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Public Comment

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  Public Comment - Sept 2020

A new proposal -  Resolution 20-039   Public Comment Policy   was voted in at  the 9-10-20 Board meeting.    In 2018 they reduced our speaking rights dramatically - and this included all those onerous conditions and many more. It  further reduces our rights  and adds nothing that couldn't have been done before . They already could hold information sessions, for instance .. like on THIS issue. They siomply chose not to. By putting it in this resolution, what they codified was their supposed right to BAN certain people from information sessions... The way this was rammed through was nothing short of appalling
(
timing at holiday weekend & opening of school // for no reason whatever  they cancelled the committee meetings where it would have been vetted // did not post it at the proper posting time - instead 4 days later, so only 3 days to read a 20 page resolution that did not even define brand new terms///  // refusal to answer questions by township // refusal to answer questions  by individual Commissioners ///  no written or other explanations available// sunshine law violated by refusing to accommodate the missing  Committee meetings with comment allowed at  individual items in the full Board meeting /// long after most had accessed the link and would have no reason to return, Manfredi posted "additional Information" which was a false representation of what was supposedly added // The agenda did not have a presentation for this on it --- he added one last minute -- again just to circumvent putting this on next month's  agenda so that it would have a Committee meeting to be vetted. One move after another to thwart the proper process  for residents. )
 It was stunning that what was being passed in this fashion was a document that  Manfredi touted was  to increase residents' access to information and participation and to expand their public comment opportunities.  Mind boggling. Because they purposely did the exact opposite in order to ram this through.
    99.9 % of Abington taxpayers and voters didn't even KNOW about it before it passed. Those that did were refused both answers to questions and adequate speaking time. 
Their goal  instead was to pass more onerous conditions and not open it up to any debate that might cause them to lose the onerous ones they already had secured when they misrepresented their actions in 2018.
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THE ACTUAL DOCUMENTS
The policy is here
: 2020-09-10-PublicCommentResolutionAsPassed
The laughably false description of what was being done is here : 2020-09-10-Public Comment Resolution Additional Information  ________________________________________________

                               NIRI   :     NOT IN RESIDENT INTERESTS

A correction about the ability to discard  videos:   At the Board of Commissioners meeting 9-10-20  the Manager Manfredi  tried to explain that his poorly worded paragraph about audio and video destruction didn't mean what it actually said.  In fact they passed it as he originally wrote it , so any video that is used to help create the minutes may be discarded. Even though Mr. Manfredi insists that is not his intent... That is still what it says.     Here's what it actually said :

      
3 ) Audio and Visual Recordings: the written minutes of the Board of Commissioner meetings shall be the sole official record of public meetings. Audio or video recordings of the meetings of the board of commissioners may be produced to assist the Recording Secretary in the compilation of minutes
                     a.) Audio or video recordings of the Board of Commissioner meetings, if any are made,
                      
   may be discarded after the board of commissioners approves that meeting' s minutes.

      There are no  video recordings  known to myself or others other than the one that airs, which is  the  original, and unedited ( except for which camera view is chosen)  version of the meeting.  There may be other recordings made, but given the main copy is already made and could /should/ might  be used to help in the compilation of the minutes, if help was needed?   And if it were, it would then be, according to this, able to be discarded - with the minutes only  kept as the official record . That clarification should appear in the wording.  Simple solution. Easily fixed with further explanation in that clause. But not one single Commissioner at the meeting on 9-10-20 offered that solution and the resolution was passed with this faulty language in it - which could cause an "accidental misunderstanding" if someone wants a certain record to "disappear" .

    To have a manager who chooses the least accurate, and often, tragically, false re-creation of a meeting as the "official copy" is also problematic.

     The minutes should be offered only as a helpful summary of a long video,and both versions would bve appreciated - the vieo from which a full transcript can be made and the summary used to help find  what was discussed and where in the video to look.

     It is important for readers to know that having correct minutes has been an issue for years.   I am still seeking the answer as to whether Mr Manfredi, or his stenograher, Liz Vile, or someone else altered  a recent meeting and eliminated me entirely as though I were not even there.    I spoke for my full three minutes at that one. The minutes had no mention of me or the topic whatsoever. That is one instance of many - not just for me, but for many resident. In the August 2020 Board of Commissioners meeting, I spoke on several topics. One was removed entirely. Mr. Manfredi said that this was a "personnel matter" and we would not learn anything about how it was handled. But because it might have been him who altered it - it is important that we follow up further on this. If it is an employee altering it, they should be dismissed. We cannot allow corruption and complete non transparency  to be the way our Township does business.

This Resolution offers no  increased opportunity for participation. That is how it was billed - to fool you.  Our rights in this Resolution are reduced, plain &  simple  NIRI

The Committee of the Whole was "invented", with absolutely no explanation.
Who would put out a document referring to an entity that is completely unknown &  never explained ? No resident could cogently comment about it until they have had time to ask questions and fully understand its function .  No vote should have taken place until residents had a chance to ask questions and get answers ( were were given 3 minuites for 16 items - this being  one of them.   NIRI

 It is completely unclear how the expanded written comment periods are to work and what the downsides might be. Will all residents be able to see the comments of their fellow residents, for instance? Why has Mr Manfredi ( and Commissioners John Spiegelman, Tom Hecker et al) decided residents should have no right to understand these things before their comments are made.  The one used for the Economic Development Committe was surely not ideal. How will it be fixed?

Rules of Order are not rules at all – they can be broken at any time  at the whim of the presiding officerIt a farcical attempt at pretending there are actual rules to protect residents from improper behavior.  The first statement  of Manfredi's "additional information is that he is  establishing a standard for operations to provide consistency and transparency to the public . Seriously? Where is the consistency when each presiding officer can make up his own rules depending on which side of the bed he woke up on and whom he likes and dislikes and what he likes to hear and doesn't want to hear? He MAY refer to Robert's Rules of Order - Meh. Unless he doesn't want to.  NIRI

Residents are forbidden to use the overhead projector
to present documents that both the commissioners and the audience would be able to see, while developers or others with views contrary to the taxpayers who paid for that equipment are allowed free access to it NIRI

Residents are not guaranteed answers to questions that they have - a right that we fought years to get and which was removed without any discussion or consultation. The inability to have truthful answers  about the operations of our Township is guaranteed to promote corruption …. In a Township that recently endured (at great, great taxpayer expense), a Grand Jury  investigation with disturbing results and which currently also has a whistleblower suit in full swing, making oversight harder to do can only be imagined is  “for a reason”.  NIRI

Residents are able to be banned from  Administrative Information sessions at will… without cause …. whether or not tax monies are used to hold the sessions.  In the past residents who were banned were the only residents that had the documents and had communicated , for instance with EPA and done the work. Residents were told things that were not true.  No residents should be banned from an informational or  government run session. We have a right to see how our tax monies are used and have a right to all have a hand in forming our communities. NIRI

Some residents will be allowed to speak longer than the 3 minutes, while others won’t. Others will be strictly held to the 3 minute “rule” – meaning there is no rule at all. The decision is at the whim of the Presiding Officer who may decide if he likes what you are saying or doesn’t. NIRI

Regular Sunshine Law violations have been the hallmark of this Board and this Administration .  Not allowing a reasonable amount of time to comment, refusing to recognize residents  rights to interrupt to note a perceived violation of the law, etc.  This suppression of speech is purposeful and intended to prevent citizens  from hearing other citizens or exposing “uncomfortable” facts.  We cannot expect our government to work properly under these circumstances. NIRI

A pattern of purposeful egregious behavior  to quickly vote  on measures  that  residents would object to --  like the budget that was decided in five days of having been seen by residents in Nov 2019 … and the Economic Development Corporation that they tried to pass before anyone understood what it even was – and then tried to do again during Covid times. There is a clear pattern in this administration with this manager, this Board and this solicitor. NIRI

No adequate time to comment --  a violation of the Sunshine Law.  Our comments are limited to three minutes for this lengthy and complicated resolution  and also for 16 other items at the same time -violation of the sunshine law that requires a reasonable amount of time to comment NIRI

Comment is required before any explanation of terms like "Committee of the Whole" can be had or before the consequences of destroying records can be properly discussed. Comment is at the beginning of the meeting with no option to understand what you are commenting on. And our committee meetings where such matters are to be fully vetted were again cancelled for no reason. It is fully ironic that what they were passing was supposedly an increased opportunity to comment and increased information  in issues........   their choice here was to violate all their own rules and give LESS opportunity for that - so they could jam this through.   NIRI

The Resolution should never have been crafted without input from residents.  Residents were never made aware that this was underway nor asked for their concerns about public comment issues. And the Commissioners and Mgr Manfredi are aware that we have MANY.  The effort to bully this through so quickly  shows us the little  regard they hold for our concerns NIRI

Notification was inappropriate
–  residents normally can see agenda items on Friday this was not available  til Mon afternoon. Literally three days before the vote . They violated even the scant courtesy of their own rules  in order to bully this through quickly. NIRI

No time for residents to look up the laws or to alert their fellow residents
--- 20 pages worth to digest in three days.  On a holiday weekend  where families are away and come back to for school. NIRI

If any issue deserved an information session before any vote, it is this issue ….this resolution NIRI

 

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 It should be  “For Discussion Only” at the 9-10-20 meeting.  Any vote taken without proper public participation and input on a matter this important is a violation of the public trust.

 

  Public Comment - 2018

 2020 above appears to be a repeat of the devious tactics that removed many of our our speaking rights shortly after Mgr. Manfredi's arrival - again it ahppened with a false calim of what was being done and  without any proper notification.  It was a loss of many things we had worked hard to get.

In 2018 :  I would dare to say that literally no one knew the Commissioners were revamping your speaking rights when they passed a measure 1-11-18 that took away nearly every rule they were required to follow and tightened restrictions on residents.  They did this on a packed meeting day with no prior Committee meeting, right after the holidays and while everyone was focused on the YMCA and BET's proposal to build on every inch of it .  Manager Manfredi completely misrepresented what they were doing ( knowing that the written details were well buried and most people would'nt understand what was being removed.  Those kinds of actions are exactly why we need better speaking rules ---- and Commissioners that hear us and who are willing to require that their Managers serve our interests!  

  Nearly every other Township has a far better method of interacting with their residents ..... In Abington, we are still fighting for very basic rights.  

         This is being hastily done - I will revise if I can find time.... but here is an idea of  just a few of the things we are asking for --- and have been...for a decade

PLEASE PUT UNDERSTANDING AS A PRIORITY OVER CLOCK WATCHING " or other reasons for curtailment . Allow residents to re-explain what may have been misunderstood or ask for clarifications in a response .  If they did not know an earlier segment was the place to address a concern, allow the concern or comment anyway, and help them understand where it might better have been brought.

PLEASE  AFFORD RESIDENTS A BRIEF ANSWER TO A QUESTION WHENEVER ONE IS KNOWN   and offer a longer or more thorough  answer later  if  one cannot be had during the meeting

PLEASE DO NOT INTERRUPT speakers  :Let them speak as you would like to be allowed to speak- but if they are timed they must be allowed to interrupt an official who might be using up all their speaking time with a longer than necessary answer

PLEASE ELIMINATE THE "SIGN UP FORM"  IN THE LOBBY  - If someone doesn't sign up and then hears something important - the sheet gives the false impression they can't speak unless they signed up.  Instead of the sign up,  have a sheet  instructing residents that there will be a place  where they will be asked for their comments and that they have 3 minutes and that they may comment again at the end on any topic. Let them know they have a guaranteed  right to speak  ( Currently they often don't even see the form, let alone know how to use it .

PLEASE ALLoW RESIDENTS TO COMMENT  AT  THE BEGINNING  OF A MEETING. They should be  allowed their 3 minutes on any, open  topic at the beginning, or at the end  as they see fit. Some have to leave early . If they wish to comment on an item when it comes up for the vote, they can be asked to save theri comment til then - but some may want to leave early.  It is a great disrespect to residents to require them to wait 3 hours to speak to you for 3 minutes.

 

PLEASE ALLOW DISCUSSION - IT IS OFTEN THE KEY TO UNDERSTANDING - most all other township engage in discussion freely with residents. It is vital for understanding. Please stop calling it "debate" and understand that it is part of a healty process.

 

PLEASE  SHOW HOW EACH COMMISSIONER VOTED - a show of hands is the only way we can tell  how our Commissioners are representing us . They should leave them up long enough to know who was aye and who was nay


PLEASE  DO NOT   require residents to  sit down once they ask a question - allow them to hear better  by being closr, see the faces and the lips of those they are dialoguing with  and allow that they may have a clarification if a question or comment has been misunderstood. These things help  prevent misunderstandings 


PLEASE  DO NOT  shorten the brief 3 minutes residents are afforded in any other way - such as by interrupting


PLEASE  DO NOT 
comment in a way that negates or changes speakers remarks  at all  if you are the chair


PLEASE  DO NOT   allow anyone to negate speakers remarks with out offer a brief 30 second rebuttal from the speaker to provide clarity


PLEASE  DO NOT   discredit the speaker - or "undo" their point after they have left the podium
and can no longer speak or offer a rebuttal  ( the chair should never be entering the conversation - if he wants to enter the conversation the co-chair or vice-chair should take the leadership role. .

  PLEASE ALLOW RESIDENTS AT A FULL BOARD MEETING TO ALSO  SPEAK 3 MINUTES AFTER AN AGENDA ITEM IS PRESENTED but before the vote. Residents often first learn about an issue when they see it on tv or hear about it after the Committee meeting. They should not be first hearing about it AFTER their right to speak on it is exhausted.

PLEASE ALLOW RESIDENTS TO RESERVE LEFT OVER TIME -If they have not used their 3 minutes – please allow them briefly back to the podium.

PLEASE ALLOW RESIDENTS TO HAVE OTHER RESIDENTS REPRESENT THEM by reading what they wrote if they are unable to be in attendance.

PLEASE ALLOW A RESIDENT TO APPOINT ANOTHER ABINGTON RESIDENT TO SPEAK FOR THEM if they are also in attendance.

PLEASE GET RID OF THE CONSENT AGENDA -  residents have never been asked if THEY consent to these items being dispensed of with no sunlight on even what the topic is.

COMMISSIONERS & RESIDENTS SHOULD TREAT ONE ANOTHER POLITELY Residents shall be treated with the same courtesy as staff and Commissioners.

PLEASE SEE THAT ANSWERS AND COMMENTS BY COMMISSIONERS shall not be counted as part of a resident’s time allotment.

PLEASE ALLOW RESIDENTS TO COMPLETE THEIR SENTENCES OR THOUGHTS.

 PLEASE INCLUDE ON THE SPEAKING RULES SHEET  a link to the Sunshine Laws, to Robert’s  Rules Of Order, to the Right to Know Laws and information on how to contact Commissioners and staff to obtain information about a matter in the Township.
Please especially include the paragraph that allows a resident the right to bring to the Board’s attention a perceived violation of the Sunshine Act.  Please also include where they can find the video’s agendas and other Public Comment information on the township website

    Some History on the Development of the Current Regulations   ( incomplete - will try to find time soon...)

In 2006, when I first began to come to  the podium, we found that meetings were run with barely a breath in between the "PW1" and "all in favor say aye". residents who had come to a meeting to express their views found that the topic had passed and was voted on before they even knew what was happening, as they were unfamiliar with the agenda and the process.  We took a great deal of time to get that sorted out and finally got them slowed down to the point of asking after each item on the agenda for comments from commissioners and then comments from staff and audience. 

   Speaking time was reduced at 1point to only 3 min. if you come well prepared and knopw that you have to squeeze everything into  3 min. you might do OK . It is sometimes is sufficient to express your view.  But most residents are not prepared to compactly present their case.  And so this has been at times problematic as they are cut off. Or also problematic as some ( who bring up unhappy points ) are cut off  while others ( who praise the commissioners ) are given far more time.  .  Also problematic has been the fact that while residents are cut off from speaking about important items that impact their lives, commissioners give themselves great leeway to speak about nearly any topic they desire including their children's sports events and yes, even sorting socks.  This while people are prevented from discussing in depth flooding and fire safety violations and other serious issues. 

   Eventually, the plan that was set allowed that residents could speak at a Committee  meeting for 3 min. after any agenda item was introduced ( and before the vote ) and also for 3 min. at the end of  each Committee topic on any open issue that was not an agenda item but related to that topic . At full Board Meetings, residents could chose to have 3 minutes of open topic comments either at the beginning or the end of the meeting as well as 3 min. after any agenda item was introduced ( and before the vote ) At one point they also could speak at full Board meetings at the end of each section  with 3 minutes of open comment -- but that right was very soon removed.  Again exceptions are made for some and not granted to others in regard to these rules.

        In  Spring  2012 , new  Manager, Michael Lefevre, proposed  that we move all public comment to the beginning of the meeting and eliminate comment during the rest of the meeting, including on agenda items after Commissioners' discussion showed us what they were intending to do.  Citizens vehemently argued for their right to continue to comment on agenda items before they were voted on and after they learned what the pklan was.   Citizens also asked to have the right to speak before the meeting, but not in conjunction with their other rights taken away as Manager LeFevre was trying to do. The Commissioners did not implement changes at this time

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Some  2012 points as we were formulating new rules

First and foremost - all citizens should know, NO they do not have to SIGN UP to speak.  The sign up sheet has led people to believe that  if they did not sign up, they cannot speak  - and it should be abolished altogether, since half of the residents in a meeting don't even know they just walked past a sign up sheet - or upon which page to write their name.

         Public Comment has been a real political football, with Commissioners actually campaigning on the issue, but then later trying at nearly every opportunity to reduce our rights to speak  unless there is great citizen outcry.  Our speech, especially when televised into many of our fellow residents homes or with a shareable computer link,  is an incredibly valuable tool that each Abington resident should seek to protect and to use.

     As of 9-12, although I have heard that everyone understands the current plan for what is allowed a little differently, it is my understanding that residents can speak in this manner:

They are encouraged to sign up on the sheets in the hall outside the meeting-however , as noted above, residents are not forbidden from speaking because they have not signed up and, in fact, as noted above, the sheets  frequently make things more confusing and I believe they should be abolished for that reason.  The Commissioners or a clerk could simply make understood by a "rule sheet" or orally what the speaking rules are.  They are required per the Sunshine Act  to provide for comment at public meetings.

THE RULES

Residents must state their name and address for the record before speaking ---- Yes, every time they speak.    Residents can speak at a Board of Commissioners meeting for 3 min. after any agenda item  as well as 3 min. at the end of the meeting on any topic.   At one point they were also allowed to speak for  3 min. at the end of  each Committee section .  That was then removed ---  You will see that exceptions are made for some and not granted to others in regard to these rules.

    During Committee meetings, (as opposed to the full Board meetings)  residents are able to speak for 3 min. on each agenda item and are able to speak at the end of the particular Committee segment

The Commissioners are not required to answer you ( which they like to call "debating" when they don't want to answer, but which they gladly do, when they don't mind answering. ) 

   They have also been known to hold up signs indicating  how much of your time is left.  At times, they have done this so frequently during the 3 min period of "selected" speakers that one could only interpret the action as an attempt to  "interrupt the speaker ". They continued the practice even when asked not to do so.  Many residents are quite nervous when speaking in public, and Commissioners, generally are aware of this

Given the above, it would be good for residents to hold small group discussions on  public speaking issues .

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2014 More rights eroded

 

2016    Commissioners took away more speaking rights . No more comment after each item at Full Board meetings -  Now, if you just learned about an issue when you heard the issue at a Committee meeting on TV , your ability to comment is largely gone

 

2018   Major rights eroded --- Without a proper explanation at all & buried in page 79 of an enormous agenda ( without the summary at top as it usually is )  they passed new and despicable rules . For a year they heard me saying that they had improperly listed speaking rules on the agenda - and not a single Commissioner, manager, staff person or other said to me, "no - they're correct. We changed them when no one was paying attention"  -- and Mr Manfredi  falsely described what they were doing on 1-11-18 when they were changing them . This was incredible decit . I have yet to find a single person who said his or her commissioner alerted them to the upcoming change --- even though they knew we had petitions and passionate testimony the last time they tried that.  
    In fact, what they did is ...they took away all rules that they themselves had to follow - and gave the chair of any meeting tthe right to change any rules or procedures on the fly. That is the wequivalent of have NO RULES at all for themselves - while they increased the restrictions on resident somment .  The only theing ethey had to abide by was the Sunshine act  and the Commonwealth laws - which they are counting on NO RESIDENTS TO KNOW.  And in the first meeting that we learned about this 7-11-19  they violated the Sunshine act . Amazing.

 

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   We welcome your comments  to share either anonymously or with your name attached with your  fellow Abington residents.   Send  any updated information, comments or questions  to: lel@abingtoncitizens.com