Residents’ voices carry weight in town hall

In a recent letter to the editor, a local resident opined that while it is generally difficult for citizens to get the ear of a state or federal official in order to effect change, the ability to speak one’s mind and to work toward change can be accomplished at the local level.

The letter writer’s words have been born out in several towns in recent months. Residents organized and came out to address their elected officials on topics about which they were concerned.

The unifying factor in these examples is that people made time in their busy lives to get involved. The end result was decisions the residents sought.

In Freehold Township, residents who live on and close to Route 537 in the area of town that borders Millstone Township rallied against a proposal put forth by Verizon Wireless to construct a cellular communications tower near their homes. When given an opportunity to speak, residents asked questions about highly technical aspects of the application and made comments about how the cell tower could impact their families. Some zoning board members who eventually voted to deny the Verizon application cited the residents’ presentation as a contributing factor in their decision.

In East Brunswick, Township Council members appeared committed to vote on a plan to construct a water storage tower on one side of the community. The council president said voting on the plan was the duty of the governing body. Residents objected to the project in their neighborhood and raised issues about property values and the impact on the environment. Two weeks later the council president said residents had raised issues that deserved more investigation and added that a vote on the project may not come until 2017.

In Marlboro, parents organized and went before the Marlboro K-8 School District Board of Education to ask for changes in the district’s testing policy. Specifically, the parents told board members and administrators their children are being subjected to too much testing and they said the pressure of unrelenting assessment is having a negative effect on their children’s perception of and desire to attend school. The superintendent of schools agreed with the parents and promised changes in the district’s testing policy.

In Manalapan, significant objection arose to a developer’s proposal to build a mixed use commercial and residential project at Route 33 and Millhurst Road. The element of the plan that drew the most objection from residents was the inclusion of rental units at the site. Residents came together and attended several meetings to make the members of the Township Committee aware of their objections before the development application reached the Planning Board, at which point it may have been too late to effect real changes in what the developer wanted to do. It is likely that the residents’ ability to coalesce around an issue had a direct effect on the outcome of the November 2015 election.

These are some recent examples of what I have observed over three decades in community journalism.

Residents of East Brunswick or Manalapan or Jackson have no legitimate chance to get President Barack Obama’s ear about a Supreme Court vacancy and they are not likely to have any pull with Sen. Bob Menendez or Sen. Cory Booker when it comes to addressing America’s policies and actions in the Mideast.

However, if residents do their homework, if they speak with a unified, respectful voice that understands the process in their town, they can, and often do, have an impact on what takes place in their neighborhoods.

Mark Rosman is a managing editor with Greater Media Newspapers. He may be reached by email at gmntnews@gmnews.com.