WAYNE, NJ – Last night’s Wayne Town Council meeting started out positively with a group of cub scouts leading the Pledge of Allegiance and proclamations given to leaders in the Wayne community who support cancer victims and drug addiction programs. The new acting Wayne Chief of Police, Jack McNiff was introduced and gave a very positive speech.
Then the tone of the meeting changed.
Six days after the League of Women Voter’s town council candidates forum, Democrat candidates and supporters came to last night’s town council meeting with insinuations of tampering regarding the botched video of the forum on the town tv channel.
According to the announcement that Becky Yates, the President of the League of Women Voters made before the candidates forum last week, the event was to be shown live and replayed “two or three times” before the election.
However, the live video feed of the forum did not show the first fifteen-minutes, which meant that all of the opening statements given by the candidates at the forum were not shown as well as some of the answers to the first of seven questions.
Although there was no mention of on-demand playing of the forum by the League of Women Voters, the recording of the forum went up on the town website for on-demand viewing yesterday. However, forty-two minutes were missing from the video, which included answers to three of the seven questions and all of the closing statements, except one.
This did not sit-well with the Democrat candidates who came to the council meeting that night ready to address the administration and the council.
Just minutes before the council meeting started, TAPinto Wayne spoke with Tim Brown, a member of the Wayne Township I.T. team responsible for the video recording and learned that there had been a software glitch that had been fixed and the full video would be up either that night or the following day at the latest. The full video was actually posted at some point during last night’s council meeting.
When the time came for the public to speak, Cathy Kazan, President of the Wayne Democratic Club came to the podium. “I kind of expected something to go awry,” she said, speaking about the forum. “This seems to happen every four years, like clockwork.” Kazan talked about the video itself: “The fact that it’s so edited concerns me. There was a gap. That means it was tampered with in some way.”
Wayne Resident Clark Okum also came to the podium. “I went to watch the video and lo-and-behold, forty-five minutes was missing,” he said. “And, I would not have been suspicious except for past history,” said Okum.
Wayne resident and campaign manager for the Democrat council candidates, Sam Liebman came up next, expressing her disappointment about the video’s delayed release and the fact that it was missing so much when it was finally posted.
“So, I understand that you might say it was a glitch, and that very well could be the case and that’s fine, but the truth is I don’t find that acceptable,” said Liebman. “The fact that the forum is not available and has not been available to the public for the last three times is troubling to me.”
Democrat council candidate for Ward 2, Dianne Douthat spoke next, using the fact that the originally posted video did not include her closing remarks, reiterated a portion of those remarks. She spoke specifically about her idea to address high property taxes by saving money for the town by taking advantage of shared services and bundling and buying goods in bulk with other groups, and towns. Douthat finished with: “People of Wayne, ask yourself this question: ‘If the members of this town council are not actively exploring and setting up shared services, are they really working for Wayne?”
Karen Dowicz-Haas, the Democrat council candidate for Ward 3 also used the time to reiterate her platform. “Because my closing statement was not on the video, I feel compelled to just read part of it,” she said. “We need a new plan for the future that is environmentally sustainable and sustainable tax-wise too. We need to think about what makes sense in the light of this climate crisis. Can’t we make more responsible choices as a community?”
Because the Democrats took to the podium, this gave the Republicans on the council the chance to rebut what was said.
When the public portion of the meeting was finished. Mayor Chris Vergano spoke with a level of measured anger: “All of you that thought that we had some type of conspiracy theory that we didn’t broadcast the League of Women Voters debate. Do you really think we would waste our time even thinking about such a thing? Get on with your lives!”
“We had a problem with the software,” Vergano said with thin patience. “It’s all online right now. It took us a week to figure out what was wrong with the software, but the complete debate is online now.” He then sarcastically invited any of the earlier speakers to come back up and, “apologize for insinuating that the Township of Wayne came up with this grand plan to keep you from being heard by the public. Quite frankly, I welcome the public to listen to your comments.”
Vergano was not done. He went on to address Douthat’s statements. “But when you come up to the podium and start talking about where we buy our salt, you might want to have the truth set you free,” he said with salt in his words. “Just for example, we buy our salt through a cooperative. We belong to about twenty different co-ops throughout the state of New Jersey.” The mayor went on to talk about a number of shared services they perform for and with multiple towns. “Because any time that we can group things together to save money, that’s our whole purpose,” said Vergano.
Back on the subject of the video, Vergano finished with: “I’m glad the public has an opportunity to see it. And, for those candidates who are running, I congratulate all of you. It’s not an easy thing to do. It really isn’t. You’re trying to do something for your community, and we should applaud that. But I’m not going to sit here and be accused of craziness, because that just did not take place.”
After the Mayor spoke, Council members Jonathan Ettman, Joe Scuralli, Al Sadowski and Aileen Rivera took their turns addressing points and commenting on the stability of the town and it’s taxes under their stewardship.
The past history brought up by the Democrats refers to the 2011 candidates forum where the council chamber had been double-booked with the Board of Education meeting set to take place at the same time. The forum then had to be moved next door to the Wayne Valley High School cafeteria and no official town video was taken.
In the 2015 candidates forum, the Ward 6 Democrat candidate could not attend and the League of Women Voters, who hosted the event would not allow an ‘empty-chair’ debate thus Sixth Ward Republican candidate Ettman was not allowed to participate.
“I was deprived of the right to speak at that forum,” said Ettman. “The reason why I was deprived made no sense. It was a last-minute rule change.” The Republicans as a team protested the last-minute change and pulled out of the debate, shutting the event down completely.
In 2017, at the last League of Women Voter’s candidates forum, the event was held without issue and the full recording was posted to the township website.