An online news resource group today sent a guide to online news editors about citizen reporting of town reorganization meetings. The group requests online publications like the Atlantic Highlands Herald to "Ask community members to attend the reorganization meeting and take photos of the new council members and appointments at the swearing in ceremony."
The Herald covers a large part of Monmouth County. If you plan to attend your town's reorganization meeting, please consider taking photos and/or writing a short article about the appointments and swearing in of town officials.
Here is the guide from The New Jersey Online News Resource Group:
SIDE BAR CIVICS:
The Reorganization Meeting
The first of January or soon after marks the annual reorganization for many municipalities. Go to your town's "reorg" meeting armed with the information to be able to accurately report the important news coming out of city hall.
Beyond the swearing in ceremony, some major decisions are made at the reorganization meeting. The governing body will elect their leadership, appoint key professionals, adopt the meeting schedule for the year and the rules for citizen participation, and appoint citizens to policy making boards.
Here are some things to take note:
Election of Leadership - In township committee form of government the members of the council elect one of their own to serve as Mayor for the year. Most municipalities will also be elected the council president, who will serve as chair at the public meetings. All politics is local, and nothing can be more political than the power struggle for the top spot.
Citizen Rules for Participation - A municipal governing body establishes the rules for citizens to participate in meetings, this includes any time restraints and requirements to sign up. Some towns have 1 public comment period, others 2. Some give unlimited time, others limit speakers to 3 - 5 minutes. How citizen-friendly are the rules in your town?
Professional Appointments -- The reorganization meeting also marks when all the professionals, such as Municipal Attorney, Engineer, and auditor, are appointed. . It's important to look at how these professionals were selected and what will be there compensation. Review what notices were published and how many firms submitted proposals, particularly looking at the quoted hourly rates. If you have more time, look at last year's resolution and the projected costs, and compare that to the actual amount the town spent.
Citizen Appointments - Most board or commission appointments are made at the reorganization meeting. There are a variety of positions that control development, the municipal budget, provide social services, and improve the environment. By state law, every municipality has a public directory of their boards and commissions and a standard one page application. Consider obtaining a copy of the public directory and posting it on your site. Also, report on who applied and who got appointed, and are there any boards with significant amount of vacancies?
Finally, Give your readers an assignment: Ask community members to attend the reorganization meeting and take photos of the new council members and appointments at the swearing in ceremony.
The New Jersey Online News Resource Group is supported by The Citizens Campaign through a grant from the Rita Allen Foundation.