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Judge Orders Final Hearing for Fox

Former West Wildwood Mayor Christopher Fox

By Shay Roddy

WEST WILDWOOD – Mayor Christopher Fox will have a final hearing to determine whether he is responsible for $24,900 in fines levied against him by the state Local Finance Board for ethics violations, an Office of Administrative Law judge ordered. 
In an Oct. 6 decision, Judge John S. Kennedy denied motions by both parties for summary judgment and ordered a final hearing to determine whether Fox is guilty of the violations, stemming from his handling of the West Wildwood Police Department. 
The Local Finance Board alleges Fox, while living with Jacquelyn Ferentz, a police sergeant who was fired from the department under a previous administration, settled a wrongful termination lawsuit with her shortly after winning the mayoral election and then reinstated Ferentz. 
One month later, Ferentz was appointed chief. Over the next three years, Fox voted to increase her salary by close to $34,000, court documents say. 
Ferentz also had a pending whistleblower suit stemming from her termination when the other case was settled by the borough. Ferentz was eventually awarded $1.7 million in a jury decision in the whistleblower case. 
The borough’s insurance would not pay the judgment because Fox settled the wrongful termination suit, court documents say. 
Fox voted for emergency appropriations and a bond ordinance to fund the jury award, according to the factual discussion in the judge’s order. 
Michelle Douglass, an attorney who won the $1.7 million judgment for Ferentz, is defending Fox in this matter. Douglass did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 
The Local Finance Board also claims Fox appointed his daughter, Nicole Fox, to positions within the borough three different times. Nicole Fox currently serves as a police officer under Ferentz. 
In court documents, Fox argues the Local Finance Board was negatively influenced by the fact he was living with Ferentz. Fox also claims he did not take official action related to Ferentz and argues any action he took did not violate the Local Government Ethics Act, according to the order. 
Fox concedes that he failed to disclose the salary he was receiving from Wildwood while working as their administrator on required disclosure forms, but argues he did not violate the spirit of the act or fail to make the disclosures intentionally, adding the fines imposed for this violation are unreasonable, the judge’s factual discussion states. 
In May, Wildwood commissioners fired Fox from his position after news of the ethics violations became public.
In his decision, Kennedy states Fox’s argument is “not without merit,” but added that the allegations are serious, and there is a “genuine issue of material facts necessary to resolve this claim.”
Steven M. Gleeson, deputy attorney general, is representing the state in the case.The state Attorney General’s Office declined to comment on the matter.
According to the Office of Administrative Law, a conference call was to be held Oct. 20 to determine when dates for a final hearing may be scheduled. Fox is up for reelection Nov. 3.
To contact Shay Roddy, email sroddy@cmcherald.com.

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