ROSELLE, NJ — Residents who speak during the public comments section at council meetings are familiar with the sound of a buzzer indicating that their allotted three to six minutes to talk is over.
But Mayor Christine Dansereau was surprised to hear that sound at last night's council meeting while she gave her closing comments.
“What was that?” Dansereau asked as the buzzer went off while she spoke about county assistance programs available for senior homeowners, addressing what she called “issues of poverty” in the borough.
Some members of the audience let out laughs as the mayor looked about the room.
“Based on the bylaws we voted on in the month of January, everyone has five minutes,” Councilman-at-Large Reginald Atkins said, referring to the time allotted for each council member to speak during closing statements.
Dansereau disagreed with Atkins though.
“Okay, that has never been adhered to, not even for the council president or yourself in the past two years that I’ve been sitting here,” Dansereau said. “This helps the people. This is not me trying to take advantage, I’d like to just let people know what is available to them.”
She attempted to go on about the programs and literature available to homeowners for a few more seconds before Atkins called for a point of order to make the mayor stop speaking outside of her allotted time.
Borough Attorney Rachel Caruso informed the mayor that she had to rule on Atkins’s point of order.
"I don’t agree with the point of order,” she said, later adding that, “It’s inappropriate and it’s wrong.”
The mayor put up a motion to vote on her decision to deny Atkins’s point of order. All present council members, except for Yves Aubourg, voted to not let the mayor continue speaking. Councilwoman Carla Walker was not present at yesterday’s meeting.
Fifth Ward Councilman Samuel Bishop stepped out of the room during the vote. He told TAP he left the council chambers because he had to use the bathroom.
Aubourg, who spoke after the vote, transferred most of his five minutes to the mayor to allow her to finish speaking.
Using his time, Dansereau continued to speak about the forms available for the Union County Home Improvement Program. She also called for people to donate to her school book bag drive, which will be giving out backpacks on Sept. 2 from 1 to 4 p.m. in the council chambers.
Atkins, in his closing statement, said the issue of time allowed for members of the public and elected officials to speak had nothing to do with “someone trying to shut someone down.”
“It’s just adhering to what we voted on,” he said. He also later added that Roselle is “not in poverty. We’re not poor.”
He said 2010 data from the U.S. Census Bureau showed the median household income in Roselle was $58,000, much higher than what other residents had mentioned when talking about high property taxes in the public comments section.
The most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau in 2015 marks the median household income at $43,397.
Meanwhile, Cynthia Johnson -- who is running for a seat on the council -- questioned why the salaries of administrators like CFO Kimberly Browne were increasing. The council also voted to increase Assistant Borough Administrator Bryan Russell’s annual salary from $85,000 to $95,000 and Payroll Supervisor Glori Ann Guell’s salary from $50,000 to $55,000 starting Aug. 1.
Browne, in a phone interview today, she was hired in December 2015 and has never received a raise from the borough until now. She currently makes $80,000 a year, but that’s set to increase to $90,000 starting Aug. 1, too.
Atkins said at last night's meeting that CFOs in other towns like Garwood and Cranford make thousands of dollars more than what Browne is already making.
“We need to make sure we’re attracting the best people,” Council President Kim Shaw said last night, speaking highly of each person’s credentials.
Browne said she graduated from Montclair State University with a B.A. in accounting and is a certified municipal finance officer. She formerly worked as Hunterdon County's director of the Administration and Finance Department, but was terminated in 2013 after an audit found numerous financial issues in the county's books, NJ.com reported.
“They did bring up my past in Hunterdon County and I can’t comment too much because I have a couple lawsuits going on,” she said. “I was essentially a political sacrifice.
“I avoid the political-ness in Roselle,” she later added.
Clarification: An earlier version of this article stated that Councilman Samuel Bishop left during the vote involving the mayor. He left moments before the vote and was not present during the vote.