By RENEE SAFF
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced on Thursday that their lawyers and an outside counsel would conduct a review within the next 90 days of the testimony from the criminal trial of two of Gov. Chris Christie’s former allies over the George Washington Bridge lane closures.
The authority that runs the George Washington Bridge will review all of the testimony with respect to every current employee or board member about what was testified, comparing the information to the Authority’s internal bylaws and governance documents relating to ethics and determining whether further action needs to be taken against agency members, Port Authority Chairman John Degnan said.
“Bridgegate was an incredibly sad, profoundly disturbing episode for the Port Authority,” said Executive Director Pat Foye, “The Bridgegate episode, I think, has done significant and lasting damage to the brand equity and the morale here.”
Bill Baroni, a former Port Authority executive, as well as Bridget Kelly, the governor’s former deputy chief of staff, were both convicted of misusing the bridge to purposely cause traffic jams to punish Mark Sokolich, the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee who didn’t endorse Christie’s re-election bid.
During the trial, testimonies portrayed the Port Authority as a source of political favors granted to Democratic mayors whose endorsements were being sought by Christie’s administration. Other testimony indicated that Port Authority officials knew of the reason for the traffic jams ahead of time.
Following the trial, Degnan said that he would try to promote transparency within the agency by trying to abolish Rule 3, which allows employees to refuse answering self-incriminating questions from the agency’s Office of Inspector General without any disciplinary penalties.
“There’s no reason to perpetuate that rule for non-union employees,” Degnan said.
During Thursday’s board meeting, other internal tensions within the Port Authority were aired to the public when Vice Chairman Steven Cohen refused to show up “for reasons related to his frustrations with negotiations over the capital plan, including issues with respect to the Bus Terminal,” according to Foye.
The Port Authority was supposed to release its 10-year capital plan to the public sometime in December, but disagreements between New York and New Jersey officials over funding for a new Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan is delaying the process.
The replacement for the 66-year-old Port Authority Bus Terminal is estimated to cost at least $10 billion. New Jersey lawmakers pushed for the new terminal to be located in New York, but New York lawmakers have pushed back against that proposal, saying it will require eminent domain to take the property necessary to complete the project, destroying the neighborhood’s makeup.
This past week, Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York sent a letter accusing Degnan of pushing for the new bus terminal for his own personal interests, which Degnan denied during Thursday’s meeting.
“I’ve been passionate about the Bus Terminal from the day I arrived at this Authority,” Degnan said. “I thought we were making progress. I’m disappointed.”
Port Authority officials said they expect to release the new 10-year capital plan to the public sometime in early 2017.
Photo by Renee Saff