hohenleitner.” They said they believe “we must continue to make it easier for all citizens to fully participate in our local government. It’s 2021. We have the means. To suggest that virtual participation is too hard for our great town to achieve, while excluding our residents, is unacceptable. Full virtual participation, with public comment, should be available without delay at the next Mayor and Council meeting in August and all future meetings.”
Atlantic Highlands continuing to enable the public to participate virtually is different from neighboring borough Highlands, which also holds meetings at their Community Center, and has them available for viewers. But residents not present cannot attend, in spite of several residents calling for participation virtually.
Highlands Middletown and Keansburg do not offer public comment capability at the meetings of the governing body, Keansburg has had public meetings since April and does not offer videos of their meetings.