BY VINCENT TODARO
EAST BRUNSWICK – Township residents have ample opportunity to watch Board of Education and Township Council meetings, broadcast live and as reruns.
But the average planning and zoning board meeting, where construction plans ranging from new shopping centers and major housing developments to porches and decks are decided, goes largely unseen by the general public.
The issue of whether to air the land use hearings has been discussed in the past, and was brought up again during a recent Township Council meeting, when Republican candidate Robert Tagliente suggested televising the meetings so residents need not leave their homes to follow the process. Tagliente told the Sentinel he is in favor of televising all Planning Board hearings on EBTV, which shows council and school board meetings.
Republican Councilwoman Christi Calvano agreed with Tagliente, as did Democratic Councilman David Stahl, who is running for re-election.
Stahl told the Sentinel he has no problem televising all Planning Board meetings, but he cautioned that such an endeavor would carry a cost in the municipal budget.
The issue was broached two years ago, but board members were not in favor of televising the meetings for a number of reasons. For example, televising the meetings could cause some potential witnesses to be nervous about speaking on the airwaves. On the other hand, it could encourage some people to grandstand or take advantage of camera time for different purposes.
Tagliente said that small or more private applications, such as when someone seeks to install a deck onto their home, need not be televised.
“You could establish some rules of the game,” he said.
But issues that involve commercial development or new housing should be aired, he said.
Stahl said that while he is in favor of airing Planning Board meetings, he does not believe Zoning Board of Adjustment hearings should be televised. Most applications before the Planning Board are from businesses or developers, while the majority of zoning board applicants are township homeowners.
Tagliente said these are public meetings, and as such, should be broadcast to the public. With the growth of the township over the years and the fact that more people are working longer hours, it has become increasingly difficult for people to get to meetings and take part in the process, he said.
Stahl said he has no problem televising the Planning Board meetings, if that is what the residents want.
Tagliente said that many residents, including children, have spoken at school board and council meetings, and complaints of nerves are rare.
Board members, who are unpaid volunteers, should view being on television as part of their job, Tagliente said.
“People who serve on these boards are not compelled to serve,” he said.
While the planning and zoning boards are considered quasi-judicial and thus separate from the township, Tagliente felt the council could compel the boards to televise.
Stahl said that if airing meetings is the entire council’s intent, then the “message will be heard” by board members.