ROSELLE, NJ — Turmoil continues to bubble over in Roselle.
At the Dec. 21 meeting of the Borough of Roselle council, a vote of “no confidence” was brought forth against Mayor Christine Dansereau.
The resolution, put on the table by Councilwoman Carla Walker, accused Dansereau of a laundry list of charges.
But although the council hit Dansereau with the vote, residents of the borough are firing back, accusing the council of carrying out the dirty work of Assemblyman Jamel Holley, who served as the borough’s mayor from 2011 to 2015 before relinquishing the position to Dansereau in order to take a seat in the State Assembly.
Several residents and former council members have stated that the current council has waged a campaign against the mayor since she lost favor with Holley.
Holley and Dansereau have been engaged in a legal battle, with Dansereau alleging harassment and verbal abuse on the part of Holley for the last 18 months.
In October a judge held up Dansereau’s complaint, with a hearing scheduled for Jan. 11.
A complaint filed against the mayor by Roselle Councilman Reginald Atkins was tossed out by Roselle Municipal court Judge Carl Marshal, who found no probable cause to support Atkins’ complaint. In his complaint, Atkins accused Dansereau of harassment, claiming the mayor had sent him a threatening text message and had harassed him during phone calls and conversations.
Atkins filed his complaint with borough police on Sept. 15, just two days after Dansereau filed a complaint against Holley.
An incident at town hall came on the heels of the filed complaint, when Dansereau found a doorway to her office blocked by a filing cabinet. After a resident helped Dansereau move the cabinet back, and after putting a sign on the cabinet requesting that it not be moved, the cabinet was moved once again in front of the mayor’s doorway the next day.
Atkins told LocalSource at the time that he had moved the cabinet due to lack of space in an adjacent office.
Much of the harassment allegedly stems from the borough’s Mind and Body Complex, a $56 million project to be built in the borough that would include a community center, pool, library and classrooms. Dansereau has questioned the fiscal prudence of the costly project, which would tack on approximately $300 to annual property taxes. Currently, the borough has a proliferation of foreclosures, with the 15th-highest foreclosure rate in the nation.
The no confidence vote came as a surprise to the mayor who, after the resolution was read, asked borough attorney Rachel Caruso whether she had known about the vote.
“Were you aware of it?” Dansereau asked of Caruso.
Caruso denied any knowledge of the resolution.
“So this was a surprise?” asked Dansereau.
Caruso said that it was.
Some of the charges listed included in the no confidence vote include Dansereau’s alleged “unwillingness to collaborate and communicate with council members, and her ineffective leadership, unsupported verbal attacks on staff members, including the administration, which has created disharmony and could be considered hostile or discriminatory.”
The mayor is also accused by the council of the alleged “pursuit of courses of action that are detrimental and fiscally unsound, the creation of a climate of mistrust and hostility within the borough by condoning the inappropriate action of others and the “inability to properly chair the monthly council meetings to ensure decorum and respect among all attendees, obstructing the council’s ability to move the business of the borough forward in an efficient manner.”
Other charges include the mayor’s alleged “attempts to thwart the borough’s policies and procedures to suit her own agenda, use of borough resources inappropriately and failure to protect the privileged and confidential information of the borough and its employees.”
Councilman Reginald Atkins seconded the motion, with council president Kim Shaw, Andrea Staten and Samuel Bishop voting “yes” on the motion. Councilman Yves Aubourg voted against the resolution, stating, “Definitely, no,” when his name was called during roll call.
Dansereau told LocalSource that she, along with borough residents, are shocked by the council’s actions.
“I was blindsided,” Dansereau said in a phone call. “People in the community are shocked.”
According to Dansereau, borough employees, including fire and police department, are outraged by the council’s allegations.
Former Roselle Department of Public Works superintendent George Phipps told LocalSource that Dansereau was always professional and easy to work with. “I never noticed any problem with the mayor,” Phipps said in a phone call. “She’s a cool and collected mayor. I never had any issues with her. Her first concern was always the residents.”
Dansereau that many residents have taken issue with the council’s comments about decorum at council meetings.
“Citizens are shocked at the allegations about the meetings, which can be seen on the website,” Dansereau said. “They know there is the occasional outburst, but overall the meetings run well. They just object to freedom of speech, when people come to the microphone and complain about our actions or inactions. They even try to call point-of-order on the freedom of speech, and I had to have our municipal attorney tell them more than once that they cannot do that.”
According to Dansereau, she has been screamed at by council members, has been told to leave her position as mayor, and has had rocks thrown through her window.
“I have attempted to reach out to different council members for their opinions, to attend meetings and to have discussions, all of which are met with silence, and all of which are documented in emails and text messages,” Dansereau said. “I have lost hours of sleep trying to figure out how to change our relationship but it’s never going to happen.”
Dansereau said that she believes that the no confidence vote is just part and parcel of the alleged harassment on the part of Holley that has carried over into the borough to create a climate of intimidation and bullying.
“Just like with any bullying or stalking situation, there’s a level of intimidation,” Dansereau said. “When you have someone that continuously sets people up to be bullied or intimidated, or does it himself, after a while it gets crazy. It’s a very challenging situation. This is about Jamel Holley crossing a boundary, and that boundary cannot be crossed again.”
Dansereau also believes that Holley, who won a seat in the Assembly in January of 2015 but who allegedly did not accept the position until March, did so in order to ensure that specific people were appointed in the borough.
“He wanted to make sure that he made all the appointments,” Dansereau alleged of Holley.
Former Roselle Councilwoman Sylvia Turnage told LocalSource that she believes that the council’s no confidence vote was premeditated.
“This vote of no confidence, I think it was premeditated,” Turnage said in a phone call. “I think it was very disrespectful, and what does this vote of no confidence mean? A lot of the things in the vote can be challenged. It’s ludicrous. They need to bring forth proof. It’s a sad situation going on in Roselle. I think the people who were elected need to do the jobs they were elected to do.”
Atkins told LocalSource that the no confidence was necessary.
“Over the past one and-a-half years, I have seen troubling symptoms from the mayor’s office and it is clear to the council and the residents that this vote of no confidence was needed as a foundation in bringing unity and structure to 2017,” Atkins said in an email. “The mayor must synchronize her efforts and priorities with the council to create a business and leadership model that’s going to grow our town and staff. At the end of the day, the business of the borough must be first priority.”
Shaw told LocalSource that the climate in the borough has not improved.
“It’s been turbulent, to say the least,” Shaw said in a phone call. “We just got to the point where if we didn’t do it, we couldn’t get back on track,” Shaw said of the resolution against the mayor. “We have some serious concerns. When you’re told your concerns are silly, what else are you supposed to do? As council president, I have to be a bridge to communication. I do think this step could open the doors to communication.”
Shaw said that she hopes that 2017 will be a better year, although she said she is not as optimistic as other council members.
“This council is going to move the borough forward, with or without the mayor,” Shaw said. “I’m not confident that the mayor has the ability to b a leader or to move the borough forward. When you have people in the mayor’s circle who are being verbally aggressive towards council people, that’s concerning. Our meetings have deteriorated into a circus.”
Residents took to social media after word of the no confidence came out, with many residents speaking out in support of Dansereau.
“Council members need to represent the interests of the citizens of Roselle and not the interests of Jamel Holley,” wrote a resident on Facebook’s Real Roselle forum. “Too much damage has been done and it’s time to ship them out. I have never even met our ward’s councilman. And considering the many issues in our neighborhood alone you think he would come around and meet with the residents. Maybe because the issues our residents have don’t align with their agenda. I’m sick and tired of it, quite honestly. And our mayor, nor anyone else, should have to put up with this kind of harassment. It’s disgusting.”
Dansereau said that she is concerned about what lies ahead.
“My concern is, what’s next?” Dansereau said. “It’s just another way to try and break me and get me to leave. I have made a fatal move in choosing the public over the council, and now I will pay for this until the end of my term in office. It’s a hard price to pay but one, in my opinion, that is worth it. I don’t expect that anyone will ever know or understand how hard it is to really stand up for what is right in the political arena.”