ATL- HIGHLANDS - With more than two dozen residents on virtual attendance at last night’s meeting of the Mayor and Council, and with no fewer than a dozen residents speaking out in favor of continuing the current procedure, the governing body by a 3-2 vote shot down an attempt to continue virtual participation at borough council meetings after July 1.
Mayor Loretta Gluckstein mentioned during the meeting that with Covid restrictions lifted and borough hall being reopened July 1, meetings will still be streamed to enable residents to hear what is going on at a council meeting. However, participation through Zoom will not be permitted and only residents present in Borough Hall will be able to be heard during the meeting, including during any public hearings on proposed ordinances or Town Hall presentations.
The mayor said the borough is making every attempt to resume ‘normal’ proceedings, and while residents are urged to attend and be heard at meetings, with the opening of borough hall, attendance will be the only way residents will be able to speak out. She noted residents are encouraged to review the agenda and call either her or the administrator in advance of meetings with any questions or ideas, but their voices will not be entertained virtually during the meeting.
Councilwoman Lori Hohenleitner objected, asking the mayor if the decision is an “edict” or could the council hold discussion on it; the mayor said it is a decision that is already made.
During the public portion, however, every resident who spoke strongly opposed discontinuing public input virtually, and called on the Mayor or the governing body to think again before taking the action. Residents noted the virtual meetings enable all residents to take advantage of attending and having input at meetings. They pointed out since it has been in effect for more than a year, people have adjusted to and taken advantage of the virtual sessions and become interested and outspoken at meetings. Resident Mark Fisher noted a brief review of figures show far more people attend meetings virtually than normally attended meetings in person at borough hall, and urged that both open meetings at borough hall together with virtual presentations be considered.
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However, following the public portion, when Hohenleitner made a motion that the July meeting be offered virtually, enabling the public to have input, her motion was seconded by Jon Crowley and defeated by three votes. Councilmen Brian Boms, John Murphy and Steve Borrichia all voted against the motion, with Murphy saying he would adhere to the mayor’s wishes and change later if change should be made. Councilman Roy Dellosso abstained on the vote, saying he has strong feelings on both sides of the issue, choosing not to express his opinion for either option.