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Salisbury officials return for in-person meetings; public to continue online attendance

The Salisbury Township Board of Commissioners is back in session in the municipal building meeting room.

However, township commissioners’ meetings are not open to the public in person.

The public is to register to participate via the Zoom online format.

Registration information is on the meeting listing on the township website.

The Salisbury Township Zoning Hearing Board and the Salisbury Township Planning Commission are also meeting in the municipal building, but the public is to participate via Zoom.

Officials practice social distancing at the meetings.

Images of the meetings are projected on two large television monitors in the meeting room. Those attending via the Zoom format can also be seen on the screens.

There were 10 participants listed at one point during the Oct. 8 commissioners’ meeting.

The township spent $7,340 to purchase two cameras, sound equipment and for instruction from Entertainment Services Group, LLC, Cetronia, South Whitehall Township, to livestream the meetings.

Plans are to continue using the Zoom format for meetings. Streaming meetings on YouTube is a possibility.

In response to a question from a reporter for The Press, Salisbury Township Manager Cathy Bonaskiewich said township meetings would continue with the hybrid format, whereby township officials would attend in person and the public would participate via the Zoom format.

The protocol for zoning and planning meetings is expected to be different from that for commissioners’ meetings because of the need for those who might oppose a particular proposed project being presented to zoners to express their opinions.

Township officials are observing the state-mandated limit of 25 persons or fewer for indoor gatherings.

Including the five commissioners and township officials, typically, there are 13 in attendance at a township commissioners’ meeting.

At the Oct. 8 commissioners’ meeting, 11 officials were in attendance in person.

The media is permitted to attend in person.

A reporter for The Press made it an even dozen at the Oct. 8 meeting.

In other township news, the zoning hearing board met Oct. 6 in the municipal building meeting room.

In attendance were nine persons, including four zoning hearing board members, the township zoning officer, the zoning board solicitor, a court stenographer, a resident making an appeal and a reporter for The Press.

A second zoning appeal was removed from the agenda. A group of residents, who were not allowed to attend the hearing in the building meeting room, talked outside in the parking lot before the hearing started.

A spirited discussion ensued by officials at the zoning meeting before the hearing, concerning public access to zoning hearings.

Township officials expressed concern that not all persons who want to attend a zoning hearing online could, depending on their technological expertise, the quality of their home computer and the speed of their Internet service provider.

Zoners voted 3-1 to approve a motion to hold zoning hearings via the Zoom virtual format, but permit in-person attendance when necessary.

Zoner Atty. Ian Baxter made the motion, seconded by zoner Ron Evans, to bring the motion to a vote.

Voting yes were zoners Joseph Kovach, Evans and Baxter.

Voting no was Atty. Kent Herman, zoning board chairman.

Atty. Victor Cavacini, of the law firm, Gross McGinley LLC, zoning board solicitor, recommended that persons seeking to attend a zoning hearing in person contact Salisbury Township Zoning Officer Kerry H. Rabold.

“The people that were here in the parking lot, if they came in, they would have exceeded restrictions,” Rabold said.

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed Act 15 of 2020 into law April 20 after it was unanimously approved by the state senate and House of Representatives.

Act 15, among other stipulations, eliminates the requirements for physical attendance at public meetings during the governor’s declaration of a disaster emergency by permitting the use of “authorized telecommunications devices.”

Reading from Act 15, Cavacini said, “Any interested party or objector may participate by using a telecommunication device.”

Cavacini continued, “Persons may also be present in person to participate in the hearing.”

Cavacini said objectors may also submit comments to the zoning officer for a hearing.

Before the zoners’ vote, Evans said, “I’m not a big fan of this electronic stuff.”

“Obviously, an investment was made in this technology. If you have a large crowd and put them in a small room, it could create some issues,” Kovach said,

“It’s going to require people to sign in,” Baxter said.

“I don’t want to limit any objectors to come here in person,” Herman said.

PRESS PHOTO BY PAUL WILLISTEIN Salisbury Township Director of Finance Paul Ziegenfus coordinates livestreaming Oct. 8 at the township board of commissioners meeting.