Inside Ocean County Government

Lakewood, Opinion, Transparency

A New Low for the Lakewood Zoning Board

Members of the Lakewood zoning board.

Lakewood’s camera-shy zoning board members can’t take the heat, throw another fit over citizen’s cameras present at public meeting.

Ever since a Lakewood resident going by the screen name “First Amendment Activist” started filming public meetings and posting them online for all to see, members of the Lakewood Zoning Board have continued to grow uncomfortable with the new level of government transparency thanks to the meeting videos.

Earlier this year, one board member shirked his responsibilities, and declared that he would not participate in the meetings as long as the camera was present, according to a report in the Asbury Park Press.

The ringleader of the Lakewood zoning circus, Board Chairman Abe Halberstam, has only continued to fan the flames at the September meeting, with his latest stunt being him pulling out his cell phone to film the person filming them (and getting his fellow board members to do the same).

Abe Halberstam

Abe Halberstam

Public officials must accept that filming of public meetings is here to stay. If they are not comfortable being filmed,then they should immediately resign their appointed or elected position, instead of making a mockery of their role as zoning board members with their repeated displays.

Right Of Citizens To Film Is Protected

After the landmark Tarus v. Borough of Pine Hill New Jersey State Supreme Court ruling, the right of citizens to film their local governments at public meetings was explicitly protected in the court’s interpretation of the state Open Public Meetings Act.

In that case, then-Chief Justice James R. Zazzali wrote in the majority opinion “The use of modern technology to record and review the activities of public bodies should marshal pride in our open system of government, not muster suspicion against citizens who conduct the recording.”

It should be noted that it appears nobody has tried to stop the individual in question from filming, but the fact that the board’s chairman and membership continues to throw a temper-tantrum over the camera raises serious questions of professionalism and decorum, in our view. Whether or not the evidence will show any misconduct by Lakewood’s zoning board officials, their actions beg the question: what do they have to hide?

As Lakewood has rapidly grown, the administration of land use laws in the northern Ocean County township has continued to draw concerns from members of the public along with the communities of surrounding towns fearful of blockbusting, in communities like Jackson, Brick and Toms River.

Lakewood’s zoners, like all too many public officials, have not been held accountable over the years, partially thanks to a failure of the mainstream media. By taking things into his own hands, the unnamed “First Amendment Activist,” simply by being present at the meeting with his camera has ushered in a new era of transparency, to a town that so desperately needs it.

Rather than turning each meeting into a display over a camera being present, we suggest that the Lakewood Zoning Board direct their attention to the variance applications before them – and whether or not they should be granted.

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