Janice Zorovich, a critic of the administration of Mayor Nicholas Sacco, was arrested Wednesday after Sacco asked police to escort her from the Board of Commissioners meeting for repeatedly making vocal outbursts and refusing to leave the Municipal Chambers. She was charged with defiant trespassing, a disorderly persons offense. Zorovich was released later that night on her own recognizance.
Town meetings have been increasingly boisterous after Superintendent of Public Works James Wiley pleaded guilty last month to having town workers do personal chores at his house while being paid by the taxpayers – sometimes for overtime. Wiley has said that the workers worked on political campaigns in other towns, also while being paid.
The offenses are still being investigated, and Sacco’s critics are blaming him for the problem, which he has said he was unaware of. The public works department is being restructured.
At a previous meeting, Sacco had ended the meeting early after his critics kept clapping at various times, ignoring his requests to stop.
This time, Mayor Sacco said at the beginning of the meeting that in the interest of decorum, no outbursts would be tolerated.
During the portion of the meeting for members of the public to speak, Zorovich addressed the commissioners about various town issues. Her remarks were punctuated with applause from the audience. But after her time at the microphone ended, she continued to make remarks from her front row seat even after Sacco told her to keep quiet.
“We have rights and he’s [Sacco] trying to take them all away.” – Janice Zorovich
Two former town employees who recently filed sexual harassment complaints against the township were in the room.
“When I take office, you guys [Mayor Sacco’s administration] are done,” said Diakos. “You’re not going to have women getting fired for [sexual harassment-related issues].”
Next, Larry Wainstein spoke. Wainstein is a local liquor store owner who opposes a proposed strip mall across the street from his store. The strip mall would contain a rival liquor store. Wainstein is also a frequent Sacco critic.
Wainstein asked Sacco when the next nighttime commissioners’ meeting would be, but got no response. Often, the commissioners meetings are held during the day. The North Bergen Concerned Citizens Group, an opposition group to Mayor Sacco, has complained that this keeps attendance low.
Wainstein and other critics got applause for their remarks.
“The next one who calls out, I’m going to have to ask them to leave,” said Sacco in response to the outbursts. “If you call out again and disrupt the meeting again… I’ve been pretty patient.”
‘This is getting out of control’
Then, a man went to the microphone and began playing a recording that purported to be Mayor Sacco leaving a message for a former town employee who has sued the township for sexual harassment. The recording was difficult to hear and had music in the background.
During the playback of the recording, Zorovich spoke up from the audience. She and other Sacco critics had already shouted out several comments during other speakers’ remarks.
Sacco asked the police officers on hand to escort Zorovich out.
Diakos protested, saying Zorovich had every right to stay.
“This is getting out of control,” said Diakos. “What did she do?”
Attorney Mario Blanch, who represents the North Bergen Concerned Citizens Group and has represented individuals in other matters against Sacco, also said that Zorovich didn’t have to leave.
The police officers asked Zorovich several times to leave, but she refused.
Then, Zorovich was handcuffed and arrested for “defiant trespassing.” Several officers headed over to her as she refused to leave the meeting. Chaos ensued when audience members crowded around to take photos and record videos of the occurrence.
At the end of the meeting, the opposition began chanting in Spanish, “A Sacco lo saco,” which means, “We will remove Sacco.”
Once the meeting was over, Sacco commented.
“It was completely a political attack,” he said. “Janice got herself in trouble. After she called out probably about her fifth time I asked her to leave. At that point she is no longer allowed to be here; that’s the law. I warned her probably at least four times. I didn’t throw her out of the meeting.”
Once the meeting ended, members of the North Bergen Concerned Citizens Group said they were on their way to bail out Zorovich at the police precinct on the same block. Zorovich was released shortly afterward. She said she did not blame the officers who arrested her, because they were merely following orders.
Blanch claimed that Sacco had supporters in the back of the room making outbursts and that Sacco never told them to stop.
However, when one of Sacco’s supporters at the meeting had interrupted Zorovich, Sacco had told that man to stop.
Vanessa Cruz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org