Invocation prayers get solicitor's blessing

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Galloway Galloway

GALLOWAY – Three items put off at the Jan. 22 Township Council meeting should appear on the agenda when the governing body meets again Tuesday, Feb. 12.

On the 204th birthday of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, council will likely approve a new prayer procedure to open meetings, swear in new members of the fire police and approve termination payouts to two former township managers.

A three-person ad hoc committee led by Deputy Mayor Tony Coppola prepared a new invocation policy, which would have Township Council members read from a list of more than 30 approved prayers.

Serving with Coppola on the committee were council members Whitney Ullman and Jim McElwee.

They delivered details to Solicitor Michael Fitzgerald at the beginning of January and a resolution was prepared for at the Jan 22 meeting.

The committee used as a basis for defensible prayer the “Marsh vs. Chambers” case, which found that prayer is acceptable at public and legislative meetings as long as it is done in a secular way, Coppola said.

The committee assembled some 35 prayers that pass the Marsh test, he said.

“Most were adopted from what the county uses and some were formed by our committee,” Coppola said. “All were forwarded to and approved by our township solicitor.”

The committee recommendation was that council pass a resolution approving the group of prayers to be acceptable to be used at council meetings. The prayers would be read by a rotation of willing council people. New prayers would need approval from the township solicitor.

Coppola said the committee also recommended a moment of silence added to prayers or substituted if no council person wants to read a prayer.

All council members said they would be willing to read prayers in this format.

But the resolution was pulled back before the Jan. 22 meeting, Coppola said, to look more closely into its language.

The deputy mayor said the council wants to make clear the policy is not a mandate, and if a council member didn’t want to read a prayer, he or she wouldn’t feel compelled to.

Tim McKenna was sworn in as township fire chief at council’s Jan. 2 reorganization meeting. New members of the fire police were expected to be sworn in Jan. 22, but the local companies needed more time, according to McKenna.

The fire police will be sworn in Feb. 12.

At the reorganization meeting, council approved resolution to pay more than $200,000 to departing unionized township employees, but tabled a resolution that would pay more than $60,000 to managerial employees after McElwee raised concerns over the amount.

On Jan. 22 council went into executive session to discuss payouts to former Manager and Director of Public Works Steve Bonanni and former Manager and Chief Financial Officer Jill Gougher.

Mayor Don Purdy said Manager Arch Liston was going to reexamine the figures and the matter would come up Feb. 12.

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