I am a new member of the Wildwood City Council. I was the original sponsor of the "Free Speech Amendment" that was recently passed unanimously by the council. It ensures that residents can ask direct questions of their council members and the Mayor at Wildwood council meetings. I value the right of people to express their opinions and I will always work to allow greater freedom of speech.
Laws give citizens wide latitude in what they can say about public figures. But as an elected official, I believe we should foster speech that is respectful and conducive to the smooth operation of government and a healthy community.
On the Wildwood City Council this is not easy. During one meeting I said something nice about the Mayor from the dais. Afterward a few council members informed me that I was being too complementary toward the Mayor. A councilman even told me that, "he is the devil" and that if I ever sided with him I would be the devil, too.
For anyone who has sat through a council meeting it will come as no shock that there is a group of council members that swear the Mayor is no good. And some seem intent to fan the flames of discord. Several council members told me that they did not speak with him. "He can't be trusted" and "He is a liar," were some of the comments. Other, more personal things were said. There were ugly rumors and speculative accusations. It became clear to me that if I was going to stay in their good graces I should not be overtly friendly towards the Mayor or even communicate with him. There was a whisper campaign against the Mayor and an attempt to isolate him.
During one meeting, I was dismayed that such ugly underpinnings would make their way to the podium. At the August 18th, 2018 council meeting, former councilman and political operative Bill Kennedy spoke during the public comment period. He was upset that someone had posted flyers asking residents to call a council member about an issue. After he explained how he and his helpers took down the flyers, he took the opportunity to further an unfounded rumor that the Mayor has a drinking problem. In his dark, rambling address Mr. Kennedy stated, "he shops at Red Door Liquors, including the last few days. Middle of the day." You can watch the comments for yourself on the city's live stream here. (The comments start around 1:43:20 .)
Screen Shot of Facebook Page Wildwood Shenanigans:
"Hey...the Mayor is doing criminal background
checks on residents. What's in his background?"
I did not heed suggestions to avoid the Mayor. I had conversations with our city's chief executive. I found him to be professional and genuinely concerned with the welfare of the City. We had strong disagreements as the "Free Speech Amendment" made its way through the legislative process, especially when he vetoed it the first time around.
When I publicly sided with the Mayor on a piece of legislation some members were incensed, and I found myself persona non grata with the anti-mayor group. Then came attempts by the group to stifle my speech. Among other things they claimed that I was too new and that I should sit back and be quiet. When I refused to be silenced, those relations immediately deteriorated.
Now things were being said about me in direct response to my voting independently from the group in favor of my constituents, my values, and my conscience. In an email a leader of the group told me that people were saying I "sounded like a fool", and if I "would should just shut up, maybe something could get done." I was also reprimanded for "kissing ass with Bowlin." I was even told that I should "get help". These insults were designed to diminish my effectiveness as a council member. I was even threatened with censure for of all things, having a sense of humor. And then a resident said he was concerned that there was an attempt to spread a rumor about me and alcohol. And I got it.
SCREEN SHOT of Facebook page Wildwood Shenanigans:
"Coffee with Mayor? Not quite!" This seems to be
another reference to the outrageous allegation that
Wildwood's Mayor is an alcoholic.
What I had been witnessing with the Mayor was a form of bullying. Bullies often target people who refuse to be controlled or subservient to the bully, and who are liked and supported by people because of their independence and competence. Bullies also target people who can or might expose unethical or illegal conduct. It was a sad realization, especially since an old friend who had encouraged me to run was central to it all.
That friend was Tammy Shea, a councilwoman who represents Ward 3. Shea anonymously ran the Facebook page Wildwood Shenanigans, which was known for controversial (and some of the more underhanded and personal) attacks on Wildwood's Mayor. At least that is what she told me. You can never know for sure, maybe she was being untruthful, but she has told at least one other person the same.
SCREEN SHOT: Invite from Council Member Shea to like Wildwood Shenanigans
Shea and another member of this small anti-mayor group sent me a request to "like" the page. I didn't like it. It seemed juvenile and crass. It had bizarre montages of Mayor Bowlin and Kim Jong Un. It made references to alcohol in an apparent effort to feed the unfounded rumors of our Mayor being an alcoholic. Of course such a site is not illegal, and in today's day and age it is pedestrian enough. But it did not seem like conduct becoming of a council member, especially when it was being done anonymously. It seemed sleazy.
Screen Shot of Facebook page Wildwood Shenanigans: The face of WIldwood's Mayor, Jim Bowlin, photo-shopped onto a naked female body astride a wrecking ball.
Then on the Facebook page Wildwood Shenanigans appeared a photo-shopped picture of the face of Wildwood's Mayor, Jim Bowlin, on a naked female body astride a wrecking ball. Kelly Woerther, wife of current councilman and former Mayor Tim Woerther, who has helped in an effort to submit nearly $30,000 in frivolous ethics complaints, can be seen commenting on the site coyly stating "wish I knew who." This to me seems a cynical reference to the anonymity of the council member doing the posting.
I understand that those who are not elected officials may sometimes resort to hard satire to try to address a perceived imbalance of power. But this site was being produced by an elected official who has some power as a councilwoman. In that official capacity she has a responsibility that goes beyond just her, and that is inherent to the position. If the image came close to a line, the fact that it was being distributed anonymously by a city official put it squarely on the wrong side of every ethical line related to dignity of the office and just basic human decency.
I believe Shea knows that as well. For shortly after I mentioned in an email that the site was "sleazy" it was taken down down. It has since reemerged after I requested comment from several individuals about the blog and associated screen shots.
SCREEN SHOT: of broken link to Facebook page Wildwood Shenanigans
Such social media pages are not necessarily uncommon, but it is emblematic of the pattern of political bullying and pathological obstructionism we are suffering in Wildwood. If we are to move forward as a city we must pursue open, civil debate and encourage council members to cast their votes independently.
SCREEN SHOT of invitation to "Like" Facebook page Wildwood Shenanigans by wife of councilman and former mayor Tim Woerther. Kelly has helped in the effort to file nearly $30,000 dollars in failed ethics complaints against the Mayor and his perceived allies.
My telling this story may be my political undoing. I am OK with that. I believe with my seat comes responsibility. I am beholden to my constituents and the truth.
Wildwood is suffering from an illness. More and more residents are seeing it, and those of us on the council are hearing desperation from our constituents because of it. If only there was a doctor who could help heal this community. Maybe there is. Dr. Kenneth Remy is running to replace Shea in this April's municipal election, and I believe that Dr. Remy's reasoned and professional approach will help to end the scourge of political rumor mongering, obstructionism and bullying in Wildwood.
SCREEN SHOT of the Facebook page Wildwood Shenanigans: "Wow...that Mayor is a real douche nozzle." A statement like this calls into question the judgement and character of Councilwoman Tammy Shea.
Screen Shot: Shea's Facebook Page. Here we have a rumor about rumors.
At the time of this posting, Councilwoman Shea, former Councilman Bill Kennedy and Kelly Woerther have to declined to comment.