Hello. My name is Bob, and together with my wife, Sonja, we have been trying to make sure that those that are unable to attend Council meetings, are still able to see them, and have an understanding of what’s going on with our local government. Initially, this particular article was written up to document the behavior of Councilman Clyde Cook, particularly with respect to the personal attacks that he made against our family any time that we spoke up regarding anything that he said or wrote that did not coincide with other information that we had, but has since evolved to try and provide you with an understanding of what’s going on with our Borough. The article from here until the newest update will remain as written, with the update containing more information as it pertains to the Mayor and the rest of Council.
After moving here a few years ago, we were made aware of our School Board attempting to terminate the Send/Receive agreement that we have with Collingswood, in favor of a new one with Pennsauken. This is the agreement that allows our students to attend Collingswood’s High School, and the town mobilized overwhelming support against this plan. This plan fell apart, largely due to the efforts of Melissa Buck, who is the administrator of the Woodlynne Residents United Facebook group, that we also joined after we became aware of its existence. We didn’t pay much attention to what the local government was doing, until after seeing numerous posts in the group regarding corruption, particularly involving Mayor Fuentes, we decided to start attending the meetings ourselves. Imagine our surprise to discover that things were not occurring as they were being reported. As nothing significant appeared to be happening, aside from the complaints of a handful of residents, we left the matter alone, in the hopes that it would work itself out.
Fast forward to New Year’s Day 2019. At some point during the day, we open our front door to find that some papers had been placed in our storm door. After seeing the contents, we checked the history on our Ring doorbell camera, and discovered that Councilman Cook was responsible for placing them there. These documents, which have been shared elsewhere on this site, can be found here:
The thing to note here is the very first line, which is in bold: “Woodlynne Mayor Salary of $2,500 a year to increase to nearly $85,000 in 2019 Mayor’s looking to keep the ball rolling with your tax dollars in his pockets”. This statement is an outright lie, as anyone attending the meetings, or for one being on the Council, should know all too well. The Mayor’s salary is not only not changing from $2,500, but his overall salary (where he’s paid for exactly two of the positions that he holds) is actually less than $75,000, which is significantly lower than the figure that was stated in the document. At the very next Council meeting (which was 2019’s Reorganization meeting), I spoke out and asked the Council what their plan was to deal with the Councilman responsible for willfully spreading misinformation to the residents of the Borough, on the first day of a mayoral election year (a seat that Councilman Cook has tried to win previously), intended to incite the people against the Mayor. We have recordings from this meeting that spans the remainder of the meeting from when the Mayor addressed Council and public regarding the misinformation contained in the document, through the end of the public portion of the meeting. For your convenience, the video can be found here:
That evening began the first of what would become many personal attacks against Sonja and me. The closest that anyone has come, publicly, to admitting to writing the document is a single post written by Councilman Cook, which he then deleted while I was writing a comment. I took a screenshot of it, and re-posted it, along with the comment that I had been in the middle of writing. Councilman Cook vehemently denied writing the document, which we never accused him of, and he has also denied being the person that originally placed the document in our door, in spite of being the only person to come to our door that day. Several hours after the meeting, where his only response was a muttered “Was it turned on?” after I told the rest of Council that I had video definitively proving that he placed the documents in our door, he provided a flimsy cover story, where he was sitting in his truck across the street from former Councilman Al Thomas’s home, talking to him. He claims that he saw the document fall off of our “porch” and that he immediately pulled his truck over, ran up to our house, and put the document in the door so that it wouldn’t blow away again. This account of events does not explain a handful of discrepencies that show up in the video, and does not take into account the reports that he was seen distributing these documents to other homes. I have tried to put everything together here, so that context isn’t lost:
A few weeks later, he shares an exchange between himself and Council President Sharon Earley. A ways down into the comments, after I called attention to the hypocrisy of his being proud to wear many hats, while simultaneously slamming the Mayor for holding more than one, he turns around and heavily implied that I had some kind of arrangement with the Mayor to get approval for a variance with the Planning Board so that we could build a privacy fence. At that time, while the implication appeared to be that this was in exchange for speaking out against him, Cook seemed to be careful not to actually state that.
Now, in January, during a trip to the Borough Hall (to re-register our dogs, if I recall correctly), the Mayor approached us and asked if either of us, or both, would have any interest in joining the Planning Board. We told him that we would consider it, and get back to him. In all honesty, I was interested, and did wind up accepting the appointment in February, but I almost declined, because I knew that more harassment would follow, such as the following:
This brings us to March, where a Borough resident (not Cook or his fiancee) starts in on the personal attacks. I am including this to show that his behavior and words have started to have an impact on my dealings with the other people that live here. Note that this particular resident lives approximately half a block from me, so I’m talking about a neighbor here, and not someone that lives on the other side of town. Also, some of my comments in the below reference dodged questions. Councilman Cook made posts on his personal page (signing some of them using his title as Councilman) where he, once again, made nepotism accusations against the Mayor. Rather than answer my questions regarding the details of who he was supposed to have hired, he appeared to take every possible step to avoid doing so, such as blocking me from seeing the page, hiding my comments (which I discovered on my own a short time later), and then by outright deleting them, even after reposts. The same questions, when posed in the Facebook group, were met with evasions.
Moving on to April, after the Workshop meeting on the 4th had ended and after we had stopped recording, on his way out of room, Councilman Cook called back in to tell me that he had “looked into it” and that our recording of the Council meetings was illegal since he hadn’t consented to it. He’s wrong, and 30 seconds of Googling was sufficient to find the NJ Supreme Court case establishing my right to do so (Tarus v the Borough of Pine Hill). Furthermore, for those that don’t already know, New Jersey is a “one-party consent” state, meaning that so long as one person involved is aware and has consented, then a conversation can legally be recorded. We can chalk this up to one of three things:
1) He was ignorant, in spite of having claimed to have “looked into it”.
2) He was trying to cause a problem.
3) He was assuming that we hadn’t already looked into it ourselves, and thought that by telling us that it was illegal, it would stop.
In either of the latter two cases, he was directly attempting to infringe upon my rights. Further, for those that aren’t already aware, a large amount of what he posts is filled with buzz words, among which “transparency” is one of the most used words. Why, then, would someone so concerned about transparency, be so concerned about a member of the public making a recording of the meetings, unless it’s because he’s aware of how these videos make him look, knowing full well that the vast majority of residents aren’t going to go through the process to make the necessary OPRA requests to get copies of the Borough-recorded cassette tapes. Unfortunately, I do not have his statement on video, but having done so in a room full of people, plenty of people heard it.
This brings us to a few days ago (April 26, 2019), where among other things, I was accused of somehow using taxpayer money to get a No Parking sign put in my yard. This sign has been there since we moved in, and I have, in fact, asked twice to have it removed, given that the alley that it’s supposed to apply to gets blocked on a regular basis by people ignoring the sign, and given that its presence could pose a potential hazard to my children and dogs. When I got my fence put up in February, the fencers placed the fence so that the sign was kept outside of the fenced-in yard. Rather than correct the false accusation (which by his own admission he remembers my asking about getting it removed), he responded with a laughing GIF, and then later, outright accused me of using my position on the Planning Board to have a “property owner private sign” removed from my yard, once again calling my integrity into question.
The remaining Council appears to be trying to publicly distance themselves from his behavior, by taking steps to issue a censure. At the time of this writing, I do not know where those proceedings stand.
Since the initial writing of this post, a few things have occurred:
First, Councilman Cook shared an audio recording that he had made while talking with the Mayor. The only significant fact here is that this recording was made before he tried telling me that my recordings were illegal. This is a further indication that he m ay have been actively trying to infringe upon my rights (either that, or else he made that recording believing that it was illegal to do so, which is just as bad as if it was actually illegal, given his intent. Second, during the 6/13 Council Meeting, it was made clear that Councilman Cook is responsible for the maintenance of the public buildings that he’s in charge of, a fact that he was clearly surprised by. This didn’t stop him from making a rather lengthy post a few days later, claiming to have known all along what his job responsibilities are. Pointing out that this post contradicted his own words resulted in more personal attacks, as well as the revelation that Councilman Cook has been trying to silence my voice, by speaking to Melissa Buck about how we can’t be trusted to do this, because we’re not “neutral at all times”. He also accused me of misleading the Residents, claiming that showing only clips of videos is misleading, and the fact that I would even do so apparently means that I am making personal attacks. As if this wasn’t bad enough, he decided to answer a few questions regarding the Log Cabin project with statements like “Robert why you worried it didnt come out of your pocket, you didnt Volunteer any time. It’s not your concerns.”, and then went on to make the personal attacks worse after I showed disapproval with his responses. You can see the entire exchange below (apologies for its length):
There is still no official word regarding the status of the censure proceedings.
Update 2: (8/13/19)
We discovered earlier this month that Councilman Cook has blocked us on Facebook, which has had the additional complication of denying us the ability to see or respond to anything shared to the group. Additionally, a post made to his official Councilman page omitted some pertinent details. I supplied them, and shortly thereafter found that comment removed, and my ability to comment removed outright. Later, his fiancee admitted to being the one to remove my comment, and ability to comment, being an admin on the page, but he is still aware that I am unable to respond to these posts.
Update 3: (10/18/19)
The last few months has shown Councilman Cook start to behave himself. Since the last update, the personal attacks have stopped, and our visibility into public posts that he makes has been restored. In that time, the behavior of the mayor, as well as the rest of Council, has gotten worse.
Pretty much anyone that is a member of the Facebook group is aware of the efforts made by Jeff Goodwin, who has been consistently attending meetings and presses for updates regarding the concerns of the residents. Anyone that has been attending the meetings, or watching our recordings, will not be surprised to learn that these questions are generally met with attitude from both the Mayor, and a few members of Council. Very rarely is a straight answer ever actually given, and those responses tend to be after obvious coordination. A lot of this kind of behavior can be seen in the meeting recordings, but among the worst of it can be seen on the Sept 12 video. Mr. Goodwin was also directly involved in the PINK Initiative. This initiative, which for the most part consisted of an informational flier that went around, along with pink ribbons to be hung up by supporters. Among other things, the PINK Initiative was intended to bring awareness of the things going wrong with our Borough, among which being the matter of informational transparency. Transparency, and the free flow of information, is very important to us, and is among the major reasons why we started this site in the first place, and for that reason, we flew the ribbon that we received. Discussions of how to get the the information out to the people were held publicly among the Facebook group (that we have seen, obviously), and such discussions took place over a few weeks before the fliers were distributed. Mayor and Council, being aware of these efforts, responded by passing out election propoganda on the same day that the PINK fliers started making the rounds. It would seem that the election is more important to the local government than addressing the concerns raised by a large, and vocal, group in the community. The very next meeting, a Workshop, was cancelled, making it the fifth Workshop in a row to be cancelled, so it was a foregone conclusion that residents were likely to speak about it at the following meeting. The Mayor’s response to this was to have a significantly larger police presence at the meeting, and a hushed discussion with the Solicitor regarding removing people. Prior to the Mayor “allowing us to speak” (You may want to check again, sir, but the State of New Jersey allows us to speak, not you), the Solicitor was very quick to point out that the Mayor and Council are under no obligations to answer any questions put to them, and that this period is set aside to allow the public the opportunity to voice their concerns. The last time that I saw an attorney tell the public at a public meeting that the government body is under no obligations to answer questions, it was during the School Board fiasco a few years ago; the very same one that brought about the creation of this group, where said body was well aware that they were trying to do things that the public did not want them to do. The real irony here is that it’s the governing body that is out-of-line, with respect to how people are behaving, but it’s not like the public can call the police to have one of them removed from the meeting.
By all appearances, especially of late, it seems that the bulk of the disrespectful behavior is coming from the Mayor, but the fact that Council allows this kind of behavior to continue makes them just as culpable, especially when you take circumstances such as the text message exchange between Councilwoman Feliciano and Councilman Cook, regarding the Halloween event that he put together outside of his work with the Borough. The screenshots have been pulled from the original post, and were done so before I thought to get copies of them, but they showed Councilwoman Feliciano berating Councilman Cook for working on that event when he’s not actually a part of the Borough Committee that handles such things, and he was told not to sign fliers of that nature with his title, in spite of the document stating that the event is not associated with Woodlynne Borough.
Now, with the election coming up, it is important to state that there is no clear, good, choice here. The argument is being made that the current administration is corrupt, and that the Column 3 folks have their hearts in the right place, but this is also a fallacy. With the exceptions of Jeff Goodwin (who ran for Democratic Committee), and Jenifer Gonzalez (who is running for Council), the members of that group is just as guilty of some of the same disrespectful (and in some cases downright nasty) behavior towards residents.