Financial scandal, mass resignations & litigious campaigners plague Roselle

Denise Wilkerson, Donald Shaw, Cindy Thomas, Reginald Atkins

“Over the last few years, we have rebuilt a strong financial foundation for Roselle,” said Councilwoman-at-Large Denise Wilkerson during her re-election campaign last year but according to her colleagues on the governing body, she used the municipal coffers as a check-cashing service to launder money.

Wilkerson allegedly orchestrated donations from various sources that were deposited into a municipal bank account, then she withdrew funds for field trips and other expenses without the appropriation being approved by the council.

“Wilkerson got a donation which they put under the Children’s Trust Fund, and then she had it withdrawn,” said former Mayor Christine Dansereau. “She used it for whatever, I don’t know.”

The Children’s Trust Fund is a municipal account, so all funds expended are supposed to be appropriated by the council.

“It is appropriate not for a councilmember to use as her own financial bank account,” said Dansereau.

“Wilkerson is the Finance chair, if you look at the last Council meeting, she don’t know her a** from her elbow,” said a former council member who described the situation as financial chicanery. “There has been a revolving door in the BA and CFO positions.”

The Business Administrator is the chief executive of the borough, responsible to the Borough Council for the proper and efficient management of affairs, personnel and finances.

Somerset County Commissioner Shanel Y. Robinson, 54, was hired as assistant borough administrator in September 2022, but she has been acting borough administrator since Ricky Allen Smiley, 63, abruptly quit last year from the job that he started in 2021.

Smiley’s departure comes amid what could be described as a mass resignation of top level officials, including Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Anders T. Hasseler, building construction official, zoning code enforcement officer, and a shared service county nurse —all of whom resigned their positions.

Somerset County Director of Finance and Administrative Services Nicola Trasente is serving in an acting capacity as CFO.

Hasseler, 39, is a Republican registered to vote in Bergen County. Trasente, 57, has no political party affiliation and he is registered to vote in Hunterdon County.

The Department of Public Works (DPW) Superintendent George Phipps sued the borough and took a settlement that required him to resign his position in February and he’s still working. The Civil Rights lawsuit alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act impacting Phipps’ employment.

The borough DPW’s only white woman employee Celeste Sitarski, won a $200,000 settlement the borough after making allegations of lascivious, sexually inappropriate and abusive behavior by her male colleagues.

Now, Sitarski, who began working for the DPW in January 2012 and is the aunt of Council President Brandon Bernier, has been actively campaigning alongside Mayor Donald Shaw while she is on paid leave from her $70,000 job while she litigates a second lawsuit against taxpayers.

People who worked with her insisted that Sitarski’s claims were unfounded allegations that amplify stereotypes commonly weaponized against Black men.

“This was not ever brought to my attention,” said DPW Supervisor Louis Williams, who was among the named defendants in Sitarski’s first legal action. “I can’t understand what this is about. Maybe it’s money or something. Me and the other supervisors are in shock. I feel like it was blown out of proportion and now we feel like we are walking on eggshells. All I know is that nothing I did was wrong.”

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