ROSELLE, NJ — Roselle residents are coming forward and speaking out about what they say is an abuse of power by several Roselle politicians.
According to many, the situation has gotten so bad that a group has been formed by residents, calling themselves, “Help Stand Up to Tyrants,” which was started in 2015 by citizens of Roselle who are saying that they have had enough. Members of the group say that they voted to remain anonymous at this time, “due to the vindictive attitudes of the present council.”
Residents, many of whom regularly attend council meetings, say that since Roselle Mayor Christine Dansereau took office in 2015, she has been abused by several members of the Roselle town council, along with former Roselle mayor and current state Assemblyman Jamel Holley, and that Holley and councilmembers have been abusing their power and ignoring the needs of borough residents.
An incident at borough hall last week, however, seems to be the last straw in what residents say is a laundry list of abuses against the mayor and residents at the hands of Holley and several councilmembers.
According to Cynthia Johnson, a longtime resident of Roselle, Dansereau has been requesting a part-time assistant since she took office and has been denied this request by the council each time they voted on the ordinance. “The mayor asked for an assistant, but the council hired two clerks,” Johnson told LocalSource in a phone call. “They made it clear that she’s not getting an assistant. This is nothing but political retribution because she ran two candidates against the councilmembers.”
A Roselle council member and several residents have confirmed that Dansereau supported two candidates who were running against councilmembers.
Dansereau took over for Holley as mayor after Holley stepped down when he was appointed to the New Jersey General Assembly.
According to Johnson, councilmember Reginald Atkins, who she says is a close ally of Holley’s, moved a filing cabinet from the office immediately next door to Dansereau’s at borough hall, and moved it into the doorway, entirely blocking one of two doorways from the currently-empty office to Dansereau’s. The office, according to Johnson, would be used for an assistant for Dansereau — if the council would ever agree to give her one.
Roselle resident Maria Hegener told LocalSource that she saw a filing cabinet in the doorway when she arrived at town hall. Hegener said that she was there to volunteer as Dansereau’s assistant after seeing the mayor turned down repeatedly at council meetings. When she arrived, said Hegener, Dansereau showed her the filing cabinet barricading one of two doorways to the mayor’s office. “It was the doorway leading to the adjacent office that is supposed to be the assistant’s office,” Hegener said. “Atkins said that he wanted to use that as a meeting room for the council, but that’s just another excuse why the mayor can’t use that room. The council already has a meeting room.”
According to Hegener, when she got to the office, she physically moved back the heavy filing cabinet herself. “It was a struggle to push it over,” she said.
Hegener said that she then placed a note on the cabinet that read, “Please do not move.” She said, “The next day, the cabinet was back blocking the door. To me, that’s harassment.”
But according to Atkins, he moved the cabinet due to lack of space in the adjacent office. “The filing cabinet was in a room that the old recreation director used to use,” Atkins told LocalSource in a phone call. “Before the cabinet was moved, it was OK’d for us to move it. We put chairs in that room so we can have meetings. We moved the cabinet so there was room to have the meetings. It was in the middle of the room with boxes on it.”
According to Hegener and other residents, this is just one small example of abuse that Dansereau has been subjected to since she took power. “This is just nasty,” Hegener said. “This is the nonsense that we have to deal with in Roselle. Residents need to know, and they need to tell Atkins that he needs to stop this. This is happening on a daily basis.”
Hegener said that she informed Atkins that she would be there, and that she would keep moving it if he continued to blockade the mayor’s doorway. “I told him I would move it every time he did that,” she said. “Atkins told me that I was a liability because I was moving the filing cabinet. This is intimidation and harassment.”
Atkins claims that residents speaking out about the incident is their way of stirring up trouble. “I think they’re just making this up because there’s tension in the borough,” said Atkins, who also said that there is not another room in town hall for meetings.
Atkins also maintains that former mayors in the borough have never had secretaries or assistants. “There’s never been another person called the mayor’s secretary or assistant,” Atkins said, citing Linden Mayor Derek Armstead. “He doesn’t have an assistant and he’s full-time. Dansereau doesn’t need an assistant — she’s part-time.”
According to Johnson, a secretary position was left vacant for a year. “So the mayor asked why she couldn’t have an assistant.”
After that, said Johnson, Dansereau interviewed a candidate for the position, but when the resolution to hire the assistant came up at a meeting of the council, they denied it. According to Johnson, the resolution was read by one of the councilmembers, and no one seconded it. “She’s had no help since she took office in 2015,” Johnson said.
Atkins claims that Dansereau wanted to hire the candidate she interviewed without knowledge and consent from the council. “It’s not good for her to ask the council to hire someone that wasn’t interviewed,” Atkins asserts. “You can’t expect us to rubber-stamp something just because you’re the mayor.”
According to Atkins, Dansereau told the council that they have to do what she tells them. “She said, ‘I’m the mayor and you have to do what I say,’” said Atkins. “I wish we could put all of the childish things behind us so we can move the business of the borough forward.”
According to residents, two previous mayors in the borough had assistants. In addition, they allege that Holley had a chauffeur. “Jamel Holley had a police detective driving him around as a chauffeur,” said Heneger. “He had an assistant and a chauffeur. Dansereau said she didn’t need a chauffeur because she said it was a waste of taxpayers’ money. That’s just plain use of taxpayers money for his own personal use.”
According to Johnson, Donald Shaw — husband of borough councilwoman Kim Shaw — was hired as the recreation director in the borough — and was given two assistants, yet the mayor cannot secure part-time help. “It’s not fair,” she said. “It’s political retribution.”
But according to Roselle Councilwoman Kim Shaw, Holley never had a secretary. Instead, Shaw said, Holley shared access to one of the keyboarding clerks in the borough. “He had shared time with this clerk on an as-needed basis,” Shaw told LocalSource in a phone call. “There’s nothing in our bylaws that says the mayor needs an assistant.”
Shaw said that Dansereau has asked for a full-time assistant, at a full-time salary. “This would be a full-time, salaried assistant for a part-time mayor,” Shaw said. “Unfortunately, this mayor has sought to circumvent this council in a variety of ways.”
Shaw asserts that Dansereau tried to hire an assistant without approval from the council, and that the mayor is not authorized to hire an assistant herself. “The fundamental problem is that the mayor does not believe that this council has any authority,” Shaw said. “I don’t know why she chooses to do this.”
Shaw also claims that she is reluctant to communicate with the mayor. “I’m reluctant to correspond with her because things that we’ve talked about have been disseminated publicly. I’ve sought to have conversations with her, but she said she wasn’t available. We’ve had conversations that have disintegrated into arguments, and she’s accused me of not liking her. We’re willing to have open dialogue with her if she can reassure us that our conversations will be just between us. I don’t feel respected by her, and I don’t respect her as leader of this borough.”
Regarding Holley, Shaw said that she is perplexed at some of the negative focus on the borough’s assemblyman. “I think there’s a focus on Assemblyman Holley that is a little preposterous,” she said. “It kind of suggests that the six council members sitting up there don’t have minds of their own. Suggesting that we serve as his proxies is insulting. These people would love nothing more than for us to disavow Assemblyman Holley, and why would we do that? He is our assemblyman representing our borough, and we enjoy a professional relationship with him.”
Holley told LocalSource that he had no comment.
Shaw also said that while Holley had a driver during his time as mayor, Dansereau made the choice not to. “Mayor Dansereau chose not to have a driver,” Shaw said. “She drives the exact same vehicle that Mr. Holley drove when he was mayor. That was her choice.”
But while council members see things one way, some residents paint a very different picture.
Roselle resident Marlene Murphy told LocalSource in a phone call that she no longer attends council meetings because she says that residents are disrespected by certain council members when they try to voice their opinions. “My husband and I have been very disrespected because we research things in town and ask questions, and the council doesn’t like that at all,” said Murphy.
According to Turnage, while Holley may be in the assembly, she alleges that he has still maintained controlled of the borough. “We have an assembly person who is still trying to control the town, and the taxpayers are being raked over the coals,” said Turnage
Residents also point to projects like the Mind and Body Complex, the 100,000-square-foot multi-use community center that was recently approved for construction — the brainchild of Holley — that some allege is helping to bankrupt residents, as well as the borough. “Roselle has one of the highest foreclosure rates in the state,” said Turnage. “The bottom line is that the borough is broke. And taxes will go up as a result of money mismanagement in Roselle.”
Dansereau said that although she wants to see the project succeed, the borough’s financial ability to pay for the project must come first.“Roselle is $36 million in debt,” Dansereau said. “The ceiling is 46 million. Based on that, Roselle could not borrow the 59 million dollars on its own and had to have the Union County Improvement Authority Bond for the money,” she said, referring to the money borrowed in order to build the complex. “While it is not unusual to have an entity like that do the borrowing, the cost of building and operating this project will definitely be a heavy financial cost to the town. That is why I am pressing our financial professionals to work with me to find concrete streams of revenue and intelligent financial planning to prevent a catastrophic financial burden to the town. I want nothing more than to see this project succeed, but as the saying goes, ‘show me the money.’ Our overburdened taxpayers deserve as much.”
Statistics show that Roselle’s has the 15th-highest foreclosure rate in the state, and ranks 150th nationally. According to 2015 data, one of every 163 homes in the borough is in foreclosure.
Residents say they are dismayed over the alleged political activity, alliances and antagonism that they feel is negatively affecting their town. “This is really devastating our town,” Turnage said.