Editorial by Joyce Blay- Posted October 3, 2006
It has been a week since a mayor's advisory committee presented its' recommendations to update Lakewood's Master Plan, but residents still can't read them on the township Web site.
The recommendations were presented at the September 26 meeting of the Lakewood Planning Board.
No public forum was held.
At the end of the meeting, members of the advisory committee and the planning board agreed to post the recommendations as a .PDF document on the Lakewood Township Web site.
As of October 3, the document had still not been posted.
On October 24 at 6 p.m., the planning board will hold a public hearing on the advisory committee's recommendations. That date is now three weeks away instead of one month.
There was no time left at all to let residents know that one of the advisory committee's recommendations to update the Master Plan was scheduled to be discussed by the Lakewood Development Corporation (LDC) at its' October 3 meeting.
In the 79-page draft document provided at the planning board meeting to NJ News & Views, but not the public, the advisory committee recommended that the former Jamesway on Route 9 north be improved as a gateway to Lakewood. In July, LDC Executive Director Russell Corby shelved the same proposal following board and public opposition.
One week after the advisory committee recommended that the project be incorporated into the town's Master Plan, the LDC agenda included the item for discussion.
LDC board members Mitch Dolobowsky, Michael D'Elia, James Waters, Abraham Muller, Rabbi Moshe Zev Weisberg and Ada Gonzalez voted to ask the township committee to have the planning board assess improvement of the Jamesway and other privately-owned properties in the area. LDC board member Lynn Celli voted no.
A quorum was established a half hour after the scheduled meeting time.
Dolobowsky is a member of the planning board, but did not abstain from voting.
Dolobowsky had other conflicts of interest, as did Weisberg and Gonzalez, who did not abstain either.
Weisberg is chairman of the LDC board. He is also Director of the Community Services Corporation, which is funded through the LDC Job Link program, and Gonzalez is his employee.
Last month, the state renewed Job Link funding after LDC Executive Director Russell Corby submitted a corrective action plan that was supposed to address Weisberg's conflicts of interest.
Weisberg and Dolobowsky are both members of the advisory committee. So is Rabbi Aaron Kotler, Director of Beth Medrash Govoha, a Lakewood rabbinical college that has owned the Jamesway since purchasing it in 2000.
Kotler did not file the required financial disclosure as a member of the advisory committee.
Weisberg and Kotler are also members of a political interest group, the Vaad. The Vaad's endorsements usually determine which candidate gets elected to public office in Lakewood.
It is a conflict of interest for Weisberg, a member of a political interest group, or Gonzalez, his employee, to ask committeemen that rely on the Vaad's endorsement to refer a pork barrel project for assessment by another government board on which Dolobowsky is a member. All three should have abstained on the LDC vote, but did not.
In February, LDC board members approved an expenditure of $35,200 for the professional assessment to improve private property with public funds. Now Corby wants the planning board to reassess the project at further public expense.
Waters told NJ News & Views on October 5 that he was unaware the planning board was considering a Master Plan recommendation to improve the Jamesway area before voting with the majority on the LDC.
Not only has the township failed to provide the public with timely information critical to their participation in government, the process by which the information was formulated was flawed.
According to NJSA 40A:9-22.3e, all members of the advisory committee are required to file a financial disclosure. A spokesman for the state Department of Community Affairs said that individuals who failed to file the disclosure could be subject to fines or disciplinary action if a complaint of ethics violation is filed against them. While some advisory committee members have filed financial disclosures in accordance with other public positions they hold, the rest have not.
The Master Plan provides a blueprint for the direction that residents would like to see the town developed over the next six years. That direction should also include the concerns of residents that do not have a voice on the Master Plan Advisory Committee, which met in closed session in a public building.
Residents that attended the last meeting said they were asked to leave, but refused. Residents also said that some members of the advisory committee were not the persons appointed to the panel. Residents said no attendance was taken at the meetings either.
Benjamin Heinemann, the head of the Vaad, was one of the presenters at the planning board meeting last month.
Heinemann did not file a financial disclosure as a member of the advisory committee.
Heinemann said members were unanimous in their vote for 33 of the 37 recommendations. How can he say that with certainty if no attendance was taken and all members appointed to the advisory committee did not attend all meetings?
A better way of disseminating the advisory committee's recommendations would have been in public meetings that included a public forum. The planning board secretary is a member of the advisory committee and should have been asked to take meeting minutes that would be available to the public as well.
Meetings could and should have been broadcast on the town's public access cable television station and also Webcast over the Internet. There is no excuse for shutting out the public from a public discussion.
Heinemann said that advisory committee discussions were held over a period of nine months. That time period is not long enough if the process that led to the recommendations was flawed or biased. The appointed members of the advisory committee should return to the drawing board or the township could be returning to court.
note: Meir Hertz was appointed by the curren Mayor (Meir Lichtenstein) yehuda Shain