- Associated Press - Sunday, April 20, 2014

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - A year ago this week, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey held a public board meeting to re-elect its officers and hear from various committees. The governance and ethics committee presented its report with the following conclusion:

“There is a reasonable basis for the Board to have a high level of confidence in the professional and ethical conduct of Port Authority personnel, and that the Port Authority is conducting its business in a manner that ensures public confidence.”

Today, those remarks seem almost jarringly at odds with reality. Over the past year, the Port Authority has been buffeted by the involvement of some of its members in a New Jersey lane-closing scandal at the George Washington Bridge, allegations of conflicts of interest in the awarding of contracts, the abrupt resignation of its chairman and criminal investigations on both sides of the Hudson River.

Everyone seems to have an opinion on how to reform the sprawling 93-year-old agency, which operates the bridges, tunnels, ports and airports in the New York region and was called a “challenged and dysfunctional organization” in a 2012 audit report.

Some have advocated taking away the power of appointing board members from the two states’ governors. Others see legislative solutions that would provide more oversight. At a news conference last month, Gov. Chris Christie said he was intrigued by the idea of splitting the bistate agency into New York and New Jersey divisions.

Those ideas likely will be discussed Monday in New York at a special panel composed of academics and public-policy experts. Specific reform measures could be proposed in the next few months.

“Everything should be on the table,” Vice Chairman Scott Rechler said Friday. “Right now there’s the political will for reform and the recognition that reforms are needed. We should take as many actions as we can.”

According to Rechler, one idea is to have the executive director and deputy executive director be nonpolitical appointments. Currently, New York’s governor appoints the executive director, and New Jersey’s governor appoints the deputy.

Legislative solutions can be challenging. Richard Brodsky served in the New York assembly and spearheaded legislation in 2010 that imposed reforms on all public authorities in New York - except the Port Authority, which, as a bistate agency, requires New Jersey and New York to enact similar, if not identical, legislation.

“If this had been enacted in New Jersey, there wouldn’t have been Bridgegate,” Brodsky said, referring to the lane closures. “That discussion has to start now.”

Some New Jersey lawmakers are looking at the New York legislation to see if it can apply directly to New Jersey.

“I’m not sure we could do exactly the same thing in New Jersey,” said Sen. Loretta Weinberg, whose district includes Fort Lee, site of the lane closures. “If not, the goals of that legislation were and are very good. We need to tweak it and be able to do it in both states right now.”

Sen. Richard Codey, New Jersey’s governor from 2004 to 2006, is pushing legislation to give subpoena power to the Port Authority’s inspector general, though he contends the overall problem is not legislative in nature.

“The only reform you need is for the governor to appoint the appropriate people to do the job,” he said. “The problem was (Christie) put in people who didn’t have the moral ethics to do the proper job.”

The bridge scandal forced the resignations late last year of deputy executive director Bill Baroni, a Christie appointee, and director of interstate capital projects David Wildstein, a Christie acquaintance from high school. Subpoenaed emails have portrayed Wildstein as the orchestrator of the lane closings.

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