By Brenda Flanagan
“My name is Charlie Tartaglia.”
Be advised. What you’re about to watch is either a security breach or a totally sweet YouTube moment at Gov. Chris Christie’s town hall in Hasbrouck Heights.
“How many bodyguards do you have?”
The governor looks around the room, counts six present and tells Cub Scout Charlie he’s got 24/7 security.
“There’s 30 men and women, who work for me, are members of the State Police and they’re members of the Executive Protection Unit,” Christie said. “So anywhere I go around the state, there’s a guy driving me and two other guys or women who are driving in a car behind me.”
The governor’s team posted this online where Judge Mary Jacobson watched it — saying it left her feeling “very troubled.” That’s because Jacobson’s hearing a legal appeal to force the governor’s office to release details of his Executive Protection Unit’s expenses. Since Christie took office in 2010, the EPU’s racked up almost $1 million in expenses and those expenses jumped when the governor started campaigning out-of-state — always accompanied by his security detail. New Jersey taxpayers foot all of those EPU bills and they’re curious.
“It’s our money. We should have the right to know where our money’s getting used,” said Hector Cruz of Carteret.
“Because we work hard for our money and we have to know what it’s being spent on,” said Silvat Wahab of Perth Amboy.
But, the governor’s office claims, those security details could compromise the governor’s safety and refused to hand over the bills when New Jersey Watchdog reporter Mark Lagerkvist requested them. Lagerkvist appealed to Judge Jacobson.
“Nearly $1 million of that is charged to American Express cards. It’s not really accounted for. We don’t know what the money goes for. All we know is it’s a large sum. There’s a good question in terms to how the money is spent, whether it’s spent legitimately or not,” Lagerkvist said.
In court, Judge Jacobson asked if Christie could dish details posted to YouTube, why shouldn’t she order the EPU to provide a list of hotel and meal expenses?
“Should the governor himself was not concerned, to say I can’t tell, it certainly, it was a Cub Scout. He certainly could have said, because the question was how many bodyguards, it’s state secret. Something like that, ” she said.
Executive security expert Ron Padron says a judicious release of details could be safely done because the real danger lies in exposing a pattern of activity.
So if I say a Hilton but I don’t give you the address? “I think that should suffice because as a security detail supervisor in someone who’s high profile, I can give out that information because, guess what? Next month, we’re staying at the Sheraton,” Padron said.
Christie weighed in yesterday, noting, “I think if anybody objectively thinks that by answering a question from a Cub Scout who wants to be a bodyguard someday that I had three people with me that day, that somehow that gives out the kind of information that others want to be given out about the nature, volume and character of my security, then they’re being a little bit naive.”
The judge apparently remains somewhat skeptical. She wants to interview the head of Christie’s security detail — privately — before she makes a decision.