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NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Former Water Director Alexei Walus is accused of using “inappropriate and derogatory language” on the job, according to the Mayor’s Office, and that’s why the Mayor says he demoted him.
According to sources, Walus compared the cleanliness of two buildings on the campus of the city’s Water Treatment Plant to the difference between one side of the proverbial railroad tracks and “the other side of the tracks on the n****r side of town.”
Walus is the fourth man to run the embattled Water Utility since 2012, and only lasted as the Water Director for about half a year before the demotion, which included a $10,000 pay cut.
When questioned about the alleged statements by New Brunswick Today, Walus said the allegations against him were “categorically false” but stopped short of saying he never used the offensive term.
“It is what it is. It doesn’t have to be fair,” Walus told New Brunswick Today.
Walus took office in October, after the City Council approved his appointment after admitting they had never met or spoke with him.
His hiring came in the fallout of a scandal where the city was caught falsifying water quality records, endangering the public by not issuing required water boil advisories over a three-year period.
Walus shot back with questions when asked about the accusations he used a racial slur.
“What do you define as a racial slur?” Walus asked this reporter, in response to a question if he used one.
“Did I call anybody [the n-word]? No,” Walus said, before this reporter asked whether he used the word at all.
“I’m not going to talk about it,” was the response.
“Things don’t necessarily have to be fair,” Walus said. “Be careful about where you’re getting your information from,” he cautioned.
Walus, who was demoted on March 27, had gotten in trouble after using the slur in front of an employee who subsequently wrote to the city’s longtime Mayor James Cahill, according to sources.
The city has denied an Open Public Records request seeking a copy of the letter to Cahill.
“I’m not going to comment on what [Walus] said because it’s a personnel matter,” said Mayor and Acting Water Director Cahill in an exclusive interview with New Brunswick Today.
“He did say something he shouldn’t have said,” Cahill explained. “He said it in front of other personnel, and we decided–I decided–that the best thing to do was to demote him to his current position.”
After the demotion, Cahill took the unusual step of naming himself Water Director for the second stint in as many years.
“It’s tough singling somebody out. The guy made a mistake,” said City Council President Kevin Egan. But not all of his colleagues agreed.
Councilman Glenn Fleming said he found it “repugnant” that Walus was not fired.
For his part, Walus stopped short of saying he didn’t use the slur, but seemed to think it was not derogatory because he did not direct the word at anyone in particular.
“I didn’t call anybody that,” said Walus, adding again, “It doesn’t have to be fair.”
Compared to one of his subordinates, Walus got off much easier.
Ronald Bellafronte, a former city housing inspector was transferred to a desk job at the Water Utility after serving a three-month suspension without pay for allegedly using the same racial slur in front of other employees outside work hours.
The city had originally pushed for Bellafronte’s termination, but a hearing officer hired by the city ruled in favor of a three-month suspension.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.