WEST WILDWOOD - Commissioner Cornelius Maxwell’s name plaque stood in front of his empty chair at the June 5 West Wildwood Commission meeting.
Maxwell resigned days before for “family reasons.” That left Mayor Christopher Fox and Commissioner Scott Golden.
The June meeting was the first since Fox was terminated as city administrator in Wildwood in the wake of his $24,900 in state ethics fines. His severance pay from Wildwood was $24,904.
The announcement of Maxwell’s resignation garnered cheers from the public of nearly 70 part-time and full-time borough residents.
“Since this commissioner stepped down, who replaces him?” Mark Merighan, a part-time resident, asked.
“I don’t know,” Fox replied. “I have no idea what happens now.”
“Then will either one of you be man enough to step down?” Merighan asked Fox and Golden, provoking cheers. “Because I don’t think you have the confidence of the community. More than half of these people are against you,” he continued.
Fox said he wasn’t planning on leaving anytime soon.
“These are wonderful people,” Fox said. “That doesn’t mean all of these people in this room are against us. Don’t believe that.”
Fox announced he would be appealing the accusations of violations made against him. He said he was accused because “maybe I shouldn’t have signed something or maybe I shouldn’t have said something. That is all this is about.
“They are violations that I think are just ridiculous,” Fox said. “They are brought forth by a political action group which are just vicious people.”
Part-time resident Helen Rao asked the mayor to identify the political action group he referred to, but Fox wouldn’t.
Trish Sinnott, president of the non-political citizens group Concerned Taxpayers of West Wildwood, stood up “simply to add something to the minutes of this meeting.
“We are not a political organization, we are not politically active,” she said. “We have a goal, we have a mission statement, we have a vision, and we have values. I just wanted to make that announcement.”
If Fox is found guilty of the ethics violations, he said, he will pay the fines out of his own pocket.
“It’s like a motor vehicle violation. I didn’t commit a crime,” Fox continued. “There were more than a hundred allegations placed against me.”
He apologized to his fellow commissioners for not telling them about the fines before they became public.
Fox’s wife, Debbie Fox, was in the audience to defend her husband. The couple have been separated 17 years and both live in West Wildwood, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
“My children do not have a stepmother, as much as everybody wants to keep saying that someone is my kids’ stepmother,” she declared. “I am his wife, nobody else.”
“Does (Police Chief) Jackie (Ferentz) know that?” someone called out.
Ferentz shares an address with Fox and oversees his daughter Nicole Fox, who was recently hired to the police department. Fox abstained from voting for his daughter. The accusations of ethical violations are related to actions that Fox took which benefitted Ferentz, as well as his daughter.
The borough is trying to get its Joint Insurance Fund (JIF) to pay Ferentz’s $1.7-million award in a whistleblower suit she brought against the former administration.
The JIF initially declined to pay because they said the borough did not adequately defend itself and because Ferentz was rehired to her job as police chief. The taxpayers were left to pay her award in 200 monthly installments, but Ferentz can collect the full balance at any time.
Later, Debbie Fox read a statement from her phone.
“I’m happy to live here and refuse to allow the political radical group - whoever they may be - to poison our home,” she said. “Thank you for everything you do. Sometimes there are just people who cannot find good in anything that they do. I’m happy that Chris is able now to retire (from the City of Wildwood) and spend his time concentrating for the good of this borough.”
Attendees complained about the switch of monthly meetings from Friday to Wednesday because many work and live at their primary residences during the week, many said.
Fox said it was because his children have softball away games on Fridays but agreed to consider switching to Thursday evenings.
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