An anonymous letter sent to Ventnor residents asking their opinions on whether to recall Mayor Mike Bagnell now has the names of some of its writers to go with it.
The Group of 20, as it has called itself, includes We Love Ventnor trustee and secretary Paula DeLuca and Ventnor Concerned Citizens member Linda Kaplan, along with fellow members Phyllis Antosca and Sonia Loadenthal and others "who are never going to be revealed because they're related to city workers," DeLuca said. "And I respect that."
Bagnell, meanwhile, disputed many of the allegations made in the letter that accompanied the survey.
The group members said they have gotten a mostly positive response from the survey, which asked people if they were registered in 2013, whether they were willing to sign a recall petition and whether they'd like to be considered as a candidate for office.
DeLuca said that the initial 100 responses were 50 percent in favor of a recall, 30 percent "yes, if (the survey's) leadership came forward," 10 percent maybe and 10 percent against. While she and Kaplan did not have the current number of responses, they said the "yes" totals were at about 75 percent.
"The 20 people were strong-minded, but we wanted to get a feel for sentiment first," DeLuca said. "Rather than just, 'Here's a petition, come and sign it.'"
The survey is also a way of determining the real, current voter rolls and who has been displaced, died or moved, DeLuca said. That comes into play if there is a petition, which would require 25 percent of registered voters in town.
DeLuca said more than 1,500 letters were returned, and there was no second address to be forwarded to displaced residents.
She also said that three people expressed interest in running as a replacement in a potential recall, though DeLuca - who was not one of them - would not disclose their names.
"It's not a magic waving of the wand," DeLuca said. "This could be a self-educating type of process."
The letter, which DeLuca said was group-written, makes a number of specific criticisms of Bagnell, who was elected to the Board of Commissioners in May 2012 along with running mate Frank Sarno and was chosen mayor over former mayor (and still-commissioner) Theresa Kelly.
The letter criticized Bagnell's selection of his "campaign manager" Tom Quirk as management specialist as "cronyism;" Amy Weintrob's selection as solicitor as a "political IOU" to her father, former Commissioner Steve Weintrob; and Bagnell's "friend for 40 years" Charles Sabatini's selection as engineer. They also criticized what they claim was improper planning before and during Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath, including what they said was a lack of communication as well as not pre-planning for debris removal and not waiving fees for building permits.
Bagnell was critical of the letter's original anonymity, saying "I put my name on every letter I write. And they make accusations based on inaccurate information and targeted (public records) requests. ... People asked, 'Who are these people? Why didn't they sign their names to the letter? They want me to send all my information, but all they have is an anonymous email address and P.O. Box?'"
In terms of the criticisms, Bagnell said that Sabatini and Weintrob bill at rates much less than their predecessors.
He also disputed the group's description of a FEMA loan of as much as $5 million as a "bridge loan, concealing what would have been sticker shock 2013 tax hikes," stating that the city is approved for a $5 million line of credit, but only accepted $1.4 million. The loan could be re-evaluated after three years if spent "wisely, conservatively and just as needed."
"In all probability, whatever we spend will be converted to a grant," he said.
DeLuca, though, said members "fear that they will really be sandbagged with tax bills next year."
In the meantime, DeLuca said of any potential timeline for an official recall petition - which she hopes to tie into a scheduled election and not force a special election - that "it's a methodical process. It's not going to be over quickly."
For his part, Bagnell said that "they're saying they're 'really just concerned I'm in over my head.' I'm not in over my head."
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