ATLANTIC HIGHLANDS – With Mayor Loretta Gluckstein casting the deciding vote, despite a warning from Councilman Jon Crowley it would mean litigation being filed tomorrow, the Mayor and three councilmembers voted to hold the next meeting of the Mayor and Council live and in person in borough hall. The vote was strictly on party lines, with GOP Councilman Brian Boms making the motion, seconded by GOP Councilman James Murphy, for the next meeting of the Mayor and Council set for Feb. 10. GOP Councilman Brian Boracchia voted in favor of the motion, with Democrats Brian Dougherty, Lori Hohenleitner and Crowley opposing it, setting up the tie that required the Mayor to vote.
Crowley told the governing body they could not hold the meeting in person without providing accommodations for persons whose disabilities prevented them from attending and participating, statements that received no response from any on council, nor the borough attorney. Once action took place and the mayor cast the vote to set the meeting without mentioning any accommodations for persons with disabilities, Crowley said papers would be filed “tomorrow.”
The confrontation was the last action of the meeting occurring just before 9 p.m. of the two hour long meeting, when Boracchia charging that some people who advocate virtual meetings for safety sake are guilty of hypocrisy, in as much, he said, that they go to meetings, restaurants, public places unmasked but say the Zoom meetings are needed to protect from Covid. Boracchia said Covid cases are going down, vaccines protect from death and meaning lesser illnesses. Hohenleitner and Crowley immediately questioned Borracha on his facts, and denied any hypocrisy. Dougherty also pointed out, quietly but firmly, he did not appreciate anyone be accused of hypocrisy for wearing a mask. “Let’s be honest,” Boracchia said to council members..”you guys go out without masks”. With the mayor calling for a halt to the shouting match among councilmembers, she called on all councilmembers to be muted to halt the disruption.
The question of in person vs. Zoom meetings had been the subject of considerable comment throughout the meeting, with at least two residents speaking during the public portion preceding the expected vote on a resolution to purchase new equipment for live streaming meetings, then more speaking during the public portion at the end of the meeting.
That resolution 22-036, would have authored the borough to spend $17,964 to purchase equipment from CSAV Systems LLC of Colts Neck, to provide hybrid in-person and virtual meetings. Although the resolution did not mention court proceedings, it was later pointed out in the meeting the equipment would also be helpful for municipal court as well.
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Crowley, who heads the Technical Review and Communications Committee on Council, had researched a variety of systems and providers and opted for the Colts Neck firm. However, at last night’s meeting, he asked that action be deferred, if it were necessary the name and amount had to be mentioned within the resolution, since he had found similar equipment at a lesser cost but had not confirmed the availability of a purchase in the very near future. After much discussion on what action should be taken to best expedite the purchase and still provide equipment, it was determined to delay the resolution until the next meeting when the less expensive equipment and company could be confirmed.
Mayor Gluckstein, who more than once has expressed her distaste for zoom meetings and said that there are people who do not know how to, or do not want to, access meetings in that fashion rather than in person, said she is surrounded by background noise that apparently is stressful to her. One of the reasons why she doesn’t like Zoom meetings is because “we talk over each other.”
Early in the meeting resident Jim Krauss had expressed the hope the resolution would pass, an opinion reiterated by resident Mark Fisher. When the resolution failed to be approved, another resident Zack Brown also expressed disappointment in the delay in getting an improved system in place.
No one addressed the obvious situation that while the new equipment would definitely be an improvement, and would provide for both Zoom and in person meetings at the same time, last night’s meeting was held with more than 40 people on ZOOM and appeared to be moving smoothly. Brown questioned when the question of cannabis businesses would be addressed by the governing body, with the mayor saying it would not happen until after meetings are in person because people “loose a lot in the translation,” but did not elaborate on what she was referring to as translation.