Christie Announces Ethics Initiative as Part of Office Revamp

By David Cruz

Whatever your thoughts on the so-called Mastro report, Gov. Chris Christie is sticking to the narrative he hopes it has created, that of a chastened chief executive intent on making sure whatever happened at the GWB never happens again. When he announced the findings of his report last month, Randy Mastro’s reform recommendations were mostly overlooked, given the other tidbits in the 300-plus page analysis.

“We’ve recommended to the governor’s office that the governor appoint an ombudsman and a chief ethics officer for the governor’s office,” Mastro said during a press conference last month. “The ombudsman would be a senior statesman of unquestioned integrity and independence, reporting directly to the governor and to issue periodic reports to the public.”

This week, the governor announced the appointment long-time Dean of Seton Hall Law School, Patrick Hobbs, as the ombudsman. Hobbs, who also chaired the state’s Commission on Investigation, is charged with creating an ethics training program for all staff, establishing the position and setting parameters for Chief Ethics Officer for the governor’s office, creating a system for employees to report concerns and investigating or referring allegations of misconduct.

Last month, the governor said he would embrace the Mastro report’s recommendations. “It has been my resolve from the beginning to learn from this and to do whatever we can to be better. To be a better governor, to be a better staff and to be a better administration,” he said last month. “We owe that to the people of New Jersey and that’s what we will attempt to deliver.”

Hobbs wasn’t available today but issued a statement through the university. “The governor has made it clear,” he said, “that he wants all members of his office to have a place to go to raise concerns that might otherwise not be addressed.”

The governor also announced that he will dissolve the Office of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs. That’s the office once headed by Bridget Kelly, Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, and, according to the Mastro report, the driving force behind the whole GWB scandal. The office will be replaced by a revamped Office of Community and Constituent Relations. That was also a recommendation of the Mastro report.

“The mission of that office should be made crystal clear,” admonished Mastro. “To be a service function for all in a non-partisan manner.”

Christie’s announcement this week served to trump his detractors on the joint legislative committee looking into the GWB lane closures. The committee has been bogged down with infighting, Republicans threatening this week to boycott future committee meetings because Democrats, they say, are refusing to consider their proposed reform bills, or anything else they have to say, for that matter.

“Right now, we are frankly treated like pieces of furniture,” said Republican Assemblywoman Amy Handlin. “There are major strategic and tactical decisions being made with absolutely no meaningful input from minority members.”

Christie critics don’t think much of the reforms proposed by the Republicans or for the findings of the Mastro report. Assemblyman John Wisniewski has said that any proposals for reform are premature because his committee still hasn’t gotten all its questions answered, although the ombudsman idea is one that has been talked about for some time.

Hobbs will step down from the state commission but keep his job as Dean of Seton Hall Law, a prestigious position with an important institution where one could presumably go about his business in relative obscurity, as opposed to the bubbling cauldron of a Statehouse obsessed with scandal.