Interview #130: Linden, NJ Councilwoman Rhashonna Cosby (with podcast)

This podcast interview is available on iTunesStitcherPlayer FM, and right here:

Rhashonna Cosby is a longtime councilwoman (and newly-minted podcaster) who is none too happy with the drama and conflict that unfold in many Linden council meetings. She discusses her interpretations of new council rules and advises fellow council members on how to receive a little less heat from commenters.

Q: To the extent that there is discord or dysfunction in your council meetings, what do you feel causes it?

A: There’s a power struggle in my opinion. It’s not about anybody having a great idea or someone doing something detrimental to the community. It’s clearly and only about power–who controls what. For so many years, we had a good council. It wasn’t as bad as it is now.

Q: What was the turning point do you think?

A: The turning point was the election in 2014. I ran for mayor and after that election, two of my council colleagues were no longer colleagues. They were more like adversaries. I couldn’t understand why. For whatever reason, they are now aligned with the current mayor who won that primary.

Q: I notice that you abstain on council votes more often than your other colleagues. What is your personal policy on whether you will abstain?

A: If it’s a personnel matter, I will abstain so that I won’t get a violation filed against me by an employee. In our city, if you vote no against an employee, they tend to take it personally and then they want to file an ethics complaint or some kind of legal complaint. It’s less time and less drama if I just abstain.

Q: Can you explain a little more about what hypothetically you might be asked to vote on that is a personnel issue where you want to vote no, but out of caution you abstain?

A: There’s an employee who I filed a complaint against and that employee, who had an open complaint, was put up for promotion. I definitely wanted to vote no and the attorney said to me, “Rhashonna, it’s probably best if you abstain to avoid any conflicts.” So I abstained. Again, I don’t even vote anymore on personnel because they’re not hiring according to the policies that we should be. It’s not fair. It’s not transparent.

Linden, NJ Councilwoman Rhashonna Cosby

Q: Your council instituted a new five-minute limit on the commentary that each council member is allowed during the meetings. Did you see that as being aimed at you?

A: Absolutely.

Q: In what way?

A: My reports are usually the longest. My reports were always thorough. I would give my reports on my committees and I would lead into my community reports and initiatives. I think my longest council report may have been, like, 12 minutes. The complaint was, “the meetings run too long.” That’s not my fault. If the people actually gave real reports, they would probably be longer than they are. But they want to go back and forth and arguing, making comments about what someone else said instead of giving a report on their initiatives.

Q: Linden has monthly meetings that go on for three, four hours each. Do you see any merit to making the meetings weekly or twice monthly so that they will be shorter?

A: I recommended four years ago that we have our meetings [work session and council meeting] a week apart. Once we adopt our agenda, we can publicize the proposed resolutions and ordinances. If people have a question during that week, they can make a call to city hall and get those answers. So the meeting would be shorter because it’s less time with providing those explanations.

Q: Okay, so separating the work sessions from the council meetings more than the, I believe day–or 24 hours–that they currently are.

A: Right.

Q: It seems as if people bring into the council chamber all of the emotional and political baggage that they are experiencing outside of the meetings. There should be a middle ground between a council member having to sit quietly and ignore the abuse they are receiving for their job, and yelling at their antagonist. Where do you come down on that?

A: When the person comes up, they’re not necessarily attacking us individually so much as they are making public some of their dissatisfaction with their representation. You have community meetings where they come and have that forum. So I have community meetings every three months and the people come if they have issues. That’s the place for that.

Follow Councilwoman Rhashonna Cosby on Twitter: @Rhashonna10


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