By DON STINE
The Neptune Township Committee held its first open, in-person public meeting in more than a year on Monday- a move that some residents said is premature right now.
Mayor Michael Brantley said that the Covid-19 pandemic started governments experimenting with Zoom and live-streamed meetings.
“We have experience with it and learned a few things from it. We are going back to ground zero with the in-person meetings and may work our way back to controlled, hybrid meetings,” he said.
Brantley said township officials understand that more people can be comfortably accommodated with a virtual meeting than under the social distancing restrictions of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Neptune public meeting room can normally hold about 80 people but it can only accommodate about 18 people when six-foot social distancing requirements are in place.
“We went back to where we started and we will adjust as necessary. Our intent is not to cut people out- we want them to come in. We are trying to find a hybrid that will work comfortably and will work for us,” Brantley said.
Dr. James Chenitz, a township resident, said he has “serious concerns” about attending public township meetings right now and that it is an “illogical decision that may expose people to the dangerous virus.”
Richard Williams, president of the Ocean Grove Homeowners Association, said he, too has concerns.
“Open your hearts and minds to safety and resume (virtual) meetings,” he said.
The township has also opened the municipal building to walk-in traffic after installing clear partitions in all departments and initiating an aggressive cleaning program that includes air purifiers that sterilize the building and hand-sanitizing stations.
Residents, however, can still conduct business at the municipal building online. The library building remains closed for now, but does provide for curbside pickup, and the senior center is beginning to reopen in phases.
Asked if the township will also open up the Planning Board, Board of Adjustment and other meeting to the public, Brantley said it is uncertain.
“Right now, it is just the municipal building and the Township Committee meetings. We will know more about opening up other meeting in the near future,” he said.
Asked if he thinks other municipalities will follow Neptune’s lead, Brantley said “I would imagine so.”
“But the Covid-19 infection rate and vaccinations will have a lot to do with it. Any actions may be reversed because of that. It is a dynamic situation right now but we will give it a try. We will discuss it as we go forward,” he said.