They call them Marchese meetings.
That's because the now annual Fair Haven Borough Council meetings held at Knollwood School as a teaching forum of sorts on how local government works were the brainchild of Councilman Robert Marchese.
When he was first elected four years ago, Marchese, who recently won his second three-year term on council, came up with the idea as a way to educate and involve students in the government that affects them most directly.
"I campaigned for a council meeting at Knollwood once a year so the students could participate during the day," Marchese told Patch at election time. "The idea was adopted by council even before I was sworn in. It is now an annual event. This year will be the fourth year."
So, roughly a dozen interested and student government-involved seventh- and eighth-grade students gathered Monday afternoon at the Knollwood gym to watch and learn how the wheels of local government turn.
The meeting was conducted in the usual fashion with a learning curve wherein officials explained their roles and the meeting agenda as they went along.
Mayor Ben Lucarelli informed the students what form of government under which Fair Haven is run — the Borough Council form.
In this type of goverment, the mayor is elected separately from council and serves a four-year term, as opposed to the six council members' three-year terms.
"It's what is referred to as a strong council, weak mayor form of government," Lucarelli explained. "That means that I do not vote (on ordinances/laws or resolutions) unless a tie needs to be broken."
Each council member then introduced him or herself and explained their liaison role to different departments or entities within the borough's jurisdiction.
"Does everyone know what a liaison is?" Marchese asked the students, answering his own question with, "It's a go-between."
Councilman Eric Jaeger explained his role as Fair Haven Fire Department and First Aid liaison, told the students he was still learning about the all-volunteer organization and asked them if they knew anyone who served in the department.
Marchese explained how he is the "go-between" for the Planning and Zoning Department and told the students how those entities make decisions on building and what does and does not conform with Municipal Land Use Law.
Council President Jonathan Peters and Councilman Rowland Wilhelm, liaisons to Finance and Environmental Commission and Police Department, respectively, were absent.
Lucarelli credited Peters with keeping costs down in the borough and playing a major role in holding the line on municipal taxes, which have not seen an increase in a couple of years.
Councilman Jerome Koch explained his involvement as Public Works and Fair Haven Fields Natural Area liaison, telling the students how the fields are maintained largely by a group of volunteers.
Councilwoman Susan Sorensen, liaison to Parks and Recreation, discussed her role and how it's worked into many of their activities.
In the interest of reserving enough time for students to ask questions, Borough Administrator Theresa Casagrande told the students that she would keep her report brief and held to topics that may interest them.
She then told the students that she has been administrator of the borough since February 2011 and is the person "responsible for the day to day operation of the borough. I report directly to the council and they hold me accountable for the efficient and effective management of the borough. I have nine department heads that I oversee, including the chief (of police Darryl Breckenridge) and (Parks and Recreation Director) Charlie Hoffmann ... The Borough of Fair Haven has an $8.2 million budget and i work very hard to make sure the money is spent wisely that our town is well run and that our residents receive great services."
Lucarelli told the audience how the borough would be welcoming Alabama Power staffers back to Fair Haven to be honored with a proclamation on Dec. 10 at a special meeting/festivity to recognize the electric company's crew and supervisors for getting Fair Haven's electricity up and running after Hurricane Sandy.
He also explained to the students that in meetings there are two different portions during which they could ask questions or make comments: the comments on agenda items and "for the good of the borough" when they could ask about anything they wish.
Some asked about the possibility of the DeNormandie property, when acquired, being used for sports. Lucarelli explained that when the land is acquired it will be set aside for passive recreation, which means that no sports will be played on the property as it is not equipped for it.
Others asked about the strictness of using bike helmets and the law regarding kids who ride standing on bike pegs (on the wheels). Lucarelli, an avid cyclist himself, stressed that helmets should always be used "no matter what age" or where you are on a bike.
A very vocal Peter Maris, a seventh grade student council member, asked questions from the federal level down. Jaeger and Marchese explained to him that local government does not deal with federal or state matters, but only issues that affect the town itself and people who live in it.
Some asked about school days missed in the aftermath of Sandy. Fair Haven Schools Superintendent Kathleen Cronin, who attended the meeting, as did Business Administrator Valery Petrone, said that the issue of the altered school calendar would be addressed at Wednesday's Board of Education meeting.
She did say, however, that some vacation time would be affected, since the students missed six days and she was hopeful for a mild winter, since there was no room for snow days.
Cronin spoke for a couple of minutes on the importance of the interconnection and communication between the schools and governing body, especially during the super storm, stressing "who would think that we would lose all forms of communication ... the mayor, Theresa (Casagrande), the (police) chief ... everyone really helped me to stay informed and get information out. I was in Middletown with no gas in my car to get here. Effective communication is so critical and everyone here was terrific."