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From the Editor – Joe Zelnik – 5.10.2006

By Rick Racela

Former reporter Ed Duffy used to return from covering Lower Township government shaking his head.  “It’s the water,” he’d say.
The quality of the water in Lower was Duffy’s explanation for the bizarre things that routinely go on in Lower.
Last week, Lower Council and mayor voted unanimously against their own $80-million budget.  I was told the reason is that councilman Michael Beck embarrassed them.  Beck is saying a lot of gutsy things lately, especially about police pay.
 That’s because he is leaving office. He reminds me of the generals who criticized the conduct of the war in Iraq after they retired.
But Lower is not alone.
Wildwood Mayor Ernie Troiano Jr. said Wildwood was “not the only community” where the state DCA found numerous, new construction fire code violations.
DCA spokesperson Susan Abbey said yes it is.
Who do you believe?
The only way Troiano is right is if he means the other community is North Wildwood.
Troiano also says that “there is no problem with JCOW (the Joint Construction Office of the Wildwoods)” and its former head, Mike Preston, did nothing wrong.
First major snafu I ever heard of where everybody is blameless. I guess the devil did it.
Then there’s Wildwood School Board member Tony Totah who I used to think of as an environmentalist.
Turns out he has Abeese Photography, a business not listed on his resume, and it has a web site with nude and seminude photos, mostly women, a few men. At least it did. After it became public, Totah took it down, which apparently satisfied the school board.
Photographer Totah said the photos he took for models and would-be models were tasteful. Well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I sort of liked the one of the guy wearing nothing but a gun belt and holster.
Troiano says the state is out to get Wildwood.
Totah says Troiano exposed Abeese and is out to get him.
Troiano and Totah, imperfect together.
Speaking of slogans, apparently “Come See for Yourself,” which trounced Tony Fulginiti’s  “New Jersey: Love at First Sight” in a state slogan contest earlier this year has been dumped by the state Commerce, Economic Growth and Tourism Commission.
The whole thing was then-Acting Governor Richard Codey’s idea, one he should have kept to  himself. Codey left office with high ratings. He also left all the problems for his successor.
Speaking of Fulginiti, is there or is there not a freeholder-constitutional officers thing going on?
For the first time, Clerk Rita Fulginiti, Surrogate W. Robert Hentges and Sheriff John F. Callinan held their “My County Poster Contest” awards ceremony in a jury assembly room in the courthouse April 27 instead of in the county administration building.
Fulginiti’s explanation: The county expanded its government week celebration by having booths outside the freeholder meeting room and no space to display the winning posters. Do you share my doubts that these people are all warm and cuddly?
There is no doubt about the feelings of Administrative Law Judge Richard F. Wells in the case of former Cape May County Medical Examiner Dr. Elliot Gross and the state Medical Examiner Office, specifically its expert witness Dr. Faruk Presswalla.
The state in 2003 suspended Gross’ right to perform autopsies allegedly because he missed the cause of death – a coronary artery abnormality – while performing as a backup medical examiner in Atlantic County. Gross, medical examiner for Cape May and Cumberland counties for almost nine years, resigned those positions.
In his 28-page decision, Judge Wells did everything but spank Presswalla and send him to his room.
One mistake, readily admitted, said Wells, did not constitute  gross negligence or gross malpractice or gross incompetence, the charges needed to call Gross “professionally incompetent.”
Judge Wells said Presswalla “misrepresented the trial record,” supplied misleading, imprecise, inconsistent, eqivocating and somewhat confusing testimony which “severely detracts from (his) overall trustworthiness…”
Presswalla had testified that the Cumberland County prosecutor “raised concern”  that Dr. Gross’ credibility would be open to attack in subsequent cases…”
Actually, said Judge Wells, cross-examination brought forth that Presswalla had never spoken to the Cumberland prosecutor.
Although Presswalla never interviewed Gross, he had charged him with “failure to recognize the gravity of his error” and claimed Gross “minimized his error as something of no consequence.”
Actually, Gross, after conceding his error, said he would “Regret (it) for many years to come.”  He said he had never had a “worse reaction,” his “heart dropped,” and he was “deeply affected.
Wells said Presswalla’s “attempt to saddle Gross with a cavalier and remorseless attitude is simply not justified under the record facts” and “is suggestive of bias and detracts from the ability of  this tribunal to attach trustworthiness to his opinions.”
What explanation is there for the bias Judge Wells attributes to Presswalla?
A possible explanation came early in the Wells opinion: Presswalla and Gross “had an acrimonious past history” including the fact that “the two competed for a job in which Dr. Gross ultimately prevailed.”
A thread of acrimony runs through this column. Why can’t people get along?

Spout Off

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