After backlash over Newberry Twp. public meeting rules, few show up for public comment

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch

After some rancor from residents about lack of access to public meetings because of COVID-19 protocols, the Newberry Township Board of Supervisors changed its policy to allow one person at a time to address the board in person during the public comment period.

But at the supervisors' meeting Tuesday, it appeared the only people to take advantage of the opportunity were two representatives for a local real estate developer.

Members of the public who wished to make an in-person comment were directed to notify township manager Tony Miller by noon Monday.

"The cut off time was a simple point in time in order to organize and have an idea how many would be attending," Miller said in an email Wednesday. "We all expected a large response."

Miller said that the cut-off time was not intended to prevent anyone from speaking, that the developer's representatives contacted him Tuesday morning about attending the meeting and that it wasn't a problem to add them to the agenda.

The Newberry Township Municipal complex Friday, Jan. 3, 2020. Bill Kalina photo

Miller intends to add the list of public commenters to the agenda before future meetings, he said.

Public meetings for Newberry Township have been closed to in-person attendance during the COVID-19 pandemic because of the small size of the meeting room and state-mandated social distancing requirements, officials have said.

To better accommodate public participation, the township has been livestreaming the meetings on its YouTube channel, with public comments being submitted by email to Miller, who then reads them aloud at the meeting.

That system came under scrutiny in recent weeks.

In one instance, a member of the public who showed up to the meeting was booted from the room after giving his public comment, because the supervisors had already denied in-person access to other residents and said it would be unfair to let him stay. 

In another instance, technical difficulties prevented the meeting video from showing up on the township's YouTube page for live viewing. The video was later uploaded.

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