Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Murphy vetoes minutes of board allied with Sweeney

New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney is pictured. | AP Photo
New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney 

Ryan Hutchins reports for Politico:

Gov. Phil Murphy this week vetoed the minutes of a South Jersey board stacked with allies of Senate President Steve Sweeney after the directors refused Murphy‘s request to cut ties with the agency’s general counsel.

Murphy rejected all actions the board of the South Jersey Port Corporation — a 50-year-old agency that operates marine shipping terminals across seven counties — took at its July 31 meeting. It was the first time Murphy has exercised his power to block actions by a state board since he took office in January.

In a letter sent Monday to the corporation’s acting executive director, the governor cited numerous issues, including finding “absolutely no evidence that the corporation conducted a fair and objective procurement process.”

“The lack of attention to governance procedures is inexcusable,” Murphy wrote in the letter, which was
obtained by POLITICO.

The governor, who has clashed with Sweeney over a number of policy issues, was primarily concerned with the decision to renew a contract with General Counsel Raymond Zane, a former state lawmaker, according to three sources familiar with the issues that led to the veto.

Sweeney ousted Zane from the Senate in 2001, but the two men later became allies.

The sources, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity to characterize the behind-the-scenes squabble, said the governor’s office had made it clear to the corporation’s board members that they believed Zane was not serving the agency’s interests. In particular, the governor’s staff cited Zane’s handling of what the front office considered “credible accusations of sexual harassment in the work place,” the sources said.

While the employee who faced the accusation ultimately retired, Zane had indicated “that some comparatively minor level of reprimand would be sufficient despite the intensity of the sexual harassment,” one of the sources said, declining to discuss details of the case.

The governor’s staff told the board that Murphy would veto the minutes if Zane was given a new agreement, the sources said. But the board voted anyway, approving his firm and six other incumbent law firms for new professional services agreements. Just one member, a designee of the state treasury, voted “no.”

“The board basically responded that this is essentially Steve Sweeney’s pick,” one of the sources said.

Sweeney said Tuesday evening that he wasn’t familiar with the issues surrounding the governor’s veto and that he was not involved with Zane’s appointment as general counsel.

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