The Express-Times

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie Addresses Bridge Scandal Firing At Flemington Town Hall

The Express-Times — Thursday, March 20, 2014

By Sarah Peters / The Express-Times

Gov. Chris Christie didn't have to face down hecklers at a town hall this morning in Flemington, but he couldn't escape a question about the bridge scandal that has plagued his administration since January.

Fred Kanter, of Mountain Lakes in Morris County, engaged in friendly banter with the governor before telling Christie his explanation for firing a top aide after the George Washington Bridge scandal was self-centered.

Kanter said Christie's remarks at a news conference in January suggested he fired former deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly for lying to him — not her involvement in lane closures near the bridge that snarled traffic last September around Fort Lee, N.J.

Christie said he didn't realize he wasn't clear during a two-hour news conference in January: Kelly's underlying conduct was unacceptable, and she would have been fired even if she had told the truth.

Kanter didn't buy that explanation.

"When he found out about it, what did he do and why did he do it? He fired her for lying," Kanter said after the packed town hall in the St. Magdalen de Pazzi Parish Center gym.

It was the first time Christie had been quizzed at a town hall about the bridge scandal, The Star-Ledger reported.

About 10 silent protesters with the group New Jersey Citizen Action wore white T-shirts that collectively spelled out "Bridgegate." They stood and raised their hands every time Christie picked someone to ask a question. Naved Husain, a consumer advocate, said they aimed to be respectful of the rules and hoped to ask questions. Christie did not call on anyone from the group.

In response to a woman who asked about his position on medical marijuana, Christie said he believes the process to get a prescription isn't "onerous" at all and will ensure the use is purely medical. He vowed never to decriminalize the drug, arguing that would send the wrong message to children and teens.

Christie spent about 20 minutes at the beginning of the town hall touting measures he introduced to control property tax increases, including a 2 percent cap on raises awarded to public employees at arbitration and an emphasis on shared services. Property taxes increased an average of 1.7 percent last year, compared to 7 percent about a decade ago, he said.

"We inherited a train that was going about 100 miles per hour," Christie said. "We slowed that train down to about 20 miles per hour."

The 2 percent cap has kept the average contract-arbitration awards at 1.86 percent, Christie said. It's set to expire at the end of this month if state lawmakers don't renew it. Legislators from both parties agreed the cap was a good idea when they implemented it in December 2010, Christie said. He alleged Democrats have been silent on the renewal because of donations from unions.

Warren County and Pohatcong Township officials passed resolutions urging lawmakers to keep the cap.

Christie used a question about a joint master plan between two municipalities to tell residents to overcome a "provincial selfishness" that drives opposition to shared services. He used his hometown of Mendham Township and neighboring Mendham Borough as examples.

There's two of everything — like the "Noah's ark of municipalities," he said.

"We can't do this anymore. We have to start, at a minimum, sharing these services," he said. "We're paying over and over and over again to do this."

***

NO PHOTOS PLEASE

New Jersey's attorney general said he's looking into who ordered a state trooper to photograph protesters at Gov. Chris Christie's town hall meetings.

Acting Attorney General John Hoffman told The Associated Press he ordered the activity be stopped soon after he heard about it. He says he's still investigating how it came to happen.

Hoffman says he, the state police superintendent and the governor's office all learned about it Tuesday night after there were reports of a man who identified himself as a trooper photographing protesters at an event.

Hoffman says the man was indeed a trooper.

A spokesman for the governor says Christie was unaware his critics were being photographed.

The Associated Press

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