I’ve now completed two weeks of my internship made possible through the New Jersey Press Foundation and taking place at the Hunterdon County Democrat. In this time I’ve learned what it’s like to be a new reporter at a community newspaper, and have developed a much more thorough understanding of the history and culture of the community I teach in.
I live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania and for the last nine years have crossed the river to neighboring Hunterdon County in my commute to my job teaching at Hunterdon Central Regional High School. I travel almost the entire way on interstates, and other than field trips and a few homeschooling assignments, I really don’t know my way around the district no less the entire county. This internship helped change that a bit.
In covering the Franklin Township Land Use Planning Board, I got to experience the northern end of the county. One that is very rural (outside of Clinton) and determined to keep it that way. Just the experience of trying to cover a meeting where it was difficult to hear and contained language that I sometimes barely understood was an experience. It took effort to follow all that was going on during the five hour meeting. Still I was able to get the hang of it and I found it interesting how the board attorney basically ran the show as he had the expertise to understand what was going on, interpret it for the board members, and then offer them options based on the law. Sometimes the smallest details could sidetrack the panel, but it is at these meetings that a lot of what affects people in their daily lives happen. So I voraciously took notes.
What was most interesting was the people who come out for these meetings. Almost everyone in attendance is there to present their case, but there are a few exceptions. One person that caught my eye looked like he had just emerged from the woods. He sported a long, scraggly red beard streaked with gray. His long hair was pulled back in a pony tail. He wore a beat up blue cotton button up shirt with the sleeves rolled up and filthy cut off jeans. But the most striking piece of apparel was the black rubber boots that came up to just below his knees. Peeking out of the top of the boots were what looked like woolen hunting socks. This character walked up to the board table after the paper work was distributed by the clerk, put on a pair of gold rim glasses, and skimmed the contents before taking a seat on the floor. This didn’t seem to disturb the board members as they filed in.
The rest of the meeting itself went fairly smoothly until the last presentation of the night which I had little interest in. It seemed like a simple land division case that would be quickly resolved, but apparently it touched off an old feud involving a former law suit, a former mayor, and divisions within a family. At the end of the evening I was wondering whether some of the participants were going to come to blows.
As I stumbled out of the meeting at 12:30 a.m. I watched in my rear view mirror as angry residents stood in the dark discussing the case which the board decided to postponed for two months. And boy was it dark! I guess Franklin Township doesn’t believe in lighting the parking lot of their offices because I couldn’t even find my car at first. I went up to the wrong vehicle and then had to feel for the dents a suicidal deer made to positively identify my van before inserting the key in the door.