July 7, 2021
An open letter to Mr. Thomas Mathews, Director, County Engineer, Hunterdon County
Dear Mr. Mathews,
I’m a former mayor of Clinton Township, where a controversy is brewing over our council’s letter to the NJWSA (and to you, for all I know – I cannot confirm it) about the Water Authority’s “informal” proposal to permanently close county route 629 after Round Valley dam and dike reconstruction is completed.
In a June 10, 2022 e-mail from Marc Brooks to Mayor Brian Mullay, obtained under OPRA, I learned of some important requests and suggestions you apparently made to the NJWSA “to minimize potential for complaints in the future if the closure becomes permanent.”
Mr. Brooks wrote:
“Hunterdon County’s Engineering Division is prepared to make the recommendation to the County Commissioners but has asked that the Authority provide a formal request. With that request, they have asked that we include resolutions, or letters of support from the mayors of both Clinton Township and Lebanon Borough. The County has suggested that the municipalities publicly discuss this matter on the record to minimize potential for complaints in the future if the closure becomes permanent.”
I appreciate that you asked the NJWSA, prior to submitting a formal proposal to you, to ensure that this matter be aired in a public forum where residents of both towns have a full opportunity to give their views, and I expect you meant before their respective governing bodies take action.
But Clinton Township did nothing more than the minimum-required “public notice” on a matter of enormous interest to the residents of the township. Two people were in the audience at the June 22 council meeting. No one commented. Certainly, we expect more of our elected officials, especially after COVID emptied our council chambers of public participation for two years.
Now, Clinton Township’s failure to provide a well-advertised public forum has resulted in an enormous number of strident complaints – protests against the proposed road closure, questions about the lack of accountability regarding security issues, ire at the clearly needless rush to act and, perhaps more important, outrage over the complete lack of transparency with which this has been handled by Clinton Township and the NJWSA. If you have access, you need only check the Facebook Groups and Nextdoor forums associated with Clinton Township and Lebanon. I’ve been witness to public controversies in Hunterdon, but I cannot recall one as wild as this in 15 years.
Certainly the public bodies involved in this can do a better job of respecting the public’s right to know what’s going on and to ensure the public’s right to participate in their government. Based on the information I have, it seems your office did the right thing. For that, thank you.
My response to all this is in an open letter I wrote to Mr. Brooks. Since the county has been cited again and again as the decision maker on this matter (“We have no choice – it’s a county decision” was the refrain by Clinton Township council before they voted to not oppose the closure), and since your office has been cited as the advisor to the county commissioners, I wanted to share my response with you.
My hope is that Clinton Township and Lebanon will hold widely advertised public comment opportunities on the proposed permanent closure of Route 629 before your office needs to make a recommendation to the commissioners, so that you may be afforded a complete picture of public sentiment – not just the wishes of our politicians.
In addition, I expect that the NJWSA will appear at these forums to answer questions and provide substantive justification for closing 629. My hope is that everyone, including your office and the commissioners, will have the information they need so all will support one choice based on sound information and judgment.
In the interest of transparency, I will post this communication online as I have my letter to Mr. Brooks.
Thank you for your kind attention.
ExMayor, Clinton Township