- Associated Press - Thursday, February 19, 2015

JERSEY CITY, N.J. (AP) - Commissioners of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey backpedaled Thursday on their offer to resign, saying it would be unnecessary in light of their unanimous support of reform efforts at the scandal-plagued agency.

Commissioners openly questioned the need to step down after they passed a resolution at their monthly board meeting in support of a special report that outlined an overhaul of the agency’s operations. They said they would discuss whether to tender their resignations in a private executive meeting later in the day.

In the December report, they had agreed to tender their resignations to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who oversee the agency, as a show of good faith in the board’s embrace of systemic reform.

The reform efforts came in the wake of furor over politically motivated lane closures near the George Washington Bridge in 2013 orchestrated by aides appointed by Christie. A law firm study, commissioned by Christie, cleared the governor of wrongdoing. The U.S. attorney’s office is conducting a criminal investigation into the matter.

“The premise of the offer to resign has been met. And essentially the board unanimously endorsed the special panel report,” Board Chairman John Degnan told the news media after the meeting. “There should be no lack of clarity by either governor about our commitment to do it. And in that case, what’s the purpose of resigning?”

While it’s important for the board to listen to the governors’ views, they should not be “submissive to it … in violation of a duty we might have to the Port Authority,” Degnan said.

On Dec. 27, the same day the governors unveiled the Port Authority’s reform plans, Cuomo and Christie vetoed bills in their respective state legislatures that would have improved the agency’s management and transparency. The governors were heavily criticized by lawmakers in both states, who passed the bills unanimously and are still fighting to push them through despite the vetoes.

Degnan defended the timing of the vetoes, saying the board was unable to get the panel report to the governors until Dec. 27 and the governors had to make a decision before the end of the year. Degnan said the legislation would have impeded the board’s ability to implement necessary changes, such as the creation of a chief executive officer. But he remained open to the possibility of legislation that would cement the agency’s reform in law at some point in the future.

“We’re not going to wait for legislation,” Degnan said. “I just think it needs to get done and as fast as possible.”

Neither Cuomo’s nor Christie’s offices responded to requests for comment.

As part of the push to improve operations, the Port Authority is creating the new CEO position who, unlike the commissioners, will not be appointed by either governor and will, in theory, be insulated from political pressure, a problem that has trailed the bistate authority for years.

The board is currently choosing a firm that will conduct the CEO search and hopes to make a recommendation at the March board meeting. The governors have also agreed upon a new system of rotating the board positions of chairman and vice chairman between the two states every two years, said vice chairman Scott Rechler.

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