In The Year Of Our Lord 2011: Year In Review

According to Harold Camping, the story of 2011 should be that we are here at all. If he was right, we were supposed to have all checked out on May 21st of this year . . . or maybe it was October 21st. If given the choice, May 21st would have been a better send-off since on that date Roselle Park held its Annual Open House for the Casano Community Center which had music, food, and neighbors.

But the world did not end. It goes on. And in the 365 days that encompassed the 110th year of Roselle Park’s existence, events that impact our one-square mile borough occurred; sometimes with great fanfare, sometimes with quiet solemnity, and sometimes without being much noticed. Still, the heart of Roselle Park showed itself in the smiles, the tears, the work, the play, the joy, the anger, and the hope of the 13,000+ people who inhabit it.

With that stated, here are the top 10 stories of 2011.

10.   Mr. C.
First on the list, coincidentally enough, was something that happened during January at the very first Bord Of Education meeting of the year. It had to do with the removal of the name of Charles Costanzo from a sign at the EJF/Aldene Elementary School. Mr. Costanzo, or Mr. C as he was known, was the principal of the Aldene School from 1992 – 2003 and had his name on the sign outside the school. Without being told by the school district, his name was removed from the sign to, according to the BOE during the January meeting, to coincide with a policy set in 2007. The policy allowed such signs with the names of former educators to be in place for five (5) years.

There was an outpouring of support by over 50 residents who attended that meeting, with residents and Mr. C. himself, asking the BOE to explain its policy and review it. After four (4) months Mr. C’s name was back on the sign. If anything, this event goes to show that when people actually come out to support a person or an issue, the government listens.

9. Play Ball
After years of being closed down due to a complaint by a resident on the unhealthy quality of the dirt for the Roselle Park Youth Baseball & Softball League (RPYBSL) fields, the children were allowed to play baseball – and softball – once again in April of this year. The amount of money spent to remediate and rebuild the field reached into the high six figures. For the years that it was closed this field was on the promises of election campaigns. So important to politicians was the field that even the outgoing mayor had a preemptive opening ceremony in December of 2010.

Even in 2011 the RPYBSL came before council asking for more money. There was some back and forth with the mayor asking to review the League’s financials. The League complied but then received the outstanding funds from donations. Then in April, there was a grand opening day which was a long time coming. The kids finally got to play on a field they could call their own again.

8, Trick Or Treat Or Wait
The annual Bender Avenue Trick-Or-Treating had again become an issue with residents wanting to curtail the number of people visiting from both within and outside of town. The mayor even created a committee to find solutions to address the matter. Then, right before Halloween, there was a freak snow fall that downed trees and wires throughout town.

Well, that messed everything up. Trick-or-treating on Bender Avenue was officially canceled by the mayor. People were upset that Halloween had been canceled while others felt that safety should be the priority on the minds of parents and revelers alike. There were those who felt the government was infringing upon people’s rights to celebrate Halloween on October 31st. Even on the governing body there were those representatives who felt that the mayor went too far to ask people not to go door-to-door if they wished to do so on the last day in October.

In the end, Halloween in Roselle Park happened on November 4th and, for the most part, people were happy with the annual Bender Avenue celebrations with quite a few even stating that it was nice to have the event be more intimate with the majority of people taking part in the festivity coming from Roselle Park.

Still, the issue of trick-or-treating will come around again next year but perhaps something will be done to apply the suggestions made by residents to make it a town-wide event thereby lessening the burden on Bender Avenue while, the same time, showcasing the whole of Roselle Park as Halloween Central.

7. Sign Of The Times
Rita, Sanjay, Carl, Sandy and let’s not forget Norman Rockwell. These are some of the names that were involved with #8. It had to do with a painting, window lettering, and the Code Enforcement Office. Mr. Sanjay Shah, the owner of Rita Pharmacy located on Chestnut Street, wanted to do something to help his business compete with the large chains across the tracks in Roselle and, at the same time, do something to beautify the downtown area.

Enter Mr. Norman Rockwell or, more accurately, Melinda Saminski doing her impression of Norman Rockwell. Mr. Shah had Ms. Saminski do a window mural of Norman Rockwell’s “The Apothecary” in addition to other window paintings to bring attention to Rita Pharmacy keep business in these economic times.

Enter Mr. Carl Pluchino, Ms. Sandy Capaldo, and the Code Enforcement Office. They put a stop work order on the mural and other window work before it was completed because, according to the Borough, it violated Borough Ordinance 40-3002 which deals with temporary window signs. The said ordinances stated that such a temporary window sign should not cover more than 10% of any single window.

Enter mayor & council. Some on council were confused about the decision of the Code Enforcement Office to put a stop order on the work while the mayor stated that all due process would be afforded Mr. Shah with regard to the mural. After debate on the dais regarding Roselle Park’s business friendly – or non-business friendly actions – and a revised ordinance which expanded the window coverage area to 30%, the Rita Pharmacy mural remains unfinished because no one has given him any direction on how to proceed.

Is he in violation? Is he not? All the while the Code Enforcement Officer has not addressed a formal request for an investigation into other businesses in town which are clearly in violation of the revised ordinance; a story on those stores and Mr. Pluchino’s inaction will be coming in 2012).

This story is not just about one store but businesses in town who are trying to survive and a Code Enforcement Office, supported by a governing body, that does not appear to perform its enforcement uniformly. Some businesses are picked to be in violation , while others are allowed to continue violating. This message gives business, both those already in town and those thinking of wanting to set up shop in Roselle Park, the feeling that the town really does not want to be business friendly, even though it says it is.

6. October 22, 2011
A Saturday autumn morning when a resident who was jogging was confronted with violence. A female jogger was jogging just before dawn when, being polite as she usually is, she said ‘good morning’ to a man walking down Westfield Avenue, He responded by grabbing her around the neck area and punching her. She fought back and bit his hand.

For lack of a better phrase she was at the wrong place at the wrong time. But that is not how it played itself out in town. There were those who blamed her for jogging alone so early in the morning – something she has been doing for about 10 years without incident. Some people questioned why her husband was not running with her – not knowing that they had two young children at home. Comments were made which basically questioned how she could be so foolish to actually believe she was safe in her own town. There was even a newscast by a local TV news station stating that it was an attempted sexual assault.

In addition to this assault, two (2) other incidents around the same area on Westfield Avenue around the same time added to concerns about crime and how bad things were getting in Roselle Park. Were these isolated incidents? Is it these tough economic times? Had it always been like this in town?

At the heart of the matter, after the criticism and the TV news crews went away, was a woman who did nothing wrong and got hurt for doing nothing more than saying good morning.

“I see the streets of Roselle Park differently today than I did on Oct 21st,” she stated with regard to the incident. She saw her entire town change in one day. Still, she wants to make certain that the facts regarding the incident are accurate. Although the attack affected her – as it would anyone – she has never lost sight of the person she was and continues to be today.

5. Of A Mingled Yarn
It all started with a statement by Mayor Joseph Accardi during a Mayor & Council meeting which was taken way out of context. The mayor stated he needed to have someone be his eyes and ears during the day-to-day operations of the Borough to keep tabs on departments and the operational management of Roselle Park. The point of contact for residents, departments, and issues – a Chief of Staff so to speak – who would act in the capacity of Chief Administrative Officer (CAO). He wanted that person to be the current Borough Clerk, Doreen Cali.

What people heard was, “This job is too much for me so I need help and Ms. Cali is going to be that help. She will basically be second in command when or if I am not available.”

Well, that was all that the people who personally dislike Joe Accardi needed in order to pounce on him. Out came the pitchforks.

Add to that the group of people who personally had a bone to pick with Ms. Doreen Cali. Out came the torches.

Then the real fun began when everyone involved made a political issue out of a simple job description and qualifications.

Council was upset over the wording of the ordinance which was . . . oh wait . . . some background first.

Back in 2006 when then Mayor Joseph DeIorio got himself a full-time job, the work he used to do was to be passed on to a Chief Administrative Officer (CAO). This position had a job description which had 17 different responsibilities which were spelled out. The Borough Clerk, Doreen Cali, was temporarily given that position from June till December of 2006. For one reason or another she was never re-appointed at the start of 2007 and the job – officially – remained vacant for the next five (5) years. Unofficially, Doreen Cali took it upon herself to continue performing some of the duties of the CAO. Then in the last quarter of 2011 it was brought up again. Enough with the wrap up. Now, back to our story.

Council was upset over the wording of the ordinance which stated that CAO would provide a liaison between departments and the governing body. This contradicted the long-standing practice of having council members be the liaisons between departments and the governing body. And that was just one example.

All the while, the mayor kept bringing up the issue of grant writing and grant coordinating as one of the duties that Ms. Cali did to show the need for a CAO because of all the money that was awarded to the borough which would affect taxes. So much so was this an issue that Ms. Cali stopped doing grant work (we will get back to this a little later). There was only one small problem with the touting of Ms. Cali’s grant writing . . . nowhere in the 17 job descriptions of a CAO is grant writing or grant coordinating ever mentioned.

Not once.

So, to get back to Ms. Cali no longer handling grant work and leaving it up to the department heads or members of council. Either she was told to stop doing the grant work by the mayor which begs the question if he had the legal authority (instead of council as mentioned in the Borough Clerk’s job duties) to do that or Ms. Cali took it upon herself to stop performing a duty she has been doing for years for no other reason than she wanted the position of a CAO; this last part could be construed as a dereliction of duty. That should be left up to council to determine.

But the underlying issue has yet to be publicly addressed; that being of the qualifications and proof that she has, in fact, performed the majority of the responsibilities for the position she is seeking. No one has publicly gone over the ordinance and asked if she has the qualifications (by way of documented work product) that she has done what the job entails. The simple matter of that has been overlooked by everyone involved.

A little more of a history lesson. With regard to those in opposition of Ms. Cali becoming the CAO because of her manner of dealing with co-workers, perhaps the current mayor was not aware or does not care that when Ms. Cali came up for tenure a few years ago, the previous mayor was the deciding vote to keep her on as the Borough Clerk. It was a 3 – 3 tie with then Mayor DeIorio casting the deciding vote. It looks like history will repeat itself again if the current Mayor waits until 2012 – when he will have a new council member who he feels might bring the vote to a 3 to 3 tie – and pushes through a vote to have Ms. Cali, again, acquire a position based on the vote, and responsibility, of a mayor and not a strong council.

4. Brandon Bellante. Ryan Koranteng-Barnes.
The death of a child is the most horrific experience any parent can go through. This year two families separately had to endure the unimaginable when, in January, 16-year-old Brandon Scott Bellante committed suicide then later, in June, 2-year-old Ryan J. Koranteng-Barnes drowned in a pool during a block party.

Much can be said of how Roselle Park has had its youth affected by death or how we, as a community, are more and more ready to blame or point fingers or criticize instead of support but in reality, at the core of the matter, two family are forever devastated by the death of a son and friends & loved ones are left with the aftermath of loss.

These do not diminish nor marginalize the death of anyone else but more and more people are quick – too quick – to blame when children die instead of realizing those left to suffer are real people who need time to grieve. Without being hard-handed, imagine if this was you.

3. The Albatross
Water, water, every where, nor any drop to drink . . .

In August, Irene came to Roselle Park. By the time she visited she was more like a strong tropical storm instead of a hurricane. Drains clogged, manholes overflowed, basements flooded, trees & limbs fell, power lines were downed, electricity went out, and streets disappeared into rivers of rain & sewage.

Household items got ruined, food began to rot, things began to stink, but still the mayor held an open line of communication through Facebook (for those fortunate enough to still have power) and a special TV-34 live call-in which kept residents informed. Rumor control put a stop to the usual gripes that come along with nature doing its best to remind us that we are not in control of much.

A special bulk pick-up for Irene’s aftermath was made but there are still some people who did not have their ruined material belongings picked up – mostly because they did not get it out in time or were unaware of the schedule.

Just two (2) months later, water again – this time in the form of falling snow – cracked tree limbs, downed power lines, and even postponed Halloween. This time the decision of the mayor to postpone the celebration brought an avalanche (pun intended) of criticism about how poorly the town was doing to clean up after the snowfall.

Still, the rivers subsided, the snow melted, and Roselle Park went back to business as usual with other matters. But for a short time, neighbors got to sit outside and talk with each other, residents actually helped each other, families realized they could live without TV or a computer, and people got to realize what things in their lives were really important as well as what could be replaced. Hopefully they found out that Roselle Park was one of those things that could not be replaced and was important.

2. Save Our Post Office
The Roselle Park Post Office (RPPO) sits on the corner of West Grant Avenue and Chestnut Street. Cutbacks in the United States Postal Service (USPS) lead to its decision, according to them, to conduct a feasibility study to determine if the RPPO should remain open.

That is what lead to the “Save Our Post Office” campaign. It was a way to make our one-square mile town be noticed.

To be sure there were those in town who would like to see the RP Post Office close. Some mistakenly believed that the cost incurred by keeping it open would be taken out of taxpayers’ dollars. Others disliked the personnel in the post office and wished them – and the location – good riddance and even went so far as to be an unintended shill for the USPS.

But there were those who actually needed the post office to send packages and information. So much was the push to keep the post office open that a petition by an anonymous resident garnered over one thousand signatures; a rally in front of the RPPO was held which drew media attention from the Star-Ledger, Eyewitness News 7, and New Jersey News 12; the meeting in the Elizabeth Main Post Office drew the largest number of people to – so far – ever attend such a meeting and speak out against their town’s post office proposed closing; and even a web site was started to bring attention to the cause (link).

It was the feel-good event of the year where people got together, for the most part, and rallied as one for a cause they felt strongly about. A small post office on a street corner of a small town in America. How things will play out in 2012 remain to be seen but, hopefully, people can keep up the fight to save the post office which translates into saving a piece of our town.

1. Chestnut Street
It is called the center of town. Historically it was the dividing line between the ‘nice side’ of town (the east side) and the ‘not-so-nice’ side (the west side). Presently, it encompasses what is referred to as our downtown. Over the past year there has been on Chestnut Street the issue with Rita Pharmacy (#7), the post office (#2), the Special Improvement District (SID) with its 3% tax for businesses, ‘For Rent’ signs, car shows, a tree lighting, a Veterans Day ceremony as well as a Memorial Day ceremony, a protest against President Obama, reparation of crosswalks, the Farmer’s Market, a pig roast, and even whispers of possible residential development at the intersection of Chestnut Street and Westfield Avenue.

The street is our ‘Main Street’ and it has witnessed the change – both good and bad – in Roselle Park. In the past it was the location where the train used to stop and, even now, the area surrounding it is always discussed as the center point – the heart – of Roselle Park. So much needs to be addressed to help it and, in turn, Roselle Park. Next year will begin to see the fate of the Roselle Park Post Office and the changes that are planned with the SID doing its part to beautify and improve the downtown and the fate of the Roselle Park Post Office. With all eyes on the future, all eyes should be on Chestnut Street and use it as the gauge for the progress (or lack thereof) in Roselle Park.

Happy 2012?