Governor packs the house

| 18 Oct 2012 | 01:15

The excitement at the Police Athletic League building Tuesday was palpable as the crowd of about 700—with many more turned away—waited for Gov. Chris Christie to make his first appearance in the township since campaigning for election three years ago.

After his nearly hour-long speech laying out his middle class reform package, Christie took questions from the audience, ers Judy Ziegler, owner for over 40 years of the Town Tavern, laid it out for the governor. She explained that the taxes on her business jumped $18,000 this year after the revaluation. And if she goes out of business, it’s the rest of the taxpayers that will have to pick that up. The problem, she said, is that Newark isn’t paying its fair share on its property. She suggested a surcharge be added. The people of Newark can afford an additional dollar or two, Ziegler said, noting that they “sit out there on their stoops in the summertime, smoking pot, drinking booze and collecting food stamps.”

The comment received applause and groans.

“It is unfair, with all due respect, to characterize every person who lives in Newark, which you just did, as sitting on their stoop smoking pot, drinking booze and collecting food stamps,” Christie said. “We do not win in this state by pitting New Jerseyans against New Jerseyans.”

He did promise to have his staff look into the tax situation in the township. He also said he was working to change the Highlands legislation from the executive branch.

The Highlands

In answer to a statement regarding the Highlands Act, which was implemented in 2004 in an effort to protect the environmentally sensitive area of northwest New Jersey containing the water supply to most of the state, the governor said the law isn’t being carried out the way it was intended. The towns in the designated area are supposed to be rightly compensated for their land. That isn’t happening, he said. He can’t change the law, which he said was passed by a Democratic Legislature and a Democratic governor, but he said he will work on his end to implement it properly. He said he wants to ease restrictions where appropriate and come up with a funding mechanism to compensate the municipalities.

“I’m working on it,” he said. “I’m trying to work through the executive branch so we can do some of what was intended.”

Government in action

Members of the West Milford High School and Macopin Middle School student councils had front row seats for the governor’s visit. One of the high school students did get to ask the governor about teachers and tenure reform.

Christie explained he would like to implement a merit pay system based on a rating scale. Teachers who receive a partially effective rating two years in a row could lost their tenure. One year of an ineffective rating could also lose tenure. It would be left up to the district whether to fire the teacher or give them more training.

“I don’t believe anyone should have a job for life after three years and one day,” said the governor referring to the current tenure system. “I want good teachers to be paid well and ineffective teachers to find another profession.”

Middle class reform

Christie spent the first hour of his stay in West Milford talking about his reform agenda. Part of that reform includes implementing shared services among municipalities when appropriate. He specifically mentioned Mendham Township where he lives. Mendham Borough sits inside the township, yet they each have their own police departments and libraries. They each want a new library; the township wants a new police headquarters. Why not combine them and have just one between the two, he suggested.

What he proposes is to figure out what a municipality will save by sharing services. If they don’t agree to share those services, the state will figure out what they would have saved and reduce their state aid by that much.

“If you don’t do it, people will be penalized for it,” he said.

Another of his reforms is for sick leave for public employees. Christie said the accumulated debt for banked sick leave throughout the state is $880 million right now. He wants no more of it. He sent a bill to the Legislature 678 days ago proposing that sick time only be used for when someone is sick. If they don’t use it, they lose it, he said.

Warm welcome

The Republican governor received a warm welcome by a mostly-Republican West Milford crowd.

Mayor Bettina Bieri said she appreciated the governor’s visit but was frustrated that as the representative of the township, she didn’t have an opportunity to present the inequities of the watershed situation.

“I was fully prepared to represent my constituents on the issue of revenue regeneration for watershed communities and the related inequities. Since we protect, preserve and provide the water, these funds must be dedicated for direct tax relief to watershed communities.”

Bieri said her hand was raised throughout the event and she was sitting in the front row.

“I fully expected the opportunity to vocalize our concerns and hear his response in front of 700 people. Instead, and very disappointingly, I was offered the standard photo-op. That’s not what I wanted.”

Councilman Ed Rosone said he was happy the people of West Milford had this opportunity.

“It was a great day for the citizens of our town to meet their governor and voice their concerns, and not have elected officials put a political spin on the concerns our residents have,” said Rosone. “I look forward to working with the governor’s office and the other legislators that were present today to ensure that the issues will be addressed.”

This was the governor’s 97th town hall style meeting in his nearly three years in office. Loud music primed the crowd as they waited for him. Then a video about the governor and his policies played on a screen, reminiscent of a candidate’s introduction at the national conventions, before the governor came out to thunderous applause.

Christie is known for his no-nonsense, sometimes combative approach to dealing with people and issues.

“I didn’t get elected to this job to become prom king,” he said early in his talk. “I’m not going to make everyone happy, but I will do what’s best for the most people.”

What did you think of the governor’s visit and what he had to say? Go to and tell us.