On Sept. 27th, at a meeting of the Ridgewood Council, Mayor Paul Vagianos navigated through community misconduct and fended off allegations pertaining to transparency and an alleged $47,000 loan.
Mayor Vagianos initiated the meeting with a statement condemning three incidents of community misconduct, each marked by what he referred to as “regrettable and completely unacceptable” behavior.
The first incident detailed a physical altercation between residents at a prior meeting, where one allegedly knocked a phone out of another’s hand. Village Attorney Matt Rogers, upon consultation, conveyed that the council’s authority was restricted, allowing only for the removal of individuals from a meeting under such situations. The alleged victim later substantiated the claim with an official police report, supported by surveillance footage capturing the incident.
During the public comments section, the consensus among residents was that such aggression is “completely unacceptable,” prompting calls for enhanced countermeasures by the Council. A number of attendees articulated the necessity for professional training for the Council to manage such occurrences in the future.
The workshop then steered to a second incident, where a council member’s derogatory remark towards an individual was brought to light. The remark, labeling someone as “the scum of the earth,” was condemned by the Mayor as “beneath the dignity of this or any governing body.”
The third case involved a public social media disclosure of a family’s supposed tax records, an act the Mayor condemned as an intolerable form of harassment, particularly given the family’s extensive contributions to community service.
Some residents, however, criticized the mayor’s lumping together of these diverse incidents and pointed out perceived discrepancies in the council’s response to each one, including not calling the police after the first incident and the absence of an apology for the second incident.
The Mayor also faced scrutiny over a loan he allegedly extended, amounting to $47,000, to a family during their financial strain. This family, as perceived by attendees, seems to wield significant influence over two major projects in Ridgewood.
In his defense, Mayor Vagianos cited a letter from Village Attorney Matt Rogers, emphasizing that, even assuming the loan’s existence, it doesn’t pose a conflict of interest hindering the Mayor’s ongoing participation in the related projects. Rogers explained that the Mayor doesn’t gain any direct or indirect financial benefits from his involvement and decisions on the projects in question.
Further escalating tensions were discussions surrounding the Council’s financial trajectories, especially against the backdrop of Ridgewood’s $20 million debt. Residents expressed concerns over the allocations for a sports complex. Additionally, there were voices raising environmental alarms about the ramifications of deforestation and potential contamination of residents’ private wells by a turf field.