One of the foes has fought back by filing charges against the police.
Last month, North Bergen police arrested former Municipal Utilities Authority employee John Ventre on charges of simple assault and defiant trespassing in Town Hall after Ventre allegedly physically attacked Township Administrator Joseph Auriemma in Auriemma's office just before the commissioner's meeting was scheduled to begin.
Then, last week, Edward "Bo" Scannavino, an outspoken attendee at the commissioner's meetings, was arrested and charged with disrupting a public meeting and resisting arrest.
Scannavino was presented a summons, with a mandatory court appearance in the township's Municipal Court at a date still to be scheduled.
The disturbances are causing serious concern to the town officials.
Last Wednesday, Scannavino apparently would not stop his verbal assault on Mayor Nicholas Sacco during the public portion of the meeting, while another resident was stating concerns about parking and traffic.
"He was given three verbal warnings to stop," Sacco said. "Before he made the last one, I warned him that if he continued, he would be ejected from the meeting. But again, there were some more remarks, so I asked the police to have him removed."
Because of a rash of attacks against him, Sacco has instituted a policy that members of the public are not allowed to interrupt other people when they are speaking. People are only permitted to speak during the allotted five minutes given to each resident.
Sacco has also requested that residents not call out from where they are seated, nor are they permitted to go through the gate to the commissioners' area. In the past, Scannavino maneuvered past the gate to get right up to the face of township attorney Herb Klitzner, as well as Sacco.
"I cannot have those kinds of disruptions going on in the meetings," Sacco said. "A woman was legitimately speaking about her concerns and [Scannavino] interrupted. It clearly disturbed the whole meeting and the woman was unable to continue. It's unfortunate, but we will not tolerate this behavior."
Klitzner agreed with the mayor's assessment.
"People come to the meetings and they see all this behavior and it's really disturbing," Klitzner said. "But we have to enforce the law. It is an offense to disturb a public meeting. We've had people arrested at the last two meetings and that's not the way to conduct business. There has been a steadily increasing level of disruption." Scannavino has contested that Sacco was the one who ordered his arrest, but Klitzner said that this was not true.
"The mayor did not order to have Mr. Scannavino arrested," Klitzner said. "The mayor asked him several times to stop and he refused. When he didn't, he was escorted out of the meeting. The mayor did what he had to do."
Scannavino has filed a countercomplaint against the township, against arresting officers Sergeant Robert Dowd and Captain William Galvin, charging the officers with assault, false arrest, battery, intimidation, threat, falsifying a police report and inflating charges.
"My civil rights were violated," Scannavino alleges in the complaint. "The officers were following the orders of Nicholas Sacco."
Scannavino told a local newspaper that he intended to file a civil suit against Sacco for violation of civil rights. He also maintained that he will continue to attend the meetings and speak his mind whenever he feels it is appropriate.
The tensions at meetings have been escalating since last year. Scannavino is an ally of former Township Clerk Joseph Mocco, the brother of a predecessor of Sacco's, former Mayor Peter Mocco. The attacks at meetings began shortly after Joseph Mocco was paroled last year following a five-year prison term. While Mocco himself has not come to meetings, his allies have, and Sacco has charged that the attacks are coming indirectly from Mocco.
Scannavino is so anti-Sacco that he has a billboard outside his home claiming that Sacco is corrupt.
Klitzner said that he has yet to receive a copy of any suit that was filed against Sacco.
"I haven't seen any lawsuit," Klitzner said. "I read his comments in the newspaper, but nothing has been officially filed, as far as I know. I can't see what possible basis he could have for a lawsuit."
Klitzner said that there are no plans to hold private commissioners' meetings. In fact, the township cannot, as per the regulations of the Sunshine Law.
"I wouldn't want to exclude the public anyway," Klitzner said. "What the mayor did was the right thing, to ask to have the man removed."
In Ventre's case, he apparently went into Auriemma's office on April 25, pushing past the gate and demanding to know why the scheduled 5 p.m. meeting had not started on time. Auriemma said Ventre grabbed him around the wrists and pushed him back against his chair.
"This kind of behavior can't be tolerated," Auriemma said. "It's one thing to deal with a very volatile political community, but it's another thing altogether to be physically pushed and attacked. That's where it has to stop." Ventre, rumored to be a political ally of Scannavino, also faces a date in court for his charges.
Ventre was dismissed as the director of maintenance and repairs for the township's water treatment plants in 1997 and later sued the township for $100,000 in back pay, sick time and vacation. The lawsuit was eventually settled, with Ventre receiving more than $70,000.
Ventre could not be reached for comment. Scannavino did not return phone calls by press time.