The friends and family of West New York Department of Public Works Commissioner Gabriel Rodriguez came out to last night’s board of commissioners meeting to denounce a recent Univision report accusing the DPW of corruption.
Israel Rodriguez, Gabriel’s father and an administrator with the local board of education, was mentioned in the report and DPW workers were said to remove construction debris from his home over the summer. He denied any of the claims made in the report.
“In the segment, Mr. Navas, once a DPW supervisor, admits he violated the law and DPW rules and regulations by picking up construction garbage while on duty. He tried to justify his actions by alleging that, as a matter of practice, the West New York Department of Public Works picks up construction debris. So, he should not be fired for doing what DPW condones,” Israel Rodriguez said.
“As it turns out, these allegations are nothing more than Mr. Navas’ attempt to justify his misconduct, a fact Univision failed to investigate and verify,” he added, later alleging Navas was demoted to street sweeper before being fired for refusing his new duties.
After the elder Rodriguez’s remarks, West New York Corporation Counsel Donald Scarinci advised the governing body not to address this matter since it’s “the subject of disciplinary action.”
Lorena Portillo, a board of education trustee and Navas’ significant other, took umbrage with the case being discussed publicly and questioned if Navas had ever actually been demoted.
“When you have the whole investigation done, hopefully we can have it publicly like this too. Because these are statements that you’re making here, especially the one Israel Rodriguez made – saying that he was demoted – I would like to see: where is that in any record?,” Portillo exclaimed.
“You by speaking of course subject yourself to cross examining in public by me – I have no intention of doing that. This matter is going to be handled in the appropriate way and the appropriate and the proper process will be followed as every labor employment matter is followed in West New York,” Scarinci responded.
Despite Scarinci’s earlier advice, Gabriel Rodriguez joined in condemning the report and vehemently denied any wrongdoing.
“What was aired was a segment, of two nights nonetheless, that was clearly and absolutely motivated by not just one individual, but a handful of individuals, who desperately seek relevance because they have none,” Gabriel Rodriguez said.
” … This is textbook defamatory. Dirty political tricks which speak volumes of the character, or lack thereof, the individuals behind it. I say to them, and to anyone who supports them, the very people you are accusing are the ones you should seek to emulate.”
Additionally, Mayor Felix Roque spoke out in support of the Rodriguez family.
“The board of commissioners and myself are very, very proud of you Commissioner Rodriguez. Mr. and Mrs. Rodriguez: all I can say is the same thing, your son just said – you have been model citizens here for more than 30 years and it’s just a shame that things happen.”
Before the public session was closed, Navas said that Rodriguez, Roque and DPW Superintendent Silvio Acosta all had the opportunity to speak with Univision on several occasions – a claim that Municipal Administrator Jamie Cryan denied.
“That’s not true,” Cryan repeated several times, speaking over Navas, who did not acknowledge him.
“Second, for the record, for the record: counsel from what we’re hearing, Mr. Angel Alfonso is taking sole responsibility for those two stops, correct? That nobody told him, that nobody indicated him to go to, to assign those two stops on that day? Is that what we’re hearing?,” Navas questioned.
“I’m not making any judgments on what we’re hearing and what we’re not hearing. If you want to keep talking, you’re doing that at your own peril and I strongly advise you to seek counsel or consult your union representative,” Scarinci quipped back.
In an email, Univision News Director Esteban Create said the Spanish speaking TV station stands by their story.
“We stand by our story. The investigation was thorough and the claims substantiated with evidence,” he said.
“We reached out to the mayor of West New York, Felix Roque, and other town officials on several occasions to get their reaction, which was reflected in the two reports.”
Editor’s Note: This story was updated with a comment from Univision.