In The Year Of Our Lord 2017: Year In Review

  1. Clerk, Who Goes There?
    2017 saw the end of an era with the retirement of Borough Clerk Doreen Cali. There was both praise and blame bestowed upon the woman who personified Roselle Park government for a decade. Depending on who you asked, she was everything from a stalwart to a dictator. Regardless of what people thought of her, Ms. Cali’s intent was expressed in something she was known to have said, that she looked after the borough and its money as if it were her own home. But for many, that was the problem, it was not hers, it was the residents’ money.

    With the exit of Ms. Cali, this year also saw the return of Andrew Casais. The former resident and one-term councilman who moved out-of-town was hired as the new borough clerk. Mr. Casais has the insight of a resident and a policymaker to run the day-to-day operations of our municipality. What the future holds for both the clerk and the borough is yet to be seen but so far, things such as bringing the borough into the 21st century through online auctions to providing agenda before meetings to allowing the governing body to be the lead in creating policy that impacts Roselle Park residents, sets the tone that a new day has come.

  1. ADA Compliance
    Those with various ranges of disabilities covered under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) are often overlooked, not with malicious intent but simply by the fact that many are unaware of issues some have to deal with on a daily basis. The Roselle Park School District did an overhaul of its school policy to address the access of students with special needs in their education. Our local library contracted to improve its ramp to address access by those who want to use public services. Even our train station, which was set to start renovations this year, has been postponed to address not only underestimated conditions of the train station platform but also to incorporate an elevator to allow access to those who need it.

    Although there is a financial expense associated with addressing these things, it is important to make sure that those who need assistance to be part of our community get it.

  1. Which Came First, The Chicken Or The Law?
    Recently, a law was proposed that would allow backyard hens on private property in the borough. It was defeated. The ordinance was not proposed in a vacuum. A family had hens in their yard which is against the law in Roselle Park. Although there were those on the governing body who stated that the ordinance was a separate issue, the owning of the hens and the proposed law were intertwined. Add emotions to the mix, and you have the ingredients to have the issue and its impact get lost and become an inconvenient part of side-taking that more and more appears to flare up in the borough. Name-calling, distortions of the facts on both sides, finger-pointing, and hyperbole were abundant. In the end, the ordinance was seriously flawed and should not have been passed in its proposed form. That does not mean that it should not be reviewed, improved, reworked, and – at some point – brought up again for consideration. If the argument that we should pass the law then improve upon it was valid, then going back to the drawing board and getting it as right as possible should be on the municipality’s horizon – even if, after all is said and done, it is decided that backyard chickens are not right for Roselle Park. Too often, emotions bring an issue to a frenzied crescendo then, when it all comes crashing down, we simply move on without dealing with the issue properly. Such an attitude is counterproductive to moving Roselle Park forward.
  1. School’s Out For Summer
    Nicole Honrath was appointed to the position of the Roselle Park School District Summer Camp Director this year. It was later discovered that Mrs. Honrath was working as a tennis camp instructor in Bedminster while, at the same time, being the Summer Camp Director for the week of July 10th. She did so without the school board or administration that she would be leaving her position for part of the day here to work there. To their credit, the district did its due diligence and put an end to it. Then came word that Mrs. Honrath was going to sue the district for more pay after rescinding a resignation that was originally on the July Board Of Education meeting with an effective date of July 13th. A month later, after inquiries made to Mrs. Honrath by Roselle Park News, the resignation was back on the agenda and the litigation was dropped. Hopefully, the lesson learned is that the district will continue to look after the well-being of the children under its care seriously and hold those who are charged with doing that accountable.
  1. A Train’s Gonna Come…
    It’s been a long time coming, but a train’s gonna come – the one-stop ride to New York City. That has been the hopes for years. Many believe that a direct route to NYC will be a serious boost to the desirability of Roselle Park. Currently, commuters can go from Roselle Park to Manhattan without changing trains during off-peak weekday hours and at night – not on weekends and not during rush hour. This year, the train station and the area surrounding it more and more showed the importance of a full-time one-stop ride to the borough. There is proposed development at the property across the street on Locust known as the Hunter property. Renovations to the train station to bring it up to date and make it more aesthetic is going back to the drawing board. Parking was updated from the antiquated system where commuters had to literally stuff bills into slots in an old steel box. There was even a short time where an online park share service allowed commuters to use a location other than the old parking lot to park their cars with more conveniences such as online payment and reserved spaces. That had the kibosh put on it when they needed to go before the land use board due to restrictive zoning. Development – both proposed and current – always highlight the train station as a plus. There is even talk again of both the state and federal government getting involved in building a new tunnel system that would expand one-stop travel between New Jersey communities – including Roselle Park – and Manhattan. As another year comes to an end, there is, yet again, a lot of talk and planning, but like Godot, we keep waiting for tomorrow while there are those fretting that there is nothing to be done.
  1. Adult Education
    Parents this year went before the school board to address issues with the education of their children. From class time being shortened in the elementary schools to the ending of switching classes in the fifth grade to criticism of a school administrator who called an assembly and talked to students themselves about parental concerns regarding the 28 hour-a-week load of their children’s homework. Unfortunately, none of these were addressed by the closing of the year. Whether it was left to each school administration to address or the district administration, parents were not satisfied with the answers given to them . . . and have not given up. They continue to want answers that include documentation, details, and consideration for their research and personal insights from the students’ – as opposed to the administration’s – viewpoints. There is no guarantee that parents know best for all students based on their individual situation but at least they want to know more information about what data is being relied on to make decisions for their – as well as everyone else’s – children.
  1. Teach Your Children Well
    The yang to the previous situation of the district not proactively interacting with parents about the education of the borough’s children is the moving of the pre-kindergarten program from the Adase Early Childhood Center to school property. At a cost saving to the district, and thereby taxpayers, members of the Board Of Education along with School Superintendent Pedro Garrido had meetings with parents of students who attended pre-kindergarten. After input from parents along with research on what would be efficient and cost-effective, the pre-k program was moved to the elementary schools. Understanding that no decision will make everyone happy – there were families who objected to removing a dedicated computer room to make space for the now in-house pre-k program – the district, in this case, did listen to those parents who wanted to communicate with the administration while keeping its eye on the bottom line, a constant complaint of taxpayers.
  1. Romerovski Wasn’t Built In A Day
    As the year comes to an end, a major development that has shaped the direction Roselle Park has gone in over the past decade will be once again available for new development. Mayor Carl Hokanson stated that AvalonBay Communities will formally end its partnership with Israel Braunstein, owner of the Romerovski property along West Westfield Avenue by the train overpass. The interest of the developer that brought a Builder’s Remedy lawsuit will end tonight. Along with the already multi-million dollar price tag that followed the settlement agreement reached in 2009 to address Coalition On Affordable Housing (COAH) requirements that were ignored for decades – including a million dollar cost to pay for COAH rehabilitation credits – there is a new opportunity to bring development to a major property in town. Will it be residential, commercial, or mixed use? Putting this into context with already proposed or current development on the Sullivan property, Hawthorne basin, the former Domani’s property, and the Hunter property, should be on residents’ radar as to how will our one square mile town with a population of almost 14,000 grow and pay for that growth not only in taxes but services.
  1. The Roselle Park First Aid Squad
    On July 21st, a half hour before midnight, the governing body voted to remove the Roselle Park First Aid Squad (RPFAS) as the borough’s first responder. Most will recall this one fact over most others and that badly timed decision will overshadow a serious issue that needs to be addressed. Everything has become muddled in a series of unanswered questions that will be remembered as ‘Town Secretly Does Away With First Aid Squad In The Dead Of Night”. Many residents came to the problem with the RPFAS late in the game, at that meeting actually. When, in reality, this was discussed in December of 2016 at the last meeting of the year – albeit it during a non-televised meeting. Representatives from the first aid squad had proposed a plan to improve through a hybrid or paid/volunteer service. At the core was a problem with membership, which had been on the decline for years. It impacted response times and became so serious that in July of 2015, the county emergency medical service (EMS) was contracted to be the first responder between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. In 2016, a new ambulance was approved for the RPFAS during the capital budget process. Then, this year, it was all over. Bad blood and raw wounds remain with the county getting full use of the former RPFAS building and a brand new ambulance that was delivered this fall – both for free. Response times – for both the RPFAS and the County EMS – are being questioned along with why it appeared that the decision to change over to the county needed to be made before August 1st. Still, the issue of declining volunteerism in the borough remains with some believing that the fire department might be next. This issue, for many, is over but an investigative report is in process to find answers to the numerous unanswered questions – from response times from the RPFAS to the giving of a vehicle away to the county.
  1. The Vitale & Muñoz Families
    There are very important problems that affect all our lives in the borough. In addition to world affairs, national politics, and the state legislature, local government impacts the quality of life and taxes. So many things are beyond our control and the solutions to these complex problems remain out of reach. Understandably, we all feel helpless at times regarding these monumental issues and get frustrated, tired, overwhelmed, scared, and angry. But, at its basic core, our lives and our town, are given value by the connections we make with other human beings. Two such examples, among the many that shine through our little corner of the world, are the Vitale family and the Muñoz family. During the Christmas season, when people take time to both reflect on the past year and look forward to the new one, these two families reached out to their friends, neighbors, and strangers to do something positive. Sarah Muñoz asked residents to help by taking part in a toy drive for first grade students that her husband teaches in Newark. Maybe without knowing it, she helped show that the good that is Roselle Park stretches beyond our ZIP code. In under a week, a successful toy drive was conducted by residents that resulted in enough presents being collected for every first, second, and third grader in a school that most never knew about nor will every visit.

    And then there is the Vitale family. Having purchased their house a couple of years ago on Chestnut Street, Alfred and Kimberly Vitale put a Santa’s mailbox in front of their house this year to allow families to send letters to Mr. Christmas. A beautiful gesture in and of itself. But when you realize that, unbeknownst to many, the family is dealing with probably the most difficult of adversities – the youngest of the Vitale children, one-year-old Mateo, has been diagnosed with cancer – you realize just how really beautiful such a gift was. It would be easy to romanticize such illness but in reality, the day-to-day unglamourous, ugly, messy, exhausting, and self-blaming uncertainty that is cancer is more taxing than just the ‘passing thought’ image given to dealing with it. Amid all that, the Vitale family wanted to give children that intangible gift that makes miracles happen in the form of a mailbox in front of a house. No presents, no gifts, just the wish of a child in the form of a letter to Santa Claus.

    Both families are shining examples of countless other Roselle Park residents who touch each others’ lives. For although we might live our daily lives concerned with our own problems, thinking we are alone, such small yet significant gestures show that we are all connected and are never alone.