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Mayor & Council Canceled For Tues. Feb. 20 2024 Two Meetings Next Week

Feb 20, 2024
Harrison NJ Town Hall

The Harrison Mayor & Council meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, February 20, 2024, at 6:30 p.m. has been canceled. The cancellation was not a surprise because the Mayor & Council had previously rescheduled its meeting from Tuesday, February 6, 2024, to last week on Tuesday, February 13, 2024.  Although the Town of Harrison canceled Public Schools due to a snowstorm that dumped 5.5 inches of snow in Harrison, Mayor Fife went forward with the Mayor & Council meeting but did not state it on the Harrison Official Town website.  It is likely many residents assumed that since the Town had canceled the Town’s school classes and closed Town Hall during the day, it would not go forward with its Mayor & Council meeting. That however was inaccurate.

Ironically, not canceling the meeting represents a missed opportunity for public engagement and a blow to the transparency that is supposed to characterize local government since many assumed there was no meeting. The lack of clarity on whether the meeting would go forward despite a snowstorm earlier in the day coupled with Public school closures raises questions about the town's dedication to keeping its citizens informed and involved in the democratic process.

The In-Person Limitation of the Harrison Redevelopment Agency Meeting

The Harrison Redevelopment Agency is scheduled to meet on Monday, February 26, 2024, at 1 p.m. The Harrison Redevelopment Agency used to meet via Zoom but changed to In-person only with no Zoom option and/or recording of its meeting.  The Harrison Redevelopment Agency imposed last year a 5-minute limitation per speaker during the Public Session of the meeting.  

The decision to hold it strictly in person may inadvertently limit public participation. Given the diverse schedules and commitments of Harrison's residents, in-person meetings can exclude those who may not be able to attend due to work, health, or other personal constraints. In an era where digital tools can enhance accessibility, the town's reluctance to offer virtual participation options for this meeting is a step back from inclusive governance. Not to mention the fact that the Harrison Redevelopment Agency meetings are held on Monday afternoons at 1 p.m.

Mixed Accessibility for the Harrison Planning Board Meeting

The Harrison Planning Board meeting, set for Wednesday, February 28, 2024, at 5:45 p.m., attempts to bridge the accessibility gap by offering both in-person attendance and occasional Zoom participation. While this hybrid approach is commendable, the sporadic nature of the virtual option suggests a lack of consistent commitment to ensuring all community members can easily engage with their local government. True transparency and inclusivity require more than occasional concessions when it is convenient for Board members; they demand a steadfast dedication to making every meeting as accessible as possible. There should always be a Zoom option even if the meeting is being held in person for those who cannot attend in person.

The Theoretical Versus Actual Transparency

These upcoming meetings, and the conditions surrounding them, highlight a discrepancy between the theoretical ideals of the New Jersey Open Public Meetings Act and their practical application in Harrison. The Act's goal of fostering an open government through public participation and easy access to agendas, resolutions, and documents is noble but requires rigorous enforcement and genuine commitment from local entities. As it stands, the approach to the forthcoming meetings does not fully align with these ideals, suggesting a need for a more proactive stance on transparency and public involvement.

The situation in Harrison, NJ, serves as a reminder that transparency and public participation are not just statutory requirements but the bedrock of a healthy democracy. As the town moves forward with its scheduled meetings, it must take a critical look at its practices to ensure they truly serve the community's interest. Making every effort to facilitate easy public access to meetings, providing clear and timely information on cancellations, and embracing digital tools for wider participation are steps in the right direction. Without a genuine commitment to these principles, the promise of open government remains unfulfilled, and the trust between the town's officials and its residents risks being eroded.

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