The governing body split on whether to have an ordinance introduced at the April 6th Mayor & Council meeting to assign the Casano Center Director an added responsibility – along with a $7,500 pay increase. The 3-3 tie was broken by Mayor Carl Hokanson.
The April 6th vote did not pass the ordinance but it was the first step in having the bill become a law in the borough. Ordinances go through a first reading and a second reading. The first reading introduces the bill to the public, gives notice for anyone wishing to comment or question it at the second reading, and is voted on by a governing body to see if there is enough support to have it proceed to a second reading. At a subsequent meeting, usually the next meeting, the second reading has a public hearing (without a time limit) and a vote by council. If an ordinance fails to get enough votes for a first reading, it does not proceed to a second reading. That almost happened with Ordinance 2481 had the mayor voted ‘no’ or abstained on it.
There is only one addition to the position of the Casano Center Director in the ordinance. It is sub-section 6 under Powers & Duties, which reads:
6. Supervise and coordinate all Borough recreation programs as Recreation Events Supervisor.
This section has members of the Roselle Park Recreation Committee upset because currently the duties to supervise and coordinate recreation programs are the responsibility of the committee. Another point of concern is that Mr. Rupen Shah, the current Casano Center Director, would receive an additional $7,500 as Recreation Events Supervisor when, currently, that task is being performed for $0 by the recreation committee as a whole.
When asked if the committee is doing an adequate job of supervising and coordinating borough rec programs, Mayor Carl Hokanson – without offering details – responded, “To a certain point yes and to a certain point no.”
The mayor was then asked a series of questions that included:
- Why pay someone instead of addressing the issues with the recreation committee so they know what needs to be addressed?
- Why have a rec committee if those duties will be handled as part of a paid borough employee’s responsibilities?
- Why not correct any actions that need to be addressed with the committee?
- Why not set up a meeting with the committee through the liaison – Second Ward Councilman Joseph Petrosky – to discuss concerns from the governing body before immediately opting to give the responsibilities to the Casano Center Director?
Councilwoman-At-Large Charlene Storey interjected and stated that the corrective action was to make it a paid position, a professional, who has experience in such duties. The response to the councilwoman was that nothing in Mr. Shah’s resume listed any particular experience or expertise in coordinated events for children.
Councilwoman Storey was then asked if the concern was to have someone responsible – through a stipend – for such activities be appointed for the job, why not open the position up to the general public so more applicants could submit their resumes and, thereby, have a larger pool of candidates to choose from for the job.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, resident and alternate member of the recreation committee Jeanine Goodis approached the governing body and plainly asked, “[I] would like to know what it is we are doing incorrectly that Mr. Shah would be able to do more effectively.”
Mrs. Goodis spoke of greater participation and attendance from residents for recreation events and improvements with coordination and the timely submission of necessary paperwork since the current chair took over. Mrs. Goodis added, “Her biggest goal is to make sure our committee is not politically motivated. Taking the committee from volunteers to make it a job just seems to go against any kind of cost-saving measures. I will tell you it is very upsetting to me as a committee member and other committee members to hear that we’re not doing something right . . . It is our goal to be sure that the children are involved in events in town. I’m not 100% what we’re doing wrong, what we’ve ever done wrong but we would appreciate someone coming and speaking to us. The Casano Center [director] is one job. This should be separate. If it’s going to be together there should be some sort of discussion as to why it’s going to be put together and we’d really like to have that.”
Before the vote to introduce the ordinance there was discussion from members of council.
“Based upon all that I’ve heard . .. I’d like this to be reconsidered,” Fifth Ward Councilman Thomas ‘Thos’ Shipley commented, “Volunteerism is important and it seems obvious that . . . some of this information was not properly conveyed and so I think there needs to be some discussion as far as what the issues are and perhaps correcting them in some way. ”
First Ward Councilman Eugene Meola stated, “I was a little taken back by how the volunteers were just not told anymore that they were needed and that was it. They were going to make it a paying job. Maybe we should discuss this a little more.”
Council-At-Large Storey remarked, “If we vote for it to go forward it can still be discussed in committee. There’s nothing stopping it from being discussed.”
After a brief discussion as to whether to table the ordinance or vote it down at the first reading, the vote was taken that ended in a 3-3 tie, council representatives Petrosky, Storey, and Fourth Ward Michael Connelly voting ‘yes’. The mayor broke the vote by simply saying, “Move it forward.”
The mayor was later asked why did he decide to move the ordinance forward instead of having it go for review or a discussion with the committee, he replied, “This was discussed way before that.”
Some issues that were not addressed by council or mayor include the risk that once the responsibilities currently held by the committee becomes a paid position, volunteerism will decline because the sentiment might arise of why volunteer is someone is already doing it for pay. Also, how involved would the Casano Center Director be in the use of funds and/or resources from the committee if he or she is the supervisor of events?
With very little detail from the governing body as to why the position must be a paid one that must be given to the Casano Center Director, the suspicion from certain members of the public is that this stipend is simply a hidden pay increase to Mr. Shah for his work as the Casano Community Center. This year, all employee were given a 2% increase across the board and $7,500 would be above that percentage.
With respect to criticism that the recreation committee had issues in the past with some of their responsibilities, it is true that a few years ago the Roselle Park Recreation Committee was cited repeatedly by the borough’s annual audit and directed to take certain corrective actions to address record keeping. Last year, no corrective action of the committee was noted by the auditors. This leads to another question as to why stop the progress being made by the committee at this point.
The ordinance is scheduled to have its second hearing and vote by the governing body at the April 20th Mayor & Council meeting. It is set to start at 7 p.m. in council chambers of the Roselle Park Municipal Complex located at 110 East Westfield Avenue.