TODAY’S LESSON: CHICKENS & STOP SIGNS

fh-council-1-112811Seventh-grader Rebecca Unsinn weighs in on stop signs, above, and resident Dorothy Nowack, below, makes a pitch for keeping chickens in her yard. (Click to enlarge)

fh-council-2Students at Fair Haven’s Knollwood School got a peek inside the machinery of local government Monday.

That meant an agenda loaded with routine business, including a measure permitting the installation of new stop signs; a request by a Hance Road resident to keep three chicken hens – but no roosters – in her back yard as egg-yielding pets; a proposal to honor Ed Pitts, the late head of the town’s environmental commission, by naming the Battin Road boat launch for him; and the payment of $84,320 in bills.

But the sixth-through-eighth-grade students at the grades 4-8 school had their own agendas, and peppered the governing body with questions right up to the 3 p.m. bell.

Every year, the council holds an afternoon meeting at the school, conducting a full slate of regular business that can have even the most attentive watcher yearning for a pillow: approval of minutes, tax refund authorizations, street-opening permits and the like.

With students in an adjoining room sourly making their way through a trumpet lesson, elected officials sought to shed light on what they were doing each step of the way, explaining, for example, that no new stop signs can be installed without their approval. And on the agenda was an ordinance amendment calling for the installation of nine stops, and the elimination of one.

That brought several students to their feet with concerns. Seventh-grader Rebecca Unsinn, for one. “Sometimes people are riding bikes, and it could affect them if they’e going down hills,” she said.

One student expressed support for the chicken request – “I like it,” he said with enthusiasm – though it was tabled with a suggestion that the woman making the request, Dorothy Nowack, first check with the zoning office to see if the coop she was proposing would need a variance.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, which town officials call “the Good of the Borough,” students raised questions on a variety of topics.

Why had the police department chosen the type of of patrol car it uses? Answer: it’s largely a matter of which manufacturers have been chosen under a state contract.

How many undercover vehicles does the PD have? One, and we won’t tell you what it looks like.

When is the centennial, and what can Knollwood’s student council do to contribute to it? All next year, and come up with some ideas.

Can the town do something about cleaning up Schwenker’s Pond? No, it’s privately owned, and the town couldn’t afford it anyway.

Can the town cut down a tree beside McCarter Pond that makes it hard to cast a fishing line? No, because trees help stabilize soil.

Can something be done about improving the condition of the ladder off the town dock? No, we don’t actually want to encourage anyone to jump or dive or swim in the river near the dock “because, frankly, it’s dangerous,” said Mayor Mike Halfacre.

Can something be done about the playing fields at Fair Haven Fields? “A lot of them aren’t really in good shape,” said the student. “They’re not as bad as they used to be, and they’re going to keep getting better,” Halfacre said.

Why weren’t flags at half-staff on Veteran’s Day? Because the day honors living as well as deceased veterans, and the flag lowering is optional, whereas the borough lowers the flag on Memorial Day, Halfacre said.

Afterward, Halfacre joked that he could hear the voices of the parents of the kids who asked the questions.

Borough Administrator Theresa Casagrande underscored a point for the students: “Every bill we paid, every receipt, is a public record,” she told the students. “That ensures the honesty and integrity of government.”

And at the sound of the day-ending bell, the students flew off like uncaged birds.