February 29, 2012

Transition Task Force Is Up and Running

With only nine months to go before consolidation of Princeton Borough and Township becomes law, the Transition Task Force has moved into high gear. The group has formed several subcommittees and scheduled a packed roster of meetings through the end of November.

The Communication Subcommittee was to meet this morning, February 29, while the Personnel Subcommittee is scheduled to gather this evening at 5:30 p.m. The Finance Subcommittee met last week. “We talked about a potential budget. We also discussed working together on our municipal budgets for 2012,” said task force member and Township Mayor Chad Goerner in an email. “The committee also discussed adding several more resident members and will propose these members at our next full task force meeting.”

That session is scheduled for tonight at 7 p.m. in the main meeting room of the Township Building. Task force and subcommittee meetings are posted on the website of the Center for Governmental Research, at www.cgr.org/princeton/transition.

Whether all of these meetings should be open to the public was a topic of lengthy discussion at last week’s task force session. While chairman Mark Freda urged that as many as possible be held in public, member Jim Levine questioned whether all of the subcommittee meetings should be open to the public.

“I don’t think the public is served to have all the ideas out there being discussed if they are not ultimately going to be recommended,” he said. The subcommittees make recommendations to the task force, which in turn suggests actions to the Borough Council and Township Committee. Mr. Levine suggested that meetings be open to the public when the discussion reaches a certain level, after the subcommittee has had a chance to work on issues “without having to pull any punches with anything distracting to employees and the public.”

Task force member Linda Mather did not agree. “I don’t want lawsuits over this,” she said. “We should abide by the Open Public Meetings Act for all our work.”

Mr. Goerner, who also served on the consolidation commission, commented that the commission’s subcommittee meetings were always open to the public. Task force member Bernie Miller said he didn’t think all of task force subcommittee meetings should be held in public. “Some discussions are very sensitive,” he said. “There has to be some shield.”

Ultimately, the task force voted to follow the Open Public Meetings Act for both its full meetings and the sessions of its subcommittees. Also at last week’s meeting, the group voted to recommend that the Center for Governmental Research (CGR) be hired as project consultant, and that attorney William Kearns be hired as its lawyer. Both recommendations were approved Monday night, February 27, at a joint meeting of the Borough Council and Township Committee.

Based in Rochester, N.Y. CGR served as consultant to the consolidation commission. They will be paid up to $62,000 to help the task force with project management and staff support.

Mr. Kearns is a senior partner with Kearns, Reale & Kearns in Willingboro. He is the general counsel for the New Jersey State League of Municipalities and co-chair for the League’s Legislative Committee. The task force had to hire its own attorney because it is not permitted to use municipal attorneys for legal advice. Three attorneys were interviewed for the job.