Overall, I would give this Mayor and Council good marks for their governance. Unfortunately, you are more often remembered for your screw-ups. Before the council reorganization last January there was a major push for more transparency from the M&C. During that January reorganization, new rules were proposed for the flow of council meetings. It took several meetings for the rules to be adopted. One of the major changes was a requirement that meeting agendas be published in a timely manner and 11th-hour additions were to be banned unless there was an overriding reason for immediate action. The reason for the change is that, quite frankly, some members of M&C have been notorious for last minute additions and pushing for adoption without proper consideration or input from the public. This resulted in any number of resolutions and ordinances being passed in haste that later had to be amended. When brought up by the public at the meetings the general response was “We can always go back and fix it later” rather than “Let’s do it right the first time.”
While the new rules have served well, there is still an element that likes to jump ship and act before thinking about the consequences. At the July 20th meeting, M&C once again jumped into the middle of a pile without thinking it through. At that meeting, the Roselle Park First Aid Squad (RPFAS) ceased to exist. Prior to the meeting, an executive (closed) session was scheduled to discuss “possible litigation regarding the RPFAS.” When the public meeting was held the possible litigation had turned into the dissolution of the First Aid Squad and bringing in Union County EMS to cover the Borough 24/7. To be fair this outcome is what would have likely happened had M&C followed the rules and introduced a resolution with the attendant council and public discussion. Doing it the correct way would have resulted in far fewer hurt feelings as well as bad publicity. The 77-year-old squad has served our community well but has suffered in recent years with this outcome being inevitable. At this same meeting, a resolution was passed to modify the agreement between the Borough and County giving the county 24/7 coverage over the borough. Details of this agreement were not widely known or published at the time.
In the intervening month, emotions have run high with claims and counter claims from every side of the issue. Everyone is going to have to analyze which set of statistics they wish to believe, but they need to do so in a calm and collected manner. Bottom line is that the RPFAS is now gone and a part of Roselle Park history. It is my hope that their tenure will be painted with a bright brush.
The next M&C meeting was held August 17th. As expected, what was simmering just below the surface boiled over at the end of the meeting during public comments. Several Squad members spoke of how they were treated and the fact that did not feel they were given an opportunity to remove personal items. I asked the same question and was given what I consider an unsatisfactory answer from the Chair. Mr. Josh Regan (Boy Scout and EMT) asked the M&C why it was necessary to “trash” his Eagle Scout Project in front of the Squad building. The eventual response was that it was the County who was responsible for the damage. When the subject of damage to his project was first brought to light in the Roselle Park Forum, I made a couple of visits to the site and personally inspected what was going on. It was clearly evident that Josh’s project had suffered significant damage, including the removal of the benches he had installed. I have also observed two different construction dumpsters on the property and it was clear that the County was gutting the building. I find this curious as the Squad building is one of the newest in the Borough and was constructed and operated as a working EMS building with squad bays and equipment rooms.
At some point, several members of the public started taking undeserved shots at Council, particularly 1st Ward Councilman Meola (I) and 5th Ward Councilman Shipley (R). The worst of this attack was offered by Mr. Dan Petrosky of the Roselle Park Democratic Committee and was clearly politically motivated. The Mayor and Borough Counsel eventually stepped in, but not before the damage was done.
At the start of the meeting, the shared services agreement was made available giving most of the public their first chance to review this document. I found two sections of this document particularly troubling and I called upon M&C to provide their rationale for the provisions. At this point, my five minutes for comment ran out and I was informed that if I wanted answers I could visit the Mayor at his office to discuss the matter. I am sorry, but the answers to these items need to be discussed in the public’s eye for all to see and hear.
The first item of concern regards the existing Borough-owned ambulances. I specifically had asked if they were to be repainted in County Livery and who owns these vehicles. The addendum to the shared services agreement contains the following statement … “The Borough agrees to transfer ownership of three (3) current Borough-owned ambulances to the County at no cost to the county except for the County’s obligation relative to the licensing and obtaining proper insurance coverage of the vehicles.” One of these vehicles is not only brand new, it has yet to be delivered from the manufacturer. The cost of this vehicle is well over $200,000. A second ambulance had been out of service after an accident and was just recently repaired and place back into service. Between the three vehicles, we are “giving” the county over $500,000 worth of equipment with no compensation to the Borough. Whenever anyone asks M&C about our high taxes the response is always that the School District takes over half and the County takes another large percentage and the Borough gets whatever is left.
In the next item of the agreement “The Borough agrees to permit the County to utilize the Borough-owned building and property at 535 Laurel Avenue, Roselle Park, NJ, 07204.” There is no provision within this statement that dictates how the County must utilize this property. I would assume that most people feel that on-duty EMS personnel will be based here. The document signed on behalf of the Borough gives them the right to do whatever they want with the building. The County could turn the building into a DPW Maintenance Shed and there is nothing the Borough could do. The County is doing major work to the interior of the building and I have yet to hear just what they are doing with the property.
So, are we being served?
In this instance, I would have to say the M&C have fallen flat on their faces. The citizens of Roselle Park deserve an explanation from the dais and in the future, they need to respect their own rules of transparency. Waiting a month and doing this in the proper way would have saved a lot of needless invective.
– David E. Robertson