Piscataway, NJ – The Piscataway Progressive Democratic Organization has announced the launch of an electoral initiative to expand community participation and increase accountability in major municipal meetings and decisions. the Transparency, Access and Public Engagement (TAPE) The ordinance would require the township to record, broadcast and use streaming services for all city council, zoning and town planning council meetings. The ordinance also imposes the posting and archiving of all minutes and the recording of said meetings for a minimum period of 7 years.
Most New Jersey communities do it under good government, but Piscataway officials don’t, community organizers and petitioners said.
“This is what open and transparent government looks like,” said Laura Leibowitz, one of the initiative’s petitioners and member of the Possumtown area Democratic Committee. “This is what a government looks like that truly seeks and respects the commitment of its residents. This is what a forward-thinking 21st century township needs to prosper and grow.
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With enough signatures from registered voters in Piscataway, the ordinance would go to city council for a vote. If Council does not approve it, the ordinance would be placed on the November 2021 general election ballot for Piscataway voters to decide.. In addition to using the recording and streaming of meetings, the ordinance requires the publication and archiving of all minutes and the recording of such meetings for at least 7 years.
Community leaders say having information like this is essential for neighbors to participate in decisions that affect the community, especially land use decisions. Piscataway Community Television (PCTV), which has a budget of over $ 200,000, is not used for live or posted recordings of the Council or other key meetings where important decisions are made.
“When you know better, you do better,” said Kamuela Tillman, neighborhood leader and member of the petitions committee. “People want to be involved in these discussions and decisions, and no one should be left out or left out.”
During the pandemic, city council met the minimum criteria of the state’s Sunshine Act (Open Town Hall Act) by holding its meetings by conference call. “The rest of the world quickly turned to using online tools that enabled engagement by video and phone. Businesses, school systems, places of worship all quickly figured out how to connect with their constituents via live video feeds, but Piscataway chose to connect by phone only. This is outdated, isolated and constitutes a barrier to a true connection, ”noted Leibowitz.
Jace Pastras, co-chair of the Piscataway Youth Progressive Organization and award-winning Piscataway High School graduate, said: “As a young student of Piscataway, I have seen how vital communication and transparency is for our community to grow towards people’s interest. “
Even as people return to meetings and in-person events, many municipalities are planning to have a hybrid option for Zoom and other streaming services. For now, the Piscataway Council still meets by conference call.
“We should find ways to include people who cannot attend in person, so that they can still participate in democracy. Whether people are caring for family members, work nights, or have a disability that makes it difficult to attend a face-to-face meeting, all of our residents should be able to attend and participate in our local government meetings, ”noted Mindy Goldstein , another member. of the Committee on Petitions.
“In addition to participating in a variety of ways, these meetings should be available for people to see at their convenience. It’s not 1950. The technology is there, ”she said.
The PPDO organized volunteers to live stream the council and other meetings, providing residents with a way to see each meeting, said Staci Berger, PPDO chair and member of the Democratic committee representing the heights.
“These Facebook broadcasts are being viewed by thousands of interested residents who want to know what’s going on in our community and with our tax dollars. The city’s website contains the strict minimum of minutes and no record of the actions of our elected officials, commissions or councils. Most cities do it themselves, but Piscataway officials have a habit of discouraging and preventing residents from participating, ”Berger said.