Former school board member sues to stop financing for $50 million school, recreation center, library in Roselle

ROSELLE, NJ — A former school board member has filed a lawsuit in state Superior Court seeking to stop multiple agencies from pursuing financing for a $50 million school, library and recreation center complex in Roselle.

Anthony Esposito, who has been against the Mind and Body Complex project since at least 2014 when he voted against it as a member of the school board, filed the suit Aug. 23, against the Borough of Roselle, the Roselle Board of Education, the Union County Improvement Authority and the County of Union.

“The lease upon which this entire project is based — by its own terms — became null and void on Dec. 31, 2015, when financing [for the project] wasn’t in place,” said Esposito’s lawyer, Michael Doran, at a Board of Education meeting on Monday, Aug. 28. “The board cannot revive a lease which is null and void.”

Esposito and several other residents have raised concerns about the impact the project would have on taxpayers at several council, BOE and county freeholders’ meetings.

In 2014, the Roselle Board of Education agreed to lease land on Chandler Avenue to the borough for the project. The lease stated that financing had to be secured for the project by Dec. 31, 2015, or else the agreement would lapse, according to Esposito.

Bonds to finance the project were guaranteed, but not issued, in a September 2016 vote by the Union County Freeholders. The ordinance authorized the Union County Improvement Authority to issue $59 million in bonds for the project.

Esposito’s suit claims financing for the project was not secured before Dec. 31, 2015, which makes the lease dead. The BOE disputes that claim.

“The board is confident in its position that it acted appropriately and this can be seen by the approvals received by the board from commissioner of education,” Roselle Board of Education attorney Allan Roth said.

The lease between the BOE and the borough has changed several times. The school board amended the lease at a special meeting on July 10, to extend the time to securing financing for the project by June 30, 2018. Esposito’s suit claims that any action taken at the school board’s special meeting is obsolete because it violated the Sunshine Law by not specifying the agenda item. The suit also claims that no action could be taken on a lease that Esposito says already had lapsed.

But the Board of Education at its regular meeting on Monday, Aug. 28, rescinded that July 10 special meeting amendment and made the lease between the borough and the board effective Dec. 30, 2015. The borough leased the land from the school board to the UCIA on Feb. 15, according to a resolution from the meeting.

The original lease stated that the borough could not sublet all or part of the property on Chandler Avenue, or permit the the use of property by anyone other than the borough, Esposito’s lawyer said in the public comment portion of the BOE meeting.

At the meeting the board also amended the original lease with the borough by changing the window to obtain financing for the project to June 30, 2018, Roth told LocalSource after the meeting.

In July, Esposito and his lawyer threatened legal action against the freeholders if they voted on a resolution regarding the issuance of bonds for the project during a special meeting vote. That vote was abruptly cancelled just hours before the special meeting was to begin.

County spokesman Sebastian D’Elia did not respond to a request for comment via email about Esposito’s lawsuit.