The community gadflies. Every town has them. They attend every public meeting and often ask different variations of the same question – about the same issues – month after month, year after year.
To the public officials, whose feet they hold to the fire, they are a nuisance. But to residents and taxpayers they serve an important watchdog function that no governing entity could do without.
“I’ve been screaming since 1970.” – Tom Troyer
Name: Sam Maffei
Known for: Opposition to the Secaucus Recreation Center; anything he deems to be a waste of taxpayer dollars
The backstory: The Secaucus Recreation Center was approved in 2005 by a vote of the Town Council. Maffei believes the decision to build the center should have been placed on the ballot and left up to voters to either approve or reject, since the taxpayers stood to foot the bill if the center didn’t attract enough members. After the completion and opening of the facility in December 2008, Maffei has doggedly tracked monthly expenses at the Recreation Center and continues to be angry that membership dues have not been able to support monthly operating expenses.
Famous last words: To then-mayor Dennis Elwell: “It seems you went headfirst into this thing and it really wasn’t enough planning. You need to sit down with someone with a knowledge of this type of operation as to what will take [to make it a successful, and financially self-sufficient operation].” (February 2008)
“You, the taxpayers of Secaucus, will pay for this unwarranted and unaffordable expenditure even though you were denied your constitutional right to vote for or against it.” (April 2009)
“Cutting unwarranted and unaffordable spending equates to lower property taxes.” (May 2008)
What made him a watchdog: “I grew up during the Depression. I know what it means to be poor, what it means to stretch a dollar. There were many times we had to make sacrifices and go without because we couldn’t afford things. The government has to be the same way. You’ve got some people who think nothing about spending taxpayers’ money. But that money has to come from somewhere, and we all feel it. I’m on a fixed income now, so I’ve really go to watch my money. A lot of seniors and other people in town are in the same situation. Now, if the taxpayers had said they wanted [the Recreation Center], then I’d have no problem with it. But we were never given that chance, and now it’s us who are having to pay for it every month while it loses money.”
Name: Jules Carricarte
Known for: Taking photos of street intersections and electrical polls he believes are dangerous; blowing up the photos and making presentations at Town Council meetings; wearing sunglasses at night and indoors
The backstory: In 2006 Carricarte’s daughter was involved in a near-fatal car accident at the intersection of Wood Avenue and Meadowlands Parkway. At the time, the intersection – which is near several hotels, a Subway sandwich shop, and Wendy’s – had no traffic light and, according to Carricarte, a stop sign that should have been there had been knocked down. Since then Carricarte, a retired Union City school teacher, has waged a one-man fight to get a traffic light installed.
Famous last words: “It’s been four years already. When are we going to get a traffic light down there? (Oct. 2010)
What made him a watchdog: “After my daughter’s accident, I did a lot of research on that intersection. What I found out was, there were accidents constantly occurring there. I did surveys. I went to the New Jersey Department of Transportation. I went to [Secaucus Police Chief Dennis] Corcoran. I wrote letters. I did a presentation after that at the council meeting for about 30 minutes. Then later on I did another one…And the Town Council announced at [their] last meeting that we are now going to get a traffic light there.”
Name: Tom Troyer
Known for: Advocating for elected school boards in Secaucus and Union City, where he taught high school social studies until he retired; opposition to all things related to former Assemblyman Anthony Impreveduto and any of his taxpayer-funded family members; poking fun at, and giving aptly designed trophies to, public officials he considers to be a “horse’s a**”; four terms as a Secaucus Board of Education Trustee, one term on the Secaucus Housing Authority (SHA); being an all-around curmudgeon
The backstory: Troyer said he first became active in public school district matters in the late 1960s when his son was getting ready to go to high school. At the time, the Secaucus Public School District was planning to either renovate Clarendon School or build a high school, since the town did not have a secondary school then.
Famous last words:
“It is truly shameful the Secaucus Council meetings are not being televised depriving the people of Secaucus from being entertained. I attended this last council meeting, January 22, and it was truly a three-ring circus.” (Feb. 2008)
“I made it crystal clear, if appointed back on the SHA, my first act would be to put in motion a process to rename Impreveduto Towers back to its original name, Lincoln Towers.” (Nov. 2009)
“It has been said, ‘You do not lead by hitting other leaders over the head.’ That is not leadership. That falls into the assault category.” (Aug. 2010)
What made him a watchdog: “I started all the fights here when I said we had to have an elected board. See, people on the Board of Education used to be appointed, and it was all political. The boards were always controlled by the politicians. I championed the elected board concept, because then the people have a say in what’s going on. Most of the tax dollar has to go for education. If people are truly concerned about the tax dollar, they should see where their money is going. Let’s get the best for our buck. I’ve been screaming since 1970.”
Name: Tom Roarty
Known for: Trying to get details on compensation packages given to top Secaucus Board of Education employees
The backstory: In 2008, as former Schools Superintendent Constantino “Gus” Scerbo was getting ready to retire, Roarty asked the BOE for details regarding Scerbo’s unused sick and vacation time. He said his request was initially refused because the superintendent’s compensation package was confidential. Roarty believed such information should be publically available since school employees are paid with taxpayer money. He was eventually given the information he requested. The experience has led him to seek similar information regarding other BOE employees, including current School Superintendent Cynthia Randina. Last year he filed a complaint with the Government Records Counsel, alleging that the BOE has stonewalled many of his requests for public information.
Famous last words: “I think we have excessive administrative spending in this district. There are a lot of districts that are spending less that have better SAT scores. More of our resources need to be directed to the classroom.” (April 2009)
What made him a watchdog: “I want the town to have the best education system that money can buy. I came up through the system. My children came through the system. I want it to be as good as it can possibly be. I don’t want to see any waste anywhere.”
E-mail E. Assata Wright at email@example.com.