Lawmakers Push Bills to Make Port Authority More Transparent

By Michael Hill, Correspondent

“Every street, two square miles around here. It was impossible. The worst I’d ever seen,” said Fort Lee resident Ted Allen.

Libertarian Allen recalls the traffic nightmares of September 2013 when an aide to Gov. Chris Christie emailed the Port Authority to tie up traffic in Fort Lee leading to the most traveled bridge in America — the GWB — in an apparent act of political retaliation against this borough’s mayor.

Now, lawmakers in both states have approved bills to make the Port Authority more transparent, opening up its decision-making to the public, mandating a study of the Port Authority every two years and setting up protection for whistleblowing.

“If it’s a whistleblower who really knows what he’s talking about and proves it absolutely truthful and reliable, then yes we would favor whistleblowing,” said Allen.

“It would force this agency to be accountable to the people of New York and New Jersey,” said Bergen County Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle.

Vainieri Huttle sponsored one reform bill with Republican co-sponsors.

“It really starts to implement some of the fundamental changes to the Port Authority that we really wanted to see. Financial disclosure forms — we wanted to be able to know if people have monetary interests,” said Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi.

There’s no question the Bridgegate scandal and the investigations have given lawmakers the momentum, the impetus to reform the Port Authority. Which raises the question would these reforms have prevented the Bridgegate scandal altogether?

“We see where the Port Authority police and personnel were afraid to do anything but listen to their authority,” Vainieri Huttle said.

“Nobody can say for sure because we don’t know as to exactly what occurred,” Schepisi said.

Seton Hall law professor Matt Hale says the reforms likely would have made carrying out Bridgegate more difficult. But real reform?

He said, “At the end of the day you still have to have people within the organization, within whatever agency it is, embrace a culture of openness and transparency.”

Deputy Assembly Speaker John Wisniewski wants deeper reforms and says if governance remains the same, the agency will remain the same — a pawn of the two governors. The governors will have Port Authority commissioners play piggy bank, raising tolls and hiring patronage appointees all on the backs of toll payers as they did in 2011.

Ted Allen has doubts too. “I don’t think anything can open up the politics of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey,” he said.

But lawmakers says their action is a good start.