Roselle moves to terminate clerk put on leave six years ago

Photo by Rebecca Panico
Rhona Bluestein, former Roselle borough clerk, discusses her employment before the Roselle Borough Council passed a resolution to start the process of letting her go.

ROSELLE, NJ — The borough council at its June 20 meeting voted to seek the termination of a municipal clerk who had been placed on paid administrative leave six years ago. }

Rhona Bluestein spoke after a resolution to remove her for “unbecoming conduct, incompetence and other just cause,” was put up for discussion. Although her name was not disclosed on the meeting agenda, borough attorney Karen Brown said Bluestein wanted to publicly discuss the council’s action since she had received a Rice notice.

A Rice notice serves to alert individuals that issues possibly affecting their employment may be discussed at a public meeting.
The council’s vote authorized the filing of a verified complaint with the state Division of Local Government Services to remove Bluestein, a process mandated by state law since she was a tenured clerk.

“I pride myself on being an expert on the laws of the state of New Jersey and I always did my job according to these laws,” Bluestein said. “Rather than playing politics, any request that I knew was not in compliance with the laws, I did not fulfill or perform.
“For these political reasons, one day a borough official gave me a letter on borough stationery that stated that I must leave borough hall until further notice.”

Bluestein said June 20 was the first time she had received a Rice notice. When approached after speaking to the council, she did not elaborate as to what — if any — duties she had been asked to perform that she suggested were against state law.

Borough Administrator Bryan Russell said the former borough attorney had sent a letter to Bluestein on May 8, 2012, stating that she had been placed on paid administrative leave. Neither Russell nor Brown responded to follow-up questions asking if Bluestein was still on leave.
Bluestein was making about $79,000 annually, state records show.

After Bluestein spoke publicly about her employment at the meeting, council President Reginald Atkins told Bluestein,“I haven’t seen you in five years, but thank you very much for your comments.”

“We executed something that I believe should’ve been done a long time ago,” Atkins said later in his closing statement, referring to the “Rhona” situation, and legal matters that “I can’t comment on.”

He added: “I’m happy that tonight there was some action, which means that this council is working together to make sure that work gets done in this borough.”

When asked after the meeting to comment on Bluestein’s suggestion that she had been asked to perform services she claimed were not in compliance with state law, Atkins referred back to the previous administration.

“A lot of the council members that are currently on the council were not on the council at the time, so we don’t have a lot of information to share,” Atkins said, adding that he could not comment further on personnel matters.

Brandon Bernier, who won the Democratic nomination to run for the 2nd Ward council seat in the June 5 primary, said he was “flabbergasted” it took the council close to six years to take action to terminate Bluestein.

“So all it took was a resolution of this council to say, finally we’re going to do something about this situation,” he said during public comments. “So six years it took us to have a lawyer in place willing to do something about it — and the council now — after years of residents getting up here, demanding something be done about it, to actually moving this ball forward.”

First Ward Councilwoman Denise Wilkerson urged residents to be “patient for the process” and said “change is coming.”
“I am so proud of the administrative staff here who has heard the public in their concerns about certain employees that I am not at liberty to talk about,” Wilkerson said.