ROSELLE, NJ – The Roselle Borough Council stuck to its guns Jan. 20 and - despite pleas from members of the public and Mayor Christine Dansereau - the council refused to re-appoint George Phipps as superintendent of the public works department.
Discussion about Phipps during the council meeting grew heated. At one point, Dansereau left the dais and addressed the council from the floor.
She presented Phipps’s credentials, citing his excellent reviews and performance evaluations, commendations from state Sen. Raymond Lesniak and Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, and Phipps’ willingness to continue his education to perform better on the job.
Dansereau, whose plan to have Phipps continue to serve as DPW superintendent was rejected by the council on Jan. 13, also pointed to an independent evaluation of the DPW by The Canning Group, a report that recommended Phipps remain as director.
“George Phipps is the strongest manager in a department that needs strong management skills,” said the mayor. “He has done what he could with what he has. Is there room for improvement? Yes, but not enough to terminate.”
The controversy brought dozens of Roselle residents to the Jan. 20 meeting to protest. Dansereau’s comments were greeted with applause from the audience.
Council President Kim Shaw explained the reluctance to approve Phipps. “There has been a lack of communication, and we have not had to opportunity to voice our concerns,” she said. “There are deficiencies that we cannot ignore.”
Phipps’ re-appointment had been rejected with a 5-1 vote. The five dissenting council members said, at the Jan. 20 session, that their intent was not to terminate Phipps. “We have heard a lot eloquent speeches and emotion, but this is a business decision,” said Councilman Samuel Bishop. “Our goal is to have George as superintendent. We are having a meeting on Monday to go over all the issues in detail and come up with an action plan.”
Yves Aubourg, the lone council member supporting the mayor, disagreed. “This is just political,” he said, drawing applause from the audience. “George was qualified. He went to school. They know he can do the job. I want to move forward and appoint someone who can do the job. George keeps doing the job. This is politics.”
Phipps position wasn’t the only source of rancor. Dansereau also wants to replace Roselle Borough Attorney Rachel Caruso with Tracy Cosby. The mayor’s plan prompted Shaw to question Dansereau’s motivation. “Has anyone heard of any problems with the current borough attorney?” she asked. “How was the new attorney vetted?”
Dansereau said she no longer trusts Caruso. “The borough attorney works for the mayor,” she said. “I have to trust their legal advice. She represents me. The current attorney does excellent work, but the trust was lost. The lines got blurred between friendship and legal. There are reasons that I’m not at liberty to discuss. There are issues outside the borough of taking direction from someone outside.”
Councilman-at-large Reginald Atkins took issue with Dansereau’s reasoning. “We are very pleased with our current borough attorney,” he said. “Before tonight, we have not heard of any concerns.”
Neither appointment was approved. The mayor said Phipps was now demoted to his previous position of supervisor with a decrease in salary.
During the public comments portion of the meeting, a parade of residents took turns at the podium to express their support of Phipps.
“George has never been written up,” said Cynthia Johnson. “He cleaned up this borough after Sandy. Yes, this is political. I know how this game is played. George has an impeccable record. Now we have a big storm coming. How can we run a borough without a superintendent?”
Ethel Pope asked, “Are you doing what is right? Or are you doing what someone told you to do?”
Former Councilwoman Sylvia Turnage accused the council members of abandoning their obligation to the voters. “This has been interesting,” she said. “The council members were elected to serve the citizens, not be self-serving. I side with the mayor’s right to make her own appointments. Every council person has an interest is serving themselves. Try serving the Borough of Roselle. Try serving the citizens of Roselle.”
Marie Hegener contended the council members were improperly following behind-the-scenes directives from former Roselle Borough Mayor Jamel Holley. “The council members have to get a backbone,” she said. “The people elected you to do the people’s bidding, not that of a former mayor. We talk about someone out of the borough. It is Jamel Holley, and he is no longer mayor.”