Editorial>> Commission needs a chance to govern

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In an interview last week, Mayor Ernie Troiano said that rather than a city overseen by an elected Board of Commissioners, Wildwood might soon be a government run by petition.

That seems to be the goal of the Wildwood Watchdogs, a group of concerned citizens in the city.

We’re all for citizens holding their elected officials accountable. But when those citizens are being led by former mayor Gary DeMarzo, it seems like this is less about giving the public a voice in government. It seems more like a political witch hunt.

When the group first formed to petition against the purchase of $1.3 million piece of property of Pacific Avenue, their concern was reasonable. Wildwood was already facing a $2 million budget deficit, and although Commissioner Pete Byron said that the city would be reimbursed for the purchase through county Open Space funds, documents from the county indicated that the reimbursement was probable, not definite.

From there, they also petitioned to overturn the 50-year lease of the Boardwalk Monster Truck building and beach property. Also, their skepticism over this project was rational. Who was Eastern Exchange? Could Wildwood trust a company with blocks of the city’s beach? And why were officials being so reticent about answering questions about the lease?

Both petitions gained enough signatures to bring the ordinances to a public vote. However, City Clerk Chris Wood claimed the documents null because of staple holes left in the paper. (Really?)

After taking the city to court, the ordinances for the skating rink and lease were rescinded. Watchdogs: 1, Wildwood: 0.

However, overturning those ordinances wasn’t enough. It was then that these “watchdogs” really started showing their teeth.

They requested hundreds of documents about city personnel salaries, correspondence about the skating rink project (which had already been rescinded), and the city’s beach utility.

Last week, the group notified the press that the watchdogs were planning to seek signatures on a petition against the creation of two positions in the city: a beach utility director and manager. They claimed that the positions were unnecessary and a result of nepotism. Chris Fox and Mayor Troiano’s son, Ryan, are currently filling the positions. Again, we, too, have concerns about offering city jobs to an official’s relative and someone who worked on the mayor’s election campaign.

However, the group’s press release screams about offering city pensions, six-figure salaries, and health benefits to Fox and Ryan Troiano through these positions. Commissioner Byron said that as of yet, Fox and Troiano have been working pro-bono as beach utility director and manager. Right now, they were assisting in organizing beach activities and brainstorming ways to generate more revenue from the city’s beach acreage- even before beach fees come to a referendum.

Because Wildwood has a relatively small amount of registered voters, the group only had to collect 117 signatures to block the ordinance. They were able to collect 140. Numbers like that makes a “government by petition” not so difficult to achieve.

How can the city commission even attempt to do their jobs if every move they make is going to be met with a petition from this group? Because of the Monster Truck lease being rescinded, the city once again faces a $1.6 million budget deficit.

Because of Mr. DeMarzo’s involvement with the watchdogs, it’s starting to seem like he doesn’t want the current administration to be able to fix anything. If commissioners Troiano, Byron, and Leonetti are forced into layoffs and tax hikes to close that gap, wouldn’t that work to Mr. DeMarzo’s benefit if he chooses to run in the next election?

That’s called a conflict of interest, and the Wildwood Watchdogs have a few.

Those who really want to better the city, rather than to vindicate a former mayor, may want to temporarily lay down their pitchforks. Is this really the only way for residents to present their concerns to the city government?

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