A seemingly unconnected political outsider is launching a grassroots campaign in West New York that would change the town’s form of municipal government and allow residents to elect the school board members.
Frank Ferreiro said last week that he wants two public questions on next year’s ballot – one which would ask residents whether they preferred a mayor/council form of government to the current system of five commissioners, and another which would ask whether residents should elect school board members, rather than have the mayor appoint them.
Ferreiro’s organization, Residents for a Better West New York, has printed posters and postcards in an effort to spread the word about its cause. Although Ferreiro is not currently a resident of West New York, his business, TV on Wheels, is based here. He lives in Sayreville but grew up here.
“Right now, we’re in a situation where there is little to no transparency,” said Ferreiro. “The mayor and Board of Commissioners have absolute control under the Walsh Act.”
“Under a mayor/council government, there’s checks and balances created. Everyone is accountable and responsible.” - Frank Ferreiro
Only seven towns in the entire state are still governed under a five-person commission outlined by the Walsh Act, including West New York and Union City.
“It’s practically a dictatorship; there’s no representation of the people,” said Ferreiro. “Under a mayor/council government, there are checks and balances created. Everyone is accountable and responsible.”
Ferreiro said that he envisioned a form of government similar to Jersey City’s, where geographically designated wards each elect a council person to represent their neighborhood.
The process of having public questions placed on the ballot is a complicated one, similar to the process Commissioner Count Wiley is currently undergoing in his effort to call a recall election against Mayor Felix Roque. Roque was indicted last May for allegedly trying to hack into a political opponent’s web site.
Ferreiro must file specific paperwork with the Town Clerk’s office that will allow him to legally begin collecting signatures from residents.
Just as Wiley must collect signatures from 25 percent of the voting population, Ferreiro must collect 20 percent, he said. Figuring out the process was difficult, he said.
“The town clerk, Carmela Riccie, hasn’t been very forthcoming with the information,” he said.
In a press release, Ferreiro accused Riccie of stonewalling the group’s attempts to gather the proper petition format.
However, the same press release notes that Riccie was out of work sick for a month, corroborated by her absence from several town meetings which took place during that time. Email correspondence between Ferreiro and Riccie shows that the clerk did refer Ferriero to several applicable statutes. In the e-mails, Riccie continually reminds Ferreiro that despite his requests, she could not offer him legal advice.
Riccie did not return two phone calls for comment.
Outside the system
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Ferreiro’s mission is his claim that his campaign is not aligned with any of the town’s political power players.
“This is something I’m doing from the heart. I’m not with Wiley, I’m not with Roque.” he said. “But this town is in disarray, so I’m doing this.”
Both Roque and Wiley denied any connection to Residents for a Better West New York after a Board of Commissioners meeting on Monday, but offered differing opinions on his ballot initiatives.
Roque said there is no need for a mayor/council government.
“We’ve been doing it the way we’re doing it for many years, and it’s working,” he said.
Wiley was less confident than Roque, but also stated that he did not think switching the form of government was a solution to the town’s problems.
“You’d have the same problems that we have now, just in different ways,” he said.
Wiley did express support for Ferreiro’s Board of Education initiative, however.
“That’s something I could get behind,” he said.
Wiley has been an outspoken opponent of Roque’s dealings with the Board of Education since Roque’s federal indictment in May.
Ferreiro said Roque is too involved with the school board.
“These guys like the current form of government because they like the power, but the power gets to them and they don’t do anything for the people,” he said. “I can’t run for political office. I don’t have the proper background, but our system needs to change.”
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org