ROSELLE, NJ — The Borough of Roselle Council held its first meeting since April 19, after four council members opted out of last month’s meeting set for May 17, citing a volatile climate and alleging that Mayor Christine Dansereau was unable to maintain control and decorum at council meetings.
But at the June 20 meeting of the council, residents came out to voice their displeasure at the latest antics of the council. In addition, some residents questioned whether council members were in violation by opting out of the May meeting.
Minutes before the May 17 council meeting was set to begin, council President Kim Shaw, along with council members Reginald Atkins, Samuel Bishop and Carla Walker, sent a letter to Dansereau at Borough Hall stating that because borough residents were allowed to get out of control, all four members would not attend the meeting, the last before the June primary.
In the letter, Shaw stated: “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. 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.”
The four members who opted out of the meeting have been outspoken adversaries of Dansereau.
In the letter, Shaw referenced the April 19 meeting, at which a fight broke out between several residents and Roselle Director of Recreation Donald Shaw, who is also the husband of the council president. In addition, a verbal altercation occurred between Kim Shaw and several residents at the same meeting.
The fight resulted in Sylvia Turnage, a former councilwoman, filing harassment complaints against both Shaws, with five charges, against the husband and three against the wife. Charges include harassment and terroristic threats.
During the public comments time at the June 20 meeting, resident Anthony Esposito called out the four May meeting no-show council members and accused them of a possible violation of the Open Public Meeting Act, otherwise known as the “Sunshine Law,” by deciding to opt out of the meeting together.
The law is designed to ensure that government bodies conduct their businesses in public except in certain circumstances where exclusion of the public is needed to protect the privacy of individuals or the safety of the public.
“I took offense when a majority of the council decided not to have a meeting in May,” Esposito said at the meeting. “Because you communicated as a quorum, you may have violated the Sunshine Act. I will be going to the prosecutor to see if there’s an actual violation.”
Esposito also questioned the behavior of the council members during the April meeting.
“When an employee instigated a problem outside, there were no issues inside,” he said, referencing the fight between Donald Shaw and residents that occurred in a hallway at Borough Hall, outside Council Chambers. “Everyone inside was perfectly safe. The altercation was outside. Why did everyone leave the dais where it was safe, to go outside where it was not? The reason for cancelling the meeting was ridiculous. This is borough business. Not everyone is going to agree with you all, it’s never going to happen.”
Esposito also accused the council majority of bankrupting the borough, citing high property taxes which he said will be further raised once the Mind and Body Complex, a $56 million community center and school facility that broke ground in April, is in operation.
“Many people believe that you are driving this borough into bankruptcy,” the resident said. “I’m a leader of that band. I believe that you’re all members of the Holley tax team. Taxes go up, up, up. We’re at the highest level of debt Roselle has ever seen.”
Esposito was referencing Democratic Assemblyman Jamel Holley, who was present at the June 20 meeting.
Holley, who was charged with harassment several months ago by Dansereau, called out Esposito during public comments, defending the Mind and Body Complex and accusing Esposito of spreading misinformation.
After addressing the council for the allowed time of three minutes, Holley requested — and was granted — another three minutes by Dansereau. After the six minutes were up, Dansereau informed him but Holley continued speaking, ignoring the mayor.
“I know you won’t grant me any more time because I’m hitting some nerves,” Holley said to Dansereau from the microphone.
Dansereau responded, citing the council bylaws.
“The bylaws which are voted on by the council give everyone three minutes and then they can ask the chair for an additional three minutes,” Dansereau said. “In no way was I trying to cut you short. I was simply abiding by the council’s rule in the bylaws.”
Roselle resident Fran Berneer also criticized the four council members and Holley.
“I found it very appalling that you did what you did last month,” Berneer said at the meeting. “I believe you took away our right to freedom of speech. I hope never to see that happen again. Do you or do you not get paid to do this job? Were you not paid to come to the council meeting last month, or are you going to dock yourselves for that?”
Berneer then addressed Holley.
“To Assemblyman Holley,” she said. “You talk a good talk, but the residents that did their research must have hit a nerve because you became so disrespectful to the mayor and the rest of council and all of us sitting here when you were asked to stop speaking. You’re an assemblyman; tone and demeanor comes from the top.”
Kim Shaw later addressed the meeting, saying that the decision not to attend the May meeting was not taken lightly, adding, “It is a statement of fact that most of the individuals who come here to disrupt the meetings only do so when the cameras are rolling. Our decision did not stem solely from the incident on April 19, but it was a direct result of months of enduring a climate that has become uncivilized and unproductive.”