Borough officials – be it a councilman, mayor, or borough historian – all retain rights as citizens. While not acting in the explicit capacity of their position and do not place undue legal burden or influence, each can speak or participate as private citizens in organizations or committees without being penalized. But a reasoning made by Councilman-At-Large Joseph DeIorio at the 2018 annual organization meeting – in context with his appointment as a private citizen to a committee – brings up questions about the councilman’s vote against the historian for something that she did not state in her capacity as borough historian, but as a private resident for a private organization.
On January 7th of this year, newly sworn in Councilman-At-Large Joseph DeIorio asked for Resolution 29-18 – the appointment of the borough historian – to be pulled from the consent agenda for a separate vote. After all other resolutions were approved unanimously, Councilman-At-Large DeIorio stated without further explanation at the time, “I will be voting in the negative this day on this resolution.”
He was the sole ‘no’ vote on the appointment of Ms. Butler to the position of borough historian.
Later, when asked about his vote, the councilman responded, “I felt that the position has become too partisan. Back in March of 2016, I had addressed the governing body at that time regarding an incident that disturbed me when certain members of council were acknowledged by the historian for their donation to the borough’s 115 birthday celebration – leaving out the mayor and other councilmembers. So specifically, because I felt that it’s become partisan.”
A review of that meeting almost two years ago on March 24, 2016, revealed that then-resident Joseph DeIorio during the public comment portion of the meeting addressed the governing body that – for the most part – engaged then-Councilwoman-At-Large Charlene Storey. Mr. DeIorio’s remarks came after Patricia Butler gave her report as borough historian earlier in the meeting.
I’m just curious why we had four members of the governing body listed. Mayor, you were not listed . . . the perception is not a good one for the organization nor for the governing body nor for the community.
Councilwoman Storey responded that Mayor Carl Hokanson did donate on the day of the celebration as did then-Councilman Eugene Meola. She added that she donated for the celebration but did it without being solicited for a contribution.
“So no one was solicited?”, Mr. DeIorio asked.
“Nope. Nobody asked me,” answered Councilwoman Storey, “I don’t know if you count this as a solicitation, as a liaison I did ask a few weeks before [and] said I would like to make a gift to the historical society in recognition of the 115th birthday. After a few weeks, Mrs. Butler said that she would like some photographs and we did donate those photographs. As far as the other things go, no one was solicited.”
“It doesn’t matter who donated,” continued Mr. DeIorio, “I’m just curious why we had four members of the governing body listed. Mayor, you were not listed. Maybe it was a rumor… I was told that members were solicited to donate . . . I think the point is, the perception is not a good one for the organization nor for the governing body nor for the community. If the organization is going to solicit or offer, then everyone should be a participant.”
Mr. DeIorio – at that time – appeared to be criticizing the Roselle Park Historical Society, a private 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization which lists Patricia Butler as a principal officer. At the time, Mrs. Butler was the historical society’s president and currently continues to hold that position as a private citizen.
If Mr. DeIorio’s concerns last month regarding what he recalled as Mrs. Butler’s partisanship in her borough historian capacity when “certain members of council were acknowledged by the historian for their donation to the borough’s 115 birthday celebration”, it is not reflected in Mrs. Butler’s actual remarks during her report to the governing body as borough historian.
On March 24th of 2016, this is what Patricia Butler stated during her report as borough historian, “Good evening Mr. Mayor and members of council. We did have a wonderful 115th birthday party for Roselle Park. A big thank you to all the members of the Roselle Park Historical Society. A thank you to the workers at the Casano Center, the Casano Center Association workers for all of their help. We had a little over a hundred guests. Also, thank you to all of the businesses and individuals who donated to our event. A special thank you to council liaison Charlene Storey and her husband Greg for their beautiful photographs. They are poster size, four gorgeous prints of our town in history – current – that are going to go up on the walls of the museum so you’ll have to come and visit them. Remember, every Saturday from 10 to 1. We well exceeded our goal of 115 members. It was very exciting, and among the new members is Fifth Ward Councilman Thos Shipley. Welcome to the historical society. Most of our mayor and council are members of the historical society. Thank you for all your support.”
There was only one mention of Councilwoman-At-Large Charlene Storey donating photographs. There were no other ‘certain members of council’ singled out for donations to the celebration during her report as borough historian.
After Mr. DeIorio’s comments at the March 2016 municipal meeting, Mrs. Butler returned to the microphone to speak as a private resident and as the head of a private organization. She stated, “Pat Butler . . . also President of the Roselle Park Historical Society. I just want to respond to the questioning that occurred about how we did the donations. Our historical society members sent letters out to all the businesses we could find in town. It was quite a task. We worked very hard at it. We did ask donations from businesses. I did not ask for any donations from any individuals and those of you who know me know I never do. But I was very glad to receive them, and I know the public was also. It’s very fortunate for us that we have a lot of support in our town. We have a lot of members coming in, people that are interested.”
During her comments, Mayor Hokanson stated that the question at hand was when were donations made to the historical society for the event since the thank notices had been printed up well before the event.
“Those were the people who I knew were going to donate,” responded Mrs. Butler, again, as a private resident of a private organization. The card makes no mention of a borough historian or even any notification that this was an official borough-sponsored event. A photograph of the card is listed on the Roselle Park Historical Society’s Facebook page.
Reaching out to Councilman-At-Large Joseph DeIorio after his vote, he explained, “The difficulty is [that] she has two roles and the perception is too that it’s hard to dissect between the two because what is historical society and what is historian? The historical society is an independent nonprofit, but when she’s coming up to the governing body, to me, she’s coming up as the historian, not as the historical society president. It’s an awkward situation because we don’t have – and I went through this when I was considering my vote – we don’t have as far as I can recall outside organizations coming in and giving reports; it’s reports of departments so when she’s coming up to the governing body, she’s really coming up as the historian, not as the historical society president.”
This brings on a separate question involving the councilman as a private citizen.
During that same January 7th annual organization meeting this year, Joseph DeIorio was appointed to the Roselle Park Arts Committee as a resident. He is listed along with Councilman Shipley who is listed as the liaison while Mr. DeIorio is listed as a member. Without publicly mentioning the appointment as a resident nor clarifying publicly the appointment as a private resident and that there were no conflicts or violations of law (there are not), the appointment was voted on and approved.
If there was a concern and – as shown – confusion from Councilman DeIorio as to a distinction from Mrs. Butler when she spoke as a borough representative and when she did so as a private resident, such a clarification was not made at the January 7th meeting for the arts committee. There have been residents who have questioned the appointment and – without explanation before or after the vote – might find it hard to dissect between Councilman DeIorio and Mr. DeIorio. According to the councilman, the liaison does not have a vote according to the committee’s bylaws.
When asked about his appointment to the committee and whether he would remove himself if another resident had interest in joining, Councilman DeIorio stated, “The members of the committee are aware that I am acting in the capacity of a private citizen. I think I have something to add to the organization . . . especially when it comes to film. That’s my big passion. Things that we’ve been talking about on the committee that I’ve been bringing up regarding film ordinances [and] trying to create an environment for more filmmaking, but where other people bring in ideas, I have added value. Am I taking a spot away from someone else? Am I adding something to the committee? I understand that someone can say that you’re taking away a spot but right now I’m adding something to the committee.”
If the uncertainty regarding Mrs. Butler’s dual capacity as a borough representative and as a citizen from Mr. DeIorio lead to such an action as to wish to remove her from her position as historian, how are such concerns from residents today about Councilman DeIorio’s dual capacity as a borough representative and as a citizen to be addressed?
Another aspect of the councilman’s vote against Mrs. Butler – which was not addressed by anyone – adds another complication to the issue.
Had the councilman-at-large – or any other member of the governing body – reviewed the responsibilities of the borough historian under borough code 2-18.3 et. al., there might have been cause to not reappoint Mrs. Butler to the position. The powers and duties of the historian read as follows:
The Local Historian shall have the following powers and responsibilities:
a. The Local Historian shall carry out a historical program, including but not restricted to collecting, preserving and making available materials relating to the history of the Borough of Roselle Park. The Historian shall store such materials in such manner as to ensure their preservation and shall notify the State Archivist, New Jersey Historical Commission, the Union County Local Historian and the Mayor and Council of any materials which should be acquired for preservation. Upon leaving office, the Local Historian shall turn over all materials and records and reports into the possession of his successor, if then appointed, or to the Governing Body until a successor shall be appointed.
b. The Local Historian shall make an annual report to the Mayor and Borough Council stating all the work accomplished during the next year. The Historian shall transmit a copy of such report to the New Jersey Historical Commission. Further, the Historian shall consult with the New Jersey Historical Commission for the purpose of implementing a historical program for the Borough of Roselle Park.
c. The Local Historian may research, write and cause to have published a history of the Borough of Roselle Park and may recommend appropriate historical materials for publication.
d. The Local Historian may assist a Landmark Commission, as well as advise the Mayor and Council, concerning the acquisition, administration, use, and disposition of any landmark or historical site, including such places in his jurisdiction which are included in the New Jersey Register of Historic Places. Such advice may be furnished to the Historic Site Section, Department of Environmental Protection.
e. The Local Historian shall assist in projects of commemoration, including the erection of monuments, historic markers, and guide signs.
f. The Local Historian shall also perform such duties as may be assigned to him by the Mayor and Council.
Phone calls to the New Jersey Historical Commission and Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests revealed that Mrs. Butler has not submitted an annual report to the governing body nor to the NJ Historical Commission as outlined in borough code 2-18.3.b. Also, the state commission’s office has no record of consultation from the borough historian on implementing a program for Roselle Park, which is under the same section. The state commission also has no record of notification from Mrs. Butler on materials that should be acquired for preservation under 2-18.3.a. There have been no published material nor recommendation on record at Roselle Park’s borough hall as outlined under 2-18.3.c.
In the end, the question of whether Mrs. Butler was doing a good job as borough historian was a valid one and – based on the criteria set by law – one that perhaps could have been addressed in a formal review of a historian’s role to allow for an opportunity to rectify certain matters. Another option available to the governing body – including Councilman DeIorio – would have been to not reappoint Mrs. Butler as historian for cause under 2-18.3.
And therein appears to be the problem with the borough historian’s position. It is too intertwined with the historical society. There is an easy and simple solution to that which is to have the borough historian and the historical society president be two separate individuals. That would remove any confusion between the two different responsibilities.
If such a resolution is to be applied to one person acting as both a borough representative and a private resident, it should be applied across the board to include appointments of councilmembers to committees as a resident.
Either that or have borough representative be explicit and ever-mindful of their roles in official and private capacities.
Numerous phone calls to Mrs. Butler for comment or clarification were not returned.
(NOTE*: The author has volunteered for the Roselle Park Short Film Festival with Joseph DeIorio.)