By JOHN T. WARD[UPDATE, October 4: Yom Kippur council meeting canceled for lack of quorum after mayor and council members who voted against having it say they won’t be there, he says on his Facebook page.]
By a split vote, the Red Bank council decided Wednesday night to stick to its schedule and hold its next meeting on Yom Kippur.
The 3-2 outcome of a vote at the council’s workshop meeting caught Councilwoman Kate Triggiano, who had argued for a change, off guard.
“We’re going to have the meeting?” she asked. “So we’re keeping the meeting on Yom Kippur?”
The conflict with Yom Kippur came to light at the end of the last regular council session, when Andrew Sobel, sitting in for his law partner Greg Cannon as borough attorney, appeared surprised to hear the next meeting would be held October 9, Triggiano told her colleagues.
Other towns, including Fair Haven and Aberdeen, aren’t holding meetings that would otherwise be conducted that night, and Red Bank schools are closed for the holiday, she said.
The council should not meet when a significant portion of the population cannot attend because of their religion, Triggiano said.
Each January 1, at its reorganization session, the council approves its own meeting schedule for the year. The draft of the schedule is created by Clerk Pam Borghi, who told the council that she tries to avoid having sessions land on major holidays.
When she’s overlooked one, someone usually points it out before adoption and she tries to work around it, taking into account the fact that the council meeting chamber is used most weeknights, Borghi said.
Thought it had not previously been called out, the October 9 meeting would conflict with “a time when people are breaking fast,” Triggiano said, referring to Yom Kippur, a day of atonement in Judaism that this year begins at sundown on October 8 and is considered the holiest day of the year in Judaism.
“It’s a major holiday,” she said.
Borghi said that rescheduling the meeting to an earlier date wasn’t feasible, given requirements that meetings be two weeks apart and advertised in advance.
Business Administrator Ziad Shehady said the council has “nothing of a critical nature” on its next agenda, and given he a choice, he’d prefer that the meeting be canceled rather than rescheduled.
In light of that, cancelling the meeting “seems like the respectful thing to do,” Triggiano said.
But what might otherwise have been a routine schedule tweak going into a new year turned into an extended debate that divided the council, all of whose members are Democrats.
“Are we setting precedent here?” asked Councilman Michael Ballard. “We met on 9/11.”
“It’s not like 9/11,” Triggiano said, after noting that the council never meets on Christmas Day.
“Can we open this up to other religions as well?” asked Councilman Hazim Yassin, who was elected on a ticket with Triggiano last November, becoming the governing body’s first-ever representative of the Muslim faith. He said Ramadan might also be considered a day on which to avoid meetings.
Triggiano agreed. “If somebody’s religion is going to prevent them from being present, I don’t think we should ever have a meeting,” she said.
Yassin said he was focused on where to “draw lines,” if any. He asked if a meeting would be rescheduled if the Red Bank Humanists, who are non-believers, had a significant holiday.
“I just want to know what the line is,” he said.
Councilman Ed Zipprich said that all religions need to be considered.
“Let’s be clear that nobody’s dismissing the significance of Yom Kippur,” said Ballard. “That’s not what we’re saying here.”
While borough hall is open on Yom Kippur, noted Mayor Pasquale Menna, the council “in the past has shown deference to those members of the community” who would have trouble attending a meeting on a holy day.
No argument was offered for sticking to the schedule. But when Menna polled the table, only Triggiano and Council President Erik Yngstrom voted not to meet October 9; Ballard, Zipprich and Yassin voted to stick to the schedule. Councilwoman Kathy Horgan was absent.
Triggiano told redbankgreen afterward that she was “surprised” that her request generated pushback and rejection.