Fleischman: Is the Planning Board Operating Illegally? Citizens Deserve an Answer

Belleville resident Frank Fleischman weighs in on the governing body's ongoing refusal to provide an explanation for what appears to be a blatantly illegal appointment.

Integrity is something people expect of their government and their elected officials. When something doesn’t seem right, and people ask questions, it is reasonable to expect a correction of what is wrong, an explanation, or both.

In the past two Planning Board meetings, Belleville resident Michael Sheldon has raised concerns about the appropriateness of a Township employee serving as a Class IV member of the Planning Board, which appears to be prohibited by state law (see link below.) The Planning Board attorney, Rose Tubito, told Mr. Sheldon at the July 11th meeting she would provide a written opinion on the matter in the following days. As of this writing, Mr. Sheldon reports receiving no response on this issue.

At that July 11th meeting, after Mr. Sheldon raised a point of order — a legitimate technique under Robert’s Rules Of Order — about his concerns, Ms. Tubito said there are exceptions to the law and the person in question was “fine the way they are.” She stated to Mr. Sheldon she would research his question and issue a written opinion about it that he and others could review because in her view the Planning Board meeting wasn’t an appropriate venue to discuss the concern.

At the August 8th meeting, Mr. Sheldon again raised the point of order and Ms. Tubito once again offered to render an opinion, but not during the meeting. When Mr. Sheldon reminded her that she’d told him she’d provide a written opinion on the question following the previous Planning Board meeting, she told him he was disrupting the meeting, was out of order, and curtly told him to sit down. (See video compilation of both exchanges below.)

Residents have the right to question deliberative bodies — such as the Town Council, Zoning Board of Adjustment, the Planning Board, other appointed committees — about procedure, protocol, or the specifics of whatever those bodies are considering, and residents’ concerns and questions must not be treated with disdain. Property tax dollars fund government and Belleville residents pay a pretty penny in taxes, so their questions should be welcomed, and responded to in a timely fashion. Mr. Sheldon stated at the August 8th meeting — nearly a month after he first raised his concern — that he had yet to receive a response, written or otherwise. This is unacceptable, as was Ms. Tubito’s callous behavior toward Mr. Sheldon at that meeting.

This issue has also been brought to the Town Council at least once. At that meeting, Mayor Melham suggested concerned residents bring the issue to Ms. Tubito, whom as of this writing has seemingly not offered a response despite Mr. Sheldon’s requests. Mr. Mayor, you’d be wise to remember the sign that Harry Truman kept on his desk while president: The Buck Stops Here.

An agenda/discussion item at tomorrow’s Town Council meeting is “ordinance to remove board attorneys discussion.” Instead of wasting time with that, why not invite Ms. Tubito to address Mr. Sheldon’s question, on the public record, so the issue can be potentially put to rest? Surely the public portion of a Council meeting would be an appropriate time to discuss this critical issue, outside the tight confines of a Planning Board meeting?

This issue may seem trivial to some, especially when looking at the many challenges our town faces. However, despite whatever differences we as Belleville residents may have, we can agree that policies and projects must be pursued by our local government and leaders the right way, within the law and avoid even the appearance of impropriety. Let’s hope that our elected leaders value that expectation as much as the voters do.

Frank F. Fleischman III

Video of both exchanges between PB attorney Rose Tubito and resident Michael Sheldon

New Jersey State Law on Planning Board classes of membership:

https://law.justia.com/codes/new-jersey/2009/title-40/section-40-55d/40-55d-23/?fbclid=IwAR2fjWC3IbL-LqDHq3QA7pSpu4Szaesb-dZzKY0AaE85nhryw9VT-VCqCp4

July 11, 2019 Planning Board meeting (full)
August 8, 2019 Planning Board meeting (full)
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Lee "Griff" Dorry - Founder, watchdog, and public advocate. They've got strings, But you can see, There are no strings on me.