Threats made toward some Borough Assembly members in recent days prompted a small police presence during last night’s borough work session. The presence consisted of a single officer, not dressed in uniform, who only identified themselves as a member of law enforcement when directly asked by Assemblyman Mel Stephens. Upon learning that an officer was indeed present, Stephens left the meeting.
“Because I feel the purpose of having that officer here was a false pretext and I find it very offensive and contrary to my view of what government should be about, I am not going to lend my presence to this meeting.”)
Stephens was followed by one member of the community who did not identify herself before leaving.
“Toward that end I’m going to be leaving too.”
After the meeting, the man who identified himself as the officer said much of his work for the police department is undercover and asked to remain anonymous. However, he also pointed out that he is a borough resident and had just as much right to be there as any other borough citizen. The threats to assembly members, and the police presence during last night’s work session, came after the borough rejected a citizen’s petition to place an ordinance repeal on the October municipal election ballot. The ordinance in question deals with debate decorum – how individuals conduct themselves during assembly meetings. The goal was to make sure that those who speak during meetings, community and assembly members alike, are doing so respectfully. However, some interpreted the ordinance as a violation of free speech.
Betty MacTavish was behind the failed petition and addressed one of the reasons it was denied during the work session.
“And number one it fails to meet proper form in failing to attatch a copy of ordinance FY2014-20, which seeks to have been repealed. And that’s not true. I had it in my hand. I said, ‘do you need a copy of the ordinance?’ ‘No we do not.’ We could have that here.”
Paperwork aside, the petition was also rejected due to the nature of the ordinance. The debate decorum ordinance is an administrative one and therefore not subject to referendum.
During assembly member comments Assemblyman Dave Kaplan thanked MacTavish for her professionalism in approaching the ordinance repeal, and the respectful way she has discussed the matter with assembly members, despite disagreeing with many of their viewpoints. Kaplan was one of two assembly members that received a threat in recent days and said he stood by his decision to notify the borough clerk of the situation.
“When somebody calls my home, personal home number, and threatens me, I’m calling the borough clerk because it’s a safety issue.”
He said he didn’t feel comfortable walking into the work session where community and assembly members, the borough mayor and staff were present, knowing that threats were being made and could pose a possible risk to everyone present.
“In these times we have to take everything serious – have the precautions. And this is not intimidation; this is the right thing to do. It’s the smart thing to do. And it’s our job to do this. There is no question about it. And for an assembly person to just get caught up on one issue and give us this memo right on the spot and then storm out of here – that’s not serving the constituency, that’s disrespectful. That just adds fuel to the fire, it doesn’t solve anything. It provides nothing.”
The memo Stephens left for assembly members, the mayor, clerk and manager said he did not feel the presence of law enforcement was appropriate and was done so “for the purpose of intimidating citizens who otherwise would attend and offer remarks or comments.”
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