ROSELLE, NJ — The Roselle Active Seniors group has been, literally, locked out of the Amalfe Community Center, where members have been meeting for more than 30 years.
According to the borough administration, it has reached out to the group regarding the possibility of a meeting to resolve the issue, but no meeting was scheduled as of press time Feb. 7. And now, the seniors are wondering if they will be allowed back into the community center in time for its next meeting, scheduled for Feb. 10.
On Feb. 6, Pam Rey, president of Roselle Active Seniors, said she would like confirmation of the group’s return to the center in writing, but the group has not yet received anything from the borough.
The 80-member strong senior group has been meeting at the borough’s Amalfe Community Center since 1983, but was informed Jan. 9 by Bryan Russell, the borough’s assistant business administrator, that it had to vacate the center. Prior to that decision, a few members had voiced some concerns regarding conditions at the center at a recent Roselle Council meeting.
On Friday, Jan. 27, as group members showed up for their regular meeting at the borough’s Amalfe Community Center, members were physically locked out of the center, which is supposed to remain open each day between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Group members began arriving around noon for their meeting, which was to begin at 1 p.m. After the door of the center was discovered to be locked at 12:40 p.m., several members, who had been waiting in the cold parking lot, decided to leave.
Roselle Mayor Christine Dansereau responded to calls from members as they waited, and arrived soon after with Russell to unlock the door.
Pam Rey, president of Roselle Active Seniors, had already arrived at the parking lot but waited until the employee left in order to avoid a confrontation. As the parking lot filled up with members of the group, Rey said she watched as the community center employee walked out, locked the front door of the center, and drove off, leaving the seniors in the parking lot.
When Rey tried the door, she confirmed that it had, indeed, been locked.
On Jan. 9, Rey had received a letter from Russell informing her that the group was to vacate the community center — where it conducts bi-weekly meetings and events — and was to instead hold meetings at the borough’s firehouse.
In response, Rey sent a letter to Russell, dated Jan. 12, in which she stated that the group did not agree with the decision.
“Your letter stated that effective immediately, our group is being moved to the Roselle Firehouse to conduct our bi-monthly meetings,” wrote Rey to Russell. “We do not agree with this measure. The Active Seniors group has been existence since 1983 and has always conducted our meetings in a professional manner while utilizing the community center. We reserve the right to be treated fairly and with dignity in all matters. If you feel that we have violated any rules or guidelines that govern the use of the community center, please advise us in writing so that we can rectify the situation.”
That same day, Russell emailed Rey to inform her that the group could use the center for the meeting it had scheduled for the following day, Jan. 13.
Russell did not respond to LocalSource’s request for comment as of press time Feb. 7.
On Jan. 16, the borough released a statement to LocalSource stating that the administration was attempting to assist all groups who met at the center, and that scheduling issues were of concern.
“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,” read the statement. “That space, however, was not sufficient for Active Seniors organizers.”
Recreation Director Donald Shaw said in the statement that many groups need to be accommodated at the center.
“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,” he said, adding that, while there have been accusations that the borough has expelled the seniors from the center, the opposite is true.
“We are making every effort to accommodate them,” he said, and that many borough-sponsored senior programs also need to be considered.
The following week, Rey started a petition in support of the Roselle Active Seniors and their continued use of the community center, as well as use of the senior bus for monthly trips. The petition, signed by members of the group, community members and fire department personnel, now has more than 100 signatures.
The Jan. 18 meeting of the Rosell Council had standing room only as group members and their supporters voiced their concern about the group’s removal from the center.
Francine Pajewski, vice president of the group, addressed the council.
“It’s a shame how some of you are treating us seniors,” she said. “We have done nothing to you. How would you like this done to your parents or grandparents? Hopefully this does not happen to them or to you.”
Active Seniors member Lilly Brown also voiced her dismay about the decision to move the group, stating during the council meeting that there had been no official meeting with borough officials to discuss the measure meted out against the group.
“It was a shock to us when we received this letter expelling us from the Amalfe Center where we have our meetings,” Brown said of Russell’s letter to Rey. “It just doesn’t seem like it went through the democratic process.”
Brown also stated that the issues should have been discussed before any drastic action taken.
“Sure there are problems,” Brown said. “There are always problems. We can get together, we can talk, we can sit down at the table and try to work out the problems. I mean, a drastic move like this is shocking.”
Brown also pointed out that the proposed meeting room at the firehouse in on the third floor, which is not easily accessible to some of the seniors.
Roselle Fire Chief Paul Mucha has confirmed that there is not enough space inside the firehouse to accommodate the group. In addition, the firehouse lacks ample parking and kitchen facilities.
Former Councilwoman Sylvia Turnage said at the meeting that there has been a lack of meaningful communication between the seniors and the borough.
“The seniors tried to talk to Donald Shaw,” Turnage told the council, saying the seniors had asked Shaw to return the group’s storage locker to its original place; it had been moved onto the meeting room’s stage in December, making it difficult for the seniors to access.
Turnage said that the seniors feel “unwelcomed, harassed and disrespected,” and that voicing their concerns to the council brought about what they see as retaliatory measures on the part of the council.
“When the seniors decided to express their concerns, the council president, who is also the wife of the recreation director, told the seniors that if they didn’t like the accommodations, they could move elsewhere,” Turnage said of council President Kim Shaw, wife of Donald Shaw.
Shortly thereafter, the group received the letter from Russell denying them access to the center.
“These actions are totally inappropriate,” Turnage said. “The seniors did not ask to move, they were forced to move out.”
Turnage told the council that she demanded respect for the senior group.
“I demand that they be treated with dignity and respect,” she said. “They are valuable members of this community. What you conspire to do to them is despicable and will not be tolerated.”
Turnage also called out specific parties involved in the situation.
“I suggest that any recreation staff that has to stoop to that level and can’t treat people with respect should consider employment elsewhere,” Turnage said at the council meeting. “There is no room for hate in our community.”
While Donald Shaw reached out recently to LocalSource, stating that there would be a meeting with the group to discuss the situation, Rey said Jan. 6, that she has heard, “Not a word from anyone in the borough.”
The next Roselle Active Seniors meeting is scheduled for Friday, Feb. 10, but its location could not be verified by press time Feb. 7.