HOPATCONG — Hopatcong’s online council meeting grew heated after questions arose about why three individuals not affiliated with the Community Resource and Wellness Center were in the center recently with its manager, Councilwoman Dawn Roberts.
Members of the public aired concerns at Wednesday’s meeting after they found pictures and video footage on Facebook of what they referred to as a “virtual baby shower,” questioning why Roberts and the three individuals — including one who is pregnant — were permitted in the center; and why they were photographed with a cake and baby items. The center has been closed to the public in the midst of the pandemic. Borough officials and the mother of the pregnant woman, Koren Bostrom, countered that her daughter was an individual receiving services from the center.
According to Bostrom’s comments during the public session, Roberts is her daughter’s “private caregiver,” who is with the family on a weekly basis to take Bostrom’s daughter’s vital signs. Bostrom said she and her two daughters, who she did not name, entered the center with Roberts, all three reportedly wearing face masks. Roberts, according to past campaign stories in the New Jersey Herald, has previously disclosed that she is a hospice and geriatric nurse.
Mayor Michael Francis interjected that he permitted Bostrom and her daughters entry into the building, where Roberts and the four “did a virtual thank you” after Bostrom’s daughter received gifts there. However, Francis stated it was not a party and reiterated he had the authority to permit the interaction.
Resident Mara Modes asked why Roberts, as Bostrom’s daughter’s caregiver, did not initiate this transaction at a private residence. Roberts did not respond but thanked Modes for her comments.
The questions about the center use arose when Heather Fiore, a resident and candidate for borough council, asked if allowing Bostrom and her daughters into the building was an authorized use of the center. Borough Attorney John Ursin told Fiore no functions have taken place there and there were “confidentiality concerns speaking about the services that have been provided” to individuals at the center. Michelle Franco, another citizen, challenged Ursin about what services could be provided in the center, asking if she could hold a birthday party there. Ursin replied that “with almost certainty, private functions would not be allowed during the pandemic time.”
Roberts clarified, “there was no baby shower,” with Ursin interjecting that Roberts needed to “be careful about not talking about individual services that you provide to residents through the community center or in the community center.” Ursin told Franco that services provided there were at the discretion of those running it and could change even daily during the pandemic.
A discussion ensued among Councilwoman Jennifer Johnson, Ursin and Borough Clerk Valerie Egan about emergency marriage licenses, including one that was delayed for a first responder recently. Johnson questioning why services provided to Bostrom’s daughter at the center were considered essential, while the marriage license was delayed. Egan said she delayed on the license because the first responder had been exposed to a co-worker with COVID.
Resident Christopher Vincent questioned if food items his father received from the community center had been touched by outsiders like Bostrom’s family; and asked if the center would be fully cleaned. Roberts responded that the “community center is cleaned and disinfected daily.”
“There was not a party, there was not an event, we did not go licking the cans of food, so don’t worry about it (Vincent’s father’s food) being contaminated,” Bostrom fired back at Vincent and other residents questioning the issue.
Bostrom said it is a trend in Hopatcong for information to be spun with political agenda and thanked Roberts and Francis for stepping up in her family’s time of need. She then turned on Johnson, stating Johnson had been the family’s mental health specialist in the past, accusing Johnson of having provided the alleged baby shower photos to Fiore, her former running mate. Johnson denied the allegations of access to the photos and said after she learned of the existence of the photos, she contacted Francis for more information. Johnson commented that she neither had control of those sharing the information nor Bostrom’s daughter’s interactions on Facebook about the incident.
Johnson argued that her concern was the building has been closed per the executive order of Gov. Phil Murphy; and Francis and Roberts opened it for Bostrom, who Johnson said is Roberts’ friend.
“So it looks like now the government is doing a personal favor for one of their friends on taxpayer money, that’s the issue that I had,” Johnson said. “If it was me that opened this building, you guys would be ripping me from limb to limb.”
Jennifer Jean Miller can also be reached by phone at: 973-383-1230; on Facebook: www.Facebook.com/JMillerNJH and on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JMillerNJH.