As has been the case ever since Mayor Felix Roque was arrested in May, the township's Board of Commissioners meeting Wednesday night was tumultuous, with allies of Roque (who has not stepped down from his position) fighting with Roque's political rivals, particularly Commissioner Count Wiley, who has said he wants to recall and replace Roque.
In May, Felix Roque and his son were arrested by the FBI for allegedly hacking into a Recall Roque website set up by political rivals.
At Wednesday night's meeting, the board majority passed a resolution 4-1 censuring Count Wiley for conduct unbecoming of an elected official, and Wiley in turn threatened a civil suit against the city over an attempt to dissolve his office.
Wiley admitted earlier this month that some town employees from neighboring North Bergen had painted his office last year. Wiley's father, James Wiley, recently resigned as the head of public works in North Bergen, and pleaded guilty last month to having North Bergen employees do personal chores at his home while being paid for by the township. Then, West New York employees charged that North Bergen employees had painted Count Wiley's office as well. Count Wiley's explanation was that it was part of a "shared services" agreement with the other township.
At Wednesday's meeting, there was also discussion about Mayor Roque's efforts to place his sister on the Planning Board, which Wiley took issue with, calling it a conflict of interest.
In West New York's form of government, five commissioners are elected, and one of them is chosen to also be mayor. Each commissioner gets a department to partially oversee in town as a part-time job.
Wednesday night’s resolution to censure Wiley elicited much discussion.
“This conduct not only cheats the taxpayers of North Bergen, wherein their tax dollars are being improperly spent on work being performed in another municipality,” said Roque, “but it is disrespectful to the high ethical values held by other elected officials.”
Wiley said in response, “As I’ve said many times, I’ve done nothing wrong or illegal. [The mayor] wants to make a point for whatever reason, let him do as he wants. This isn’t going to continue for much longer. As you know, I am moving forward with [the recall] and I won’t allow this administration to continue to abuse West New York residents.”
During the portion of the meeting set aside for citizens to ask questions and voice concerns, several West New York residents brought up issues relating to Wiley, Roque, and their now-heated rivalry.
Carlos “Chucky” Betancourt, a former detective in the West New York Police Department who had expressed interest in running for mayor should Roque resign, pressed Wiley for answers regarding his relationship to his father.
“So in other words, this has nothing to do with your father?” asked Betancourt after Wiley denied having dealt with the town of North Bergen directly. “You didn’t call up your dad or anything like that?”
Later in the meeting, as tempers flared between Wiley and Roque, Betancourt stepped to the front of the courtroom and pleaded with both men to remain civil.
“Gentlemen, gentlemen, we’ve got a government to run here!” he said.
Wayne Cook, who has a reputation as an outspoken citizen, spoke twice, expressing discontent with the town’s political stalemate and mainly with Wiley, whom he referred to as a “goddamned carpetbagger.”
“I’ve lived in this town for three generations, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Cook.
“Listen, we’re rational people,” Roque told Cook. “We have to work together to get things done. This is not personal, but [Wiley] is making it personal.”
Roque on hot seat
While Wiley was referred to in less-than-flattering terms throughout the meeting, Roque was also under pressure over several issues, namely a resolution that would place his sister, Aida Roque, on the town’s Planning Board. Despite Wiley’s protests that this was a blatant conflict of interest, the resolution passed, with Roque and Wiley both abstaining.
Additionally, Wiley and others voiced outrage over the mayor’s apparent indifference to a homeless widow and city employee, Ileana Hernandez, who spoke to the commissioners regarding her difficult situation. Hernandez claimed to have been illegally evicted from her home, and after being turned away by the town’s Office for Tenant Advocacy, is now living in her car with her 2-year-old son.
“You just said that these are your people,” she said to Roque. “I’m supposed to be one of your people, too.”
Roque and other commissioners advised her to contact the office again, but stipulated that the town does not currently have the resources to assist her.
Wiley stepped in and informed Hernandez that his organization, Friends and Family for Health, would make a donation to her so that she could provide for her son until she found a place to live.
“You’re a millionaire and you won’t even give this woman 10 cents,” he said to Roque afterwards.
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.