- Associated Press - Thursday, March 27, 2014

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - A report released Thursday that concluded Gov. Chris Christie had no prior knowledge of politically motivated lane closures at the George Washington Bridge last fall also made recommendations for a sweeping overhaul of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which has come under scrutiny for its role in the scandal.

The taxpayer-funded report by a law firm, retained by Christie to perform an investigation into the lane closures, generally absolved the governor of blame. Separate state and federal investigations are ongoing.

The Port Authority, which operates bridges, tunnels, airports and seaports in the New York metro area, has come under criticism since details about the lane closures have emerged. Bill Baroni and David Wildstein, one a Christie appointee to the agency and the other a Christie associate who was given a $150,000-per-year job there, resigned in the fallout over the lane closure scandal. Thursday’s report laid most of the blame for the lane closures on Wildstein and Bridget Kelly, Christie’s former deputy of chief of staff.

The report proposed forming a bistate commission to look at changing how the Port Authority appoints its board of commissioners. Currently, the governor of New Jersey appoints the board chairman and deputy executive director and the governor of New York appoints the vice chairman and executive director.

Emails released as part of a probe into the lane closures have revealed rifts between the two states’ representatives, as has a recent tiff that began when executive director Pat Foye, a New York appointee, said in an interview that chairman David Samson, a New Jersey appointee, was not fit to lead the agency.

“There should be a fundamental restructuring of the Port Authority, either by recognizing separate New York and New Jersey divisions going forward to permit each state to have primary responsibility for completing projects within their jurisdictions, or otherwise reorganizing to ensure independence and professionalism,” the report said.

In at least one way, the report’s recommendations appear to clash with efforts already underway at the Port Authority. The agency set up a committee on oversight that has proposed forming an advisory panel that includes former Port Authority executives; Thursday’s recommendations specifically call for a panel that “should consist entirely of persons independent of the Port Authority; it should not include any current Port Authority Commissioners or executives.”

The report also called for senior executive positions to be approved by both governors, and for both states to pass legislation to increase transparency. In 2012, Christie vetoed a bill that would have increased transparency at the Port Authority, saying he wanted the reforms applied to other state agencies as well.

“We therefore recommend that the governor’s office propose new or modified public authorities reform legislation now, in light of past and pending legislative proposals,” the report said.

Christie’s office and the Port Authority didn’t respond to emails seeking comment Thursday.


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