by Carleton Montgomery, Executive Director
Last night, Governor Christie got Eileen Swan, executive director of the NJ Highlands Council, fired by a 9-5 majority of the Council. Deputy Director Tom Borden immediately resigned his position, making clear he could not work for a Council that would take such an action.
The governor’s and Council’s action is a serious attack on regional planning in New Jersey.
No one claimed Ms. Swan was fired for poor job performance, because on any reading she has done an extraordinary job. Under her leadership, the Council adopted the Regional Master Plan and has already brought almost half of Highlands towns into conformity with the Plan – with more on the verge of conformance. Swan won the praise of numerous local officials who testified last night to the high quality of her work. Of course, it was all in vain, because the decision had been made well beforehand.
The governor won’t publicly take responsibility for this action – his office declines to comment. But the fact that he packed the Council and then demanded the firing is undisputed.
One member of the Council, Bergen County surrogate Michael Dressler, damned the action as “the most gutless move in 37 years of politics.”
The Highlands Council and the Pinelands Commission are, by law, independent agencies that are not supposed to be run by the governor or the legislature. Gubernatorial power-plays like last night in the Highlands represent a fundamental attack on the integrity, bi-partisanship, and stability of these planning agencies.
Last night’s action struck a serious blow against good government, environmental protection and smart growth. I only hope this outrage against the Highlands galvanizes support for the Highlands and the Pinelands programs!
Here are links to some relevant articles:
N.J. Highlands Council votes to oust director at emotional session. Star Ledger. http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2012/03/nj_highlands_council_votes_to_1.htmlhttp://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2012/03/nj_highlands_council_votes_to_1.html
Highlands director fired in 9-5 vote. Daily Record. http://www.dailyrecord.com/article/20120315/NJNEWS/303150022/Highlands-chief-fired-9-5-vote-opponents-blame-Christie
N.J. Highlands Council fires executive director. Northjersey.com. http://www.northjersey.com/news/bergen/031512_NJ_Highlands_Council_fires_executive_director.html
The Thursday night massacre. http://www.njspotlight.com/stories/12/0316/0117/