What we're really paying for Christie's fanatical secrecy | Editorial

on January 02, 2017

It's a lot more than $900k.

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The Christie administration's attempts to keep public records out of our view has cost taxpayers more than $900,000, according to a recent report in The Record.
 
About half of that is just over the last two years. This amount counts only the cases they lost, after wrongly denying the public release of public records.
 
And it doesn't include legal costs for government lawyers - only the costs of reimbursing the plaintiff's lawyers' fees.

So much for that "new era of accountability and transparency" that Gov. Christie promised at his 2010 inauguration. Just last year, his administration was awash in nearly two dozen public records lawsuits from watchdogs and news organizations.
 
The most expensive case cost taxpayers more than $100,000, and involved the Second Amendment Society seeking firearms regulations. Why on earth shouldn't this be public? In what fantasy world did the administration think it would win?
 
Another was the court fight to keep the governor's media contact list of about 2,500 journalists secret - one of several cases for which the state had to shell out $69,445 in legal fee reimbursements to New York Public Radio.
 
Why fight to hide this? Even after a court ordered its release, nobody knows. Yet thanks to the administration's knee-jerk secrecy, we still paid tens of thousands of dollars in a failed effort to shroud these names and other public information.
 
It's also worth noting that it's been more than 100 days since Christie's taken questions from the New Jersey press. It's a trend that dates back to his administration's snubbing of Hurricane Sandy victims who lost their homes, at multiple public hearings that his officials refused to attend.
 
We later learned they had quietly fired the primary contractor in charge of administrating Sandy relief grants to homeowners, without a word to the public. Now, we may have to pay out a $43 million fine to the feds, thanks to the shady oversight of Sandy dollars by that firm.
 
Christie also directed Sandy relief dollars to his political connections, rather than distributing them to towns based on storm damage and need. All things we should have been able to ask his officials about directly at hearings.
 
When you add this up - his battling of public records requests, and dodging of public questions - it's fair to say he's is the most secretive governor in memory. And not only have we had to pay the penalties for his lack of transparency; we've had to foot the bill for his cover-ups, too.
 
The biggest and best-known was the Mastro report, authored by Christie's lawyers to cover his tracks during the Bridgegate scandal: Its cost has topped $10 million, and is still climbing.
 
But there's also the more than $3 million in legal fees and $1.5 million settlement forked over by taxpayers for a lesser-known scandal - the accusation by former prosecutor Ben Barlyn that Christie's attorney general swept in and abruptly quashed an indictment in order to protect the governor's allies.
 
The killing of that indictment has never been explained. So take the $900,000 tab for the public records court battles Christie lost, and add it to the many millions we've paid for his screw-ups, shadiness and attempts to avoid public scrutiny.
 
That's the real cost of Christie's secrecy. He's now about to enter his eighth year as governor. You wonder: How much higher will it climb?

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