Last night, at the end of the last meeting of 2017, Councilwoman-At-Large Charlene Storey offered her farewell address to the governing body and the residents of Roselle Park. After serving five years on council, the only woman on the governing body did not run for re-election. Her tenure had been highlighted with numerous controversies but also consisted of the fundamental duties of running of a municipality through the creation of laws and addressing quality of life issues as a member of local government.
Stating that she would be unable to attend the January 4th reorganization meeting due to the health of her 96-year-old father-in-law, Councilwoman Storey took the opportunity to give her closing thoughts. Reading from her notes, she remarked,
“First of all, I want to offer a heartfelt thank you to our wonderful professionals. The vast majority are dedicated hard-working people who make the borough run smoothly. They are the ones who keep things going as councilmembers and mayors come and go. I especially want to thank Doreen Cali who gave me such good advice and always got me the information I needed quickly.
However, there’s more to being an elected official than meets the eye. Often, residents only see councilmembers sitting on the dais at meetings or maybe attending town events or in videos. That really doesn’t cover the job. There are many committee meetings and many other meetings that are not visible that are just as, if not more, important to our borough. There are also the volunteer duties. I’ve done everything digging holes for plantings at the library to putting together slideshows for the historical society; from cooking hamburgers and hot dogs at borough events to hauling vegetables from the farmer’s market to the Casano Community Center.
And there are the opportunities to make donations. I’ve given artwork to the library and the Casano Center and as Casano liaison, I filled out shortages of holiday food baskets to a total well into the three figures and more. I know there are other councilmembers who make similar efforts and donations. I’d like to thank those councilmembers I served with who put in the time and hard work to do these behind-the-scenes jobs, spreading the burden of responsibilities, and serving the community.
Next, I want to shine the spotlight on a great volunteer who hasn’t always gotten the kudos he deserves. Not only did Paul Irslinger found a new Friends of the Library several years ago at the library director’s request, but he also persuaded George, the hard-working farmer who runs Valley View Farms, to donate much of his unsold produce to the food pantry at the Casano Center. George’s only condition was that the food be picked up consistently. Paul and his wife Kathy picked it up for years until his health didn’t allow them to continue. Then Paul talked my husband and me into taking over. Even now, with his health very poor, Paul and Kathy serve as a drop-off point for Alex Balaban’s food for animals in Roselle Park.
A lot of great things have happened while I was on council and I’m proud to have been a part of them – and sometimes the driving force. Anyone who’s never done hiring may be surprised to find how difficult it is so I’m pleased to have led the committee that hired Rupen Shah, our great Casano Community Center Director. Not only is Rupen a tremendous idea person, he is also outstanding at implementing those ideas. He takes care of things quickly and thoroughly while still having the people skills that have led him to be loved by our seniors. Roselle Park is fortunate to have him. As the mayor’s representative on the Library Board of Trustees, I’ve participated in a key hiring decision this year, bringing in Audra Osorio as our new library director. At her suggestion, the trustees have made some changes that will result in moving our library forward. You’ve seen some changes already. You’ll be seeing a lot more in the coming year.
I’m very proud of the new look of our library grounds which really had been a blot on our town and now is a thing of beauty. Being deeply involved in the changes on a day-to-day basis was a privilege. And I’m pleased that the new armed forces monuments include one for the U.S. Merchant Marine, whose casualty rate in World War II was second only to that of the Marine Corps.
In other areas, I’ve been glad to take part in a number of things that highlighted the centennial of World War I and our residents’ role in it; including researching the lives of our dead and helping to put together an exhibit on the topic. I’m glad to have established, along with Councilman Meola, a popular holiday pedestrian safety effort. For the second consecutive year, our police department has given out gift cards and certificates to drivers who followed the laws to keep our pedestrians safe during the busy holiday season. No taxpayer money is spent on this. I, myself, have put in several hundred dollars and Mr. Meola also donated generously. Many thanks to the merchants who contributed cards and certificates this year and I hope that the drivers enjoy finding out what great places we have in Roselle Park. Take a look on YouTube and you can see the videos made by the Roselle Park Police Department. I’m also happy to have proposed the safe zone for online sales and purchases – that’s the borough hall parking lot and the police department lobby – where residents can safely meet buyers and sellers they’ve only known through the internet. A recent incident shows how important that can be.
On a broader note, I’ve been a big supporter of development, the appropriate kind of development, for Roselle Park and I’ve been in on some of the negotiations. The developments that are underway and that will follow will eliminate eyesores as well as bringing in the population density that is needed today for a vibrant downtown. It’ll be a shot in the arm for the borough’s economy by providing new business for our business people and will also add money to the borough government’s coffers. People have asked me over the years why we couldn’t have the kind of developments found in Cranford and Garwood. Well, they’re finally coming.
I wish I could say all my memories of public life are happy ones, but too often I have found that the negative clichés about politics and politicians, sadly, are true. I say this without calling out any one political party. I misjudged the character of too many people. I saw what I wanted to see too often because I truly believed that Roselle Park was the number one concern of just about every person I dealt with. That is, in fact, the case for some politicians, such as Councilman Meola. There are others I’ve worked with on whom the jury is still out. But too many others put party over the municipality and I’m not sure what the point of that is. It’s a sad situation. I don’t know how you deal with the bitter and ridiculous political division. Yes, we see this on a national level, too, but our disunion predates that and the local parties often don’t even reflect the stands with their national counterparts. And let’s be real, we’re talking about a town roughly one-mile square, it’s not about exactly ruling the world.
I’ve also been disappointed in other ways. I found people who don’t seem able to disagree with others based on ideas but who attack on the basis of race, ethnicity, and beliefs. I found people who gladly took oaths to support the Constitution, the fundamental law of our country, and ignored it when it wasn’t about protecting them or outright trashed it when it inconvenienced them. People who simply wanted what they wanted, regardless of the law of the land. I found myself associating with people who brag of bringing the town together, but in fact, divide it outside of their own little bubble. I found myself dealing with people who flat-out lied to me and to the public we all serve and I dealt with religious bigots. I saw these individuals’ true characters too late. I apologize to those who tried to point it out to me sooner and whose warnings I did not take seriously.
But in the end, I believe that Roselle Park is home to some wonderful people. It’s a good solid town that can have a bright future and I’m pleased to have worked hard to try to contribute to that future. I hope that those who come to the dais next month and in years to come get us there.
The councilwoman will be replaced by former Mayor Joseph DeIorio who will take the oath of office as Council-At-Large on January 1, 2018.