A large but relatively obscure agency in North Jersey is set to become Gov. Christopher Christie’s poster child for all that is wrong with New Jersey’s independent authorities.
The Christie administration plans to delve into the payroll and outside consultant contracts of the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission (PVSC) – a 108-year-old agency with a $164 million budget.
Christie already got the ball rolling on his criticism of the agency, singling out Executive Director Bryan Christiansen’s $313,000 salary as over-the-top. And his transition team’s report called for a “thorough review” of its overhead expenditures and hiring of outside consultants – including attorneys and engineers.
The authority, which employees about 600 people — 86 of whom earn six figure salaries – has a payroll of roughly $48 million. It treats water for 1.3 million North Jersey residents.
“It’s something that I don’t think any New Jersey taxpayer can get their arms around, somebody making a $313,000 salary. It’s not just that – it’s the way they handle their professional services contracts. In-house versus outside contracts,” said Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak. “It’s outrageous in every way, and it’s remarkable what some of these authorities have grown into over the decades. So this is just the sort of thing that we have to get a handle on. Yes, there will be scrutiny.”
Deborah Gramiccioni, the former criminal justice director in the Attorney General’s Office, will head up the Governor’s Authorities Unit – which will review the PVSC and other quasi-independent authorities.
The PVSC, which long ago developed a reputation as a patronage pit for both Democrats and Republicans, has drawn scrutiny before.
State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) and assembly district-mates, Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Englewood) and Gordon Johnson (D-Englewood) caused an uproar2007 when she outlined its expenses to law firms – singling out former Bergen County Democratic Chairman Joseph Ferriero’s firm, Scarinci Hollenbeck, as a large recipient – and politically connected public relations firms.
Huttle and Johnson have reintroduced legislation they first put in four years ago that would requires the PVSC to keep minutes of its meetings and give the Governor authority to veto them. And in her weekly column for the progressive blog Blue Jersey today, Weinberg noted that she introduced such legislation every year since 2004, each time to find it removed from the agenda before its committee hearing.
“Loretta, Gordon and I have been advocating for stricter oversight on the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission for a few years now. I welcome support,” said Huttle. “We have been really trying to bring it as a priority, but the legislature had other priorities… and as a whole we didn’t get this highlighted until now. I’m happy for the extra support we have.”
Assemblyman Scott Rumana (R-Wayne), for his part, has called for a state takeover of the agency, and said he’s reviewing Weinberg’s legislation to decide whether he’ll co-sponsor it.
Bryan Christiansen, the PVSC’s executive director, could not immediately be reached for comment.