ROSELLE. NJ — It seems that no one is being spared these days in the borough of Roselle.
Roselle Active Seniors, an active and long-standing senior group in the borough since 1983 with about 80 members, has been asked to vacate Roselle’s Amalfe community center — where they conduct all of their meetings and most events — and move to the borough’s firehouse. And the group, along with its supporters, are up in arms over what they are calling retaliation on the part of several members of the borough’s administration and council members.
On Jan. 9, Roselle Active Seniors’ president Pam Rey received a letter from Bryan Russell, assistant borough administrator for Roselle. The letter was carbon-copied to David Brown, Roselle’s business administrator, along with Recreation Director Donald Shaw and Roselle Fire Chief Paul Mucha.
“The Department of Recreation and borough administration has made numerous efforts to work with the Active Seniors group in order to provide a meeting place for you and it is become clear that the Amalfe Community Center is not satisfactory to your group,” wrote Russell in his correspondence. “We have worked out the schedule for your group and effective immediately the Active Seniors bi-monthly meeting will be held in the 3rd-floor meeting room of the Roselle Firehouse.”
Russell also informed Rey that the group’s locker, which holds supplies for the group such as a coffeemaker and other items, would be moved to the new location as well.
“We trust that these new accommodations will better serve your group’s needs and we are confident that this arrangement will prove more satisfactory to all groups concerned,” stated Russell’s letter.
Russell also stated that use of the senior bus for specialty trips would be limited to once a month, instead of the usual bi-monthly bus trips.
Rey told LocalSource that she, along with group members, are furious.
“We got a letter that we were supposed to be moved,” Rey said in a phone call. “We don’t want to move. We don’t even understand why we’re being asked to move.”
According to Rey, problems started after members of the group voiced their concerns about several issues at the community center. The center is run by Shaw, who is married to Roselle Councilwoman Kim Shaw.
Some of the concerns include what some close to the situation have called unsanitary conditions and rude personnel.
Rey said the group has been meeting in the same room for more than 30 years and that, in fact, the group helped purchase the center years ago.
“We’re just a private club in Roselle and they want to control what our club does,” Rey said of the borough administrators and certain council members. “We’ve always had respect for all of the borough’s mayors and have always worked well with everybody. We didn’t know this was coming.”
Recreation director Donald Shaw released a statement to LocalSource regarding the situation.
“Roselle’s level of commitment to its senior population surpasses that of other towns and that’s because we feel strongly about our residents’ ability to age in place,” said Shaw. “To that end, we also pride ourselves in accommodating non-municipal, senior-related programming whenever possible.”
According to Shaw, with 20 senior-related, municipal-sponsored programs, and the dozen more groups that meet at the Amalfe Community Center, scheduling can be challenging for non-municipal groups like the Roselle Active Seniors, which held its twice-monthly meetings at the Amalfe Community Center.
According to Shaw, because of limitations in scheduling and because the Amalfe Center’s schedule prioritizes Roselle-based groups composed of Roselle residents, the borough sought to assist the Roselle Active Seniors group by making available space located at the Roselle Fire Department.
“The issue we run into is that we must place Roselle senior residents and taxpayers first,” Shaw said. “The Roselle Active Seniors group brings in residents from all over Union County and that has created some serious logistical challenges in accommodating this group. We must look for solutions while thinking of our own Roselle residents first.”
Shaw added that while there have been accusations that the borough has expelled them from the community center, the opposite is true. “We are making every effort to accommodate them,” he said.
Rey, who said that the group has been involved in many charitable initiatives and events throughout the years, said that the firehouse cannot accommodate the approximately 80 members of the group. In addition, the firehouse lacks ample parking space and kitchen facilities.
Mucha told LocalSource that the firehouse cannot accommodate the Active Seniors group.
“I don’t have the capacity for 80 people,” Mucha said in a phone call.
Russell did not respond to LocalSource’s request for comment.
Roselle resident Maria Hegener, who is an advocate for the group, said the situation at the community center has been deteriorating steadily.
“It’s gotten so horrible at the community center,” Hegener told LocalSource in a phone call. “It was a great opportunity for the seniors to enjoy their time there. Now it seems that the seniors are shying away. The place is filthy and the people are rude. You need to engage with people, you need to clean the community center. The place is in a shambles. The seniors have been disgusted from the get-go because if one complains, all the others have to suffer. It’s been issue after issue.”
Former borough councilwoman Sylvia Turnage said she believes that the actions on the part of several members of the council and administration are retaliatory.
“The pattern has been that when you speak against something, you are retaliated against,” Turnage told LocalSource in a phone call.
Turnage cited the harassment and bullying that Roselle Mayor Christine Dansereau has suffered after she voiced her concerns about the Mind and Body Complex project.
“The level of bullying is so ridiculous,” Turnage said. “The Active Senior group is older than many of the people who are moving them out of the community center. Seniors get intimidated very easily. This is a group that has peacefully gotten together for years.”
Dansereau told LocalSource that she supports the Active Seniors group.
“I told Dave Brown that this is not governance,” Dansereau told LocalSource in a phone call, referring to the borough’s B.A. “The council rejects the advice of the B.A., the assistant B.A. and the borough attorney.”
According to Dansereau, the recreation committee is allegedly part of Assemblyman Jamel Holley’s coalition.
“His coalition is made up of the council,” Dansereau said. “Everyone is a part of his network.”
Dansereau called out specific council members regarding the situation. According to Dansereau, Roselle Councilwoman Andrea Staten, who is an ally of Holley’s, is chair of the recreation committee.
Dansereau said that she has tried to discuss the situation with Donald Shaw.
“He won’t talk to me,” she said. “It’s an ongoing, horrible situation.”