Board debates role of GAC
By SARIT LASCHINSKY
Special to The Press
During their March 17 virtual meeting, South Whitehall commissioners engaged in an extended conversation over the role and responsibilities of one of the township’s volunteer advisory committees.
Board President Christina “Tori” Morgan reported at a recent meeting, the Green Advisory Council was preparing to send out a survey regarding single-use plastics to gather information from businesses on how they use these materials.
She also said the committee would use the information to brainstorm program ideas and decide whether to assemble information for commissioners to consider establishing a single-use plastics ordinance.
Morgan noted, however, the survey would only collect information.
She also said the GAC had talked about establishing a community garden, a plan which she said was still in its infancy stage, and discussions had been held with members of the Rotary Club.
Morgan said any potential plans would come before the commissioners for consideration.
Commissioner Diane Kelly said she had attended the GAC meeting.
She mentioned several points for the board to consider.
Kelly said she had commented at the GAC meeting that it was important for the board to discuss these items, and for commissioners and the public to have the opportunity to ask questions and be informed on any initiative “before it gets too far down the road,” such as providing input on the scope of the survey questions.
Morgan again noted the survey was for information purposes, and the item would be on the board’s April agenda.
She said currently there was no intention to look at any single-use plastic policy or procedure, which she said would require commissioners’ input and public discussion to move forward in any case.
Kelly responded by saying the GAC’s single-use plastics survey was different from other township surveys, such as those put out by township departments, as this survey was being put out by an advisory board of volunteers who are neither employed nor managed by South Whitehall.
She said only the board has the authority to set a single-use plastic policy, and the board needed to have conversation and set parameters or directives before GAC sends out any survey.
Kelly said the GAC’s garden conversation had taken place over several meetings and identified land in a particular neighborhood, as well as discussed hiring employees.
She suggested the community be made aware of this discussion, and that the board had not weighed in on whether a garden was something the township would want in the future.
Morgan reiterated her comments about the survey being information-only, and said any garden discussions with regards to capital budgets or employees - as mentioned by Kelly - were just scenarios or thoughts being put together to share with the full board once concepts have been established.
Commissioner Mike Wolk said there might be a “structural issue” between the roles and responsibilities of the board and advisory committees, and the points Kelly described meant the GAC was “out in front of the commissioners.
“It just seems to me like, whether I call it the structure or the process, maybe we need to reel the GAC in a little bit and have the BOC understand more fully what they’re doing,” Wolk said, adding that the board and public should give their viewpoints.
Morgan said all board members and attending audience members had been well-informed about GAC’s projects at numerous meetings and questioned whether the board needed to “get into the weeds” about all actions taken by every volunteer board or committee.
“I’m sharing with you the topics being discussed at GAC; there’s nothing, no policies, no procedures, nothing has been done or will be done without the approval of this board,” she said, noting that GAC had been established to devise innovative solutions to environmental issues and concerns and had been doing so with staff input.
Wolk, using the single-use plastics as an example, said the board had never met or had any discussion about “whether we want any work on single use plastics being done at this time when things like state legislation is pending, so on and so forth.
“We haven’t met and had any high-level policy discussion around a very important subject like that,” he said, stating that meanwhile, the GAC was “out in front, they’re working on a detailed survey and its ready to go out the door.”
Morgan noted that the previous board of commissioners had discussed single-use plastics, and that GAC was collecting background information to ensure the board would be well-prepared if the topic came up again.
Kelly said the previous board’s meetings were over 14 months ago and four new commissioners were now leading South Whitehall.
She said the current board should discuss visions and parameters in their role as township legislators, especially since the garden and single-use plastics policy had not been discussed in public meetings previously and would impact many residents.
Morgan concluded by stating that she had commented on these topics at previous public meetings, and she would tell the GAC members could share information on their concepts and proposals with the board in April.