In The Year Of Our Lord 2015: Year In Review

This year’s list contains stories that range from one that received nationwide coverage to a couple that may have been overlooked. Without further ado . . .

  1. Sign ‘O’ The Times (2015 Version)
    Hot off the heels of last year’s ‘Signgate’, nothing more gives evidence to the difference with this administration and actual actions it took than – you guessed it – another sign. The sign at Borough Hall, or as it is now known as, Municipal Complex, was first to be replaced by 2014’s outgoing mayor Joseph Accardi and his personal donation of a new sign. He even had a resolution voted on and approved for it at the last meeting in December of 2014. Then month after month after month passed with no new sign. At the end of July, after the old sign had to finally be removed because it was in such disrepair, the current governing body rescinded that resolution in order to purchase a new one. Re-enter former mayor Accardi at a public comment portion of a meeting to denounce the rescinding of his donation – although he did not bring a check nor a sign with him as he promised he would do some seven months earlier.Within the span of three weeks a new sign was made at a cost of $350, at a fifth of the original estimate of $1,650. Mr. Accardi tried to posit that the governing body was costing taxpayers money even though the sign was paid for by an anonymous donor, thereby costing taxpayers nothing and providing residents with a sign. In the span of less than a month the current administration took action as opposed to simply taking about it. This would be repeated throughout the year with a chamber of commerce, the library lawn, hearing the Sullivan Property application, development along Westfield Avenue, just to name a few.
  1. And Next To Her Was Lily
    Roselle Park students have accomplished a lot throughout the year – from academic to athletic to artistic. These are always worth being recognized and certificate ceremonies at Board Of Education (BOE) meetings give testament to that. But once in a while a relatively small act by a student, child, resident from Roselle Park also deserves to be noted.This Halloween on Bender Avenue, the popular event had thousands of people walk up and down trick-treating. Among them was a three-year-old girl who got separated from her parents. Frantically, the child’s mother and father started looking for her. They eventually met up with BOE President Christopher Miller and other residents. Together they started walking up and down Bender looking for her and walked over to a police officer to get assistance.That is when the parents saw their little girl who was dressed as a princess fairy, and next to her was Lily.The 10-year-old, who was dressed as an old woman, was trick-or-treating with a friend and her friend’s mother. The Sherman School student noticed a scared little girl who was standing all by herself and frozen in place. Lily told the girl it was going to be okay and, trying to calm the clearly upset princess while not knowing what else to do, walked with her to the nearest police officer; and then she stayed with her seeing that the little girl trusted Lily. Soon after, parents were reunited with daughter and Lily went about her way back to trick-or-treating.She did not think it was anything big, it was just something she did; she helped out the best she could. No fanfare, no ‘look at me’ attitude, just a resident helping out. Even when BOE President Miller took time from a BOE meeting to congratulate Lily on what she did, the little girl appeared shy. She really thought it was no big deal and even blushed during an impromptu 23 second standing ovation.The fact that Lily instinctively cared for another little girl and knew enough to do something as simple as wait with her to keep her calm is something we can all relate to. Sometimes we lose sight of such things and every once in a while it takes a young girl to remind us of it.
  1. The Retirements Of Mrs. Christensen & Mrs. Green
    This year saw the retirement of two prominent women who helped educate and nurture a generation of children. Mary Christensen retired at the end of the 2014-15 school year after nearly three decades in the Roselle Park School District with a quarter of them as the principal of Sherman School. An extremely popular administrator, she was lauded by students and parents as well as faculty and staff. She always had a smile to encourage the children under her care but she was just as quick with a raised eyebrow to make sure they knew she was keeping an eye on them. A quick story that encapsulates this was at this year’s Roselle Park Charity Basketball Tournament, an event that Mrs. Christensen had repeatedly taken part in as a popular player. Groups of students throughout the bleachers had numerous signs in tribute and honor of their principal during her time on the court. After the game, a huge circle of children – past and present – and parents all gathered around her asking and waiting for her autograph. Ever smiling, Mrs. Christensen obliged by signing basketballs, pieces of paper, and signs. In the distance a group of young children could be heard horsing around on the court. Without missing a beat, principal Christensen looked over with a raised eyebrow and the children, as if feeling her stare walk over and tap them on the shoulder, just quieted down. Without a word she went back to being treated like a star, but she never forgot her responsibilities.In October, another educator notified the district that she would be bidding farewell to Roselle Park. Linda Green, the music teacher at Aldene and Sherman stated she would be retiring January 1st but her last day was, effectively, the last day of school this year. Not only was she a teacher but she was also musical director for countless school concerts and involved with numerous high school musical productions. Beyond the three R’s, she brought a love of music to her students. She was known as a caring educator who made a lifelong impact on students who will someday say, perhaps to their children, “You know when I was your age I had this great music teacher . . .” And with that, Mrs. Green’s legacy would once again continue in years to come. Sometimes that is the best compliment an educator could get; that what they taught students stayed with them all their lives and they, in turn, pass it on.There are and have been others who have made their mark in Roselle Park schools like Nick Florio who will retire in February of next year. But both women – who will go on to enjoy well-deserved retirements – will hold Roselle Park in their hearts and Roselle Park will also hold them in its heart, in the hearts of those touched by what they learned from Mrs. Christensen and Mrs. Green.
  1. Historical Society Elections
    History, it has been said, is written by the victors. It is not clear who that is with this year’s election of the Roselle Park Historical Society. A change in the guard occurred and it was not a welcome one. Pat Pagnetti has been both the RP Historical Society President as well as the Borough Historian. This year at the start of 2015, a new Borough Historian was appointed by Mayor Carl Hokanson – Pat Butler.I know, two Pats.According to Mrs. Pagnetti, she was called by the mayor about the appointment and she stated that she did not want to be President but wanted to remain Historian. Somehow the lines of communication got crossed and, according to the mayor, he thought she did not want to be President nor Historian.So began the deterioration of the personal relationship between Mrs. Pagnetti and Mrs. Butler. Not to mention that the governing body never officially thanked Mrs. Pagnetti for all her decades of service in recording and documenting the ever-evolving history of the Borough as the outgoing historian. To put this all in context, the town for decades was Republican controlled and just this year the majority became Democrat.

    Enter politics.

    The change, as almost always occurs when a party takes control after years of being second string, was noticeable. New appointments had supporters in different positions. That mindset began to set into the personal relationship between the two Patricias. Here and there little incidents widened the chasm with all of it culminating with the election of Trustees.

    Mrs. Butler had grown the membership from a dozen or so to over 80 in the span of a year and, strangely enough, a lot of members who were absent for most of the regular meetings showed up to vote for trustees. Three spots were available and four people were vying for a spot. In the end, Mrs. Pagnetti received the least number of votes – seven – while the other trustees received more than double that number. She was out completely. Two of those trustees were member of the Roselle Park Democratic Committee (RPDC). The word was that the fix was in and the deck was stacked to vote Mrs. Pagnetti out. And despite hospitable protest from the new President and Historian, Mrs. Butler, things such as the election and inviting the Chair of the RPDC, Dan Petrosky, to a closed session meeting of the Historical Society in order to defend against accusations of politics being interjected into the Society may not have been the best decision to make. And Mrs. Butler admitted in hindsight that such an action was counterproductive.

    Now, before people begin to lay claims of the inclusion of Dan Petrosky and others, it should be noted that Mrs. Pagnetti, not Mrs. Butler, invited Dan Petrosky to join the society years ago. After the election an outcry from the community tried to take pitchforks and torches to Mrs. Butler. The problem with that is if all those people had joined the Historical Society and regularly attended monthly meetings which had coffee and pastry to try and bribe people to participate, such an incident most likely wold not have happened.

    Too late to do anything now.

    But another page has turned in Roselle Park’s history and, like history, maybe residents can learn from this and take part in collecting and caring for the borough’s history. On whatever ‘Patricia’ team you are on, both women want to preserve and share the borough’s history and both would love to see more people participate in the Historical Society. It is only $2 a year and $25 for a lifetime membership. It will give you a chance to have a hand in history as opposed to reacting to it in the form of whispers and rumors.

  1. Casano Royale: Free Speech & Politics
    The Casano Community Center Committee is composed of a group of interested residents who give their time to find activities and events that the center can offer to seniors and the community as a whole. This year the center was a hot spot with several events that showcased the various cultures that make up Roselle Park. A good enough endeavor.Enter politics.During one such event two candidates running for the Fifth Ward – Thomas ‘Thos’ Shipley and Richard G. Templeton, III – were participating and one, outgoing Councilman Templeton, accused the other, incoming Councilman Shipley of possibly, just maybe, saying things that might have been politically motivated. In response he along with another member of the Roselle Park Democratic Committee sent a letter to the Chair of the Casano Community Center Committee who, in turn, sent a letter to the mayor recommending a restriction on political speech during events in the center by changing the bylaws.There were two big problems with that. The first was that such a restriction in a public place would infringe on the First Amendment. The second was that Jackie Templeton, Mr. Templeton’s wife, at that very same event, was wearing a Roselle Park Democratic Club t-shirt – something that would most definitely be classified as ‘politically motivated’.

    Thankfully the restriction was never placed and things went back to normal for the most part. Still, to have members of one political party go to such an extreme to silence another political party, without really caring about how it would affect everyone else, speaks volumes as to what is wrong with political parties in a one-square mile town.

  1. The Sullivan Property Application
    After four years of no progress as a result of a municipal ordinance that prevented parking between a building and the sidewalk, the Sullivan property finally began moving in January of this year after the current governing body repealed that law. Then came an error on the part of the applicant in the prerequisite steps needed for the application that delayed it a couple of months. Then came protests from members of the community about the developer and plans to put up an AutoZone. Claims were made that the developer did not care for the community and that an AutoZone would be a detriment to the borough since it would be part of the center of town. What was not widely known was that ever since 2008, a previous developer had also wanted to build on the site and even back then an AutoZone was part of the plan. At that time, there was no outcry from the Municipal Land Use Board (MLUB) nor the public.But now it was the focal point of whether or not a private property owner could build on his site as long as all laws and regulations were followed. There was a hearing in two parts with the first section of the application being heard in June. Three months later the second part was heard by the MLUB.After all the protest and back and forth, the plan was denied because of one change made in June. The developer, MAS Construction, had moved to have its request to sub-divide the property into separate plots removed so the application would be for one lot. This came in response to public questions as well as the Board’s concerns regarding landscape and other variances not meeting each lot’s minimum requirements. An example was that even tough, in total, the landscaping met the total acreage requirement, some lots would be under their individual mandate. In September, with almost everything coming in compliance with the MLUB’s requests, the separation of buildings on a, now, single parcel brought up issues of safety and continuity. It was this that made the Board decide against the preliminary site plan. This did not mean that they disagreed with development but, instead, it was a signal to have the developer literally go back to the drawing board and return with a new plan that would have a single building divided into different storefronts.It appears the MAS Development will return in 2016 but no one is publicly giving any more information. But again, having this administration act and remove a law that many in the business community felt was a hindrance to progress, was something that was welcomed by many.

    It should be noted that, as with all such proactive steps taken with any decision, the governing body should keep in mind that even though they have the power to remove stumbling blocks that impede progress, they should also be careful not to cut corners that might end up skipping necessary steps to not have such things become a detriment. This is not saying that this is what happened in this case, because it did not, but when things are in motion, it should not be a focal point at the cost of every once in a while making sure all the i’s are dotted and all the t’s are crossed.

  1. No Comment (or “Jacki Taluba vs. The Templeton Of Doom”)
    Richard G. Templeton, III made a lot of news in his short time on council. First he ran as a Republican against Charlene Storey last year for the seat of Council-At Large. He lost that election but then, after Michael Yakubov resigned his position as Fifth Ward Councilman, Mr. Templeton was on the short list of replacement from the Republicans and picked by council to take Mr. Yakubov’s place.Within days he changed his political party affiliation to Democrat. The only problem was that he never told the Republican Committee that he had done so. Add to that the fact that there is evidence that he had planned to change parties before ever being sworn into office as a Republican and you guessed how that all played out.Then came Jacki Taluba. A resident who wanted to ask questions of Councilman Templeton’s change of party during a public comment portion of a municipal meeting. Every question she asked was returned with ‘no comment’ from the councilman. She left frustrated from the lack of communication from a person appointed to communicate for Roselle Park residents.Those two words became a rallying cry when election time came when Councilman Templeton had to run in order to keep his seat. It even showed up in some signs around town that read “You Want My Vote Councilman Templeton? No Comment!” a few days before the election. He would not answer questions from almost anyone – not the media by refusing to sit for an interview, not those who wanted to ask him questions beyond the basic campaign rhetoric – and that is what caused him to become a less-than-a-year council representative.

    He lost by almost 25 percentage points, getting picked by less than 40% of those who voted – only 2 out of every five voters wanted him to remain as councilman. Funny enough, after the election while on the dais, he actually commented on comments made to instigate him by former mayor Joseph DeIorio, husband of Fifth Ward Councilman-Elect Thos Shipley.

    Too little too late.

    Now, with only the next municipal elections he can run for , at least, three years away (either 5th Ward, Council-At-Large, or Mayor) there is a possibility he might run for the Board Of Education (BOE) as he did in the City of Elizabeth a couple of years ago. But regardless, ‘no comment’ will haunt the man who, by his own account, wants to represent others and he will have to engage with the public when asked questions; either that or he will have to start working behind the scenes.

  1. Revaluation, Part II
    2015 saw the second part of the three-part townwide revaluation play out. The first part was the approving of the assessment for all properties in the borough and that was budgeted and approved by the governing body last year.This year was the actual inspection of properties and new assessments.Amid questions during three public information sessions throughout the year from Realty Appraisal Company – the firm appointed to conduct the revaluation – the inspections started. People were afraid and some stated they would not allow inspectors into their property. After all was said and done, about 9 out of every 10 property owners were inspected.Then came the assessment letters. Then came more questions about what exactly that figure meant as it compared to property taxes. That part will play out in 2016 once the new tax rate is set after the municipal and school and county budgets are certified.

    For now, people have assessments that are comparable to the current market as opposed to a 1980s housing market. There will be appeals or threats thereof come January but the municipality will have a new baseline by which to gauge what a property is worth.

    Good or bad, there is still distrust regarding the process. There are those who do not understand the way taxes are collected during any budget year. They believe that it is nothing more than a revenue making scheme by the government. It could be explained that all taxes collected will still equal 100%, not 110% or 120% but there are those who will be upset about their assessments, and they will be the most vocal, while those whose property taxes stayed relatively the same or were decreased will remain quiet but satisfied. It is true that the revaluation was a cost-saving measure to reduce the amount of money being lost to tax appeals (close to $700,000 in half a decade) but those monies were to be collected by all remaining taxpayers. Everyone’s taxes went up because of the appeals.

    Next year, once the assessments are certified and become public documents, Roselle Park News will submit OPRA requests for all valuations in order to provide analysis on what percentage went up, what percentage went down, and give other information to cut through perceptions and rumors and provide facts. Until then, everyone is holding their breaths to find out what the new tax rates and, thereby their property taxes, will be. Because in the end, for both the residents and the municipality, it is about the money.

  1. A Christmas Storey
    Okay, here it goes in case you live on Christmas Island and did not hear about it.Mayor Carl Hokanson wanted to change the name of the Annual Holiday Tree Lighting to Annual Christmas Tree Lighting. He spoke with Councilwoman-At-Large Charlene Storey a coulee of days before the meeting when the announcement was made and, according to him, she stated that she objected to the name change but would not make a big deal about it.Then came the announcement at the meeting and some would say she made a big deal about it by walking off the dais and leaving the meeting without saying anything to anyone. Some might say that was not such a big deal but then everyone would pretty much agree that her resignation the following morning was a big deal. To be fair, according to the councilwoman, she was made to believe that the name change would happen in 2016, not this year.Within days, the media got hold of the story and it when statewide, then nationwide, then worldwide.Then came her taking back her resignation after the mayor asked her to reconsider – all in the span of 48 hours.Had the councilwoman given her opposition and stayed for the rest of the meeting and not resigned, it would have been a different story. But it is what it is.

    The Christmas Tree Lighting went off with a record number of people in attendance. People from as far as California were reaching out to the mayor in support of his decision and others went out of their way to demean a woman who was standing up for others. She stood up for those who might have been afraid to speak up. Based on numerous comments she received for doing so gives credence to that hesitation. Add to this the fact that, since 2013 when then mayor Joseph Accardi appointed various council member to event committees, it was always noted as a ‘Christmas Tree Lighting’ which lent support to the name change this year. On a productive note, a diversity committee next year to, hopefully, get input from all aspects of the community.

    But there was that walking off that made her the focal point instead of the issue.

    Her point about being inclusive was a good one but it all got lost in her uncompromising stance of literally walking away and the static of people writing some pretty vile things to defend the Prince of Peace and the season of good will & cheer. Hopefully some understanding can be found where people can listen to each other instead of refusing to take others’ feelings and beliefs, on both sides of issues, into account. But that would be a Festivus miracle.

  1. Roselle Park Loves Art.
    Simply put this event was the monumental highlight of the year.A small group of people led by resident Pam Reinoso and actively supported by Mayor Carl Hokanson went above and beyond what many had expected. Music, art, film, live performances, master classes, exhibitions, food, and entertainment for all ages. This was the second arts festival; the first one was scaled back considerably due to rain.This year it started again with Pam asking the Montclair Art Museum (MOM) truck to return. Then Pam proposed a bunch of what if’s – what if the schools were included, what if there were live performances, what if there was activities for children to do, what if there was local talent playing music, what if film aficionados and experts gave master classes, what if it spanned Chestnut Street, what if there was business window paintings, what if business and organizations donated to the festival? What if it highlighted Roselle Park’s arts community? What if?And so it grew.Pam, along with Ann Marie Peterson had to jump through bureaucratic hurdles that – at times – went from the ridiculous to the absurd, and those obstacles always seemed to pop up just when everything was getting into place; things like charging artists to display their work. There was a time when they thought it was not going to happen and they just wanted to throw their hands up but they still carried on. Even on the week of the festival the library lawn was torn up which necessitated a change of venue for the bandstand that was donated by the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders. There was work by the DPW, the police, first aid, and other departments and organizations such as the Community United Methodist Church that lent a hand in making it happen.

    With apologies to those unintentionally omitted, the core group of people who had a hand in preparation and coordination included Pam, Ann, Nina Hernandez, Marcie Rodriguez, Jenn Hahn, Joe DeIorio, Thos Shipley, and Elisabeth Qersdyn. But credit is due to Pam, who would immediately want to share the credit, for doing something positive for the community and bringing out the heart of Roselle Park through the arts.

    With a high bar set for next year, maybe a few more residents can join in knowing that they would be welcomed to draw upon the canvas that is Roselle Park and make our one-square mile town the place to be – whether it be for development or business or Christmas or Halloween or art.

    Thanks Pam.