“The public is invited to speak, however, we will not tolerate hecklers or catcalls from the audience,” West New York Assistant Town Attorney Joe DeMarco said on Wednesday, trying to set a new tone for this month’s Board of Commissioners meeting. “Everyone is entitled to voice their opinion, whether you like it or not.”
His reminder was only half observed, though in comparison to prior raucous town meetings, Wednesday night’s gathering was relatively tame.
The announcement came after resident Margarita Gonzales came up to the new microphone – set about 20 feet further back from the commissioners’ platform since the last meeting – to praise Mayor Felix Roque for switching the five elected commissioners to new departments two months ago.
But when Gonzales made her statement, former town employee David Rivera – who was recently terminated – called out, “How much did he pay you to say that?” Rivera is a supporter of one of Roque’s chief political rivals, Commissioner Count Wiley, who is leading a recall effort against Roque.
Commissioners’ meetings have become heated ever since Roque was arrested in May for allegedly hacking into a website opposed to him. Roque has refused to step down, and Wiley thinks he should do so.
Words in Spanish
Gonzales answered Rivera in Spanish that she had the right to speak her mind, which is when DeMarco stepped in.
In an attempt to turn their attention to the town issues, the commissioners did get down to business, curbing the meeting to a relatively brief one hour and 45 minutes.
They unanimously voted down an ordinance that would allow a number of massage parlors to open in the town, and proposed a resolution to hire 11 new Emergency Medical Technicians.
“If you can laugh together, you can work together,” said resident Wayne Cooke, after prompting the commissioners and the audience to laugh. Cooke is becoming something of a resident Dr. Phil for West New York’s administration.
Possible new recycling coordinator
A resolution authorizing an agreement between West New York and Weehawken to effectively share a recycling coordinator was introduced. Commissioner Caridad Rodriguez’s husband, Joseph Rodriguez, is Weehawken’s full time Recycling Coordinator. If the resolution is approved during next month’s meeting, he will also serve part-time in the same capacity for West New York.
Commissioner Count Wiley – who once headed the Department of Public Works before Roque switched him to Parks and Public Property – took issue with this resolution.
When Wiley ran the DPW, the full-time sanitation coordinator was also the recycling coordinator. One of his concerns was that the position, once in-house, is now costing the town more money. He was also concerned that with a part-time on top of a full-time job, Joseph Rodriguez may not be able to meet the town’s needs.
“If you can laugh together, you can work together.” – Wayne Cooke
DeMarco added that the resolution authorizes the town to begin the negotiation process to take on the new coordinator, and that the position would not cost the town money because it is part of a shared service agreement.
The public reacts
Several residents had issues to address with the commissioners, including Cesar Subino, who owns a barber shop in town. An ordinance passed earlier this year required the barber shops to close at 8 p.m. because some of them caused noise disturbances in residential areas.
Subino asked the commissioners to reconsider and to allow them to stay open as late as Union City and North Bergen do – 9:30 p.m. on weekdays, and 10 p.m. on weekends – so that they could recoup money lost in a difficult economy.
“I do sympathize with the shop owners,” said Rodriguez, who now heads the Public Safety Department. “But what we have found in the past even prior to the administration is that these beauty parlors and barber shops are in the middle of residential areas and stay open very late, totally disregarding the ordinance.”
Rodriguez agreed to meet with the shop owners to try to come to a new agreement and consider allowing the shops to remain open an extra hour.
Cari Fernandez, a licensed massage therapist for 22 years, took issue with the fact that no new massage operations would be granted in the town. She also took issue with the term “massage parlor” and its continued association with illegal and sexual activities, saying the field has changed considerably over the years.
She asked the commissioners to reconsider. Roque, whose ex-wife owns a spa in town, asked to meet with her at a later date.
Gennarose Pope may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Request for clarification
A previous article that covered last month’s Board of Commissioners meeting reported on the town’s decision to transfer the Law Department from the Department of Public Safety to the Department of Revenue and Finance. After Wednesday night’s meeting, Town Attorney Gilberto Garcia wished to clarify why that move was made.
“The previous CFO [Chief Financial Officer, under the Law Department’s jurisdiction], to our surprise, was engaged in several acts that have caused us to be in a very difficult financial situation,” Garcia explained. “If you don’t know about something, it is impossible to do anything about it, and as soon as Commissioner Rodriguez found out, she brought it to my attention, even though it was not under her jurisdiction at the time.”
Commissioner Caridad Rodriguez was head of Revenue and Finance when the previous CFO was employed. The previous CFO was under the supervision of the Department of Public Safety.
The CFO was fired two months ago because the town believed he was not doing a good enough job and was charging too much for what he did, Garcia said.