Casano Center Proposed Policy Would Infringe On Free Speech

A letter dated July 23rd from Casano Center Committee Chairman Carl Pluchino to Mayor Carl Hokanson proposed that certain political speech be banned from the Casano Center based on two vague allegations. The letter pointed out complaints made by Fifth Ward Councilman Richard Templeton, his wife Jackie Templeton, and Maxine Padulsky. Ms. Padulsky is both a member of the Roselle Park Democratic Committee and the Casano Center Committee. The complainants, according to the letter, stated that Thomas ‘Thos’ Shipley was campaigning at the event. Mr. Shipley is the Republican candidate for this year’s 5th Ward council seat. Councilman Templeton is the Democratic candidate for the same ward.

The letter, obtained as the result of an OPRA (Open Public Records Act) request, documented that Maxine Padulsky alleged that at the Peruvian Day celebration on July 12th in the Casano Community Center, “a Spanish-speaking woman who is friends with Joe Delorio and Thos Shipley was campaigning for them at the event held at the center” although no detail was provided as to what the woman specifically said that would have supported Ms. Padulsky’s accusation. Former Roselle Park Mayor Joseph DeIorio is married to Mr. Shipley.

In reaching out to Ms. Padulsky, she responded that she had no comment at this time.

The second allegation of campaigning came from Councilman Templeton and his wife. The same complaint was made again without any specific example of what exactly was stated to support such a charge.

Concerns were raised in the correspondence regarding “an art show coming to the center” and that Mr. Shipley would be singing at the event. Specifically, it stated “According to Maxine no mention of Thos singing was mentioned when the application was made and the woman running this event is friends with Thos and may be politically motivated. Mr. Templeton also has these concerns.”

It was at this point that criticism from Ms. Padulsky and Councilman Templeton became one of accusatory speculation by presuming that Mr. Shipley’s participation in the event ‘may be politically motivated‘. This even though Mr. Shipley has sung and hosted two popular Christmas Holiday shows at the Casano Center as well as participated in Roselle Park’s annual September 11th Remembrance ceremony as host and narrator over the years.

Amid the accusations based on speculation without specific details, the problem revealed itself in the proposed solution. The way the Casano Center Committee Chairman proposed to address one-sided allegations made by members of one political party was to “adopt a policy … that anyone seeking a political position in the town that they or their associates cannot campaign at the Casano Center and use these public events to their advantage. Such events as the Peruvian, Columbian [sic], etc. are to bring the community together as a whole not for anyone to take advantage or use an event for their personal agenda.”

This solution was proposed in spite of photographs that have been used to promote the Casano Center affair showing Mrs. Templeton wearing a ‘Roselle Park Democratic Club President’ shirt at the very same event she accused others of using to Mr. Shipley’s advantage.

The letter ended by suggesting that “an addition to our bylaws possibly can be that anyone seeking a political position cannot campaign at the center or and if they do they must leave the event.

Who would make a determination as to what would constitute campaigning and how they would reach that conclusion was never spelled out. According to the accusation against Mr. Shipley in the letter, just the very act of singing might be considered campaigning. There is also the underlying accusations that someone might be guilty by association since there are two mentions of women who are friends with Mr. Shipley who were accused of campaigning or being politically motivated in their actions.

Mr. DeIorio and Mr. Shipley were reached for comments. They stated that they were unaware of the letter and discussion from the Casano Center Committee until informed by Roselle Park News. This even though Mr. Shipley would be targeted for something that, by all accounts, he did not even do since his associates were the ones accused of campaigning.

Mr. DeIorio said, “First, it was Templeton’s lies and deception to the public. Now he wants free speech police. It’s obvious that they are imposing a rule on us that they themselves break every day.”

“I am disgusted with the whole thing,” Mr. Shipley¬† responded, “Let’s get the facts straight. My record of volunteering to this community has been well established long before my run for office. These allegations are completely and utterly baseless. If volunteering and trying to do good in the community garners me positive attention, then so be it. Instead of exhibiting this pettiness and jealously, I recommend Mr. Templeton do likewise.”

The allegations appear to be political in nature since no complaint was filed against Mrs. Templeton for wearing a shirt that promoted a political party. Additionally, previous events run by the Casano Center, such as the Memorial Day Parade and Picnic had both Councilmen Joseph Petrosky and Richard Templeton wearing ‘Roselle Park Democratic Committee’ shirts while standing at the review stand as elected officials who represent all residents, not just those of one political party. Nor has anyone addressed when Councilman Petrosky, during his report as a councilman at meetings this year, has discussed on more than one occasion political events as part of a report meant to inform residents of municipal business.

When reached for a comment, Councilman Templeton stated he had no comment at this time. When asked for a way to contact his wife, Mr. Templeton stated they do not have a home phone and would have Mrs. Templeton reach out to the newspaper for a comment. No phone call was ever returned.

At the Casano Center Committee meeting that was held Wednesday night, the question was asked if there was to be discussion on the policy proposed, the Chair responded by avoiding a yes or no answer and simply stating, “There’s nothing in place right now.”

Casano Center Director Rupen Shah responded that there was one then excused himself from the meeting for a moment and returned with a paper that the chair read aloud, “The Casano Center is not be used for any political purpose at any borough event or activity. Here you go. It’s the general rules and regulations.”

When asked if the letter or policy was reviewed by any legal counsel, the chair responded, “Not to my knowledge.”

Later, it was asked how long the policy has been in place – if it was put in recently or been longstanding – the chair responded, “I have no idea.”

Another question was posed where if anyone came in with a ‘Vote For Rich Templeton’ shirt or ‘Vote For Thos Shipley’ shirt, would they be kicked out of the Casano Center with this policy.

Maxine Padulsky responded, “Yes. According to that, yes, you cannot wear it here.”

Although such a decision would be understandable at a private event where someone or some organization rented out the center, Ms. Padulsky did not elaborate on how that could be enforced for an event that was open to the public.

“I understand where you’re going and I can understand your concerns about free speech,” stated Mr. Pluchino, “But the sole intention of this particular situation . . . [was] we just wanted it for that particular event, just simply for people to have a good time and keep politics out of it.”

No one addressed how Mrs. Templeton wearing a political shirt was not keeping politics out of things nor the fact that the only complaints came from the Democratic candidate for the Fifth Ward, his wife who is the President of the Roselle Park Democratic Club, and Maxine Padulsky, a Roselle Park Democratic Committee member.

To be sure there are occasions when political campaigning is not allowed at the Casano Community Center, such as during election days when it is used as a polling center, but these are based on state election laws, not the bylaws of a committee.

Even though the proposed policy referred to in the letter was not adopted, serious questions remain. Such as when was the ‘General Rules & Regulations’ policy referred to by Mr. Shah added and did it go before the committee? Who will decide what political speech will result in someone being removed from the Casano Center? Will Mr. Rupen Shah – the Casano Center Director – be the arbiter, who himself is a member of the Roselle Park Democratic Committee? Will it be the Roselle Park Police Department? Will it be a judge? Will people need to look over their shoulders to see who is listening and be afraid that their free speech might have them removed from the center? Does such a solution apply to those seeking office in other forms of government such as assemblymen, assemblywomen, senators, congressmen, congresswomen? Is only the free speech of a municipal candidate from another party or his/her friends or anyone who voices an unpopular opinion to be infringed?

The next Casano Center Committee meeting, which is open to the public, is scheduled for Wednesday, September 2nd, at 6 p.m.

A copy of the letter is available below: