WILDWOOD – A city resident chided the city administrator for comments he made to a media outlet about a city commissioner, drawing a response from the administrator at a public forum.
During the public comment portion of the Wednesday, Sept. 27, commissioners meeting, resident Keith Van Meter asked City Administrator Steve O’Connor why he made published comments that were critical of Commissioner Steve Mikulski.
O’Connor explained that he was asked questions about the restructuring of the Wildwood governing body after the resignation of Mayor Pete Byron. The press release issued upon Byron’s resignation said that Deputy Mayor Krista Fitzsimons was assuming some of the duties of mayor.
O’Connor said at the Sept. 27 meeting that Fitzsimons was retaining the position of deputy mayor because Mikulski could not hold that position, because the deputy mayor is the director of revenue and finance.
“He is under a 12-count indictment for fraud and theft – how could he be put over the Department of Revenue and Finance?” O’Connor asked at the meeting.
Mikulski, Byron and former Mayor Ernie Troiano Jr. are all facing a 12-count indictment related to the use of the State Health Benefits Program while serving as city commissioners. They are charged with official misconduct, theft by unlawful taking, tampering with public records and falsifying or tampering with records.
Van Meter took exception to O’Connor’s speaking to the media using such language, and asked why he didn’t simply reply “no comment.” O’Connor said he would not respond that way to a reporter’s questions.
The administrator said the chief of police no longer reports to Mikulski, by order of the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office, but instead now reports to him. The prosecutor’s office confirmed the order to the Herald. O’Connor then asked Van Meter, if the police chief could not report to Mikulski, did he think the city treasurer could report to a commissioner charged with “dishonesty”?
Van Meter said O’Connor’s comments in the media “make the city look terrible.”
“Your statements call into question all the decisions made by this board over the last two years,” he said.
Van Meter said none of the accused has been found guilty of committing any crime; however, O’Connor said the law says sitting commissioners must vacate their positions of responsibility until the matter has been clarified with a verdict.
Since 2010, only full-time employees have been allowed to claim State Health Benefits Program benefits. Full-time employees are defined as those working at least 35 hours per week. Mikulski, Byron and Troiano allegedly filed timecards claiming they had worked full-time hours. The state claims they falsified those timecards to make it appear as though they worked full days, Monday through Friday.
The original indictment from March was thrown out by Judge Bernard DeLury on a procedural flaw, and the trio were reindicted July 31. The current indictment reinstates the original charges.
Mikulski and Byron are scheduled to be back in Superior Court Friday, Jan. 19, 2024. Troiano’s attorney has filed a motion to dismiss the charges and is scheduled to appear in court Friday, Nov. 17.
Byron, Mikulski and Troiano are all running for the board of commissioners in the Nov. 7 general election. Fitzsimons is running for reelection along with two new candidates for commissioner. Fitzsimons said she did not think it was appropriate to comment on the matter.
Byron resigned effective Sept. 21 prior to an order being issued by the Superior Court telling him to forfeit his office. The Order of Forfeiture was before Mercer County Superior Court Judge Robert Lougy Friday, Sept. 22. Lougy granted the attorney general’s motion to proceed summarily – that is, without a full hearing – and then scheduled a briefing for Dec. 6 on the forfeiture action, so a forfeiture order has not yet been granted, and the matter is still pending as far as the courts are concerned.
Contact the author, Christopher South, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 609-886-8600, ext. 128.