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West Wildwood commissioner resigns in wake of mayor's ethics troubles

WEST WILDWOOD — At the first Borough Commission meeting since Mayor Chris Fox’s $24,900 in state ethics fines became public and he lost his job as administrator in a nearby town, borough officials announced Commissioner Cornelius Maxwell had resigned.

“Two more to go,” said a voice in the audience, which had broken out in applause.

Fox also said he had appealed the ethics charges, which he called “ridiculous” and “a joke,” with the state Department of Community Affairs Local Finance Board, and predicted he would be exonerated.

If the appeal fails, he will pay the fines and change the way he does things, but if not he will continue what he has been doing, Fox said.

The resignation leaves only Fox and Commissioner Scott Golden on the governing body. Neither could answer questions at the meeting about the process of replacing Maxwell, who cited personal, family reasons for resigning, according to township officials.

Maxwell could not be reached for comment.

Borough Clerk Donna Frederick said Thursday officials are “still working through matters." County Clerk Rita Marie Fulginiti said she has not received a copy of the resignation yet, but, "The resignation creates a vacancy. The unexpired term of the commission seat will go on the November General Election ballot."

Fulginiti also said the governing body may appoint someone to fill the seat until a commissioner is duly elected in November.

Part-time resident Mark Merighan asked Fox and Golden whether either was willing to “man up and resign, because I don’t think you have the confidence of the community.”

Again the audience applauded.

Fox said repeatedly he would not resign, and apologized to Golden and Maxwell for not warning them the ethics charges were about to become public.

“You offer no apology to the taxpayers or the borough?” asked another resident.

“I don’t believe anything I did was wrong,” Fox said. “And my attorney feels the same way.

The Local Finance Board said it was the largest total of fines ever levied against an elected official in state history.

The alleged violations are related to actions Fox took as mayor that benefited police Chief Jacqueline Ferentz, with whom he lives. They were also related to actions he took regarding his daughter Nicole Fox, who was appointed a volunteer Office of Emergency Management deputy coordinator in 2016 at his direction.

Nicole Fox was hired as a police officer in West Wildwood at the May meeting, to the dismay of many residents in attendance.

Nicole Fox’s supervisor will be the woman with whom her father lives. Fox abstained from the vote on his daughter’s hiring.

Fox’s wife objected to calling Ferentz her daughter’s stepmother.

“I am Chris Fox’s wife,” said Debbie Fox, who lives in a separate home from her husband in the borough and was there to support him. “My children do not have a stepmother as much as everyone wants to keep saying. I am his wife — nobody else.”

Chris Fox would not speak to The Press of Atlantic City after the meeting.

Many in the audience asked questions about a jury award of $1.7 million to Ferentz in a lawsuit against the borough, in which she alleged mistreatment and wrongful firing by a previous administration. But the Joint Insurance Fund would not pay the award because in its opinion the borough, then led by Fox, did not adequately defend itself. So taxpayers are stuck paying the bill directly.

Residents asked why former Mayor Herbert Frederick had been dropped from the suit, and for more information on why JIF refused to pay. Some were members of Concerned Taxpayers of West Wildwood, a nonpolitical citizens group, said President Trish Sennott.

Borough Solicitor Marcus H. Karavan would not allow Fox to answer any questions about the case, saying it is under appeal. The borough is trying to force the JIF to pay the award.

The tiny borough of fewer than 600 residents has a budget of about $2.9 million a year. It has agreed to pay Ferentz $5,000 a month for 200 months, and her lawyer about $18,000 a month for 42 months. But Ferentz can call for the entire amount to be paid at any time, officials have said.

To accommodate the payments, it furloughed workers last year and has frozen salaries this year and next. It also has increased taxes, which have been somewhat offset by a decrease in school taxes, but taxpayers could have received a tax cut if not for the judgment.

The board said Fox violated state ethics laws when he voted in favor of designating himself director of public safety, with oversight of the Police Department, 10 days before the borough reinstated Ferentz as a police officer and about a month before she was named chief.

Fox also allegedly violated the law when he gave Ferentz back pay and pension credit for a time in which she did not serve in the Police Department; and voted in favor of a 33 percent increase in Ferentz’s salary from $67,000 to $101,000, from 2015 to 2017.

Fox, a retired police officer, lost his job in Wildwood on May 22 when commissioners there voted 2-1 to terminate him, citing bad publicity from Fox’s troubles affecting their town.

Fox said at the commission meeting he was enjoying his retirement, and able to spend more time in West Wildwood.

Volunteers are lifeblood of ShopRite LPGA Classic golf tournament

GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Ric Crosby describes himself as a free spirit.

That’s almost certainly what you would have to be to drive across country to volunteer at a golf tournament.

Either that or crazy.

Crosby lives in Hemet, California, about 80 miles southeast of Los Angeles.

But this week, he’s volunteering at the ShopRite LPGA Classic. The $1.75 million tournament will be held Friday through Sunday on the Bay Course at Seaview Hotel and Golf Club.

“I’m on what I call the sucker list,” Crosby said with a laugh Sunday.

Crosby, 70, is one of a small group of tournament volunteers, mostly retirees, who occasionally volunteer at golf tournaments around the country.

Jim Leber, a 74-year-old Colts Neck, Monmouth County, resident, has volunteered at the Classic since 1999. But he’s also volunteered at tournaments in Hawaii, Florida, Virginia and California.

“I’ve been playing golf since I was a teenager,” Leber said. “I like watching the golf.”

The Classic this week will rely on 1,000 volunteers for everything from helping keep score to driving players to and from Seaview.

The tournament only has about 15 full-time, paid staff members.

“We can’t run the tournament without the volunteers,” tournament manager Bill Hansen said. “They are the face of the tournament. They touch every facet of the tournament.”

GALLERY: Pro-Am at the ShopRite LPGA Classic

About 33% of the Classic’s volunteers are connected to the charities the tournament benefits. The majority of the volunteers live in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware.

A few volunteers have turned donating their time into a hobby. Volunteering at tournaments around the country isn’t as logistically daunting as it sounds. Each tournament on its website has a volunteer signup section.

Tournaments crave returning volunteers with experience. Leber and his brother Jack are the co-chairmen of the Classic’s volunteer walking scorers committee. Walking scorers accompany each group of golfers and report the score after each hole.

“Every year when I hear the Lebers are coming back, I just know I don’t have to worry at all about the most difficult (volunteer) committee we have,” Hansen said. “The day they say, ‘We’re done. We can’t do it anymore,’ that’s when I’ll be nervous.”

Crosby, a retired furniture designer and manufacturer, signed up to volunteer last year at the Hugel-Air Premia LA Open, an LPGA event at Wilshire Country Club in Los Angeles.

Crosby didn’t want to sit around his living room in the southern California heat. He loves golf and is a big LPGA fan, so he decided to become a volunteer.

“To me, the LPGA is more entertaining and more personable than the big boys (on the PGA Tour),” he said.

Crosby shuttled players and tournament officials at the Los Angeles event around the course in a golf cart. That event is run by Eiger Marketing Group, which also owns and operates the ShopRite LPGA Classic.

“I was talking to the Eiger people,” Crosby said, “and they said, ‘Hey, if you really like this stuff, you ought to come over to New Jersey and do it.’”

Crosby decided that sounded good. He drove across country in his RV in five days to volunteer at the Classic last year. He did the same last week.

“Here I am,” he said. “There’s an RV park over by (Atlantic City International Airport) that I’m in. I come and go as I want. I’m not married, so this gives me something to do. It gives me some place to go.”

Some combine their volunteering with vacations or visits to see family and friends. Leber’s son lives in Indiana, so last year Leber volunteered at the Indy Women in Tech Championship in Indiana.

There are a few perks to volunteering. During the Classic’s final round last year, Leber worked as the walking scorer for golfer Annie Park’s group. He was inside the ropes when she won her first LPGA tournament before a packed 18th hole grandstand.

“It’s pretty cool with all the fans cheering,” Leber said. “It’s exciting. Being with the final group at ShopRite is always special.”

The best advice for a volunteer is probably to be seen and not heard.

“As far as the interaction with the players, it’s a fine line,” Crosby said. “You can’t try to be too chummy with them because they’re trying to make a living. Most of the players I’ve dealt with are really nice. By the end of the week, they know my name, but it’s hard for them to remember it two or three months down the road when I run into them again.”

A volunteer’s day can be long. Crosby this week often began his day by picking up a golfer at 5:30 a.m. for a ride to the course. He usually stays at Seaview until 7 p.m.

With all that time spent at the event, volunteers are able to quickly build relationships with each other and tournament organizers.

On Tuesday, a photographer wanted to take a picture of Crosby doing what he normally does each day at the tournament. Another volunteer joked that Crosby should pretend to be asleep in a chair.

It’s that camaraderie that keeps volunteers coming back, and Crosby driving across country.

“The thing I like most,” Crosby said, “is that everybody I talk to is great.”

A look at all the winners of the ShopRite LPGA Classic

Atlantic County Women’s Forum
Monica Lewinsky discusses cyber bullying, shame in the social media era at women's forum

ATLANTIC CITY — Monica Lewinsky transported the audience of more than 450 women at the 26th annual Atlantic County Women’s Forum on Thursday back to 1998.

Describing her bulky laptop and slow dial-up internet connection, Lewinsky, then 24, remembered reading the federal report that divulged the intimate relationship she had with President Bill Clinton when she was 22.

The online report and the news storms that brewed from it were one of the first viral phenomenons.

“Overnight, I went from being a completely private person to a publicly humiliated one, worldwide,” she told the audience at Golden Nugget Atlantic City.

Many people know Lewinsky’s story — she said her name appears in more than 125 rap songs.

“Without any royalties,” she joked.

But Lewinsky shared more of her personal struggles overcoming intense public shame and explained how she has worked to take back her narrative and advocate for a safer online environment.

“I’m actually proud that she’s up there talking because we all have a past,” said Debbie Rodgers, 47, of Turnersville, who attended the forum for the first time. Rodgers’ employer sponsored a table, but the fact that Lewinsky was speaking also influenced her decision to attend.

Lewinsky, who has stepped out of a decades-long, self-imposed retreat from the public eye, said she wants to add more compassion to what she sees as a culture of shame and an empathy crisis on social media.

“We all want to be heard, but let’s acknowledge the difference of speaking up with intention and speaking up for attention,” Lewinsky said.

Lewinsky also opened up about her mental health struggles.

Even though she had family support at the time she was making headlines, she said she had thoughts of suicide, with one mantra repeating in her head during the endless news cycle: “I want to die.”

“But by and large, I had been alone, so very alone, publicly alone,” she said. “Did I make mistakes? Sure, we can all agree on that, but swimming in that sea of aloneness, that was terrifying.”

She said the story of Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University student who committed suicide in 2010 after he was the victim of a secret webcam video, inspired her to continue to share her story.

“(It was) time to stop living a life of opprobrium, time to stop tiptoeing around my past and time to take back my narrative,” she said.

Though there was no social media in 1998, there were internet gossip sites and news was shared through email.

“Can you imagine if they had all of this social media when this happened? People would have been attacking her,” said Karima Robinson, 40, of Winslow Township.

“It would have been ridiculous,” Rodgers agreed. “She was probably still attacked after that.”

But Lewinsky did acknowledge that social media has been used for good, such as the #MeToo movement, which she thinks could have given her a group and helped her feel less alone.

“I think that she transcends the generations,” said Brett Matik, who organized the event as co-chairwoman of the Greater Atlantic City Charities, which raised more than $75,000 from the forum.

In the past 26 years, the Women’s Forum has raised more than $2 million.


Lewinsky Monica Lewinsky will be the keynote speaker for the 26th annual Women’s Forum on June 6 at Golden Nugget Atlantic City.

Atlantic City deputy police chief traveling to Spain to share strategies to reduce crime

ATLANTIC CITY — Years after deep cuts to the Police Department left it to do more with less, its methods are being held up as a model on a global stage.

Police Deputy Chief James Sarkos is traveling to Spain this week to speak at a conference about risk-based policing, a strategy officials say has helped decrease crime in the city.

“We’re really happy with the results that we’ve achieved, and it’s pretty exciting to us to not only be recognized locally, but now internationally people are taking note,” Sarkos said.

He is slated to speak Friday morning on a panel called “The Role of Law Enforcement Managing Risky Environments” at the First International Conference on Crime Risk Analysis: Applying Risk Terrain Modeling Worldwide in Elche, Spain. Rutgers University’s Center on Public Safety, Crimina, a Spanish research center, and local police are holding the two-day event.

Violent crime in Atlantic City decreased in 2018 by nearly 30% from 2017, and nonviolent crime decreased by nearly 32%, according to the department’s 2018 year-end report.

Officials attribute the drop, in part, to the use of Risk-Terrain Modeling, or RTM, a method that analyzes crime data to compute geographical risk factors for crime in a community.

This isn’t the first time the resort has been internationally recognized for its work with risk-based policing. In September, the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Solutions Network published a report about Atlantic City’s use of data to inform policing.

Deputy Chief Jerry Barnhart said partnering with the university and working on risk-based policing have been “instrumental” to reducing crime in the city.

“It has allowed our officers to become more engaged in the community, and in turn, the community to become more engaged with our officers,” he said. “This conference will allow Deputy Chief Sarkos to interact with members of law enforcement in an exchange of policing ideas that may be beneficial to our residents and visitors.”

Sarkos said RTM has been “very significant” to the reduction in crime, in addition to Project PACT, or Protecting Atlantic City Together, a camera-sharing program between city businesses and the Police Department, as well as the department’s community policing efforts and anonymous tip service.

“To me, we’re really just proud that RTM is being recognized all over the world, and we strongly believe in the RTM approach of focusing on places and not people, and with regards to community policing, that’s the way to go,” Sarkos said.

The model looks at the relationships between the crimes that are occurring and the features in the environment, such as stores, parks or schools, taking people out of the equation, and then officials come up with strategies to intervene.

Sarkos said he plans to speak about how RTM was implemented in the resort and what feedback it has received from the community.

He added he is fully funded through conference sponsors to attend, and he’s going on his own time.

The crime-analysis tool was developed in 2009 by Joel Caplan, director of Rutgers’ Center on Public Safety, and his colleague Leslie Kennedy, who will also be speaking at the conference.

Kennedy will give the opening keynote speech, while Caplan will moderate a panel called “Policy and Governance Applied to Risk Management” and give closing remarks.

The panel will focus on ways the technology is being used at city and other government levels, he said, and his closing remarks will focus on RTM’s future applications.

“These are the types of conferences that propel research and practice forward,” Caplan said. “We both agree that we have a lot to learn from the people at the conference, and hopefully those ideas will spread.”