WEST WILDWOOD — The borough commission voted Wednesday to hire Mayor Christopher Fox’s 22-year-old daughter Nicole Fox as a full-time police officer, in a surprise resolution that was not on the agenda.
There were sharp intakes of breath and audible groans from the audience when the vote happened. Fox abstained, but the other two commissioners — Scott W. Golden and Cornelius Maxwell — voted in favor.
The move angered many present, as Fox lives with Police Chief Jacquelyn “Jackie” Ferentz, who would then be Nicole Fox’s boss.
“Nicole Fox is being hired as a police officer in the borough after all we have been through?” asked Kate Samson. “We have been sued by your brother, your girlfriend and now you are hiring a third family member?”
West Wildwood taxpayers are paying Ferentz $5,000 a month for about 200 months and her attorney about $18,000 a month for 42 months as a result of a $1.7 million jury award.
She had filed a whistleblower suit against the borough and its former mayor, Herbert Frederick, over his alleged interference in the Police Department. But Frederick was eventually dropped from the suit.
“Would you rather skip someone qualified, someone who has been here all her life and pays taxes?” asked Fox.
“Yes!” called out many in the audience.
Golden, who is the commissioner in charge of public safety, said Nicole Fox was the only applicant for the position, other than a Class 2 officer already working there who was also hired.
He said Ferentz advertised the position on a web site called policeapp.com.
Some homeowners questioned why Ferentz is on the Cape May Prosecutor’s Office Brady letter list, and whether that prevents her from doing her job as chief.
Police officers with Brady letters are considered to have lied or misrepresented facts in the past, and that fact must be disclosed to the defense attorney of anyone charged with a crime by that officer, according to borough attorney William Blaney.
Blaney said he considered the letter a “pre-Brady letter,” but the prosecutor’s office has refused to remove Ferentz from the list, he said.
So commissioners also voted to hire an attorney to look into the appropriateness of Ferentz being on the list, and perhaps challenge it. That also angered taxpayers, who said she should challenge it at her own expense, not cost the borough even more money.
The borough’s insurance company would not pay the $1.7 million court award announced last year to Ferentz, saying the borough had not adequately defended itself.
Ferentz has said her relationship with Fox was not a romantic one, but Fox did not correct homeowners who called her his girlfriend at Wednesday’s meeting.
After Ferentz won her case, she also got her job back with a settlement for back pay.
Homeowner Helen Rao said it was a conflict that the mayor lives with the police chief, and now his daughter will be supervised by the person who functions as a step mother to her.
The room broke out in applause.
“I’m charging you three ... with conspiracy,” said Charles Chepak to the commissioners. “
He said they had rejected at a recent meeting the suggestion that the town pass an ordinance concerning nepotism.
“You knew you were about to hire your daughter when you turned down the ordinance,” he said.
Fox said after the meeting that he enjoys the support of most taxpayers in the borough, and only people who come to the meetings are opposed to him.
He predicted he will win re-election in 2020.