WEST WILDWOOD — Mayor Christopher Fox, who lost his day job as administrator of neighboring Wildwood last month and is facing $24,900 in fines for state ethics violations, dismissed calls for his resignation Wednesday and called the allegations against him “a joke.”
Fox said he was appealing the fines, a state record for a municipal official, but said he would pay them himself if they are upheld. He spoke at a contentious borough commissioners meeting attended by about 60 people, many of them second-home owners from the Philadelphia suburbs.
“They are violations I think are just ridiculous,” Fox said. “They were brought by a political action committee that are just vicious people. I didn’t commit a crime. I didn’t steal from the borough. They’re like motor-vehicle violations.”
He said after the meeting that he is paying for the appeal himself.
Fox, who lives with the borough’s chief of police, Jacqueline Ferentz, who supervises his daughter on the police force, had another family member introduced into the mix Wednesday: his estranged wife, Debbie, who spoke several times on his behalf.
“West Wildwood was and is a beautiful borough," Debbie Fox said. "I refuse to allow the political radical group, whoever you may be, to poison our home. I’m happy Chris is able to retire [from his job in Wildwood] and spend his time concentrating on the good of this borough.”
But others continued to question his relationship with Ferentz.
“Your paramour is working for us,” said Charles Chepak, who repeatedly called on the mayor to step down.
Ferentz won a $1.7 million jury verdict after she was dismissed by the previous mayor, a sum that the borough is paying in installments and that is a source of frustration to taxpayers, although Fox pointed out that taxes are not going up this year.
The town’s insurance company refused to cover the award after the borough, with Fox as mayor, rehired her.
Debbie Fox dismissed any characterization that Ferentz has a conflict of interest in supervising their daughter.
Christopher Fox and Ferentz have denied that they are more than housemates, but the ethics violations centered in part on conflicts of interest stemming from their relationship.
“My children do not have a stepmother,” Debbie Fox said. “I am his wife, nobody else.”
Not attending the meeting was Commissioner Cornelius Maxwell, who submitted his resignation earlier in the day, citing personal reasons.
Fox insisted his termination in Wildwood was unrelated to the ethics complaints, saying it happened because “there was politics involved.”
He said he did not believe his wife’s role in the meeting reinforced any perception that the town is run as a family affair to the detriment of taxpayers.
“I think it’s the greatest thing in the world that anyone would come out to defend me,” he said after the meeting.
Fox faced more than two hours of questioning about borough operations, the town’s ability to prevent continued legal problems, and the appropriateness of his relationship with the chief.
“You said there was nothing against the law and no ethical issue,” said Helen Rao, who drove from her primary home in Abington to attend. “How is it, if there was no issue, there is a laundry list of a hundred violations that the State of New Jersey submitted?"
Residents repeatedly asked the borough to return the commissioners’ public meeting times from Wednesday afternoons to Friday evenings, which made it more convenient for second-home owners to attend, but Fox said his daughters play softball during that time.
“You’re putting your personal interests ahead of taxpayers once again,” said Rao.