, February 9, 2011 (ENS) - New Jersey Governor Chris Christie Monday fired 71 employees at the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission as part of a house-cleaning effort to root out what the governor called "potentially criminal abuses inside the agency." In addition, 14 others were fired since the shakeup began in January.
The commission operates a secondary wastewater treatment plant in Newark, New Jersey that is among the largest facilities of its kind in the country.
The heavily industrialized service area of northern New Jersey encompasses all of the land draining into the Passaic River from the Great Falls in Paterson to Newark Bay on the Atlantic Ocean.
Presently, there are 48 municipalities in portions of Passaic, Bergen, Essex and Hudson Counties with a population of about 1.3 million that send their wastewater to the Passaic treatment plant. The influent flow is about 330 million gallons per day and is estimated to be a fourth of the total wastewater generated in all of New Jersey.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (Photo by Walter Burns)
On January 27, Governor Christie forced the resignations of six of the seven Passaic Valley Sewerage Commissioners for "a pattern of abuse."
"They have repeatedly engaged in unethical hiring practices, secured unwarranted perks and blatantly ignored conflicts of interest," said Christie, a Republican who previously served as U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey.
By Executive Order the governor vested all authority to run the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission in Executive Director Wayne Forrest.
The governor said that he will not consider new nominees to replace the resigned commissioners until the legislature grants him and future governors veto power over the authority. The governor also believes veto power should be extended to other sewerage authorities in the state, specifically to the North Jersey District Water Supply Commission.
"The now-former Board of Commissioners was either resistant to change or in self-serving denial about the mess they created, said Christie. "The reason for that is obvious: they had no one to answer to or be accountable to. It is now crystal clear that the only way to truly reform the bad practices and bad acts at the PVSC is to start from scratch."
An investigation by the state Division of Criminal Justice centers on allegations of contract kickbacks, the sale of stainless steel that had been disposed of as scrap, and the possible coercion of employees to donate to political campaigns, said the "Star-Ledger" newspaper, quoting "sources close to the matter."
"The Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission is an obscure agency whose payroll is swollen with the friends and family of those with political clout, while records show the funneling of thousands of dollars in no-bid contracts to political insiders," the "Star-Ledger said in a report January 16, 2011.
On February 3, Forrest coordinated with New Jersey State Police to facilitate a top-to-bottom review of security procedures and personnel with renewed focus on law enforcement training.
On February 1, Forrest issued a directive reorganizing the commission that eliminates entire departments, most specifically eliminating the "Special Services" department, which Governor Christie called "the seed at the heart of the patronage pit."
In another directive Forrest rolled back salaries for all employees making over $100,000 to December 2009, with $1.4 million saved as a result.
Forrest also has revised PVSC ethics policies, restricting political activity and restricting gifts.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2011. All rights reserved.
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