The politicking, bickering, and pleas from residents to work together and behave like adults carried on during Wednesday afternoon’s uncharacteristically short and under-attended West New York Board of Commissioner’s meeting.
At the outset of the meeting, Mayor Felix Roque and the commissioners said they hoped to move through matters quickly that day because they were scheduled to attend a Formula One meeting to discuss the race set to run through the streets of the town in June 2013.
As one of many asides, Commissioner Count Wiley, who has announced his plans to run a recall election and replace the mayor (who was indicted last week for alleged computer hacking), was not invited to the Formula One meeting.
“Listen, I only have one thing to say. Here, a lot of people are pro, con, everything, but thing is we need to move on,” resident Wayne Cooke pleaded during the public comment session that afternoon after an hour and a half of back-and-forth between commissioners and residents. “You talk bad about the previous administration, but guess what, they’re gone! So do me a favor: stay positive!”
“Do me a favor: stay positive!” – Wayne Cooke
“There’s a picture missing,” Cooke said. “Out of respect for the community, no matter you like the guy, or don’t like the guy, the guy deserves to be there.”
“I agree with you,” Roque said.
“Do I have your word?” Cooke asked.
“You do,” Roque answered.
And there were plenty more words that preceded this conversation that spoke volumes about an administration divided and up in arms only a year after they were voted in over Vega’s, with the declared intent to prevent the sort of division and disquiet rampant in the former administration from happening again.
One explanation for the division and disorganization during the meeting is that in June, the mayor and three commissioners (Wiley voted no) voted to approve an ordinance that reassigned each of the five commissioners to new departments.
The process required each commissioner to move into new offices and learn new roles, which was dubbed an exercise in “cross-training” by Roque, who also happens to be a colonel in the U.S. Army.
The departmental reorganization proved to be still in progress as the board voted on two ordinances that would create a new sub-department and reallocate an existing department to the jurisdiction of the Department of Revenue and Finance, currently headed by Roque ally FiorD’Aliza Frias, who used to run the Recreation Department.
In the event that the mayor should be forced to step down before the remainder of his four-year term is up, the next in line to run the town would be the commissioner of the Department of Revenue and Finance.
The first ordinance created what they termed “Constituent Services,” which will be “responsible for the centralization of all citizens’ and organizations’ complaints and inquiries on all aspects of Town services and operations to enhance citizen confidence in government.”
During the meeting, in addition to Cooke’s comments, many other residents stood before the board with many complaints about the way things have been done since the mayor’s initial arrest in May.
“Why wasn’t I asked if Constituent Services could have been put in my department?” Wiley asked. “This is something I think that should have been discussed, and the other thing that bothers me is that it’s going into the Department of Finance.”
The ordinance was adopted four to one.
Law Department switched to Revenue and Finance
The second ordinance placed the Law Department, which had been under the jurisdiction of the Department of Public Safety before, into Revenue and Finance.
“The reason for the change is because we’ve had several financial issues regarding our former CFO [Chief Financial Officer],” Town Attorney Gilberto Garcia stated in response to a resident who expressed concern about the switch. “The Revenue and Finance Commissioner wants to have more of a presence with the new CFO.”
The new CFO was hired during last month’s commissioner’s meeting because, Garcia said at the time, the former CFO was over-charging and not performing their duties well enough.
“That wasn’t the same view of the former Commissioner Caridad Rodriguez,” the resident responded. Rodriguez was Commissioner of Revenue and Finance before she was switched out. “The thinking of the new commissioner for the wellbeing of the town with finance is not the same as Caridad Rodriguez’s. I am expressing why I think this change had to be made.”
“The change had to be made because we had to address these issues,” Garcia explained. “We want to be preventive rather than reactive.”
Wiley had his own opinion on the matter.
“The law department represents the entire administration, so from Public Safety to Revenue and Finance, I don’t understand,” Wiley said. “There’s obviously a reason for this. You’re painting this the way you want to paint it. Stop with the charades.”
“Good job, Commissioner Wiley,” Roque responded. The ordinance was also adopted four to one.
Gennarose Pope may be reached at email@example.com
Pupusas and profits
Myra Dominguez held El Festival de la Pupusa (a specialty tortilla dish from El Salvador) last year and it was a success. This year she will hold it again, but the banner she used to advertise last year that hung on 60th Street has not yet been put up, she told the West New York Board of Commissioners during their monthly meeting Wednesday.
Dominguez said she had been calling for a month to have it done, and had not received an answer. The lack of advertising is harmful to her festival as vendors don’t know how to sign up and the residents will not know to show up, she said.
The explanation given to her by Town Attorney Gilberto Garcia was that a law – one they had been unaware of last year – prohibits the advertisement of an event not sponsored by the town on town property.
Dominguez said she was confused because a portion of the festival’s proceeds was supposed to go to Mayor Felix Roque’s civic association, West New York Forever. She said she had a meeting in March with Commissioner FiorD’Aliza Frias and Roque to discuss this.
“I was there,” David Rivera, a former town employee who worked under Frias said as he pushed his way to the front of the meeting. Rivera was fired two weeks ago, three days after he was allegedly assaulted by town employees for handing out Commissioner Count Wiley’s business cards at a town event.
Wiley has announced his intention to run a recall election to remove Roque and to run for mayor himself.
“They said [Dominguez] had to give 50 percent of the proceeds to West New York Forever,” Rivera said, before he was told to return to his seat. “So now that she wants to put up a banner, she can’t do it?”
While neither Roque nor Frias substantiated Dominguez’s claim that she was asked to donate to the civic association in March during the meeting, he responded during a phone call placed later that day.
“West New York Forever was going to be working in conjunction with them to make their event successful, and we did discuss it that day,” Roque said, “But it didn’t happen.”
Dominguez, Roque, and Assistant Town Attorney Joe DeMarco set up a time to meet Friday to discuss her needs.
“We’re going to work within the guidelines of the law to put up the sign,” Roque added. “There are 1,500 Salvadorians in West New York with a lot of tradition rooted in the town’s culture. I’m very happy to encourage them to grow their culture and their business.” – Gennarose Pope