Editor's note: This article has been updated. Thank you to reader feedback for pointing out when I am wrong. My opinion on whether this was an attack was wrongfully written in to the title, as well as my interpretation of sarcasm. My opinion does not belong in any of my articles. I apologize for the error, promise to learn from this and continue to strive for objectivity at all times.
WAYNE, NJ – Wayne Board of Education Member, Dawn Kumar logged in to the virtual Wayne Town Council meeting on July 15 and took her turn during the public comments portion to address Mayor Chris Vergano and the Wayne Police Department regarding public health stating a “lack of compassion.”
“I come to the virtual podium to speak as a concerned private citizen,” she said. “I'm here to express my concern over the Mayor’s and the Police Department's response to COVID-19.”
Kumar went on to list her grievances, which included the Mayor’s move to host a township-sponsored graduation event “against executive orders.”
“After his plans were squashed by court injunction, students congregated on Wayne Valley's field, right outside the Wayne Police Department window,” she said. “The Police, obviously, could have seen them, and they were out without masks on and right next to each other. So, the police did not stop these students.”
While the Mayor and the council sat quietly listening, Kumar went on, mentioning that the James Roe Pool was opened two days before it was allowed, and then bringing up that the Mayor “and others” were not wearing masks at the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new inclusive playground which happened earlier this month. “These individuals at the playground are at high-risk of dying of COVID-19 and a lack of safety precautions shows a lack of compassion in the presence of such a high-risk population.”
She then talked about the Mayor and “certain members of the Council” wanting to hold live, in-person Town Council meetings. “This would be unsafe for any attendees due to the lack of airflow in Council Hall. It would suppress the Democratic process by putting a cap on how many people would feel safe sitting in the building and restrict the number of attendees due to social distancing constraints.”
“Finally, I’ve seen Wayne PD inside Costco not wearing a mask or wearing them improperly,” Kumar added before stating that mask-wearing decreases the spread of the coronavirus.
“These examples show a Mayor who doesn't care about public health despite quoting COVID-19 death totals, and a Police Department who is not serving and protecting the community,” Kumar said.
Councilwoman Jill Sasso responded partly to Kumar during the council members time to speak. “I look at our town, our administration, all of our first responders and no one is perfect. These guys are working incredibly hard,” she said. “We've seen the numbers come down. It's because people are doing the right things. So, let's recognize all of the good that has been done within our town and let's recognize that we're not perfect.”
Sasso went on: “Ok, maybe there was somebody in Costco that wasn't wearing their masks properly. Let's recognize it, let's address it. I think that could have been solved by a simple call to the Police Department recognizing that they saw this and allow them to address that particular person, rather than public shaming. Those are the things that cause divide, not bring us together. So, I ask for people to find ways to work together and to come together to address those issues.”
Fifth Ward Councilwoman, Fran Ritter also commented: “I agree with the fact that we have this public health crisis and it's not going away. Of course, New Jersey and Mayor Vergano have done a great job. Obviously, the low infection rates that we're seeing now in New Jersey and the township or all due to the great work that was done by this township in taking this pandemic so seriously. We can't turn back now. We have to be a township, an administration and a community that acts together as one and continues to look at mask-wearing as the priority.”
Vergano did not comment during the meeting, but TAPinto Wayne reached out to the Mayor, and he had this to say: "I am extremely disappointed that a member of the Board of Education would publicly condemn and criticize our police department's response during the Covid-19 pandemic. I could not be prouder of the work ethic of the 114 men and women of our police department under the Direction of our Chief of police, Jack McNiff. Our dedicated officers were working day and night during this pandemic risking their own lives caring for our community. Multiple officers actually contracted Covid-19 during the pandemic and several have still not returned to work. They were wearing gowns and other PPE equipment on hundreds of calls including multiple ambulance requests, never turning down a request for help. They should be honored for all of their work performed during this crisis and not criticized by some with zero knowledge of police protocol during a pandemic. I am not sure what would possess a Board of Education member, Mrs. Kumar, to say the "Police Department was not serving and protecting the community during Covid-19". Her statements attacking the Wayne Police Department are a disgrace as an elected official and I believe that she owes the police department an apology."