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Divorcing Medford councilwoman ousted in residency dispute

Residents booed as the Medford Township Council ousted the only woman on the governing body for moving out of town while embroiled in a nasty divorce.

Residents booed as the Medford Township Council ousted the only woman on the governing body for moving out of town while embroiled in a nasty divorce.

Victoria Fay, a businesswoman and a top vote-getter at the polls last year, said her relocation a few miles away was temporary. But her four fellow council members were unfazed.

Fay had violated a residency law, they said.

"You should live in the town you serve," Mayor Chris Myers said. "She knew it was wrong, and was trying to skirt the law."

Fay was not permitted to speak before the council voted unanimously on Monday to remove her, but she insisted on addressing her former colleagues afterward.

"All of you men should be ashamed of yourself. I will see you in court," Fay said.

At a March 14 meeting, she had told them she expected to return to Medford by next month.

The effort to get rid of her, Fay has said, was retaliation for her questioning township spending policies and a controversial plan to build 750 houses on a Route 70 tract.

"I am the thorn in their side," Fay said last week.

A. Michael Rubin, president of the New Jersey Institute of Local Government Attorneys and a municipal attorney for 40 years, said Tuesday that he had never heard of a divorce situation triggering a residency issue for an elected official.

"There's a lot of gray area there," Rubin said. A judge would look closely at things such as whether Fay's local taxes and water bills were being paid, indicating that she planned to return, he said.

In Paterson, N.J., Rubin said, a councilman was recently removed from office after adversaries found he had taken up residence in another ward after a fire at his home. A judge determined the man was rebuilding and reinstated him, Rubin said.

The town's action demonstrates insensitivity toward women and others in a family crisis, say some residents and women's advocates.

Many wives and girlfriends move out hastily when it becomes too tense to share a home with their partners, said Cathi Rendfrey, director of the Women's Opportunity Center in Mount Laurel, which counsels women who are separated or getting divorced.

"They're under so much stress, they just want to get a place real fast, and they may have a concern for their children," Rendfrey said. Women often have less financial means, she said, and have to move wherever they can find a reasonably priced place.

At the hearing last week to determine her residency, Fay acknowledged that she had moved in November to a home she and husband own in neighboring Evesham Township. Her husband, Lawrence Fay, told her she could no longer stay in their Medford home, she said. He also barred her from living in an apartment they own over a Main Street delicatessen she formerly operated.

Lawrence Fay declined to comment Tuesday.

Fay said she would return to Medford as soon as the couple's issues were resolved.

Fay mentioned to the council last week that she and her husband had a prenuptial agreement, and Councilman Mark Sander, a lawyer, asked to see it. He wondered whether it contained a clause about whether she could go back to the home after a divorce. Fay refused his request.

"You're asking for a prenup agreement?" Randy Pace, a resident who supports Fay's retention, said incredulously at Monday's council meeting. "The law is the law . . . but I don't think we've looked at the spirit of it."

Councilman Bob Martin took a harder line. "It's sad for Medford. I don't want to go through this," he said last week. "But I interpret laws very strictly."

The mayor said he was concerned that if Fay voted on council business while not a resident, Medford could be sued.

The council, comprised entirely of Republicans, has been a GOP stronghold for years. Fay was unanimously appointed in February 2010 to fill an unexpired term, then was elected to a one-year term in an uncontested race in November.

Fay created her problem by not confiding in the council about her residency issues, Myers said. A Medford police officer informed the township manager that he had observed her living in his neighborhood in Evesham's Marlton section. Township police are not bound by a residency requirement.

Stephen Addezio, the acting township manager and former police chief, hired a private investigator and reported his findings to the council last month, Myers said.

At a Feb. 7 meeting, the council confronted Fay in an emergency closed session. Instead of discussing the residency issue with the members, Myers said, she "yelled, screamed, and stormed out."

Marlene Lieber, a Medford resident who was at the council meeting, said that Fay came out of the closed session "looking visibly upset." She gathered her belongings from the dais and attempted to leave, but Addezio blocked her path and wouldn't let her go, Lieber said.

The township manager has filed charges against Fay, saying she poked him in the chest with her finger before she left the room, town officials said.

Fay has denied the allegation. Addezio "cornered me. . . . He said 'I'm not finished with you,' " she said last week.

After her departure from the February meeting, the council voted to vacate her seat. The action was overturned when a Superior Court judge found that Fay was not allowed legal representation. At the hearing last week, Fay had a lawyer.

Since his February exchange with Fay, Addezio has been on medical leave. Myers said that he did not know the nature of his health problem, citing privacy laws. Addezio did not return calls for comment.

The investigation of her residency has been a "waste of taxpayers' dollars," Fay said in a statement Monday.

"Instead of trying to create a fiscally conservative, responsible budget for Medford residents, they have spent more tax dollars on their investigative witch hunt of where I sleep at night. I can only hope and pray that none of them ever go through the agony my personal life has caused recently," she said in the statement.

Since she was first appointed, Fay has made it her mission to question the township's legal bills and has criticized political contributions made to council members by the town's law firm, Parker McCay.

It is "ironic that no one would even second my motion in January to audit all professional expenses and billing, but they all supported tax dollars be used to investigate me," Fay said.

Her complaints about the law firm and its bills were investigated and dismissed, Myers said.

"I see this [vote] as a vendetta against Ms. Fay because she was questioning their [council's] political contributions from Parker McCay," Lieber said.

"When they appointed her, they wanted to have a woman for show, a token, and only wanted someone on there to do what they told her to do," Lieber said. "But she stood up and spoke up."