An elderly Fords man angry over a lack of handicapped parking in an area strip mall was nearly ejected from a meeting Tuesday evening.
George Plichta got into an argument with his councilman, Richard Dalina, and with Council President Gregg Ficarra, about whether the township extends favoritism in parking to the gamblers at the mall's off track betting parlor, to the detriment of the large elderly and disabled population in the neighborhood.
Plichta spoke loudly during the course debate and was nearly escorted from the meeting room by a at Ficarra's behest.
"I've been coming here for three years," Plichta yelled, saying that he couldn't get any satisfaction from the council about how sports betting enthusiasts took up handicapped parking spaces.
"Every time there's a big race, you can't get any parking," he said, adding he's gotten ticketed himself, yet he said township police allow the gamblers to park anywhere they'd like.
A large number of elderly and disabled residents in the area relied on the former A&P supermarket that anchored the shopping center.
That store closed years ago, and the space was taken over by Favorites, the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority's Off Track Wagering betting parlor, and , an upscale restaurant. But many of the strip mall tenants - including a pharmacy and a deli - are still relied upon by older Fords residents who don't want to travel far for goods they need.
Plichta contends the number of handicapped parking spaces isn't adequate for the number of patrons who frequent the shopping center, including betting patrons and local residents.
According to Plichta, life has been difficult for him since Favorites moved into the neighborhood and brought a large number of gamblers with it.
"They park in the fire lanes. They park in handicapped spots. They don't get tickets," Plichta said.
At the council meeting, Ficarra allowed Plichta to speak a second time after the council president called on several other residents. When it was Plichta's turn, the debate again turned to the number of handicapped parking spaces.
Plichta said there aren't enough, and Ficarra answered, "That's your opinion."
After Plichta was threatened with being ejected and another resident given an opportunity to speak, a legal representative for the Township Council leaned over to Ficarra and whispered to him. Ficarra then told the Patch reporter that she "wasn't allowed" to record the meeting from a rear seat near where a municipal employee films the meetings.
"Ma'am, you're not allowed to tape this with your camera. Would you put that down, please?" he said to the reporter.
On a previous occasion where a Woodbridge council president had told a reporter to stop taking pictures, the council ultimately agreed that according to New Jersey law, picture-taking was allowed subject to certain regulations, such as sitting in certain areas of the chamber and not using flash equipment.
The town's video policy indicates video may be taken by audience members so long as the taping does not "disrupt or interfere with the meeting or interfere with the ability of other members of the public to see, hear or participate in the meeting." The policy does not make mention of prior notice or council approval being required.
Even so, a Patch reporter was ejected at a large public meeting during Mayor John McCormac's signing of paperwork to last October. While a police officer told the reporter she was in danger of being arrested if she kept taking pictures, members of the public in the council chamber were taking dozens of pictures with flash cameras.