Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Take Politics out of Pa, Panel Says

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Take Politics out of Pa, Panel Says

Article excerpt

A panel of experts on Monday told officials at the Port Authority - a 93-year-old bi-state agency facing one of the most turbulent periods in its history - that it needs a makeover to insulate it from the political whims of governors on both sides of the Hudson River and minimize the internal squabbling that has fed a culture of dysfunction.

Many of the panelists, invited by agency officials to discuss reform ideas in the wake of the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal, said the problems could be traced to a political arms race within the agency that has escalated over the last two decades, resulting in patronage, competing chains of command and a focus on pet projects beneficial to New Jersey or New York rather than the entire region.

The crisis has prompted talk of bold change, and even of dismantling the powerful, sprawling agency, which controls cross- Hudson bridges and tunnels, airports and seaports, the PATH train system, and major bus terminals.

But the panelists said the problems can be fixed by limiting each governor's operational control over the bi-state agency, refocusing its resources on core objectives and altering the management structure. The ideas were well-received by several commissioners, who agreed with some of the ideas and said they could act on them in the coming weeks and months.

"It has been clear for more than a decade, a creeping dysfunction has infiltrated the governance and organizational structure of the Port Authority," said Commissioner Scott Rechler of New York. "Today there is a political will and recognition that reform at the Port Authority is essential."

Among the panelists' suggestions was ending the informal custom of allowing the governors of New Jersey and New York to appoint the agency's top two executives. Those positions should not go to political appointees but to individuals with relevant experience who are chosen only after a competitive national search by the agency's commissioners. And the executive director should, as the title suggests, be the top executive, answerable directly to the commissioners. …

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