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Posts Tagged ‘public’s right to know’

By Charles Layton

One of the most disturbing things about the recent fuss over swan boats on Fletcher Lake was the way information about that proposal was withheld from our citizens.

One example: Sometime this spring the promoters gave a presentation to the Fletcher Lake Commission — a public body — but the fact that they did so was never made public in any way. People in Ocean Grove who care passionately about that lake, and who normally ask to be notified about the Commission’s meetings, were not notified about that particular meeting. This, they say, was suspiciously unusual. Even now I cannot find anything on the Neptune Township website about that meeting. If you click on “Agendas & Minutes” and then click on “Fletcher Lake Commission,” you get a blank page. The Bradley Beach website is equally unhelpful. We only learned what was afoot with Fletcher Lake because some Ocean Grovers got wind of it, purely by accident, and spent an inordinate amount of effort digging out the facts.

Why the official silence?

Another issue of huge concern to our town was the recent settlement between the Neptune Board of Education and the ACLU. But have you seen anything on the school district’s website explaining the terms of that settlement? I can’t find it there. Have you heard school board officials describe the terms in any detail? Blogfinger published those terms in full because no one else was doing so, questions were flying and erroneous accounts were starting to spread. But the details we published didn’t come to us from school officials; we had to get them via the ACLU.

Again, why so much official reticence?

Here’s something else Ocean Grovers urgently care about: the North End Redevelopment Plan. But there’s a general lack of understanding among our citizens as to what that plan contains. The plan’s full text is available on the Neptune Township website, but just try to find it. Here’s what you have to do: Type “redevelopment” into the search field. (Typing “north end” gets you nowhere.) Scroll down to “Economic Development” and click the phrase “Read More.” Then scroll way, way, way way down until you get to “Redevelopment Plan-OG North End.” It took me two days to figure this out; it was like searching for The Lost Chord.

On Saturday the Home Owners Association passed a resolution about the North End, and that resolution includes a request that the Township use its website to keep citizens informed and updated. Good idea, and we hope the HOA continues to press the point.

Here’s another transparency issue: demolition by neglect. We try to keep people up to date on the court proceedings against the owners of problem properties in Ocean Grove. But wouldn’t it be better if the Municipal Court kept its schedules of trials and hearings online so every citizen could keep up — not just about code enforcement cases but all cases? This is the 21st century, the information is already in the court’s computers, and it is a basic public record.

Sometimes information that rightfully belongs to the public is kept from us because someone in authority wants it so. And sometimes it’s kept from us because no one cares enough to make the effort to share it. But whether the motives are active or passive, the result is the same: people are left in the dark about the workings of their government.

We used to rely on the media to keep us informed, but our local news media are weaker and more overextended than ever before. Given the economics of the news business, this won’t change. So if people in Ocean Grove want sound information, they’ll have to start demanding it.

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