Cell Phone Use Still Contentious in Bloomingdale

Attorney drafts resolution banning cell phone use for council members at meetings.

The use of cell phones, specifically for text messaging, by members of the while in session  at Tuesday evening's council meeting.

Things got heated during the public comment portion of the meeting when Glen Wild Lake resident Carolyn Bross spoke her mind.

"This is not a team issue, this is something that may or may not be good for the town," she said. "Doesn't the public deserve your full attention? You're being paid to sit here, don't we deserve your full, undivided attention?"

"The worst thing about having your cell phones up there is that you cannot avoid the appearance of impropriety," she added. "You've got to not have the appearance of impropriety."

Councilwoman Linda Shortman fired back later in the meeting as the issue was brought up during pending business. Her main gripe was that a Glen Wild Lake resident—Shortman accused Bross, who denied it—wrote an incriminating blog post that said each council member was constantly texting during meetings. Shortman went on to say that there are circumstances that make having a cell phone at the meeting is necessary.

"I definitely don't disagree with you," Shortman said. "I do agree that we should not be texting during meetings. However, when you have someone home who is ill and when your phone buzzes and it's from them I do agree that you can excuse yourself and take the call."

Shortman also took issue with the council attorney drafting a resolution before the members had a chance to discuss the issue further

"This has gone way too far out of proportion. It could have been settled better," she said.

Councilman John D'Amato was adamant that members have been texting during meetings and even called out some fellow council members.

"It has absolutely been witnessed up here," he said. "I witnessed a text coming in, you (Shortman) picked up the phone and looked at it. You didn't text out but I found it inappropriate you were getting texts. Any business function that anybody goes to, they're always asked to turn their cell phones off because they're supposed to be paying attention."

"Our attention should be here and there. Period," he added. "It's a shame we have to be here until midnight, but those things happen. If my wife needs to get a hold of me, she knows to call the police station."

Councilman Mark Conklin took umbrage that a few incidents may have caused the issue for everyone, and he didn't like being lumped in with the rest.

"The way it is brought across is that council members are texting," he said. "One thing I don't like is being accused of something I didn't do. They didn't give out names but when you say 'council members are texting' that means all the council members are texting. That's what got everybody upset. That's wrong."

mearle April 11, 2012 at 03:31 PM
I believe West Milford is considering a similar ban on phone usage. It is incredulous that this issue is still even on the table. Any use of the cell at all during the meeting should open that councilperson's cell phone texts, emails, etc to OPRA. If the council can not be mature enough to conduct themselves in a professional manner than it will be forced upon them either by a resolution or by the voters. As for emergencies, it seems the police desk is able to take those calls. But perhaps soon a officer will need to be paid to attend council meetings to collect, hold and then return phones. GROW UP!
Carolyn April 12, 2012 at 01:47 AM
I don't know if they text, but I saw cell phone usage on the agenda, so I spoke on the topic. I thought the Council would be interested to know that our State Legislature was considering banning cell phone usage at Council meetings, and that there was a possible issue of violating the OPMA (Open Public Meetings Act). (reported by NorthJersey.com) But, silly me, Ms. Shortman wasn't interested in that at all. She forced Mr. D'Amato into stating that he had seen her receive (but not open) text messages from Huntley. But, here are the real issues: The Council is paid to be paying attention to the town's issues,and they need to avoid any appearance of impropriety. If they are defensive about that then I am just totally puzzled about why they even took the job. I agree with Bastante and don't understand why they hold onto this issue at all.Don't they care about what's best for the town? A Public Meeting is public! It seems like a no-brainer, not something to bicker over, but go figure. They have to know when to work together, I think.
Debbie O'Neill April 12, 2012 at 01:46 PM
Carolyn - I think you are spot on - and I would only qualify one of your statements: They are ELECTED to pay attention - regardless of whether or not they are being paid. An elected official (or officials) should be 100% focused on the meeting at hand at all times. If they cannot do that for some reason, then they need to excuse themselves from the meeting (if it's a one-off situation like a family emergency or illness) or they should simply not take on this type of commitment - period.
jersey girl April 13, 2012 at 12:59 AM
If this council majority is bent out of shape over a cell phone ban, could you imagine if they had a real problem! The town needs to have people who are sitting up there WORKING FOR THE COMMUNITY. Their phones need to be opened to OPRA requests to see what is being written during the meetings! The council majority is supposedly working on tax payer time and therefore be open as per the OPRA requirements! E-mails are open to OPRA requests!
Carolyn May 12, 2012 at 10:36 PM
Thank you, Debbie. You are correct. I have heard that at the last meeting a Councilman's cell phone rang. I rest my case. At this point, holding onto cell phones on the dais serves simply to battle the Mayor on anything he introduces. I'll bet if he introduced a cure for cancer the majority would vote against it. And Jersey Girl, you hit the nail on the head. Shortman talks of transparency, but doesn't get why cell phones on the dais might run afoul of the law. Perplexing people.


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