A controversy has been swirling in Township Hall since September, one which several taxpayers refuse to let die.
On easels near the Treasurer’s office sits a series of posters, paid for with public money. These posters boast about the $1.5 Million in new construction at the Township Park. Nicely illustrated, professionally produced.
The problem is not the posters themselves – the content is basically true – but it is the captions at the bottom. Prominently displayed under the illustrations are pictures of 5 of the 7 Board members who voted “for” the projects as those are the Trustees that are “moving the Township forward.” Conspicuously absent are the pictures of those that dared to disagree. At best, it’s a cheap political trick and at worst, it runs afoul of campaign finance laws. Childish, silly, vengeful, deceitful are all adjectives that have been used by taxpayers, all of them fitting.
You have probably correctly guessed that my picture isn’t there and to be honest, I really don’t care. That isn’t the problem. The problem is much deeper and this is yet one more example of a deeply dysfunctional board.
Credit to the poster's authors for inventing an entirely new kind of bullying. Play along and your picture gets on official government posters. Don’t and it doesn’t. Strange that every project has several more approvals yet to go, yet it is a foregone conclusion that their votes will be yes. Might as well stay home and have us just mail your paycheck.
Don’t you dare to question anything now, even massive cost overruns, or your picture is coming off those posters. If one changes his or her mind on the color of the tile, are they still “moving the Township forward”? Last week, Trustee Mike Kelly had the courage of his common sense to vote against hiring the architect (at least for now), one must wonder whether the administration has ordered a case of white out to blot out Mike's picture.
It’s not the pictures themselves that are troubling, but it is what the pictures represent – and that is an iron fisted control that the admitted author has on the rest of the voting slate. Don't think for a minute this was the work of 4 or 5 people - it's the work of Ron Edwards. The others certainly are smart enough to understand "what is wrong with this picture" and "why are people so upset", but are not strong enough to stand up and say, "Ron, knock this off". To do so means a risk of becoming the next target. For sure, someone must think this is a really bad thing that makes the whole board look really stupid, yet none have spoken out a word. One person is calling the shots here, make no mistake about that, and no other votes count.
But to know the real problem, the one that goes to the core, you have to understand a little about the Open Meetings Act (OMA). Basically, the OMA is in place to guard against smoke-filled backroom politics where decisions are made without transparency. As the theory goes, it’s not only important to know how someone voted, but it is also important to know how they came to that decision. Reasonable.
Under the OMA, you can’t have a majority discussing an issue that will be coming to a vote outside the purview of the public forum, showing up to rubber stamp a decision that has already been made. That gives the public a chance to understand the thought process but also gives the minority viewpoint a chance to be heard on the hope they may change someone’s mind. “Round robin” polling – where you line up the votes in one on one meetings is legally the same as if everyone were in the same room. You can’t discuss it over a beer either.
Over the course of a year, the Board approved a series of incremental steps – to borrow money, to approve budgets, to approve contracts, to approve architectural features – in 5 or 6 different meetings. None of those came with any substantive discussion, intellectual debate, public input or business plans. Motion-vote, motion-vote, stamp-stamp went the donut machine. Not even a whisper of thoughtful dissent as that would not be tolerated.
And that’s the problem. And it’s really odd. These are strategic projects that will impact wallets and lives for decades to come. With little to no discussions. And that’s what troubles me.
I have to ask - Were there secret meetings, round robin votes, decisions made over a beer, cutting out minority views from the discussion, decisions made outside of public view?
Well I sure as hell hope so. Because if there weren’t, then that means that votes were cast with less debate, less thought and less discussion than your family would have when ordering a movie from Netflix. Show up, stamp the documents, cash your paycheck. "Thank God, it was an OMA violation, at least that means someone actually discussed it before the voted on it", I would say.
And that is what scares me most.