In a rare exchange of heated words with West New York Freeholder Jose Munoz, Freeholder Chairman Eliu Rivera said he would not allow a personal vendetta to influence which newspapers the Board of Freeholders advertised with.
Munoz had urged the chairman to yank freeholder advertisements from a popular tri-county Spanish language newspaper, saying that the paper allowed advertising for massage parlors – one of which recently was busted for allegedly operating a house of prostitution.
The exchange came at the end of the April 24 freeholder caucus when Munoz asked the chairman to yank the ads.
“I do not think this board should be associated with such advertising.” – Jose Munoz
But Rivera said he was aware that Munoz had a personal issue with the paper and that Rivera was not going to allow Munoz to use the Freeholders to settle the issue.
The paper, according to Rivera, apparently supported West New York Mayor Dr. Felix Roque, with whom Munoz has a political gripe.
“You called the publisher a spy for Roque,” Rivera shouted.
Munoz, however, argued that his concern with the newspaper only involved the fact that it advertised items such as massage parlors, and that he had confronted the publisher over these advertisements.
“I was told to take a hike,” Munoz said. “We are using public money to advertise in a paper that advertises things like that. We have to set a policy to stop it.”
Currently, there is no policy for which papers the freeholders advertise in. By tradition, such advertisements are left to the discretion of the freeholder chairman.
Munoz said the freeholder advertisement had no message, just the faces and names of the freeholders, making it look as it the board condoned the policies of the paper.
Rivera, after the meeting, said the paper was well respected in the community and did not just distribute to Union City and West New York, but had a tri-state readership.
Hoboken Freeholder Anthony Romano and Jersey City Freeholder Jeff Dublin said they would not support Munoz’ move to settle a personal feud with the paper.
“We also have the First Amendment to consider,” Romano said. “Papers have a right to collect advertising, without us telling them no.”
Romano, Dublin and Jersey City Freeholder Bill O’Dea, however, agreed that the board should have some kind of policy in place setting up criteria for giving advertising.
O’Dea said freeholder and county advertising for specific events is easier.
“If we are holding an event for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day and we know a particular newspaper serves a largely African-American population, it makes sense to give the advertising to that paper,” O’Dea said.
But there are other times when advertising is less specific and many smaller newspapers seek those dollars.
The idea of creating a policy for which publications should get advertising has been raised before, but mostly because of the numerous publications that are constantly making requests for advertising dollars.
Freeholder Bill O’Dea said he understood the pressures the chairman is under to spread the advertising dollars around.
“If there are ten Spanish speaking newspapers and you advertise with one, the other nine get angry with you,” O’Dea said. “Setting a policy would give the chairman cover for not choosing this paper over that.”
While the other freeholders said they would not get in the middle of Munoz’ feud, several said they would favor developing criteria that could be used to deny advertising to a newspaper or media outlet if the need arose.
“Newspapers have a first amendment right to get ads where ever they wish,” O’Dea said. “But this board can adopt a policy and we have the right not to advertise with those publications.”
Romano said a policy is needed if only because there is a limited amount of funding for advertising.”
Rivera said he would refer the matter to members of the Hudson County Administration to develop a policy which would be reviewed in a freeholder committee for later adoption.