Small borough brings big year to a close


Staff Writer

ROOSEVELT — The past year has been called one of the most tumultuous in Roosevelt’s history.

While the first few months of 2005 were relatively uneventful, the decision of the local synagogue to house a boys yeshiva, or an Orthodox Jewish high school, pitted neighbor against neighbor and brought about a recall campaign for Mayor Neil Marko later in the year. Here’s a month-to-month recap of what has transpired in Roosevelt over the past 12 months.

In January, Councilwoman Elly Shapiro stepped down from her position on the council after serving a one-year term.

In February, borough officials said they would try to offset water/sewer rates by treating gray water at the borough’s sewage plant off Pine and Tamara drives. Officials said Roosevelt would benefit by getting $21 per 1,000 gallons of gray water, but residents had concerns about the traffic and pollution the project might bring to town.

In March, Roosevelt officials tabled the ordinance that would have established guidelines for the borough’s acceptance of gray water. During a public hearing on the matter, former Mayor Bert Ellentuck called the potential incoming wastewater “black water,” as he said it would contain fecal material.

Later in the year, officials would continue to revise the proposed ordinance for the acceptance of outside wastewater. During subsequent discussions, Councilman Michael Hamilton said he was “adamantly” opposed to the new ordinance because 50,000-pound trucks with air brakes would have to travel down a mile-long borough street to reach the wastewater plant.

In April, officials said the borough could not run a summer camp program due to low registration.

Also in April, officials introduced a budget that would not raise taxes for the average homeowner. Down $19,017 from 2004, the proposed 2005 budget amounted to $736,340. The budget held the tax rate at approximately 70 cents per $100 of assessed value.

On June 15, the 30-acre Mendies Nursery on Route 571 entered the Monmouth County Farmland Preservation Program with some financial help from the Fund For Roosevelt, the borough’s land trust.

At the Borough Council’s June 20 meeting, former Councilwoman Shapiro, who is also president of the local synagogue, said representatives of a yeshiva became interested in converting Congregation Anshei Roosevelt into a residential school. The concept plans for the project included a dormitory for a student population of 150. Shapiro also said representatives of the yeshiva expressed interest in purchasing the Pine Valley Swim Club property on Eleanor Lane for the dormitory.

On June 30, residents packed the Homestead Lane synagogue to hear about the yeshiva plan. During the meeting, borough residents said the plan could permanently change the nature of Roosevelt.

After Shapiro told people in the audience that the survival of the synagogue is at stake, several residents asked the congregation to consider having a Reform congregation at the synagogue, which might attract more members from the community.

Residents were told the yeshiva would operate on a one-year trial basis before the synagogue’s board makes a final decision as to whether it will allow the school to permanently remain on its property. The yeshiva would start with 12-13 boys and would add one grade level each year until it becomes a school for grades nine through 12.

On July 5, residents packed borough hall demanding more information about

the mayor’s involvement with Congregation Anshei Roosevelt and its plan to open a yeshiva in the borough. Alleging that Marko, who is also on the synagogue’s board of trustees, has a personal interest in the school’s development, resident Melissa Branco called for his resignation. Marko, however, said he did not think it was a conflict of interest.

Marko was served with a notice of intent to recall in June. Residents circulated a petition calling for a recall election.

At the July 11 Borough Council meeting, Councilman Jeff Hunt reported that the town would replace its old water meters and that consumption-based billing would begin in 2006.

A peaceful protest took place at the synagogue on July 21, while the congregation held its annual membership meeting. Protesters said they did not want a yeshiva to open in the borough. Some said houses associated with the yeshiva could be taken off the tax rolls, which would place more of a tax burden on other residents.

Because congregation members had known about the impending protest, they hired security guards, one of which was armed with a gun. During the meeting, Marko, who was serving as a board member of the congregation, stepped down from his post.

The Office of the Borough Clerk received the recall petition, signed by approximately 200 people, on July 29. The borough clerk, Krystyna Bieracka-Olejnik, would serve as the election official for purposes of the recall statute.

Postings on the community bulletin board located outside the post office garnered recognition from the N.J. State Police when racist images and remarks surfaced up in July.

In August, Congregation Anshei Roosevelt’s board of trustees said it would lease the synagogue building on Homestead Lane to Yeshiva Me’on Hatorah, an unofficial branch of Telshe Yeshiva, which was founded by alumni of a yeshiva headquartered in Riverdale, N.Y. Shapiro said that Congregation Anshei Roosevelt contracted with the yeshiva for four years. The contract, according to Shapiro, had built-in review periods and opt-out clauses.

Also in August, the borough clerk said that approximately 255 signatures on a petition to recall the mayor could not be certified because the first page of each section of the documentation did not include a declarative statement regarding the reason(s) for the petition.

On Aug. 23, the recall committee filed notice of another petition to recall Marko.

The Roosevelt Community Nursery School, which had been renting space in the synagogue for many years, announced it would now hold classes in Roosevelt Public School.

In September, residents received a petition in the mail asking if Congregation Anshei Roosevelt and its new tenant, the yeshiva, should go before the borough’s Planning Board so the board could determine whether the yeshiva is a permitted use in a residential zone. More than 200 residents signed the petition.

The Committee to Recall Mayor Neil Marko filed a complaint with the Monmouth County Superior Court of N.J., Chancery Division, Freehold, against the Roosevelt mayor and the borough clerk on Sept. 23. The complaint was filed after the borough clerk decided not to verify the second petition the committee submitted to the borough, which called for a recall election.

The council introduced an ordinance that would set the new water rate, which would start at $298 per family dwelling or house of worship, $438 for commercial establishments and $360 for farms where water is used by livestock.

Roosevelt residents filled a state Superior Court room on Oct. 27 to hear the fate of the petition to recall the mayor. Judge Alexander Lehrer, sitting in the Monmouth County Court House’s Chancery Division, heard the Committee to Recall Mayor Neil Marko’s appeal of the borough clerk’s decision to declare the petition invalid. During the hearing, Lehrer decided to allow the two parties to hammer out the details of another petition, which they both could agree to circulate.

The committee had until Nov. 4 to garner the necessary signatures to hold a recall election on the new petition. The signatures were gathered, and a recall election has been scheduled for Feb. 7.

Because he was moving to East Amwell Township in Hunterdon County, Jeff Hunt resigned from his Borough Council position on Nov. 14. Hunt had served on the council from 1995-98 and again since 2000. Among his other borough duties, Hunt was chairman of the Utilities Committee. The Borough Council unanimously chose Robert Silverstein, 46, of Pine Drive, to fill Hunt’s seat until the term expires next year.