Citizens say Roselle library is wasting taxpayer dollars, failing to serve city

The Roselle Citizens Alliance (RCA) is demanding answers from the library director and the Board of Trustees about why there are no services, even though their taxpayer dollars are being collected and libraries in surrounding towns are open and fully functioning.

In August 2021, members of the group put their concerns in a formal letter and mailed it to the Roselle Public Library Director Jean Marie Ryan and the Roselle Library Board of Trustees.

RCA members documented the poor condition of the Roselle Public Library but officials have failed to respond to questions or complaints

The citizen’s group also presented their complaints to the mayor and governing body at both the September and October 2021 council meetings, but officials refused to provide a reasonable response and told residents to take their concerns to the Roselle Public Library Board meeting.

So the Roselle Citizens’ Alliance did just that.

Members attended library meetings in October 2021 and December 2021 sharing their concerns, but they have yet to receive a response to their initial letter, which requested meeting minutes, information on programs, and an explanation for the library’s closure.

According to the Open Public Meetings Act, each public body must keep reasonably comprehensive minutes of all its meetings that shall be promptly available to the public.

“Roselle Public Library is in direct violation of this law as there has been no transparency by this public institution. Minutes have not been made available to the public in the library nor on the website. Likewise, there is no contact information for the board of trustees via phone or email address to send concerns directly from the public. The only viable email is managed solely by the director,” said Cynthia Harris-Frederick, a member of the alliance.

“It’s important that we get an accurate public accounting as to how our money is being spent because there is a serious lack of services and the Roselle community has suffered as a result,” said Harris-Frederick. “Many of the residents have been forced to go to Linden, Union, Rahway, and Elizabeth for basic library needs.”

Mold, water damage and other signs of neglect have rendered the Roselle Public Library facility useless but local officials entered a complex agreement that forces city taxpayers to spend over $400,000 per year on rent for a building they previously owned outright.

Another RCA member, former Mayor Garrett Smith said, “Over the last seven years, the library budget has substantially increased without oversight and accountability, while services have steadily declined.”

RCA documented a lack of library-relevant programming of activities planned for children, youth, adults, and seniors.

Overall, RCA has identified the following areas that the library substantially lacks: bylaws, fiscal management, functional programming, and routine website maintenance relative to the community served.

RCA member Wilma Johnson shared photographs detailing the library building’s serious state of disrepair.

Those photos show leaking ceilings, crumbling piping, faulty structures, potential asbestos exposure and spaces in the library that are practically abandoned.

Similarly, the outside grounds of the library are unkempt and poorly lit but instead of fixing the problems, officials entered a complicated financial scheme turning ownership of the facility to Union County, which is collecting more than $400,000 a year to lease the building back to residents who owned previously it.

These types of repairs present a risk and harm to anyone who enters the library, according to group members who say it’s a shame that speaks to how the maintenance and repair budget is poorly managed.

In fact, during the summer and fall months, children sat outside and couldn’t even use the bathrooms or drink water from the fountain.

“Why should they get our taxpayer dollars?” asked, Johnson. “How were our taxpayer dollars used if the library was closed all this time? Shouldn’t there be a surplus?”

Johnson noted that the library director has submitted a new budget to the mayor and council.

RCA is also calling on Governor Phil Murphy for his assistance, noting that the Roselle Public Library stayed closed despite his Executive Order to open its doors despite Covid.

“Governor Murphy’s recent announcement of the second round of millions of dollars for libraries across the state, shows how much communities depend on their services and we have none. Before the library gets any money for improvements, there needs to be accountability and oversight to ensure the library is serving all the citizens of Roselle,” said Johnson.

The group not only wants to get quality services and programs that residents of Roselle have paid for comparable to surrounding towns, but to forge an accountable relationship with those who handle the library’s services.

Thus, preventing this from happening again in the future.

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