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South Jersey

Sunday, January 14, 2001

Adhere to `Big J' legacy; open alliance meetings

Between electing two new chairmen and naming three new members, the Home Port Alliance had a full plate last week at its first reorganization meeting.

The group that oversees the USS New Jersey was so busy that it didn't have time to talk about an important topic: open meetings.

According to officials in attendance, the idea of opening the group's meetings to the public never made it to a motion or serious discussion because the meeting ran too long.

We'll buy that excuse, for now, so long as at the group' s next get-together, item No. 1 on the agenda is public access to alliance meetings. There should be much discussion, and then a decision to open the meetings and, together with the public, build the most successful ship museum in history.

We could argue logic and practicality in encouraging the alliance to open its meetings. Millions of public dollars will be spent refurbishing the ship and building the museum. Shouldn't taxpayers have the right to see how their money is spent?

And what about the alliance's long-term concerns? The group needs volunteers and visitors, not only now, but in the years and decades ahead. Maintaining an open and honest relationship with the public will help to meet those needs.

But the real story of the "Big J" is one of people. Therefore, the most compelling reasons to open the meetings to the public revolve around people.

Take nothing away from leaders such as David McGuigan, Thomas Seigenthaler, Pat Jones or John Matheussen. They, and many others, worked tirelessly with Reps. Jim Saxton and Rob Andrews to bring the "Big J" home.

Their efforts are applauded and appreciated.

But the battleship would be headed for Bayonne if regular folk hadn't offered their resounding and passionate support. They signed petitions, made phone calls and otherwise told the Navy in no uncertain terms that the the battleship belonged right here in South Jersey.

And when the "Big J" finally made her way up the Delaware River, more than 25,000 of them lined the shores to cheer.

But let's go back even further and look at other people and what they mean to this story.

We're talking about the young sailors who, for decades, climbed aboard the huge vessel with one, and only one, duty: to defend - with their lives, if necessary - freedom.

They placed themselves in harm's way, spent months or years away from loved ones and endured great hardship to protect American liberties - one of which is government by the people.

As members of the alliance's board consider allowing regular people into their meetings, we hope they think about all of those sailors and all of this history.

We hope that they trust the people of South Jersey enough to allow the public a voice in how the ship and museum are administered.

We hope that they will honor the legacy of the ship and her crew by upholding the liberties and values Americans hold sacred.

We hope the alliance recognizes that opening up its meetings to the public simply is the right thing to do.

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