How do no Council members have questions?

I can’t help but wonder if someone would act differently if they arrived in their position another way. If you ran a campaign and were elected by the people, would you approve things you don’t know about? If you were appointed to fill a seat, do you lecture people asking questions of the people you are supposed to be representing, or do you start asking questions on their behalf? Maybe it is me, but when I am new to something, I ask questions, not lecture people.

In my last article, I expressed my frustration with the lack of engagement from the members of council. I don’t know if they read it, if someone read it and said something to them, but wow was this last meeting different. Several members actually spoke up.

I Love Lamp

One member, Mr Mignone spoke up because he was called out personally by a resident looking to hear an actual opinion from one of the council members other than the chair, Mr Mercado. I can only surmise the resident called him out specifically because he has never heard him utter an opinion on anything.

I believe it is safe to say that a reason we never hear from him is that he might not think well on his feet. He was asked if the trend of our property taxes being raised at a higher rate than any other comparable town was a priority for him personally as a member of council. The answer was “So, Unfortunately to make money you have to spend money” (20:00). I don’t know what anyone else thought when they heard this. I personally thought of Brick Tamland from Anchorman. Awkwardly looking around the room naming things he “loved”. I Love Lamp

How are we making money and when did this become a business? I think he might be confusing “You need to pay to play in Gloucester Township.” It’s smilar. Just stated to the wrong person. I can totally see that being said to a company looking for business in the town. Maybe for a bridge contract?

He went on to explain that we have services in this town. A point echoed by a few others later in the evening. One might think someone from the council would have jumped in and saved him from himself. Maybe ask him if he is just repeating phrases he has heard other people say. Like Ron Burgundy did to Brick. But no, they all doubled down, lecturing about the services the town provides. Apparently Cherry Hill or Washington Township don’t have trash collection. Did you know that?

Trying Hard to Listen to Us

The newest, (appointed, not elected) councilwoman, Carolyn Grace explained to us that she has been trying really hard to listen to us. Clarification was also given that she believes she and council are doing a good job. This came during a lecture on how, unlike her, we haven’t been in the township long enough to remember having dirt roads and probably riding horses to the general store located next to the K – 12 schoolhouse that all 15 kids in the town attended. We were reminded that the town is growing. So… Are we to take from her speech that other towns are not growing? It’s interesting to learn this, especially after just being schooled on being the only town with services.

I am still unclear on who exactly she is listening to. As the newest member of council I would have to imagine someone truly listening, and having the residents best interest in mind, simple questions could have been asked during the meeting. ASKING questions, in my opinion anyway, is what “Listening” would be, as a member of council. Not “listening” by sitting through a forced time allotted to the residents where the same 3 or 4 people ask questions. Yes, you should be listening to them and hearing them, but true listening is asking questions as well.

So What about the Bridge?

Listening should have spurred questions about the bids for the pedestrian bridge on the Blackwood bike path. As you can see below, the bids span a pretty wide range. The lowest bid is almost HALF of the highest bid. The lowest bid is what we must accept as a town. Did the question get asked as to why it is so much lower? It was not asked, is the answer, BTW.

Not one question around the spread. It is what it is.

Pedestrian Bridge Bids
Bids Received 2/17/21 for Bridge replacement

So the average bid from 5 bidders was $80K more than the lowest bid. Dismissing the question as to why it is $185K less than the highest bid would still have one questioning why taking the lowest bid out of the mix increases the average bid to be $100K more than the wining bid.

I might even expect “Listening” would raise the question of this bid being a binding bid. Would an appropriation (spending) be able to slide through an agenda by a 7-0 vote without question to pay more than the next lowest bid? Maybe even exceed the highest one for that matter. Did the lowest bidder that we must accept “forget” (either conveniently or by honest mistake) something in their bid? Will they be coming back to the tax payers for more money to complete the project? Can They?

I would ask questions. Nobody did. Not even the newest member to council who is still learning. She just voted yes. She did as she knew she was supposed to do. Even if it is not for the spending aspect of the project. What about the additional time it will take to get the additional funds from a poorly bid project? Residents would be without this bridge for an even longer time. Someone doesn’t just make a phone call and the check is written. Or is that exactly how it happens? They just need to wait till the next council meeting so they can vote on it. Hmm…

Questioning the term Luxury

Council President Mercado explained to us in a very heartfelt way about Luxuries. It was a touching story and I do not disagree with him. What some may refer to as a luxury, others may view as a necessity. He is not wrong. However, I disagree fundamentally with him on which luxury our government is responsible to provide. The example given of taking things away and people relying on them is exactly the point, yet he doesn’t see that side of the coin. If you never started a luxury program in the first place, there wont be the need to take them away from those that become reliant on them as necessities. The irony of this (as he has called them in the past) soap box speech comes during a council meeting where we are spending (allegedly) $198K on bridge for bicycles.

Don’t get me wrong, I have used this bridge personally and look forward to it being open again. As are probably dozens of other residents. That does not by any means indicate that it is not a luxury. For almost a year now, the bridge has been impassable. Unless I missed the news article, not a single person has been hurt because of the closure. Nobody has starved or lost the roof over their head because of the bridge being out. The bridge does not stop commerce. So is it a necessity?

Bike Repair Station

On the same subject of the bike path, lets talk about the other luxuries related to this. How about the repair stations? Or the Bike Share? What was and is the upkeep cost of these? I don’t know when the last time I have seen bikes available at the Kiosk, and not becuase it’s winter or Covid-19.

Bike Share Kiosk

Again, I enjoy these particular amenities in the town, but I don’t believe people enjoy living here because we pay for them. They are, in my opinion, a luxury. My classification into that bucket is the same as noted before. Nobody is suffering if we don’t have them.

Let’s get your role straight

In general, there are four main purposes of government: to establish laws, maintain order, provide security, and protect citizens from external threats. Lecturing us isn’t on that list. In order to execute the 4 buckets, our government must to listen to us.

I am in no way picking on councilwoman Grace, I am simply expressing my opinion on what a newly appointed member of council should be doing. The only reason I am expressing my opinion is because of what she said in regards to listening to us. Words without deeds are dead, as the old saying goes. To continue her seat on the council She will need to be elected. We the people need to know she has our best interest in mind when voting, not the administration’s. I have a feeling she knows this, which is why she has been somewhat vocal. Unfortunately for her, she is trying to connect with us in the wrong way.

Don’t lecture residents like Paul about how they should come prepared to a meeting. Don’t tell us how your experience growing up here is more relevant than the issues at hand as you sit on the council. Try actually listening. Try challenging agenda items or the president from time to time. Ask Questions.

Herself, Mr Hutchison and Michelle Winters will all be up for re-election this year. Does the current council represent your beliefs in spending and frustrations about increased taxes? If not, your window of opportunity to have the council represent you is open. I don’t know who they are, but there will be people challenging their seats. I would urge every resident to see if the new candidates would better represent you, or if you are okay with the current make up of council.

To those members of council running for reelection, I would urge you to actually represent the taxpayers. Listen to us. Ask questions on our behalf. Know what you are voting for when you are voting Yes.

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