The City of Wildwood has shown the door to its controversial municipal administrator, Christopher Fox, whose tenure as mayor of West Wildwood has become embroiled in lawsuits, state ethics violations, and questions about his relationship with the town’s chief of police, with whom he lives.
City Commissioner Pete Byron said the bad publicity coming from over the Glenwood Avenue bridge and reaching all the way to Philadelphia had become too much for even Wildwood.
The commission voted by 2-1 Wednesday to terminate Fox immediately, he said. His severance will amount to about $25,000, coincidentally the same amount in fines levied last week against Fox for the ethics violations by the Local Government Services board.
“Frankly, I personally thought this should have happened a long time ago,” Byron said Wednesday after the meeting. “We’re trying to promote ‘Come to Wildwood, invest in Wildwood.’ We want good vibes going out there. When you pick up the Daily News and Inquirer, it doesn’t instill confidence when your administrator is the mayor of a town ... where it seems every other week it’s something negative.”
Mayor Ernie Troiano also voted to terminate Fox. A longtime ally of Fox’s, Troiano did not return a call seeking comment. Municipal elections are in November.
The Inquirer reported earlier this month on the situation in West Wildwood, which Fox and Chief Jacqueline Ferentz downplayed as nothing improper. But the Concerned Taxpayers of West Wildwood contend otherwise. And last week, the state levied the fines totaling $24,900, the most ever against a municipal official, for conflict of interest violations and actions taken to enrich himself and family members. Fox can appeal.
The tiny borough is paying off a $1.7 million jury award won by Ferentz, who was terminated as chief by the previous mayor and reinstated once Fox was elected again as mayor. The town’s insurance company has refused to cover the award because, it says, the town did not adequately defend itself after rehiring Ferentz. The borough also recently hired his daughter as a police officer, reporting to Ferentz. Fox and Ferentz deny a romantic relationship. They have lived together for 17 years.
Byron said having a business administrator who is the mayor of another town coping with severe financial crises reflected poorly on Wildwood. He said he also has not been happy with Fox’s leadership for the last four years. A former Wildwood police officer, Fox was hired as Wildwood administrator six years ago.
“The final straw was last week, when the violations came down from Trenton,” Byron said. “We have heard from people. I still have family in Philadelphia. I’m trying to promote this town as the great place to come and invest in. This is certainly not the type of person you want in that position.”
Byron said he had requested Fox’s resignation, but Fox refused. If he had resigned, he would have gotten about $6,000 in unused vacation and personal time, Byron said.
“By forcing our hand, it cost us an additional $18,000," Byron said. “There wasn’t anything we could do about it."
Byron said the town needed to “stop the bleeding and move forward in a positive way.”
"I’m trying to separate West Wildwood from Wildwood,” he said.