• Gina Rullo

We want to know how the gov’t sausage (and peppers) is made


Government should make decisions and have discussions about issues facing their constituencies in public.. (THG/Kristin Guglietti)

It is my belief that government should make decisions and have discussions about issues facing their constituencies in public.


The voters elected these leaders to make decisions but they still want to know how they came to their reasoning behind their vote.


Support on Election Day is not blind allegiance.


The voters want to know what is happening in their town and in their school district.


They need to hear from the elected officials and why they are moving in a certain district.


It seems to be the modern trend to have in-depth discussions in closed session (or at least that is my belief as I am not in closed sessions but have heard raised voices from the closed doors).


Both our council and school board meetings begin with a closed session meeting before the start of the public session agenda.


What I am saying is, we want to know how the sausage (and peppers, since this is Hammonton) is made.


I implore our elected officials to discuss the topics of the day in the public.


Obviously, personnel, litigation and student matters need to remain behind closed doors. Deciding to add a new department or hire a new company should be done in public.


There is nothing to fear unless you are doing something wrong.


I would prefer to believe that our local elected officials are acting with the best interests of their constituents in mind and not their own interests.


But we need you to prove it to us.


Or maybe those in elected office are worried that they will sound silly debating the topic.


After all, Mark Twain is attributed with saying, “It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”


I would rather hear a feeble argument than silence.


Silence is deafening and makes me believe the worst.


What is so awful or top secret that the public cannot know more?


And I truly do not believe every issue being debated in closed session has a legal right to be in closed session.


According to www.njstatelib.org, closed or executive sessions is covered by one or more of the following legal exemptions:


“• Matters made confidential by state, federal law or rule by court.


“• Disclosure would result in an unwarranted invasion of individual privacy, unless the person affected consents in writing.


“• Disclosure would impair the body's right to receive federal or state funds.


“• Collective bargaining.


“• Lease or acquisition of property, setting of banking rates, investment of public funds if disclosure would harm the public interest.


“• Investigations into violations of law.


“• Strategies to protect public security.


“• Pending, ongoing or anticipated litigation or contract negotiation, including attorney-client privilege. The threat of litigation must be more than theoretical for this exemption to apply.


“• Personnel matters affecting employees of the public bodies, unless all parties request or consent to a public hearing. Prior to discussion of personnel, affected employees must be given notice, known as a Rice notice, which gives the employee the right to request a public hearing.


“• Proceedings that could result in a suspension, civil penalty, or loss of a license or permit.”


The rules for the school board are similar. Check out: https://www.njsba.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/9322-Public-and-Executive-Sessions_Virtual-REVISED.doc.


I am sure some readers will argue that the solicitors would never allow their governing bodies to break the rules.


The solicitors are there to protect the board and its members, not necessarily the constituents.


That is their role and it is fine with me.


So how do voters fix the issue?


During public portions, residents can ask members of the two bodies their thoughts on specific agenda items.


The Hammonton Board of Education generally uses an agenda of consent (meaning they vote on large blocks at once).


Residents can still ask questions.


If you have a question, ask it. There is nothing prohibiting you from asking.


They may not answer but maybe your question will give them the impetus to speak out and share their views.


Trust me, every member of every governing body has an opinion. Many are just waiting to be asked. Some may be afraid to speak out because closed session rules are in place.


Just ask.


Let the silence speak for itself.


While we do not have a direct democracy in Hammonton, we have a small enough town where our elected officials should be willing and able to explain how they feel about public issues.


Each of us has a right to know how, when and why tax dollars are being spent.


Your vote in November doesn’t mean you throw away your right to know.


If you truly feel that board is abusing the existence of closed sessions, you can always file a complaint with a state agency.


Gina Rullo is the editor-in-chief of The Hammonton Gazette. In 2022, she was named an “Editor Extraordinaire” by Editor & Publisher Magazine and in 2021 won two awards for investigative journalism.