[Editorial] Gone To The Dogs

[Editorial] Gone To The Dogsthumbnail
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Published: August 1, 2013 @ 12:00 PM EDT

Looking back, everything started on March 20th of this year with a recommendation from the Roselle Park Library Board of Trustees member Joseph DeIorio when he stated during a meeting, “The one thing you might want to consider is having their Certificate Of Insurance (COI) on file naming the library as the insured.”

Before then, everything – as far as the Roselle Park Veterans Memorial Library and the Friends Of The Library were concerned – was on track with the ‘Pet-Adoption Day’ event.

Now, the journey that was taken to get to failure is in no way the fault of Mr. DeIorio nor his comment, but that one statement by Mr. DeIorio was the first in a series of communications (and sometimes lack thereof) between the president of the Friends Of The Library, the Library Director, the Library Board of Trustees, the Borough Clerk, The Borough Attorney, a councilman or two, and even the borough’s insurance provider that ended in the eventual cancellation of the original Pet Adoption Day and its postponement to an as-yet-to-be-determined date in the future.

The good news is, as far as we know, no animals were harmed in the making of this fiasco.

Originally called an “Animal Rescue Day”, Friend Of The Roselle Park Library (FOTRPL) President Paul Irslinger approached the Board of Trustees for permission to have the event on May 18, 2013. The event, which had never been done before with the library, was to be a partnered event between the FOTRPL and the library. As Mr. Irslinger put it, “They’re sponsoring it and we’re doing it.”

Two animal rescue groups, S.A.R.A. (Summit Animal Rescue Association) & Friends of the Linden Shelter, were scheduled to have vehicles and animals in cages throughout the front lawn of the library – not inside the building. There would be a food and toy drive that day as well. Via a resolution, the Library Board of Trustees was about to vote and approve the event when the comment was raised. After some discussion from the Board, it was determined that the event could proceed as long as the organization’s participating presented their COIs and signed a Hold Harmless agreement.

That was the best of times.

There were interactions between Mr. Irslinger and the Borough Clerk, Doreen Cali as well as between the Roselle Park Veterans Memorial Library (RPVML) Director Susan Calantone and Ms. Cali after that meeting. That is where things get muddled depending on who you ask as to what happened.

Mr. Irslinger claimed that he was repeatedly given conditions that felt like intentional obstacles whenever he wanted to find out what was needed to satisfy the Borough to have the event. Ms. Calantone stated that whenever she called to request information from the Borough Clerk on the issues related to ordinances and protocol, her requests were not responded to. Ms. Cali affirmed that as an employee of the Borough since 2004, Ms. Calantone should be familiar with any and all Borough ordinances that pertain to either the Library and/or her position as the Director of Veterans Memorial Library and that the Library Director should address legal questions to the Borough Attorney.

Below is a copy of e-mails sent back and forth between Susan Calantone and Doreen Cali. The Library Director initiated the exchange at the behest of RPVML Board President, Jenny Binaghi Lichtenwalner.

From Jenny Binaghi Lichtenwalner  to Susan Calantone

Hi Susan,

Can you please follow up with Doreen Cali to see if the pet rescue groups need to include the Borough as an additional insured for the pet adoption day? This may be needed because of the animals involved.

Thanks,

Jenny

 

From Susan Calantone to Doreen Cali

Doreen,Please note Jenny’s question. Do we?

Susan Calantone

 

From Doreen Cali  to Susan Calantone

Absolutely

 

From Susan Calantone to Doreen Cali

Can you elaborate? What exactly do we need?

Susan Calantone

There was no response from Doreen Cali via e-mails. Ms. Calantone and the Library Board of Trustees are still waiting for a response on their last request.

Then there is the issue of the COI which, typically, is demanded of any organization using a borough building. In the case of the Pet Adoption Day, it was asked to be presented before the event. This policy is not only a good one but also serves as a common sense measure in case anyone gets injured while taking part in a private function while on borough property. There was an accusation made that some organizations did not have COIs asked of them like “Contact We Care” when they held training sessions in the Casano Community Center or Pluchino’s Self Defense; the first organization is associated with Mayor Accardi’s wife who is a volunteer manager and the second is the for-profit business run by the Code Enforcement Officer.

Below are copies of all COIs requested for both as well as a Hold Harmless Agreement signed by Mr. Pluchino. Note should be taken of the top right corner of each COI which documents the date when a COI was requested of an insurance carrier by the insured. Mr. Pluchino’s COI has a date of January 9, 2013 which is before the date that coverage is to take effect – that of January 31, 2013 to January 31, 2014. The COI of “Contact We Care” was requested through an OPRA request on April 24, 2013. The OPRA response came back with a COI with the request date of April 24, 2013 and this was for the time period covering March 2, 2013 to March 2, 2014. Subsequently the COI for 2012 was requested and that COI was dated April 30, 2013 for the dates March 2, 2012 – March 2, 2013. There were no COI dated on the dates before the coverage period. No response was offered from Borough Hall as to why there were no COIs dated before the coverage date. The problem arises what would have happened if someone take part in the private functions of Contact We Care had been injured. Would the municipality have been liable since there was no COI beforehand? If there was no COI on file, why was it not asked of Contact We Care? If one was issued, where is it?

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It gets more problematic when, during a Mayor & Council meeting the issue of the Adopt-A-Pet Day is brought up, Ms. Cali cited borough ordinance 2290, which is Borough Code 8-7, as one of the linchpins in the position that borough should take in not allowing the Pet Adoption Day not be held without council approval because the Friends Of The Library approached the incorrect organization. She stated that any event with animals required the approval of council. The problem with that position Borough Code 8-7.1 reads “No person owning, keeping or harboring any dog or cat or other animal shall permit it to enter any municipal building in the Borough of Roselle Park.” with the exemption being laid out in section 8-7.2, which reads “Excluded from the above section are . . . Borough of Roselle Park sponsored event approved by resolution of the Governing Body.”

Although the Borough Clerk stated the exemption, the animals and the organization were never going to be in the library and only on the lawn.

Borough Attorney Richard Huxford took the position of determining the intent of an ordinance instead of clarifying it by actually re-writing the ordinance – one of his job descriptions – and stated in a recommendation to council, “I know the event is scheduled to be on the lawn of the Library and not inside of the Library. However, it can be claimed that the intent of the Ordinance was to prohibit animals of Borough property without the sponsored event being approved by Mayor and Council.”

Additionally, Ms. Cali gave a scenario of a dog being brought home after being adopted (three weeks) then biting someone. Her stance was that the victim could, in turn, sue not only the dog owner but the borough. Borough Attorney Huxford again takes an extreme stance – one not supported by any case precedent – in his professional recommendation to council by writing, “I would also advise that if someone does adopt a dog or car and if for some reason the animals bites the new owner there is a strong possibility that the Borough would be named in a subsequent lawsuit.”

Taking that extreme logic to its conclusion only serves to begin a downward spiral where animals on municipal property during a Borough-sponsored event, such as former Mayor Joe DeIorio’s dog that was on the library lawn during 2010’s “Movies In The Park” should be held to the same standard. Then having a dog at the Memorial Day ceremony – a Borough sponsored event – would have to be evaluated since, if a dog ends up biting someone during the ceremony, using the example provided by the Borough Clerk, the victim could sue the Borough.

It is such positions that those who accuse the municipality of selective enforcement point to as evidence that some events – like “Movies In The Park” – are not held to the same standard as others, even when held on the same location.

Removing the cloud of suspicion about ulterior motives, this sequence of events demonstrates how a simple matter becomes an exercise in bureaucracy.

The sad thing is that there is a simple solution.

Have a checklist with instructions and examples that could remove any ambiguity or selective enforcement (whether perceived or real). But no one on the governing body has gone ahead and taken the initiative to stop such a fiasco from happening in the future. Putting things down in writing would stand for years as opposed to having them change upon an employee’s or resident’s interpretation.

At a time when residents are showing frustration for everything from trash to bulk to trees to roads, having clear lines of communication would go a long way in improving the public trust to where such a simple event like finding dogs and cats a home does not become an exercise in finger-pointing without a resolution. Doing so will only widen the divide between people and the connection between people and their government.