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Harrison Redevelopment Agency Limiting Public Engagement

Dec 14, 2023
Steelworks Apartent Building Harrison NJ

In a move that raises significant concerns about public engagement and transparency, the Harrison Redevelopment Agency, under the chairmanship of Mayor James Fife, adopted Resolution 12-2023 at its December 11 2023 meeting.  Resolution 12-2023 imposes a five-minute limit on public questions and comments during Agency meetings. This resolution not only restricts the duration of public comments but also stipulates that questions submitted for reading at these meetings cannot exceed the five-minute mark. This decision, seemingly at odds with the spirit of the New Jersey Open Public Meetings Act (N.J.S.A. 10:4-6 et seq.), represents a troubling shift in the Agency's approach to public interaction.

The Open Public Meetings Act and Democratic Ideals

The Open Public Meetings Act underscores the importance of public participation in government proceedings. It emphasizes transparency and the public's right to witness the deliberative process of government bodies. By curtailing public commentary to a mere five minutes, the Agency's resolution appears to contravene the Act's intention of fostering an informed and involved citizenry. The Act clearly states that public bodies should be open and accessible, allowing citizens to fully grasp and engage with the decision-making processes that affect them.

The Last Word: A Power Imbalance

Adding to the concern is the provision that the Chairman and Commissioners are not obliged to allow rebuttals or further comments from the public, effectively giving them the last word on any issue. This arrangement potentially leaves critical questions unanswered and public grievances unaddressed, creating a one-sided narrative controlled by the Agency.

Undermining the Democratic Process

The resolution’s limitations on public input directly contradict the democratic principles espoused by the Open Public Meetings Act. The Act intends to empower citizens to actively participate in the governance process, ensuring that their voices are heard and their concerns are addressed. By imposing such restrictive measures, the Harrison Redevelopment Agency is not only limiting public engagement but also undermining the trust and confidence of the community it serves. It is not bad enough that the Harrison Redevelopment Agency meetings are at 1 p.m. on Mondays making it difficult for residents to be able to attend a meeting if they were so inclined to do so.

In light of these concerns, the Harrison Redevelopment Agency must reconsider Resolution 12-2023. Aligning their policies more closely with the spirit of the Open Public Meetings Act would not only enhance transparency and public trust but also ensure a more democratic and inclusive decision-making process. The Agency must remember that its primary obligation is to serve the public interest, and this cannot be achieved without robust and unhindered public participation.

The Commissioners also passed resolutions appointing Gregory Kowalski as Executive Director of the Harrison Redevelopment Agency. Adopting the schedule of meeting dates for the upcoming 2024 calendar year.  Appointing the law firm Castano Quigley & Cherami as the agency’s Redevelopment Attorney; Heyer Gruel & Associates PA as the agency’s Planner; and Banker Group LLC whose principal is Thomas A. Banker as Redevelopment Policy Advisor.

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