WILDWOOD — Commissioners voted 2 to 1 on Wednesday to terminate city Administrator Christopher Fox, the mayor of West Wildwood who was recently fined almost $25,000 for ethics violations by the state.
His severance pay?
Almost $25,000, said Commissioner Pete Byron, who said he is not happy with having to pay Fox so much to leave.
“There has been a whole lot of negative publicity ... and he’s never hesitated throwing Wildwood under the bus. It’s always mentioned he’s administrator of Wildwood,” said Byron. “We are trying to clean up our image. People reading that kind of stuff … will be less interested in investing in our town.”
Fox could not be reached for comment.
If Fox had done ”the honorable thing and resigned,” it would have only cost the city $7,000 for his unused personal and vacation time, said Byron.
But under state law, in order to terminate an administrator, a municipality must give three months’ notice or require the individual to leave immediately and pay three months’ salary, said city Solicitor Mary D’Arcy Bittner.
That required an additional payment of $18,000, Byron said.
“That $18,000 added to unpaid vacation and personal time comes up coincidentally just about the same amount of money he owes for all those violations he has to pay for,” Byron said.
Commissioner Anthony Leonetti voted not to terminate Fox, saying what happened in West Wildwood is “not our business.”
“Just for the record, I don’t believe Administrator Fox has done anything wrong to hurt the City of Wildwood,” Leonetti said.
Mayor Ernie Troiano was the other vote in favor of Fox’s dismissal.
He said he’s been a friend of Fox for decades. Fox was a police officer in Wildwood for 27 years.
“Mr. Fox did a good job for us,” Troiano said.
But he said perception problems, and the need to move on, required Fox to leave.
“I did what I thought was best in the interest of Wildwood, not necessarily what is best in the interest of my friendship,” said Troiano, adding he has not talked directly to Fox about the severing.
City Clerk Christopher Wood said Fox has not been in City Hall since last Thursday, but that his job did not officially end until the vote.
Troiano said Fox removed his belongings from the office last week.
Ryan Troiano, the mayor’s son, asked what Fox’s salary was and no one could provide the answer. If $18,000 is three months’ salary, he would make $72,000.
The mayor said Fox will get what he is entitled to under law, no more and no less.
The resolution does not specify an amount to be paid to Fox but says Fox “shall be separated without cause and entitled to any rights and privileges in accordance with statute.”
Fox was recently fined $24,900 by the state Local Finance Board — the most ever levied against an elected official — including for ethics violations related to actions he took as West Wildwood mayor that benefited police Chief Jacqueline Ferentz, with whom he lives.
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 when 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 has received a police pension and salaries as West Wildwood mayor and Wildwood administrator.
Some of the violations were also related to his failure to disclose all income he receives on state-required financial disclosure statements and actions he took as mayor of West Wildwood to enter into a shared-services agreement with Wildwood.
Mayor Troiano said the commission is examining its options for filling the administrator’s position moving forward.