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Christie Administration Refuses To Appear Before Legislature to Testify on Sandy Recovery

No Transparency – No Published Plans – No Public Participation

[Update below]

Today, the NJ Senate & Assembly Environment Committees held their third joint hearing on legislative oversight of the Sandy rebuild efforts.

For the second time, the Committee invited Gov. Christie’s “Sandy Rebuild Czar” Mark Furzan and the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) Commissioner to testify.

It is unclear what Ferzan’s role and responsibilities are, but DCA prepares NJ’s plans for billions of dollars of federally appropriated Sandy rebuild funds overseen by federal HUD.

For the second time they refused.

Amazing arrogance and evasion of accountability by the Gov., regarding an issue upon which he has literally seized and consolidated Executive power, and singlehandedly used to build a national media presence, political ambition and strong favorable NJ poll ratings.

At the first August 15, 2013 hearing in Atlantic City, I recommended that the Committees issue subpoenas to compel testimony from the entire Christie Cabinet, including “Czar” Ferzan, who seems to serve independently and without oversight in an ad hoc and legislatively unauthorized  and un-budgeted Christie Cabinet role.

Despite that, weeks later, both Chairpersons merely complained about the Administration’s failure to appear, failing to even broach the subpoena issue, as if they were powerless to push back.

Chairwoman Spencer went even further, at one point claiming “there’s nothing we can do”.

Oh well. Another successful evasion by the Gov.

The hearing basically was a shorter rehash of the Atlantic City hearing.

Senator Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth)

The “highlight” of the hearing was a bit of a cat fight, as Senator Beck lept from her chair, bypassing the customary protocol “through the chair” – with a question to the witness not prefaced with the obligatory “with all due respect” – and fired up her microphone to challenge Staci Berger of the Housing and Community Development Network of NJ.

Clutching her pearls – doing the female version of Robert DeNiro’s classic line from “Taxi driver” “You talking’ to me? ––  Beck abruptly interrupted Ms. Berger’s testimony and hissed:

Did you just call me disingenuous? (corrected)

Berger had challenged Beck’s prior comments defending the Administration and blaming federal HUD for the problems. Berger correctly noted that the CDBG program provided significant flexibility to states, that the design of the HUD funded programs was done by NJ State officials (in DCA), and that the private contractor implementing the program was procured under a contract with State officials.

Berger went on to say that it was “disingenuous to argue” that HUD was the source of the problem – which prompted Senator Beck’s retort.

Ms. Berger, being a gentlewoman, demurred from the cat fight and let Senator Beck’s challenge lie.

[Update – Correction and apology to Ms. Berger – see:  Did Christie Select Another Corporate Crony For Sandy Recovery?]

I was the next witnessed called and was going to follow up on this testimony and call Beck out for not only her defense of the Administration, but for her role as insider – she is literally acting as the exclusive Legislative Liaison to the entire Christie Administration on virtually all Sandy issues.

But, likely anticipating my rant, Beck got up and left as I was called to testify.

Anyway, I avoided repeating all the prior criticisms I have made before these committees on this issue and instead focused in on a few new and important issues:

I advised Legislators that this could be legislated via either amendments to the enabling legislation for each individual infrastructure planning program  – or comprehensively under the umbrella of a Coastal Commission or a Climate Change Adaptation Plan.

Because the planning and preparation are is NOT happening now and the administration has ignored multiple scientific warnings, the Legislature must act to mandate it.

I again warned that NJ is the only state in the northeast without an adaptation plan, likening  Gov. Christie’ NJ to North Carolina, where Republican climate denying legislators there have prohibited consideration of climate change impacts in coastal planning.

You can listen to the entire hearing here.

[End Note: Amazingly, not one coastal group testified today. Because Tim Dillingham from ALS and Sean Dixon from COA were present, I can only assume that that failure was to avoid criticizing and embarrassing the Gov. – NJ Future and Sustainable NJ were no shows as well.

Normandy Beach, NJ (BEFORE SANDY) Several of these houses are now gone.

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