After two and a half hours of crying, screaming, arguing, and insult-throwing back and forth between many officials and audience members that once again had to be mediated by police, resident Beatriz Pelaez-Martinez approached the front of the room at the end of the West New York Board of Commissioners meeting with her two young children.
The board, and the 30 or so remaining audience members who had numbered well near 100 at the meeting’s start, looked weary as she picked up the microphone.
“My five-year-old was clinging to my leg during the last meeting as everyone yelled at each other,” she said, placing her hand on her daughter’s head. “She’s been here for two and a half hours and even she isn’t acting like the people in this room.”
The audience applauded.
“This community was supposed to move on.” – Count Wiley
Amidst all of the drama, there were actually matters of major significance on the board’s agenda. The list read like a recap of all of the issues that had come up one at a time at some point during the past year.
Add this to the fact that the meeting was held months after the arrest of Mayor Dr. Felix Roque by the F.B.I. on charges of allegedly hacking into a political opponent’s website threw the town and the county for a giant political loop, and add the mayor’s impromptu reorganization of the town’s five departments during last month’s commissioners meeting, and it was as if a match had been dropped into the proverbial powder keg.
Town matters of importance
Assistant Town Attorney Joe DeMarco urged the commissioners to postpone voting on two ordinances until September in order to rethink and rehash them properly. The first was a pay-to-play law that would limit the number of public contracts awarded by the town to businesses who make political contributions to municipal candidates.
The second, which was postponed in large part due to Commissioner Count Wiley’s concerns and which was dealt with during last month’s meeting, would allow for licensed massage parlors to apply for business spaces in the town. The commissioner’s concern was that the licenses would be abused and used as fronts for illicit sexual activity.
The rest of the commissioners agreed the ordinance should be looked at more closely to ensure that did not happen.
A third ordinance which would have granted five more outdoor food vendor licenses in the town was rejected for a redraft at Wiley’s urging.
“This community was supposed to move on,” he said. “It was supposed to become something we always talked about. We wanted the next Hoboken.”
Let the battles begin
One can get a good feel for the way a meeting in West New York will go when 50 residents show up half an hour early and one of the commissioners (Wiley, newly designated Commissioner of Parks and Public Property) hands out photos of broken sidewalks and graffiti-laden benches around town that allegedly occurred under the watch of the department’s former commissioner.
Things went along normally enough, until Wiley pulled the fifth proposed resolution from the consent agenda which would have appointed Margaret Cherone as the town’s new Chief Financial Officer.
“It’s my responsibility to know who I’m appointing,” Wiley objected. “I’ve asked about this for three weeks, and now you stick it on the agenda, and I have not met any of the three other candidates for this job. This is the stuff I want to keep exposing to you people [the audience], the kind of work activities and work ethic that goes on here.”
Roque’s response was that the position, on a four-year contract, was filled by a firm that cost the town $360,000 per year. Cherone would cost the town over $200,000 less than that, he added. It was also brought to Wiley’s attention that he had not informed the other commissioners when hiring people in his former department.
Commissioner of Public Affairs Caridad Rodriguez responded by saying she had pushed to switch from a firm to an individual while serving in her former capacity as Commissioner of Revenue and Finance because the firm was impossible to reach and did not keep the town up to date.
“With all due respect Cari, which I have for you,” Wiley said, “The fact is that we’re hiring somebody that I’m supposed to make a decision on, not after, the fact. That’s the issue here. Maybe if you had looked out for that department a little more and kept your eyes open, you would have found those problems out and stopped them before they happened –”
At which point Rodriguez interrupted and said, “Excuse me, we don’t want to go into that because I was there on top of things. There’s a pecking order. There’s one mayor and four commissioners and we are a team.”
Town Attorney Gilberto Garcia then stepped in, and DeMarco moved things along. The resolution was passed, technically three to one (Wiley voting no), because the clerk forgot to ask for Roque’s vote.
“You forgot me,” Roque said.
Gennarose Pope may be reached at email@example.com
Son Cubano vs. waterfront residences: lawsuit-ending ordinance passed
An article published in the Reporter recently outlined the more than a year-long legal battle between the waterfront restaurant/bar Son Cubano and the residents that live in the surrounding Grandview luxury condos. Last December, the town passed an ordinance that required any restaurant with a liquor license within 100 feet of a residence or condo within the “Controlled Waterfront Development District” to close.
Mayor Dr. Felix Roque agreed with the residents and championed the ordinance. But after it was passed, the restaurant and its landlord filed suit against the town of West New York and Grandview.
Last month, the judge presiding over the case said that if the town rescinded that ordinance as planned, the case would be over. During Wednesday’s meeting, the rescinding ordinance was passed, making the lawsuit moot.
But the buck did not stop there. Town Attorney Gilberto Garcia suggested the town was rescinding the ordinance because it was unconstitutional to apply a law to only one part of town, which concerned many inland restaurant and bar owners, because it was suggested a new ordinance be looked into that would require that all businesses close down at midnight.
“There is no ‘up here’ and ‘down there,’” Garcia said. “The law should apply to everyone.”
After an audience member screamed out, “They pay your salary!” in reference to the residences of the Grandview buildings, resident Alina Waxman spoke up.
“We have strollers, babies, and families,” she said. “A young couple who frequented Son Cubano just recently moved out because they couldn’t handle the noise.”
“You guys quit on the people,” Councilman Count Wiley said to the commissioners.
“We are following the law,” Garcia responded.
Former town Commissioner Alberto Rodriguez was more concerned the effect a possible new ordinance would have on local businesses.
“Just because two or three children in a classroom misbehave doesn’t mean you should punish the whole class,” he said. “One size fits all does not make sense for West New York business.”
Son Cubano got by the first hurdle that day, but their survival, owner Alex Duran said, is now in the hand of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.