ROSELLE, NJ — An Oct. 30 meeting advertised as a special joint gathering of the Roselle Borough Council and Board of Education about a new school and community center project dissolved into a brief vote on one unrelated item.
The council withdrew from the meeting five days before it was supposed to take place, Mayor Christine Dansereau said, leaving the BOE to hold the meeting alone at Abraham Clark High School.
Some residents have raised concerns as to how much the Mind and Body project will cost taxpayers, estimated by county and local officials at up to $59 million. Former BOE member Anthony Esposito is suing the borough and the school board to halt the project, claiming financing for the project was not secured on time.
The original public notice for the meeting — published in The Star-Ledger on Oct. 28 — said the meeting would provide a “comprehensive presentation of the facilities and costs” of the Roselle Mind and Body Complex, including the Early Childhood Center and the borough’s community center and library.
The notice said the school board would consider a resolution for naming the new school and consider approving its submission to the Quality Single Accountability Continuum, which is the state Department of Education’s monitoring and evaluation system.
When LocalSource arrived at the Oct. 30 meeting, the two items regarding the Mind and Body Complex were not listed on the meeting agenda. At the start of the meeting, BOE member Archange Antoine asked board President Candida Young why the public notice didn’t match the agenda.
“Why, with what was sent out as a result of our Open Public Meetings Act and our public notice … why doesn’t it line up?” Antoine asked. “Can you answer that? What we sent out to the public about what we will be discussing at this meeting is not what’s on this agenda.”
Young said there was a revision of the agenda that had been sent out, and that Dorian Timmons, the board’s secretary, was responsible for the public notice.
Antoine, who also said he had not received notification of the meeting, asked Timmons to explain the discrepancies, and why Timmons didn’t respond to his emails asking for information about the meeting.
“I didn’t respond to you because you were talking to me like a child,” Timmons said. “So when you talk to me like an adult, I will absolutely respond.”
Young interjected, “This is ridiculous,” before the board attorney Allan Roth interrupted to explain the timeline of when the public notices were sent to newspapers.
Young interrupted when Antoine demanded that the attorney pull up the original notice that went out Oct. 25.
“This is not going to be the time to address this, Mr. Antoine,” Young said. “So please.”
After a moment of silence, Roth asked if he should read the notice, but Young said, “No, you don’t have to read the notice.”
“I understand that things play out they way they do in our town,” Antoine said during the meeting. “But I’ve never heard of a board member not having notification for a meeting to attend.”
Young shook her head at Antoine’s comment and said board members were emailed earlier in the morning about the meeting.
“There was a lack of communication for this particular meeting,” Young said. “So I apologize if you did not get it. The thought was that all board members were going to receive this. The report went out to all board members and the agenda went out this morning. It’s just this one agenda item that went out.”
It was not immediately clear which entity had originally scheduled the joint special meeting. Young told LocalSource after the meeting that no one from the school board had called for the joint meeting.
Roth, the board attorney, also said he did not know who had requested the special meeting, noting that he received his information from the BOE president.
Young “still wanted the meeting because she wanted to pass the QSAC,” Roth said after the meeting. “An amended advertisement went out on Oct. 26 in late afternoon. It’s the advertisement that we just did today that had the two items on it: executive session and (the QSAC). It also says the joint meeting is cancelled.”
Roth added that the BOE and the council have previously held joint meetings.
“Sure, we had one to discuss the project in 2014” he said.
Dansereau, who attended the Oct. 30 meeting, said she had not called for the joint meeting and didn’t know which council members may have requested it.
“Four other council people, who that is exactly, I don’t know,” Dansereau said, referring to the council’s bylaws, which state that four members of the council are needed to request a special meeting.
Notice of the meeting — on the council’s end — was sent via fax to The Star-Ledger and Home News Tribune on Oct. 24, according to a public notice by the municipal clerk. That notice was published on the borough’s website too.
The borough’s online notice said a joint special meeting with the school would be held at the high school; it noted that the Mind and Body project would be discussed and that “formal action may or may not be taken” at the meeting.
Dansereau said she had called the municipal attorney to ask for information about the joint meeting.
“I said, ‘I want the agenda, I want to know what’s being discussed, who the speakers are, who the special invited guests are to communicate. And I want to know how this is supposed to take place, considering it’s two completely separate boards with two different types of bylaws.’”
Resident Gaebriella Gorge told LocalSource as the school board was about to go into executive session that she had attended the meeting to learn about the Mind and Body Complex.
“I thought it was going to discuss the childhood center,” she said.
Just before the board went into executive session, an assistant for the board attorney placed fliers on the auditorium stage displaying the annual projected costs of the new school, although residents in attendance gave very little notice to them.
According to the flier, the school portion of the project would cost residents incremental annual increases in property taxes, reaching an an additional $190.21 by 2047. The numbers came from the Union County Improvement Authority, which would be responsible for issuing the bonds, and from the school board’s auditor.
Another preliminary assessment from the UCIA, which did not take into account any offsets, has shown a projected tax increases reaching $491 annually for the overall project.