Sources say an intensified stand-off this week between the fast capsizing Passaic Valley Sewerage Authority (PVSC) and Gov. Chris Christie front and centers Commissioner Bill Flynn, who responded tersely to a Christie front office itemization demand in the wake of a damning Star-Ledger expose.
Last week, other commissioners on the seven-member body submitted letters to Christie chief counsel Jeff Chiesa addressing authority excesses dredged by the Ledger.
Sources say Flynn’s letter didn’t answer the four questions posed by the governor’s office but instead noted that the commissioner would be available anytime to discuss Christie’s concerns.
“The reams of documents and boxes of information we have sent in the last 6 years could fill your office,” Flynn wrote in response to Chiesa’s demand for records and first-paragraph charge that the commission has been resistant to reform.
“We have consistently answered all requests from this Governor. My fellow Commissioners and I have always had vigorous debate on many issues, pro and con and that is part of the American process. That being said, please submit proof of your accusations that we have not conformed to the efforts of this administration and if I am wrong I will apologize to you. When I am forwarded the retraction, and an apology for the unprofessional tone of this correspondence I will immediately reply to your request.”
The governor went ballistic, according to sources, and is ready this week to push his forearm along the entire length of the commissioners’ dais and simply clear the deck of Democratic Party holdovers on the embattled authority.
“Flynn’s obstructionist behavior is unconscionable,” fumed one powerful North Jersey Democrat.
For his part, Flynn suggested that the tone of the letter he received from Chiesa was inappropriate.
“I’ll send you both letters,” he said, “and you can determine. I would never be rude to the governor. The governor did not send me a personal letter.”
The commissioner said he intends to submit answers to the governor’s office query, but felt Chiesa’s rudeness merited an equally unfriendly retort.
“Absolutely, I intend to reply, I would never refuse a request from the governor,” said Flynn, who denied that he is seeking a personal interview with Christie.
“He’s got a job to do and so do I,” he said.
That job, at least for Christie, may include pain for Flynn.
“We’ll let this unfold as it should,” said Christie Press Secretary Michael Drewniak.
There is a recent troubled history here with Flynn, an ally and donor of state Sen. John Girgenti (D-Hawthorne), who’s relied on the Judiciary Committee member to extend his life aboard the authority in the Christie era.
Regularly defiant of Christie-installed Executive Director Wayne J. Forrest, Flynn was arguably the most natural choice to get jettisoned by the new governor in favor of a candidate backed by state Sen. Kevin O’Toole (R-Cedar Grove): Bill Rocca of Wayne. In protection mode, Girgenti refused to budge on the Rocca nomination until Christie could guarantee that he would get Flynn’s back.
Christie and the GOP refused.
The Rocca nomination ran the course of its one-year life span and then died, but the Ledger story last week detailing deep patronage waters at PVSC kicked the intensity level up on public front office outrage over a commission whose last executive director was pulling in $300,000 plus annually.
“I just wrote my own letter and addressed all my issues as honestly as I could,” said Commissioner Carl Czaplicki, Jr., whose wife occupies a job at the commission.
“I would hope he wouldn’t take the lack of response by one commissioner out on all the commissioners,” the commissioner added, referring to the governor and Flynn.
Below are reprinted both letters, first Chiesa’s Jan. 18 missive to Flynn and then Flynn’s Jan. 21 response to Chiesa.
“Dear Commissioner Flynn:
“The Board of Commissioners of the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commissioners continues to resist the efforts of this administration to undertake reform in accordance with sound ethical and fiscal practices. In light of your continued resistance, and because the governor lacks veto authority over the actions taken by the commissioners, I hereby demand that you produce the following information by the close of business next Tuesday, Jan. 25th, 2011:
“1. A list of any and all individuals that you have identified, selected or recommended for hire to PVSC during the entirety of your service as a Passaic Valley Sewarage Commissioner, including a statement of the reasons and justifications for those employment actions and the qualifications of the individuals recommended or selected for hire.
“2. A list of any and all family members or relatives, including individuals related to you by blood or marraige, who have been or currently are employed by PVSC or are on the PVSC payroll. Indicate the nature of your involvement, if any, in the hiring decisions for your relatives, including but not limited to whether you recommended or supported such hiring either verbally or in writing. Provide the qualifications of your relatives who have been or currently are employed by PVSC.
“3. Indicate whether any of the above-identified employees of PVSC, including both current and former employees, have received any salary increase, promotion, transfer or other benefit or ‘perk’ not enumerated herein. Further indicate the justification for such action and the nature of your involvement, if any, in such action, including but not limited to whether you recommended or supported such action either verbally or in writing.
“4. A list of any and all individuals or companies that have received compensation from the PVSC, including but not limited to outside consultants or vendors, based upon your recommendation or support. Provide a statement of the reasons and justifications for your recommendations and the qualifications of the individuals or companies recommended or selected. Indicate whether you possessed any interest, either direct or indirect, in any contract awarded.
“We anticipate your prompt compliance.
Sincerely, Jeffrey S. Chiesa”
“This letter is in answer to your Demand of January 18, 2011.
“I respectfully request that you retract the deliberate misrepresentation in the first paragraph where you wrongly accuse the PVSC Commission of “Continues to resist the efforts of this administration to undertake reform in accordance with sound ethical and fiscal practices. In light of your continued resistance”. (Accent applied)
“For the 6 years I have been privileged to serve the rate payers of PVSC, the Commissioners or I have never refused any requests or blocked any efforts at reform from this Administration or previous Administrations, in fact the PVSC Commissioners have approved every request by your Administration and voluntarily voted unanimously to adopt Executive Order 15 at the request of the Governor’s Office.
“The reams of documents and boxes of information we have sent in the last 6 years could fill your office. We have consistently answered all requests from this Governor. My fellow Commissioners and I have always had vigorous debate on many issues, pro and con and that is part of the American process. That being said, please submit proof of your accusations that we have not conformed to the efforts of this administration and if I am wrong I will apologize to you.
“When I am forwarded the retraction, and an apology for the unprofessional tone of this correspondence I will immediately reply to your request.
William F. Flynn