ROSELLE, NJ — Chaos and turmoil continue to plague Roselle, as several members of the Roselle Borough Council have ramped up their battle with Mayor Christine Dansereau, with four council members opting out of the May 17 council meeting and informing the mayor by a letter sent to the borough clerk 10 minutes before the meeting was to begin.
The letter, which was signed by council President Kim Shaw, referenced the previous month’s council meeting as the reason.
“There has been a volatile climate at recent council meetings perpetuated by the inability of the chair to maintain control and decorum, which is of grave concern to the members of this council,” Shaw wrote. “Ensuring the safety and dignity of all in attendance at our bi-monthly public meetings is of utmost importance.”
The “recent council meeting” that Shaw referenced in her letter referred to the April 19 meeting of the council, at which a fight broke out between several residents and Donald Shaw, the borough’s director of recreation, who is also the husband of the council president.
According to several witnesses of the April 19 incident, the issue started after resident Sylvia Turnage, a former councilwoman, called out Donald Shaw for using a municipal vehicle for personal business.
“I need to know if the borough is running an Uber service with borough cars,” Turnage said at the meeting. “I have seen and I have pictures of a borough employee at 6:10 in the evening last Tuesday with his assistant in the borough recreation truck picking up a child from day care.”
Turnage said that she saw the assistant put the child in the back of the borough-owned car.
“She never strapped the child in, closed the door and pulled off,” Turnage said. “I don’t know if the borough is open for business at 6:10 or if we’re just running Uber services.”
Turnage told LocalSource in a phone interview last week that at some point during last month’s meeting, Kim Shaw allegedly got up from the dais, walked down the center aisle, mumbled something to Turnage, then left the room. According to Turnage, Kim Shaw returned a few minutes later and again exchanged words with Turnage.
Soon after, said Turnage, Donald Shaw allegedly arrived at the council meeting and sat in the seat immediately next to Turnage despite a room full of empty seats. According to Turnage, she turned to him and said “hello,” to which he allegedly threatened her, saying that it was “a good thing I don’t beat up women — go get your man.”
After the exchange between Turnage and Donald Shaw, borough resident and Third Ward council candidate Cynthia Johnson allegedly went into the hallway, followed by Donald Shaw. Another borough resident, Mildred Purdie, also went into the hallway, and soon a verbal altercation broke out between Donald Shaw and Purdie, with Johnson attempting to break up the argument.
According to several witnesses and video footage from the meeting, which was viewed by LocalSource, Kim Shaw flew off the dais when she heard the screaming from the hallway, followed by most members of the council.
Dansereau, who told LocalSource that she heard “blood-curdling” screams from the hallway, asked what was happening, told council members that there was no reason for them to be leaving and then officially adjourned the meeting as council members ignored her and abruptly left the room.
Turnage, who filed complaints last week against both Shaws, said that she is frightened by the ongoing harassment and vitriol between some members of the council and residents.
“I fear for my life,” Turnage said, noting an incident several months ago in which a brick was thrown through her window.
LocalSource covered the attack on Turnage’s home in January, as well as several attacks on Dansereau’s home in June 2016 and again in January 2017, when vandals threw rocks through a window and a door. Although no one was ever charged in the attacks, Turnage, Dansereau and others have alluded to the possibility that those aligned with the opposing political faction in Roselle were responsible for the incidents.
Kim Shaw said in the May 17 letter that she believed the meeting that same evening would be used as a political platform by some.
“Additionally, tonight’s council meeting will be the final one prior to the June primary elections and will in all likelihood be attended by individuals seeking to further their own political agendas by disrupting the business of the borough,” Kim Shaw wrote. “As previously stated, members of the council are not confident that the chair can or will maintain order and enforce that the focus of the meeting remain on borough business and does not disintegrate into conduct contrary to that purpose.”
She stated in the letter then stated that she, Councilman-at-Large Reginald Atkins, Councilman Samuel Bishop and Councilwoman Carla Walker would not be attending the meeting.
The four members who opted out of the meeting have been outspoken adversaries of Dansereau.
Borough Councilman Yves Aubourg was in attendance at the May 17 meeting, as was Councilwoman Andrea Staten, who is running to regain her seat in the borough’s Third Ward.
Bishop told LocalSource that although he did not want to comment directly, his statement posted on Facebook on May 19 expressed his sentiments.
“In response to my absence of the council meeting of May 17, 2017, I’d like to state the factor that lead to my decision to stand in solidarity with my fellow council members,” wrote Bishop in his Facebook post. “I, like my colleagues, and along with many residents within and outside of Roselle who have contacted me, have been deeply troubled and embarrassed by the conduct of some members of the public at our council meetings. There have been far too many instances of insults, the immaturity of name calling, personal attacks and disrespectful behavior toward sitting council members. There simply is no place in a civilized democracy for such antics and behavior. I have been disappointed that for as powerful a force as our mayor can be — when she so chooses — she appears to have a more passive posture concerning this issue.”
Bishop goes on to call out Dansereau for allegedly allowing residents to address council members individually, make personal attacks and discuss issues unrelated to the borough. Bishop does, however, state that Dansereau has admonished some in the past.
LocalSource reached out to Kim Shaw, Atkins, and Walker, all of whom had not responded to a request for comment as of press time.
LocalSource also reached out to Donald Shaw, who did not respond to a request for comment as of press time.
Because there was no quorum and business could not be conducted, Dansereau told those in attendance that they would continue with an informal community meeting.
Dansereau told LocalSource that members of the council opting out of a council meeting was counterproductive.
“Continuously, the council has said that we have to move forward,” Dansereau said in a phone interview last week. “If you don’t show up for a public meeting, business can’t be conducted.”
According to Dansereau, council members voiced their concerns at a workshop meeting after the incident at last month’s meeting.
“I offered to have two police officers at borough hall, which we discussed at the workshop meeting which they felt safe to attend,” Dansereau said, who noted that there were, in fact, two police officers in place for last week’s council meeting.
“The council felt that they didn’t want to come to a meeting where residents would ask questions or make statements of fact that they could not dispute. What they are doing is deliberately gagging the community. Unless you say what they want you to say, the council doesn’t want you here.”
Dansereau also spoke of a Facebook post by former Roselle Mayor and current state Assemblyman Jamel Holley in which he defended the council and called out Dansereau on myriad issues.
LocalSource has read Holley’s Facebook post, in which he took issue with Dansereau.
Holley and Dansereau, once allies, have been at odds for years. Dansereau filed a complaint against Holley for harassment several months ago, which came to an end in March after a judge found that Holley’s behavior, while not criminal, was wrong.
In addition, the borough’s multimillion dollar Mind and Body Complex project and the brainchild of Holley which broke ground just weeks ago, has long been a point of contention between the mayor and assemblyman.
“It is an insult, it is unacceptable,” Dansereau said. “I don’t know any other assemblymen beating up mayors.”
Denise Wilkerson, who is running on Johnson’s ticket for a First Ward council seat, said the absent council members failed the residents.
“It’s shameful that they didn’t show up,” Wilkerson told LocalSource after the meeting. “They get paid by the residents to conduct borough business and they failed to show up to take care of the business of the borough. There were millions of dollars related to items on the agenda, but they weren’t here to conduct business. They failed to handle their business.”
Dansereau said that, although items on last week’s meeting agenda will be discussed at the next meeting in June, council members must stop denying residents the opportunity to speak openly at meetings.
“Do not strip this town of democracy; do not think you can dictate,” Dansereau said of her adversaries. “Stop trying to take the voice of the people away.”