Roger Terry, joined by his daughter, Rhonda, his wife Roslyn; and son-In-law Gary, was sworn in Friday by the township clerk as Councilor At Large. (TALIA ADDERLEY/STAFF)

When Roger Terry joins the Montclair Township Council Tuesday night as its new councilor at large, one of the first thing he hopes to bring to the dais is a sense of calm.

Terry is joining one of the most acrimonious councils in recent history, a council that has had its fair share of blow-ups between members as well as contentious meetings, with residents calling for transparency and calling out dysfunction.

“Out of respect to them, they had a difficult start,” says Terry of the council taking office in 2020 during the height of the pandemic and not being able to start by meeting in person.

Still, Terry said it has been disappointing watching the meetings, particularly the infighting on the council.

“It’s not the Montclair I remember,” said Terry who wants to bring civility back to meetings that at times seem like a “circus.” He also hopes to bring some compassion, adding that there members of this council may be “hurting.”

Did he hesitate when asked to join the council?

“I sure did,” Terry laughed.

Terry, who will soon be 74, learned Peter Yacobellis had resigned and that several people were being considered to fill his seat and he was one of them.

He told his wife and daughter, expecting them to say he was crazy to even consider it, but both encouraged him to accept, also believing Terry could bring some calm to an often volatile council.

Terry’s time on the council is short, with elections for a new council happening in May 2024.

“There are just 16 meetings and then I go back to the NAACP,” said Terry who is temporarily stepping down as president of the Montclair NAACP to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest. He is confident in the abilities of Diane Anglin, the organization’s first vice president, who will step in as president during his time on the council.

A former Montclair Deputy Police Chief who served on the council from 2008-2012, Terry said having that council experience informs how he will approach his council mates.

“I learned a long time ago to say words of discipline in private and give praise in public,” said Terry. “I will be respectful, but I will also demand a level of respect.”

The resignation of Yacobellis was a sad situation, said Terry, adding that he thought Yacobellis was a great communicator, especially for younger people.

Terry said that while he may not have been coming to council meetings in person, he has been watching all along. He also has communicated regularly with both the mayor and members of the council during their term, asking questions and giving advice.

Roger Terry, with family, at Friday’s swearing in ceremony. (TALIA ADDERLEY/STAFF)

At his swearing in ceremony Friday, attended by Fourth Ward Councilor David Cummings and Deputy Mayor Bill Hurlock, Terry made a statement, thanking the council for appointing him and calling for respectful dialogue.

“I know there’s been difficulties over the last three years. I will try my best to be a mediator to make sure that whatever we do is going to be what’s best for the township of Montclair.”

When his time on the council comes to an end, would Terry consider running again in 2024?

“There are so many things I want to do,” says Terry, who added that the tragic loss of his nephew, a veteran firefighter killed in the Newark cargo ship fire, only reinforced for him how precious time — and family — are.

“It’s unlikely, but I will leave the door open. If a lot of people don’t want to get involved, maybe I will run.”

Liz George is the publisher of Montclair Local.

25 replies on “Roger Terry Looks To Bring Calm to Stormy Montclair Council”

  1. Welcome back Roger, my friend. Nice to see you again on the dias.

    That said, please do not let yourself be used as a front here to further cover-up the smell that residents have had to endure over the last three years from this Council. Because asking for more “civility” and “compassion” today are great as human kindness. However, not when they’re used to obscure and deflect some of the completely illogical legislative decisions made by this group that you’re now sitting with. Or incongruous actions by our town’s top management. Then, it’s just a surface cover, which actually helps pivot things away those here who have tried to out all the unreasonable behaviors.

    And I’m not just talking about minor differences of opinion. I mean blatant examples: like giving away the fiscal store to Glen Ridge for our fire services contract. Or rolling out a major redevelopment here without first doing a financial analysis on the proposed building parameters. Keeping the CFO intentionally out of those project meetings and not defining any net profitability upfront. Or covering-up the Manager and Fire Chief unfairly promoting the Chief’s son, discriminating against others unfairly in the promotion process etc. and hiding that with a bogus legal report after. Paid for by taxpayers.

    Calls to respond to these types of acts more calmly — when our elected officials operate instead for seemingly personal, political or Trentonized agendas…instead of the interests of our residents…do not make for a better government, or a better town.

    So, I hope you recognize this Roger because given the public enmity generated to date, from say the AG’s pending criminal investigation AND the Judge’s OPRA demands for the town’s failure to provide harassment case documentation…this resident anger could start to turn against you.

    That’s if you try to protect those you’re now working with. Rather than just make your colleagues clean up their acts. So, I really hope you’ll do the right thing here…and actually become a force for good that’s so desperately needed.

  2. I hope I’m wrong, but it appears Roger Terry publicly lied at his first post-swearing council meeting last night. Roger, do you want to rectify this and come clean, or shall we do it for you? It ain’t gonna be pretty, either way. But if you do it yourself, it will be honorable, even if uncomfortable. If we have to do it for you, this will likely be your last stint. Fess up.

  3. Roger Terry said that NAACP was limited by what it could do to push back against discriminatory fire promotions because of litigation. The lawsuit was filed only recently. Where was Terry BEFORE that? He did not come to a single council meeting to contest what was going on.

    Why should a reasonable person will not believe that Terry will be more sensitive to critical issues as a council person given he didn’t do squat as chair of NAACP. Terry is on the Council only because Sean knows he will be his lapdog.

    Lastly, to the point made by the poster above, I do not believe Terry and NAACP under his leadership had anything to do with firefighters’ lawsuit as he claimed at last night’s meeting. Can someone please verify this?

  4. @ Jon Moon
    To my knowledge, Roger Terry and NAACP were completely hands-off concerning discriminatory fire exam. According to reports in the press, the black firefighters reached out to NAACP back in November 2021. NAACP forwarded the referral to CRC (Civil Rights Commission). The two organizations then reached out to the Township and requested that this be investigated. I repeat – this was in November 2021. NAACP has done nothing since.

    It is most unfortunate – and troubling – that Councilor Roger Terrry decided to publicly lie when confronted about it by a resident at the last council meeting. He should explain himself and apologize – to the black firefighters and to the residents.

  5. Councilor Terry does need to publicly recuse himself at the next Councilor meeting on the firefighter exams and the subsequent legal actions brought by the firefighters. Much of individual councilor involvement will be done offline, under the rules of client-attorney privilege & work product, and cloaked in executive sessions. He did not do so when the opportunity presented itself in this meeting. This is a red flag. If he does not, he is no better than the current council, or the ex-councilor he replaced, he just lectured on maintaining the high ground. This is one of those moments in the present he mentioned. This is one of those moments he alone controls and will impact the future. Let’s see what his choice soon.

  6. “We brought about the suit for the black firefighters. We produced that, we filed it.” – Councilor Roger Terry at the 10/24/23 council meeting (@ 1:18:25) in response to a resident’s challenge that NAACP did nothing to fight back against the discriminatory fire exam.

    This is a lie.

    Councilor Terry, would you please explain why you told a lie about your and NAACP’s involvement in filing of Makkari Sampson and Steve Marshalleck’s lawsuit?

  7. The NAACP did NOT instigate or file a lawsuit involving black firefighters. I see only two scenarios:

    1) Roger Terry, NAACP President, somehow believes that it did.
    2) Rodger the Truth Dodger.

    What’s scarier?

  8. Hey Frank: why do you think Roger Terry should recuse himself again from any discussions concerning discriminatory fire exam and resulting promotions? Something tells me you did not pick up this pearl of wisdom from an attorney.

    Further, I do not understand what you mean by recusing himself and yet participating in relevant discussions “cloaked in closed sessions”. Either you recuse yourself or you don’t. You can’t have it both ways.

    I hate to say it, but you are beginning to sound like Paul Burr, our perpetually confused, fake-it-till-you-make-it Interim Township Attorney. Back when things exploded with CFO’s internal complaint against Stafford, Burr kept recusing and reinserting himself. It was as hilarious! I believe he is fully inserted at the moment. I kind of feel for the guy. I mean Nancy Erika Smith will rip him to pieces at his deposition. (I cannot imagine he won’t be deposed given his heavy involvement).

    Nancy Erika Smith: “Mr. Burr, did you or did you not witness Timothy Stafford scream at Ms. Rao?”

    Paul Burr: “Can I call a friend?”

    NES: “Shining star of the New Jersey Bar”.

  9. Ca;vin,

    I know I should have consulted you first because you are that good.

    But, I didn’t. And maybe I didn’t explain myself and my writing is for sh*t. And maybe you didn’t get around to explaining yourself…like in full disclosure. Tell you what, let’s park our attitudes for the moment? Can you do that?

    Councilor Terry proudly confirmed at Tuesday’s Council mtg that he, as leader of the M-NAACP, had an active role in the litigation initiated against the township.

    He is appointed Councilor. A temporary replacement. No problem, right?
    But, he already announced he is stepping away from his M-NAACP President’s role for 16 Council mtgs…to avoid any conflict of interests. I think you may be up to speed on NJ & Montclair’s laws on conflict of interests and who can call fouls. And if he had kept quiet, this probably wouldn’t be a conversation. But, he wanted to plant his flag on the high ground.

    If he had resigned from any office of the NAACP, I would listen to the argument the conflict no longer exists. But, he made absolutely clear he had almost every intent to resume that role that he stepped away from…because of conflict of interest. .

    As to the part I wasn’t clear on – all the participation & influence he, as a Councilor, would have in determining client positions and decisions – would be essentially out of site from the public. A hypothetical – we would not know if he was the deciding voice in “the client” decision to settle and how much to pay, above what is not covered by insurance. And if this hypothetical should happen in the waning weeks of this Council, and should be deemed a favorable outcome to the plaintiffs, you legal types may say that is the law.

    Of course, you would be saying it with the prevailing ethics of the Supreme Court as your profession’s gold standard. So I won’t apologize for speculating what I ethical from a member of the profession that can’t seem to wrap itself around the topic. And how many attorney have pleaded out, or are convicted and gave testimony under oath, just this past week in news?

    The legal profession is much like inside the Washington D.C. beltway. I think it is a profession with systemic deficiencies and rampant quality issues. How did the Township’s’ highly touted first attorney work out? Remember how your profession argued over tort law reform because of the need to clean up the medical profession?

    DidI tell you “the moment” passed 30 seconds ago?

  10. Frank, I think we both misunderstood each other a bit. I’ve said it before but I’ll gladly repeat it: my profession, like any other profession, has geniuses, morons, and everything in between. There are always people who graduate at the bottom of the class, right? I also am of the opinion that it’s unfortunate that the majority of State and Federal legislators are lawyers.

    As far as any vote on settlement of the firefighters’ lawsuit, I’m not sure what you are saying. The discussion will at some point be had in closed session but the vote will have to take place in public. In other words, Terry’s vote (and everyone else’s) will be recorded. Unless Interim Township Attorney Paul Burr, advises otherwise. It wouldn’t surprise me – Sean wants to declare that the sky is green today and Burr readily so declares. The man will do absolutely anything to hold on to the gig – it is fascinating in its own way.

    As far as Roger Terry, the way I see it, his conflict is not so much that his plan is to resume his ‘leadership’ of NAACP after June 2024. The issue is that he publicly stated that he (as head of NAACP) was involved in preparing and filing of the firefighters’ lawsuit. He is in a bit of a bind now. He can do two things:

    (1) come clean and say that he lied about his involvement and then there’s no conflict; or
    (2) stick to his guns (I mean lies) and recuse himself.

    Lastly, I am not sure what kind of disclosure you expect of me. If you ask specific questions, I’ll answer as long as I don’t find them invasive.

  11. Calvin,

    I think we are both of similar views on Terry’s conflict. Yours case is likely the most legally defensible, but also leverages either what is a low standard or the NJ court’s application of the law.

    With the above in mind, I think he has a third option – to abstain. The court didn’t agree with me on the extremely belated recusal by Councilor Schlager from the 2018 Lackawanna application. I don’t know if the plaintiffs put forward a weak case or it didn’t rise to a level worth litigating. Or maybe the suit was about something else. 🙂

    I think it matters when the conflict comes into existence. I think Terry became conflicted the moment he assumed office. If not then, then certainly at his first involvement in the topic.

    My understanding of Roberts Rules and NJ statue is that the inherent harm from a perceived or actual conflict begins with participation, as you know. For others here, this is why a person who recuses must leave the room prior to any discussion. That was my issue with Councilor Schlager’s recusal at the very last minute – literally! She participated, as the Council’s appointed representative to the PB, for 9 months after she created her conflict.

    All Terry has to do for any vote is abstain. A voter who defers to the majority. A win-win tailored for his circumstances.

    As to your opening and closing paragraphs, I leave it as well noted.

  12. And I really appreciated Councilor Terry pointing out to the public the 4 true Mounties in the room.

  13. Re: “Roger Terry Looks To Bring Calm to Stormy Montclair Council.” Frankly, I wish he wouldn’t.

    I’m just wrapping up my new, highly anticipated screenplay, “Can Your Town Do This?” (likely slated for next year’s Montclair Film Festival if I can just land an agent, an editor, a producer, director and a bunch of really good actors) and I need a couple more stormy, shameless, incompetence-driven council meetings to close out Act Three. To be honest, I was counting on Yacobellis to bring it home but just when the script called for a display of loathsome self-pity hopped up on a nasty contempt for his rivals, the man up and left. So now, Roger Terry? It’s like replacing Hannibal Lecter with a State Farm Insurance spokesman.

    Puhlease, Montclair. Can’t you get anything right?

  14. TBTF “puhlease, Mont. Can’t you get anything right?”
    No not until the town gets rid of Spiller and his political machine! Sadly, You’ll soon get your act 3

  15. Looking forward, I will take this opportunity to raise the ‘other’ vision thing – our supply of quality drinking water.

    The convergence of local political circumstances, today’s Council composition with a new At-Large Councilor who lives in the 4th Ward, and the “use it or lose it” decision on the Nishuane well permit presents a vision opportunity for this expiring administration.

    The temporary municipal budget being developed will signal the allocation priorities for 2024. More importantly, it will challenge this particular Council’s “new” capability to work together and maybe create a legacy accomplishment to offset their myriad failure of the first 3 years.

    The Nishaune well is one such decision that we should revisit after the kick-the-can down the road decision (by a majority of this Council) a decade ago.

    The calculus has changed. A long term drinking water supply resiliency plan is essential. Climate issues, infrastructure reliability, population growth. The Nutley water main failure just a year ago shows our risk and how much is out of our local control.

    Time is not our friend here. The clock is ticking down. Can we even have a conversation without an aware and educated electorate? I think proceeding with eh Nishuane well project is a no-brainer, but not cheap. Maybe $3MM+ total over several budgets?

    We urgently need to have this conversation and this Council must help us understand the choices. How that choice fits into their vision of the most fundamental of our quality of life choices.

  16. It’s impressive to review most comments here because they are actually very on-point with astute observations. Unlike many facebook threads where you have to work through multiple comments to get to a few pearls, it’s all here above…my own POV at the head I think included.

    Roger Terry will just not be able to politically cruise and just pacify people again today with good will callings and a jovial personality…as he did last time at the dias. There are many more serious issues at stake now. And lawsuits filed with governance f-ups already at the table. So Roger will have to choose, which side he really wants to be on.

    If the Spiller-Trentonized players dangled getting him some more BOE and other official NJ. State connected security consulting contracts so Roger just goes along …it will become very obvious. If instead, he is willing to out their games played here going forward…this too will become apparent. Either way, we will very quickly see.

  17. I would like to petition for TooBigToFail to become a regular writer for Barista. Aside from making sense and being very good with language, he is absolutely hilarious!

  18. I’m not on social media but I hear that on one of the platforms someone has posted a revelation that interim town manager Michael Lapolla’s current pet project is making fire promotions retroactive. Can someone please explain to me why is the Town pumping MORE money into MFD and rewarding discriminatory and arrogant behavior of the fire chief? I mean other than Sean Spiller vying for the fire union support? Will Roger Terry look the other way from that too?

  19. @Scriberman,

    You made two thoughtful choices – posting here under a pseudonym and not partaking in social media. Yet, your post under that pseudonym “but I hear” and “that someone” posted a revelation. And then you seal the deal with a question. Well played. Well played.

    I’m still trying to figure out why you needed to explain the not on social media thing. Maybe just say, “the word is…”.

  20. The “not on social media” was there to explain that I did not see the post in question but rather that I only had second-hand knowledge of its existence – my neighbor (whose identity is completely irrelevant) mentioned it to me over the fence the other day. Imho, your suggestion “the word is” is neither better nor worse than my own wording, but to each our own, I suppose.

    Meanwhile, I watched segments of the last council meeting that I missed during live stream. Well, one of the residents came up to the podium and raised the issue of retroactive promotions. Lapolla did not denied it so I gather it’s a thing and not a good one. Parenthetically, I find it interesting that you slide right past the controversial and ‘flammable’ issue at hand only to focus on a non-issue

    Lastly, do you have something against pseudonyms? I could have sworn mere months ago your spoke in favor. I happen to like mine and I’m not about to part ways with it. My name happens to be rather bland whereas the sobriquet expresses my love for writing and language in general.

  21. The new web site and its rollout?
    To be clear, this is not just Spiller’s debacle. The entire Council owns this. I am sick and tired of this Council whining like children; that no one likes them and what can they do under this form of government. (Maybe stop re-running for office!!! The fact we re-elect them is a separate issue)

    This major initiative is amateur hour on an historic scale. This latest mess shows the fundamental culture of this government’s leadership does not value communication, transparency or respect the voters. This is a lack of accountability and communications that is beyond bad. The Council extended their part-time CEO for another 9 months…part-time. The Deputy Manager got benched.

    We should be more encouraging of the Council members to consider pulling a Yacobellis and giving up their seat early. Could we do any worse? Really?

    I have said month after month after month this Council should be gone. Even as much as I am entertained by all of this. What a great town. And remember, the parents tried the “change the governance thing” with the school district and that has turned into another debacle. And what we do we get? Excuses. Excuses. Excuses. Accountability? Hah! We made out bed.

  22. My only assumption re: Fire Promotions is (and was my thought around why it was approved suddenly a few months ago) 1) even more lawsuits were about to drop because of the lack of promotion 2) the testing related lawsuits would still proceed, so holding them up punishes several firefighters who likely earned the promotion (while also rewarding folks that would not have deserved it under different tests/rubrics. So if there are 10 firefighters that would have gotten the raise either way, they shouldn’t have to suffer through the lawsuit. It’s real money, and a meaningful amount for families. It’s a very tricky scenario because you’d have to include the people who wouldn’t have gotten promoted under old metrics – and needing to come to a resolution regarding people that missed out on promotions/raises as a result of the new test.

  23. I don’t know if the “lawyerly” types here will agree with me, but my problem question is this. The promotions were awarded after the the lawsuit alleging discrimination was filed. Wouldn’t it have been more prudent to wait for the courts to make a determination one way or another? Suppose the court agrees with findings of Bruce Morgan’s report and says the exam was rigged to ensure that Chief’s young son gets promoted (resulting in disparate impact on minority firefighters with decades of service). Then what?

    I hear the argument about “real money” and those promotions warding off more litigation. But what’s another lawsuit at this point? Further, I would be concerned if we started basing most decisions not on the sense of right-wrong, justice, and fairness but rather on the fear that someone will sue. Someone will always sue – because schools crank out too many lawyers who need to make a living. Frivolous lawsuits, those out of statute, etc. simply get dismissed, sometimes right out of the gate.

  24. @Scriberman

    pseudonyms: Your recollection is correct. I don’t make a distinction between users…but, I think I mentioned then I have a caveat – accountability. I treat pseudonyms citing hearsay and then proceed to make their declarations, circling back to the hearsay, as lower value than someone who posts under their real name. And, as you did, making the leap within the same paragraph. Did you think you didn’t give up something when using a pseudonym? I would get laughed away from the dinner table if I brought this up and cited “Scriberman” as my source.

    Retroactive promotional pay: The issue that you didn’t ask for an opinion?
    In brief, promotions & promotion pay go together. It is a basic concept in the non-union workforce. If there is not a contractual obligation, promotional pay is – in the most simplistic of terms – for the responsibilities and performance in one’s new role. It is not compensation for past achievements. They were already paid for that. It should not be an onerous or complex concept for the decision-makers.

    Yes, we do have acting role pay and/or stipends for employees assigned a higher role – temporarily or prematurely due to circumstances. But, that is never, ever promotional pay. And life does suck when an employee was expecting a promotion and it was delayed for business reasons. I think that is a 100-year event. And who can’t use more money?

    I have not seen any indication from the municipal leadership that they intend to retroactive pay for promotions. I would say it wouldn’t surprise me for the same reasons this Council and interim manager decided to do so. I am surprise someone hasn’t insisted on an answer.

    I have come to the realization over 2023 that our Township Manager’s role, as defined by our Councils, is in no way near the level of the private sector’s C-suite. CEO? Absolutely not.
    Manager is a good title. I can go with administrator. It is not the manager’s qualifications I demean, but the Council’s treatment of the position. If they want a CEO, then read up on how to treat the position as a real, honest to goodness CEO. And for 3 days a week? This township has no self-respect. Absolutely zero.

    Is that enough of a position from me, for you?

Comments are closed.