A proposed minor offenses ordinance, which consists of about 200 violations that are already part of borough code, was back up for debate at this week’s borough assembly meeting. And there was plenty of public comment in opposition of the now highly-contentious proposal. But it wasn’t until most of those who spoke out left assembly chambers that discussion took an unexpected twist.
After the public comment period and some discussion, the assembly on Tuesday passed a motion to hold a third public hearing. on Nov. 10, and go from there. That motion passed 4 to 2, with Diana Lapham and Joanne Waterman opposed.
And so, the group moved on and most of the crowd left. That’s when assembly member Ron Jackson raised his hand and asked to change his vote, deciding instead that delaying the process wasn’t necessary.
“The reason that I changed my mind is … I think once minor ordinance is out there, it’s going to be more visible, people can focus on it and actually bring up more ideas about what’s wrong with it maybe or the whole fee schedule, too much, too little,” Jackson said. “The discussion will shift, I think, a lot to fixing things instead of objecting to things.”
And so, after more discussion, the vote to hold a third public meeting came down to a 3-3 tie. Mayor Jan Hill broke the tie, by voting against another public hearing.
Lapham was in favor of moving forward with the vote to adopt the ordinance. She said that the fact that people chose to leave after they had said their piece, shouldn’t influence the assembly’s decision-making process.
“We’ve had people who do public comment and after they’re done with public comment get up and leave,” she said. They don’t hear any kind of rebuttal or any explanations that might be able to explain what it is they have a question about. We’re not going to win no matter what we do on this issue.”
Waterman then made a motion to adopt the ordinance. Then Campbell made an amendment to postpone that vote to adopt the ordinance until the next assembly meeting, on Sept. 22.
Confused yet? Stay with me.
Both Campbell and Dave Berry warned the others that if the ordinance were to pass, after everyone who cared enough to speak out was gone, it would look bad for the borough. Here’s Campbell.
“I’m sorry this is about the biggest slap in our communities face that I can imagine doing would be passing this right now,” Campbell said.
“The perception is going to be that we waited until everybody was gone to change the outcome. That leaves heartburn and we cannot do that to the residents of this community,” he said.
The motion to postpone the vote on the ordinance came down to another tie. Mayor Hill voted it down and then the vote on whether or not to adopt the long list of violations was back up for a final decision.
That’s when Waterman changed her mind. She asked that the assembly reconsider her earlier vote to nix the idea of waiting until the next meeting. That one passed unanimously. And so, after all the back and forth, the minor offenses will be up for adoption in two weeks although no public hearing will be included.
The ordinance was divided up last month with sections going to four committees for review and recommendations for revision. But as of Tuesday, borough clerk Julie Cozzi said the borough hadn’t received any of those recommendations.
At the meeting, members of the public raised more questions about the proposed ordinance.
Heather Lende mentioned that if the minor offenses ordinance is enforced, common occurrences could result in citations.
“And you can say, well, we’re not going to enforce these and they’re already on the books, but what concerns me about that it is then the enforcement is going to be completely arbitrary,” Lende told the assembly. “And when we don’t like someone, they’re going to get a ticket for walking across the middle of Main Street from of Howser’s to the parking lot there instead of crossing at the crosswalk. Are we going to ticket all the tourists? Stand down at the dock and make a bunch of money? I doubt it.”
Roger Schnabel called the borough’s method aggressive and said the ordinance itself was harsh.
“You’re guilty before you’re proven innocent to a certain extent,” he said.
Borough manager Dave Sosa said the goal of the ordinance is compliance, and not necessarily writing tickets and collecting fines.
The minor offenses ordinance is up for adoption on Sept. 22.