A Frankford school board member has accused a Sussex County commissioner running for election in November of sending a text she said was a "personal threat" to her, though the commissioner said the message was not directed at her.
The text was sent by Commissioner Christopher Carney on Sept. 30 to a group of recipients, including Frankford school board member Jodi Fernandez.
Carney was selected by the county Republican Committee in February to fill a vacant seat and is now facing his first election.
A screenshot of the text in question shows a group conversation among Fernandez, Carney and a person with the initials "N.C", who was later determined to be Frankford Mayor Nick Civitan.
The text included a Facebook announcement of the Sussex County Board of County Commissioners candidates forum event scheduled for Tuesday night with the words "This bitch doesn't know what she is in for" below it.
The screenshot of the announcement shows Fernandez's name had been circled. Her name appeared on the social media site after she marked herself as "attending" the forum announcement being circulated by Democrats Mike Vrabel and Scott Paul, candidates for seats on the Board of Commissioners.
Fernandez, who was elected in 2019 to the school board, did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but posted on a public Facebook page on Monday that she feared for her safety and that she had contacted the police.
"It’s a serious personal threat, totally inappropriate and crossed a line," she posted.
Fernandez noted in her post that she is not running for office and is not a political advisor. She said she did not know what the message meant, "especially coming from two men in positions of perceived power," and filed a police report at the New Jersey State Police barracks.
Sgt. Lawrence Peele, a state police spokesman, confirmed Tuesday that Fernandez filed a report and that the matter is still being investigated.
"Is it physical violence, verbal slander, vandalism of my personal property?" Fernandez's post reads. "These are the things that come to mind when I read that message and none of them are good."
Fernandez also called out Civitan, who she said was "basically a bystander to bullying and did nothing to stop it." Her post has been shared more than 40 times and has accrued 100 comments of support and concern over her safety on Facebook as of Tuesday evening.
Carney, in a statement emailed to the New Jersey Herald Tuesday afternoon, apologized to Fernandez "for upsetting her with a dual text comment that was sent to her but did not refer to her." He wrote the comment was referring to a member of the League of Women Voters, which organized Tuesday's forum, and the group's "dishonest behavior."
"I’ve known Jodi for many years and in the context of what our discussion was about (the county commissioners debate and the scheming by the LWV hosting organization) I thought she understood the intent of my comment," Carney wrote. "It was not about Jodi."
Civitan did not provide a comment on the situation as of Tuesday afternoon.
In response to the text, the Sussex County Democratic Committee called for Carney to resign and end his bid for election on Tuesday. The group called the text "a threat, plain and simple," and accused the commissioner of "abusing his considerable power to intimidate, insult, and defame a woman in his community because of her beliefs."
A statement from the Democratic committee reads: "If this is how Commissioner Carney deals with constituents who disagree with him, it is clear he cannot be a good and reasonable steward of the public trust." Carney, the statement continues, "has betrayed his office, branded himself a hypocrite, and thoroughly embarrassed the county that he purports to serve. He must step down at once."
The "hypocrite" remark refers to Carney and fellow commissioners unanimously passing a pro-respect resolution in March, following weeks of heated discussion and calls for the governing body to condemn hate groups in the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
"Clearly Commissioner Carney was not being respectful when he referred to Ms. Fernandez as a 'bitch'," the SCDC statement read, "or when he threatened and menaced her simply because he dislikes her politics."
Fernandez, who co-founded The Grateful Shed, a self-serve food pantry at the Frankford Municipal Building created during the COVID-19 pandemic, said that while she may not have aligned with Carney on certain matters, she always felt they could work together for the sake of the community.
"I live in a world where our pasts, backgrounds and varying opinions make us interesting not targets," she wrote. "It’s sad and unsettling to say the least but I will continue to stand up for myself and others and will not be intimidated by this display of arrogance."
Carney, who served as mayor of Frankford in 2020, left the position on Feb. 1 when he was appointed to the open spot on the county's Board of Commissioners. The seat was vacated by Josh Hertzberg, who resigned at the end of 2020 after being elected to the Sparta Township Council.