By CAROL COMEGNO
CAMDEN The co-chairmen of the
Home Port Alliance want to
revisit a decision to continue closing meetings on the
battleship USS New Jersey
Their call to reconsider
the issue came on the
same day Camden County
Nash blasted the alliance
for its "unacceptable" decision not to open meetings to the public.
The question of whether
to ban the public from the
alliance's meetings should
be discussed at the nonprofit corporation's next
board of trustees meeting
on Feb. 7, the group's leaders said Friday. The
board's co-chairmen -
county Surrogate Patricia Jones and state Sen. John
said they were surprised
the topic was discussed and
unanimously approved after they left Wednesday's
alliance meeting early.
"You have earned the public's trust and their financial support, and right
fully so," Nash wrote in a
letter Friday to the alliance's executive director,
Thomas Seigenthaler. "It is
imperative you reinforce
this trust by developing a
process for public access."
Nash said he favors
open meetings because the
ship has generated great
public interest and because
tax dollars including $3.2
million from the county
are funding most of the construction costs. The total
battleship project, including a future landside museum, is
projected to cost more than $30
million. State and federal money
is also helping to fund the project.
"I urge you and the Home Port
Alliance to follow our lead and reconsider your policy," Nash
wrote, referring to the county's
policy of expanded public access
to its records and meetings.
Jones said she will ask the
board to revisit the issue. She and
Matheussen said the topic was
not on Wednesday's agenda. Both
left early for other commitments.
"We thought the co-chairs
should have been there (for the
discussion)," Jones said. "Unfortunately, we weren't. John had
another meeting, and I went to a
Jones, a former county freeholder, said she would like to
see some of the proceedings
open. Matheussen did not commit to a position on that specific
point, but promised the matter
will be discussed again in detail at the board's next meeting.
Jones said the board would
need to define clearly what topics are appropriate for public
discussion and must weigh the need for privacy in contract and
At least six of the board's 14
members were not present for
the unanimous vote to close
meetings to the public, several
"Granted, this project is a tremendous undertaking by a volunteer nonprofit group, and
matters of personnel and contracts are highly sensitive issues worthy of
but while you
are not required to meet
in public, I feel
the spirited public support
your venture has realized
suggests otherwise," Nash wrote.
Nash said he discussed his
concerns with some board members Friday and is optimistic the
alliance will amend its decision.
Among those who voted to keep meetings closed was Norman Sooy, the county's veterans
affairs director who sits on the board as the freeholder-director's designee.
Sooy said he has always favored open meetings, but decided to vote with those members
who had overwhelming opposition rooted in concerns about
contracts, personnel matters
and length of meetings. The vote
to keep meetings closed caught
him off guard, Sooy said.
"We didn't even know it was
an issue that was coming up,"
Sooy said. "Someone just threw
it out there."
The Navy has said the public's
role played a part in the successful grass-roots campaign to bring
the historic, highly decorated World War II ship back to the Delaware River, where it was built.
Tens of thousands of well-wishers
greeted the ship when it arrived
in Philadelphia in November 1999. It will be renovated into a
floating museum on the Camden Waterfront behind the E-Centre.
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