Millville council denies volunteers free access to town hall

Millville Town Council members stood their ground in denying the Millville Volunteer Group 24-hour access into the second floor of the Town Hall for ham radio training in a 5-0 vote on Tuesday, citing liability issues. The council had heard briefly from a volunteer representative earlier in the summer but had not voted on the issue until now. The council did say the group was welcome to use the building during the day or after hours and several members of the council said they would make themselves available to unlock the door outside regular office hours.

“We are not denying the Millville Volunteer Group access to the building,” emphasized Mayor Gerry Hocker, “or after-hours access. I will let anybody [affiliated with the group] in as long as I am in town. I am a night owl and am back and forth between town many times a day.”

He said that, as an employer of more than 190 people, he and his family only grant 24-hour access to a select few, approximately 30, and only on a “as needed” basis.

Hocker also aimed to quash a rumor. Stating that he had heard that it was rumored that the current council does not want the volunteers, he said, “That is as far from the truth as it could possibly be. This council appreciates everything that the Millville Volunteer Group has done. If you have seen the work they have done just at Camp Barnes, it’s really remarkable. I found it necessary to bring that up at this time.”

Councilwoman Joan Bennett agreed with denying 24-hour access to the MillVols, saying she has never taken advantage of access to passwords or keys as a councilwoman because of the liability issue.

Councilman Jon Subity said he, too, had personally had concerns about the liability involved in having access. Subity brought his key to turn in, because, he said, he felt so strongly that only paid staff should have key access. “I know it’s a different issue, but...” he said.

Councilman Richard Thomas agreed, saying that the second floor was to be used for emergency use only and not as a place of assembly, and if 24-hour access was granted, they would have no way of knowing how many people were gathered.

Councilman Robert Gordon said he had never accepted a key as a councilperson and reiterated what the other council members had said. “I think it can be worked out. I am available. I might want to sit in on a meeting.” He also said he understood that only three to five of the volunteers were residents of Millville and that he didn’t want to give “carte-blanche” access to a building.

“We don’t give that to town residents, and they are paying for [the building]” he added.

After the vote, Bill Wichman of Ocean View, a member of the MillVols, spoke, emphasizing that he was speaking as an individual and not for the group.

“I think there has been a gross misunderstanding of what we are trying to do. We wanted to use the second floor from the outside entrance door. When using ham radios, you have to scan frequencies of other ham radio operators, and it is meant to be used in an emergency situation. It is very difficult to do that if you have to schedule with people for keys, etc.,” he said, likening it to using a town vehicle in an emergency situation. “We can’t establish a radio system if we have limited use.”

Hocker assured Wichmann that even emergency situations could be handled. “We’ll get you in there. If it’s after-hours, I’ll let you in there.”

In other news from the Aug. 9 council meeting:

• The council approved a resolution recognizing the Millville Volunteer Group and their efforts to support the town.

• Town Administrator Debbie Botchie said that, of $203,000 in tax bills sent out, the town, as of Aug. 9, had received $199,000. She also reported that 13 building permits were issued in July, for a total $39,998.50, and said the town is at 75.69 percent of their budgeted revenue for the general fund for the year. “That’s the best we’ve done in the five years I have been here,” she said. She added that they were at 18.62 percent of their budgeted expenses, which she said is actually less than at the same point last year.

• The town council has a workshop scheduled for Aug. 23.