How Not to Run A Public Meeting

(Photo: Part of the crowd locked out of the meeting waiting in the rain)

Today, the Pinelands Commission gave a seminar on how not to run a public meeting.

The purpose of the meeting was to hear comments on the proposed natural gas pipeline that will cut through the pristine Pinelands, creating a potential for an environmental catastrophe in this protected area. This, despite the fact that four former New Jersey governors, from both parties, have spoken out against this project.

This meeting should not even have been necessary. The Commission originally denied the project, but that was not to the satisfaction of our governor and his benefactors. So he stacked the pipeline commission with pro-development appointees, and today’s process was part of a “do-over” to satisfy Christie’s friends.

The first rule of not running a public meeting is to schedule it when it is most inconvenient to the public. While the Pinelands Commission usually holds their meetings during the day, they surely knew that the level of interest would attract a larger audience and many who would like to comment would be at work instead.

The second rule of not running a public meeting is to choose an inappropriate venue. The hearings were in a church social hall – inadequate in size to hold the crowd. Fire regulations required several hundred people to wait outside in the rain and cold – several of whom gave up and went home to get warm. The layout of the room only allowed the first several rows of people to see the commissioners, so it was impossible to know who was making specific comments.

It was also bothersome that the venue was a church. Most people would not object, but clearly, if someone’s religious tenets were to avoid a church of another denomination, those folks would be left out. Of course, if the meeting were held in the evening, a large school gymnasium would accommodate all those who wanted to attend, and they’d be able to see the commissioners from the bleachers.

The Commission will not vote today. They will “consider” the public comments and then rubber-stamp their approval at a later date.

The first to comment was New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel.

Lena Smith of Food & Water Watch was ejected for expressing many of the same concerns about the conduct of the meeting. I spoke with her in the rain outside the church.

Comments (4)

  1. Caren Kaufman

    Great article. Great title. Truth.

    Reply
  2. Douglas Campbell

    EXACTLY… How to discourage public input.
    1) Venue: When this public meeting was relocated, I called St. Anne’s to inquire about the hall capacity (this isn’t the church, but their banquet hall). If I were to rent this space, tables and seating holds 200 ‘elbow to elbow’. Holding an event with only seating is 250 people, per fire code. So why stage the commissioners, police, unknown tables along the side to reduce available seating under 250, under 200?
    2) Accomendation: This was a second floor event and an elevator was available. However; my friend with Parkinson’s who arrived prior to the 9:30am start was told the hall was at capacity. After waiting one hour in the cold rain, he asked to come inside as his tremors were increasing. “Sorry, no. No exceptions as how can I deny anyone else?” As in, anyone else with a disability, a clear violation of the American Disabilities Act.
    3) Supposedly, as people left the hall outside people could enter. However, as video shows, despite empty seats there were no people allowed to fill those seats.
    4) After three hours outside in chilling rain, the 200+ outside (many seniors or with children) were reduced to 20-30.

    Reply
  3. r vanstrien

    Business as usual for G H W Bush’s appointee Chris Christie doing more charm and dirt in an underhanded and undemocratic way. He stands to make a lot of money upon completion of the pipeline with no regard for the lives he endangers and destroys. He is an insult to the state and even more punitive nowdays since he lost trumps favor. Worst governor in the history of nj.

    Reply
  4. Beth

    If you feel so strongly about this- band a bunch of people together and PROTEST (without the violence)- Look at all the Trump protestors they got there 2 days of fame- even the Women’s march made their statement. Organize and collaborate with one another and make your voices heard! 300 people isn’t going to do it considering the huge population NJ holds, it’s a drops in the bucket- you need THOUSANDS. Problem is apathy has taken over the people.

    Reply

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