NJT’s massive loss in Hurricane Sandy was caused by a bad decision by a low-level official, not by reliance on poor storm forecasts. So said NJ Gov. Chris Christie, as reported by Karen Rouse in The Record newspaper (Oct. 3), after Christie met with The Record’s board that day. The low-level employee “ditched” a plan that was in place to protect hundreds of cars and locomotives, all without the knowledge of NJT Executive Director Jim Weinstein, according to the article’s account of Christie’s comments.
Christie said that the unnamed employee was disciplined internally and not fired; Christie said the employee cannot be fired, as he is protected by Civil Service rules. However, NJT officials said that NJT is not within the Civil Service system and none of its employees fall under Civil Service rules. NJT and State Transportation Commissioner Jim Simpson either had nothing to add or did not return messages on the subject.
The controversy expanded on October 5 as Rouse filed a follow-up article to the effect that NJT internal e-mails show that multiple NJT officials, including Executive Director Jim Weinstein, were well aware of the plans to move equipment to what turned out to be flood-prone areas. Weinstein has not yet commented on the latest stories, but during the months after the Sandy disaster he has repeatedly stated that the ill-fated plan was unfortunate but deliberate. This is in apparent conflict with the governor’s assertion at the October 3 meeting with The Record; Christie said “it was a low-level official that made the decision on the cars that you”re talking about, where they were placed. It was a low-level decision that was not vetted up the chain as it was supposed to be vetted up the chain.”
The story continued to have legs; WNYC aired an interview with Ms. Rouse on Monday morning, October 7, in which she recapitulated the details of her investigation and said that NJT has not revealed much about a new storm plan that NJT has promised, other than construction of some new rail yards to store equipment during a future storm. On October 8, State Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex), chairperson of the Assembly Transportation Committee, was quoted on a WNYC newscast as announcing hearings to determine just who was responsible for the decision to store equipment in flood-prone areas.