Mayor Carl Hokanson’s annual address touched upon his administration’s accomplishments last year but hinted at issues that almost immediately came up with regard to disunity on the governing body.
The mayor’s speech spoke of steps the governing body took last year – such as the boroughwide revaluation, development, new businesses, townwide garage sales, re-establishment of the auxiliary police – and future plans for Michael Mauri Park and development on the Sullivan Chevrolet property and Hawthorne Street with the old Leberco Labs building. But Mayor Hokanson also made numerous references to the need of unity on council to continue with his administration’s plans. This warning turned into a prediction and a fractured governing body revealed itself with 4-2 votes that overturned numerous mayoral appointments and selections for service professionals.
Politics and money were issues on the agenda, most notably with the mayor wanting to appoint Dan Petrosky, the Chair of the Roselle Park Democratic Committee (RPDC), as the Clean Communities Coordinator for $1,900. Mr. Petrosky was delinquent with required reporting of the program last year and the mayor wanted to appoint him in place of volunteers who have done more in cleaning up the community than the actual program with no pay in 2016. On the other end, 1st Ward Councilman Eugene Meola was appointed as the representative to the Joint Meeting of Essex & Union County (JMEUC) – a paid position of $6,500 – by Republican councilmen Fahoury & Shipley and RPDC-ousted Democratic Councilwoman Storey in place of having Mayor Hokanson remain on the sewerage authority; no other municipality switches out their representatives annually because continuity is needed to understand the workings of the JMEUC.
The mayor’s words quoting “With a Little Help from My Friends” by the Beatles along with repeated use of the word ‘we’ and closing his address by stating that he hopes 2017 turns out to be a good year were contradictory to a meeting that became so contentious it had to take a 10-minute recess to try to alleviate the clearly noticeable tension from the dais.
Below is a transcript of Mayor Carl Hokanson’s 2017 Annual Address:
The financial condition of the borough remains a major concern. For the borough officials, you know I couldn’t go through a major address without promptly referencing my Marine Corps. In its simple moral ground rules, the Marine Corps teaches to do the right – the right thing – for the right reason. No exceptions exist that says ‘unless there’s criticism or risk’.
I believe that theme captures the sometimes tough but right decisions we made last year like completing the boroughwide revaluation process. Looking back, I can say now we have a fair and [equitable] local tax system which has also lessened the costly number of tax appeals. It showed that 50% went up, 42% went down, 8% stayed the same. As I see the growing State pressure on municipalities – both in and outside Union County – to undertake the difficult but needed process of revaluation, I can praise all involved and know that we did the right thing for the right reason.
As elected officials, we learn quickly that to legitimately lessen the tax burden on residents we must find alternative sources of revenue and cut spending, wherever possible.
With regards to the redevelopment efforts, I told an attorney just Last week ‘no more letting the grass grow’. This year we will see construction begin at the Merida Complex on West Westfield Avenue, the redevelopment of Leberco Labs on Hawthorne Street which has been sitting dormant for 17 years, with the new Wawa on the Cranford line. Now, my sites are once again set on the redevelopment of the old Sullivan property.
In regards to the Sullivan lot, just a few preliminary points. This valuable piece of property in a prime location – and I do say valuable… I have been getting calls from contractors from all over the area. There is nowhere in the state of New Jersey that has 4½ acres of prime land waiting to be developed and the location has been stagnant for six years. While there may have been some false starts in the past, we are making every effort – we as council – [are] making every effort to see that it does not remain stagnant. We are in the process of declaring the property an Area In Need Of Redevelopment. As such, we need to totally conform to complex ethics laws governing redevelopment but with due diligence, I am confident that we will indeed move forward on this issue.
Also, in the spirit of honesty, one of the joys of being your Mayor is welcoming new businesses. Most recently, we just had the grand opening of the new AAMCO Transmissions, the Little Stars Child Care, and the re-opening of an expanded and completely renovated McDonald’s. They are examples of business investing in Roselle Park. You’ve heard me say it and I will say it again – “If you build it, they will come” and the phone calls are coming. This is borough moving on an upward trail while making every effort to improve the quality of life afforded to our citizens.
Continuing on that note, one of the main focal points of our downtown, the gazebo at Michael Mauri Park, has received a much-needed makeover. As we will celebrate – believe it or not it’ll be the 25th year that the gazebo was donated this year – it is our hope to [further] enhance the park with additional shrubbery and flowers, making it truly a beautiful centerpiece for our community.
What I am trying to say [is] I’m asking council, I’m asking the people who have already [and] who are willing to donate their time and effort, I would like to make Michael Mauri Park our little Central Park right here in Roselle Park.
Our Veterans Library has also seen many improvements, the auxiliary police force has been re-established, and in a show of support to our local law enforcement officers, a thin blue line has been painted down the length of Chestnut Street.
Yes, it was painted but I’m sorry to say the state stepped [in and] the Manual of [Uniform] Traffic Control Devices says that it has to be removed.
Oftentimes, I am reminded of the words in a Beatles song that referenced the fact that to get by we all need a little help from our friends. This year, we received a top grant of $75,000 from the County Freeholders for new lights at our high school field. We also secured a $50,000 grant as part of the [NJ Recreation Trust Fund] which helped to defray the cost of improvements at Aldene Park. I see progress being made in our commitment to reducing helicopter noise by private parties flying over the borough. All of these are positive developments and go a long way in making Roselle Park a better place for all. Not me, not us, for all.
Sometimes these improvements are basic in nature. In addition to our spring townwide garage sale, 2016 saw the first fall townwide garage sale and to ensure that you don’t have to bring any unwanted items back into your home, both of these events coincided with the spring and fall townwide bulk pick-up.
We have done a lot. We. Not me, not us, we, all of us. We have done a lot and we need to do more. The continued redevelopment in our borough with its promise of new business and enhanced housing [options] along with our community programs, increased cultural diversity – it’s unbelievable the amount of cultural diversity that we have in this borough – and fabulous location are a major plus to Roselle Park.
Our governing body works hard to make our town a place that we can be proud of. We may have differences [of ideas] – yes we have differences – but never differences of heart.
At this time, let me wish the best to outgoing councilmembers Ryan Kelly and Gino Elmarassy who have both served the borough well and welcome newcomers William Fahoury and Michael Connelly. Did I mention they’re both veterans?
In closing, I leave you with the words of yet another veteran, the famous General George S. Patton who said, “Accept challenges, so that you may feel the exhilaration of victory.”
I’m hoping and I’m praying that 2017 turns out to be a good year. Thank you ladies and gentlemen.