Despite health officer lawsuit, West New York still moving to dissolve department

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Even though West New York Health Officer Gina Miranda-Diaz filed a lawsuit earlier this week, the Board of Commissioners moved forward with trying to dissolve the department earlier today. 

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The first reading of an ordinance to get rid of the West New York Health Department in favor of a shared services initiative with North Bergen, was introduced as an add-on to today’s agenda.

Corporation Counsel Donald Scarinci explained the implications of the last minute addition.

“Ordinances need to be introduced first and then there’s a public hearing scheduled. A public hearing that they just scheduled for this ordinance is on July 11th at 4 p.m.”

At last month’s meeting, Louis Zayas, an attorney representing Miranda-Diaz, threatened to sue Commissioners Cosmo Cirillo, Gabriel Rodriguez and Margarita Guzman if they moved forward with their plans to dissolve the department.

In a two-count political retaliation suit filed in Hudson County Superior Court on Monday, where the three aforementioned officials and the Town of West New York and the Town of Guttenberg (Diaz also works there) are named as plaintiffs, Zayas claims Diaz faced retaliation from the battle for the Hudson County Democratic Organization chair.

Cirillo, Rodriguez and Guzman, routinely referred to as “Sacco commissioners” in the complaint (referring to the North Bergen mayor/state senator) supported Amy DeGise, while Roque and Commissioner Sue Colacurcio backed state Senator (D-33)/Union City Mayor Brian Stack.

“Upon taking control of the Town Hall, the Sacco Commissioners conspired with each other to target those employees who are or perceived to be Mayor Roque political supporters to consolidate their power,” suit alleges.

“Despite numerous other wasteful government expenditures, such as an engineering contract with a politically connected Mayor Sacco supporter, the real purpose of the aforementioned report was to target one person for termination: Health Officer Dr. Diaz.”

Miranda Diaz is the wife of Manny Diaz, Roque’s confidential aide who is commonly believed to have influenced the mayor to break rank with Sacco and support Stack for HCDO chair.

At the meeting, Kathy Wagner, who only identified herself as a West New York resident, was literally in tears as she asked why the commissioners were getting rid of Diaz and the health department.

“I just don’t understand commissioners, how you want to take and replace her with someone from North Bergen. How can you do that? It’s [sic] a doctor, a nurse for 35 years, has all these degrees: how do you do that to us?,” she exclaimed.

Scarinci advised the commissioners that any responses they gave could be used against them in the pending case, so Wagner walked away even more frustrated than before when she did not receive acknowledgement from anyone on the board.

Before the meeting concluded, Roque made it clear that he was irritated with Cirillo for continuing to forge ahead with this endeavor.

“I gotta make sure that the taxpayers are what we’re worried about. When we start playing politics, we lose sight of what’s important,” the mayor began.

“… So if you’re saying to me this person’s gonna come in every time there’s a problem with heating, there’s a problem with infected food and the vendor’s not using gloves and he’s distributing food for residents: I’ll make sure I call you. Please don’t take that bad, but I will be calling you.”

Cirillo, as had said previously, reiterated that the only reason this was happening was after an independent report said that shared services could save the town a significant amount of money.

“We do strive to provide the best quality of service to the residents of West New York – in the most cost effective manner possible – to show that a number of effective changes have taken place, so we hope to continue that and provide those services for those residents – as best as possible.”

The first reading of the ordinance passed 3-(1), with Roque abstaining and Colacurcio absent.