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Cherry Hill council holds first emergency online meeting

With gatherings of 50 or more prohibited in New Jersey and social distancing emphasized due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the township streamed an emergency session on its Facebook page.

With government agencies across the United States taking drastic measures in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cherry Hill Township took an unprecedented measure itself last Thursday when it hosted its first online council meeting.

Council called an emergency meeting Thursday to pass a resolution for the payment of bills. The meeting was held with only Council President David Fleisher, Council Vice President Brian Bauerle and Township Clerk Nancy Saffos in the council room. The other five members of council, Mayor Susan Shin Angulo and township professionals called in via telephone.

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Cherry Hill Township did not permit the public to attend the meeting in person, per orders from Gov. Phil Murphy’s office to restrict social gatherings of 50 or more people. The meeting was streamed on the township’s Facebook page through Facebook Live.

Residents were encouraged to watch the meeting on Facebook and were able to ask questions through the video’s comments section in lieu of a live public comment period. The number of viewers remained around 50 during the approximately 20-minute meeting.

Officials did hear one comment from resident Yoni Yares, who criticized the township for using Facebook Live as its platform to stream the meetings. Yares’ statement cited Facebook’s unstable platform; a poor method for allowing resident comments; weak audio; and inaccessibility for residents who don’t have Facebook as reasons the township should use another streaming platform, such as Zoom or another web conferencing service.

“In this specific instance, we didn’t have the luxury of time to evaluate electronic means,” Fleisher said in response to Yares’ comments. “But given this might be the new norm for at least a period of time … we are assessing all of our technology to ensure that these meetings and any communications internal, and especially external, is done in the most effective fashion.”

Prior to voting on the resolution for payment of bills, Shin Angulo spoke for a few minutes about the township’s response to the ongoing pandemic. Earlier last week, the township took action in closing the municipal building and department of public works to the public and non-essential employees. The township also closed all playgrounds and recreational fields; shut down its municipal court; and cancelled last week’s planning and zoning board meetings, as well as several upcoming recreation department events.

“These have been trying times for all of our residents,” Shin Angulo said. “Please be rest assured, we are working around the clock to manage the situation here at home. We know that there is a lack of supplies, a lack of testing equipment and frankly, a lack of answers.”

Shin Angulo added the township has been in contact with county and state government officials and is also collaborating with other New Jersey mayors throughout the crisis. She complimented township municipal employees, police officers, firefighters and business owners for their response to the pandemic and encouraged any residents to contact the township via phone or email if assistance is needed with anything.

“I know this is hard on our families,” Shin Angulo noted. “We are all wearing multiple hats. But we can get through this as a community.

“We are all in this together.”

Cherry Hill Township has detailed information on closures and cancellations at its website www.cherryhill-nj.com. A link to the township’s COVID-19 response can be found at the top of the home page.

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