Friday, February 17, 2006

Council to change decades old meeting schedule

The City Council will vote Tuesday on changing its meeting schedule, with regular meetings to be held on Wednesdays instead of Mondays.

The meeting is 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

For decades, the council has held voting meetings on the first and third Mondays of each month, with exceptions for federal holidays and breaks for elections. The agenda-setting sessions, at which the council members decide what matters to put up for a vote, have been held on the preceding Mondays.

The ordinance up for first reading Tuesday calls for regular meetings on the first and third Wednesdays, with agenda sessions on the preceding Mondays. Reasons given for the change include the council’s desire to have fewer meetings and also to allow more time for council members to study resolutions and ordinances. Currently, packets are sent out after the close of business on Fridays. Under the new plan, members would get the packets on Thursdays and have time to ask questions of city staff.

A side effect of the proposed change would be to solve a dilemma for acting Public Works and Urban Development Director Jennifer Wenson-Maier, who as the 2006 president of the Rahway Municipal Council must be present for regular meetings there on the second Monday of each month.

The ordinance must pass on two readings and will take effect 20 days later. The change could come about by late March, or approximately the end of Wenson-Maier’s 90-day acting term.

Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs appointed all her cabinet members Jan. 1 for acting terms. So far, none of the names have been offered for council advice and consent for four-year terms concurrent with that of the mayor.

A small group of residents attend almost every council meeting. One of them, Emily Washington, took exception with the proposed schedule change.

“Bad night for the public,“ Washington said, “because a lot of meetings are on Wednesdays.

“The people in Plainfield are pretty much geared to Mondays,” she said.

Washington said she became engaged in city politics while in her teens. Now about to turn 82, she said, the present meeting schedule has been in effect “so long, I can’t remember.”

The change was proposed just weeks after the council adopted its schedule for the whole year based on the traditional formula. The schedule was posted on the city’s official web site in January, along with language from the Municipal Code:

“All regular City Council meetings will be held on the first Monday of every month, and also on the third Monday of every month, at 8:00 p.m., in the Municipal Court - Council Chambers, 325 Watchung Avenue, Plainfield, New Jersey except that when a regular meeting day falls on a legal holiday the meeting shall be held the same hour and place on the next day which is not a legal holiday, unless the Council shall otherwise provide a resolution. “

--Bernice Paglia


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