Dialogue regarding new meeting conduct policies and the proposed task forces in the Township reveals divisions between supervisors
By P.J. D’Annunzio, Staff Writer, UnionvilleTimes.com
KENNETT — Following the raucousness of an emotional citizenry during last month’s public meeting, Chairman Michael Elling brought forth a proposed, modified code of conduct for all meeting participants at Monday night’s BOS meeting.
“A number of surrounding townships have similar policies that amplify our own, and I have tried to impress the comments from other townships into a revised one for ourselves,” Elling said. “Let me explain one of the reasons I’ve done this…I was terribly uncomfortable with the conduct of [the previous public meeting]. There was a lot of cross talking; a lot of interruptions, and it didn’t seem to serve a useful purpose. So the attempt here is to get more structure into the meeting”
Elling stated that the new edicts were not set in stone, stating “If this doesn’t work, we’ll change it.”
Some of the regulations in the new code of conduct policy include granting the chairman the authority to impose a time limit on speakers in order to ensure that all residents have a chance to speak. However, each questioner will only be able to address the person who nominated the agenda subject. The chairman may terminate a speaker’s presentation if dialog is considered inappropriate, non-germane, argumentative, repetitive, or pointless. If the chairman deems the speaker to be unruly or disruptive, that individual may be requested to leave or face legal action. The policy states that questions and comments may be limited to “bona fide” Township residents or businesses only.
“I would like to object to that Mr. Chairman,” Supervisor Scudder Stevens said in response to the reading of the policy. “First of all, in the work session we had last week, it was agreed by all three of us that we would schedule a time when we could talk about this and reach an understanding as to what it contained, and then send it to Bob Adams for a legal review. We’ve yet to have that meeting, we’ve yet to discuss it, and Adams has not reviewed it.”
He continued, stating, “I’m quite concerned about, to quote you, why ‘I’ve’ done this and ‘we will change it.’ There is a distinction between ‘I’ and ‘we.’ I think that this is something that the whole Board should be acting upon and so I oppose. I would also like to say that I think it’s unconstitutional because it attempts to control the free expression of the citizens.”
Chairman Elling suggested that Stevens review the subject on his own, but was interrupted by Township Manager Lisa Moore, who stated that procedure requires that the supervisors meet to discuss the issue. “Bob [Hammaker] and I have met to discuss the existing policy,” Elling said.
“Well, you see Michael, that’s part of my problem,” Stevens replied. “We agreed that we would all do this, and now you tell us that Bob and you have met to give it to us, and if I’d like to look at it after the fact, ‘knock yourself out.’ I am very much opposed to this.”
The supervisors then agreed that the matter should be tabled until all could find time to deliberate further. The focus of the meeting shifted to the proposed formation of citizen-staffed task forces.
“As you know there was an idea to form a series of task forces populated by people in the township to report and discuss findings that pertain to a series of particular subjects,” Elling said. “One of them was for the audit; the other was for the financial condition and policies of the township, and there are three others. The attempt was to try to get a cross-section of people to man these task forces…representing the population as a whole.
“There has certainly been some contention about a number of things in the township, principally the audit, and to shed light on the entire subject, the task force was thought to be a way of looking into the issues and reporting on them.”
The proposal was quickly met with resistance, again from Supervisor Stevens, who stated, “At that work session the three of us agreed to check our schedules and set a time to talk through the details of this. There was a lot of discussion at the work session, trying to understand it, to determine what the ground rules were, who was going to serve, what their parameters were, what the deadlines were for when the task forces would be resolved.
“Bob Hammaker and I suggested that one of the things we could do is compress three different headings into one (audit, taxes, and budget) but you didn’t agree with that, and we never had an opportunity to resolve any of the questions we had, including the time in particular when we were going to resolve this,” he continued. “When it was all over, you got up and turned the lights off while I was sitting there. It didn’t end in a cooperative fashion and we’re left here with what I would suggest is a half-baked proposal.”
Stevens reiterated his desire for the Supervisors to meet and discuss the nature of the proposed task forces in greater depth.
“Insofar as trying to get together to scope out the conditions of these task forces, we talked about that,” Elling responded. “You, Bob, and I did talk about that. We came to the conclusion that there was no mission statement needed for them. It was important that they establish it themselves.”
“You decided that,” Stevens said. “I did not agree to that at all.”
A decision on how to proceed with matter was put off until a later date, pending further review by the Board of Supervisors.