Home > Uncategorized > Pinelands Commissioners Push Back Hard On Gov. Christie’s Attack

Pinelands Commissioners Push Back Hard On Gov. Christie’s Attack

Commissioners Appalled By Tone and Inaccuracies In Gov.’s Letter

Commissioners Strongly Defend Need for Staff Salary Increase

[Update: 4/12/14 – Kick ass Record editorial: Pinelands’ Politics

Christie veto wasn’t just about raises

NEW JERSEY’S Pinelands in South Jersey are a state treasure; indeed, a national treasure. Members of the Pinelands Commission, tasked with keeping watch on the environmentally sensitive, million-acre nature preserve, should not have to worry about facing intimidation from any sitting governor of New Jersey. […]

“It is a shame that the protections of the Pinelands and the independence of the Pinelands Commission must be sacrificed for the political ambitions of scandal-plagued Governor Christie,” said environmental blogger Bill Wolfe, a former employee of the state Department of Environmental Protection. ~~~ end update]

The Pinelands Commission’s Planning Committee met today just a day after news stories reported on Gov. Christie’s harshly critical veto letter on their proposed salary increase for staff.

The Gov. accused the Commission of a “confiscation” of conservation funds and a “gross abuse of power”, see:

The meeting was quite a scene – the gloves almost came completely off. Because it is rare to see open criticism of Gov. Christie, I figured I’d lay out a little of the blow by blow. There were many blows struck!

While recognizing the Governor’s legal power to veto the proposed raise, for 30 minutes or more the Commissioners blasted the Gov.’s letter as totally inappropriate in tone and riddled with inaccuracies and innuendo.

Chairman Lohbauer was the last to speak . He began by saying that to be the first Chairman ever to have the Gov. exercise a veto was not a “proud moment” in his tenure.

Lohbauer captured the essence of the debate by saying the Gov.’s letter was “deeply troubling”, “unfair”, and made accusations that “impugn the character of the Commission”.

Commissioner Lloyd began the discussion during the routine approval of the minutes.

Lloyd criticized the language of the letter. He then explained that the proposed use of the Conservation Fund for staff salaries was a previously authorized use of those funds and not “confiscatory” or an “abuse of power” as the Gov. falsely claimed.

Commissioner Jackson was next to takes exception to the letter, and stressed that he  did not frivolously vote to spend money. He emphasized that staff deserved the raise and that their work was critical to protection of the Pinelands and the functioning of the Commission.

Commissioner McGlinchey then jumped in to criticize and rebut the inaccuracies in the Gov.’s letter.

He called on his fellow commissioners to write a letter to clarify the false impressions the public and the press may have formed based on the Gov.’s letter.

He emphasized that the staff well deserve the raise, that only $123,000 was involved, and that the Commission probably spent far more on lawyers during the past 4 years of failed collective bargaining negotiations.

McGlinchey seemed to take the letter personally – he particularly took exception to the Gov.’s false claim that the Commission “confiscated” funds: “I am not a thief!” he cried.

Commissioner Galletta concurred with McGlinchey’s comments. Things were in full swing by now.

But Jackson then jumped in to tamp things down and say that the Commission should not write a letter to the Gov. as that would be counterproductive and publicly escalate the dispute. He suggested that there were more effective ways to proceed.

Commissioner Rohan Green agreed with her colleagues and Jackson, and urged fellow Commissioners not to get into a “tit for tat” and “shouting match” with the Gov. by writing a letter.

After about 30 minutes of this, unfortunately, there was no real consensus on a followup next step.

The Commissioners explained their frustration in trying to work quietly behind the scenes. About 6 months ago, a group had met with the Gov.’s Office and tried to persuade them to support the raise, but got nowhere. They vowed to continue to explore ways to seek additional funds for the raise and to work with the Gov.’s office.

During the public comment session, Carleton Montgomery of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance spoke eloquently in support of the staff and explained why the raise was justified.

I tried to explain the larger political context of the Gov.’s move and why it was no accident that he used such harsh and false criticism, as he had done so before in attacking the North Jersey District Water Supply Authority and the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission as unaccountable, bloated, and patronage filled “shadow governments”.

The Gov.’s attempt to cast the Pinelands Commission under that dark cloud is an intolerable outrage.

I stressed that the Commission had to fight back or else the Gov. would use these false characterizations to inflict even more damage and further erode the Commission’s independence and public perception (I left implicit what I’ve already written – that the Gov.’s plan is likely to replace commissioners with expired terms and use this as a rationale).

I strongly urged them to do more to clarify the intent of the proposed raise, explain why it was justified, and rebut the Gov.’s false claims about “confiscation” and “abuse of power”. These kind of clarifications did not have to come in the form of a letter to the Gov., but they did have to be memorialized in some kind of document (meeting minutes are not adequate, perhaps a press release is in order).

Unfortunately, I think those recommendations fell on deaf ears.

Curiously, Commissioner Avery  – who voted to oppose the pay raise on the losing end of a 12-2 vote – was silent during this entire debate.

He is obviously a tool of the administration, and I actually felt him glaring at me during the meeting. He went out of his way to give me a nasty stare as he left the meeting early while it was still in session (with no public explanation or apology).

Equally curious was the absence of Executive Director Wittenberg, another tool of the Gov.’s Office. Where was Nancy?

This debate is a long way from over.

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