(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.