January 13, 2014
Some stories you just can’t make up.
The recent scandal involving the politically motivated closing of traffic lanes on the George Washington Bridge by the Christie Administration, causing chaos, is truly outrageous and reminiscent of the Wild Far West.
In early September last year, in an apparent act of vengeance against the Democratic Mayor of Fort Lee, Mark Sokolich, for not endorsing the Governor for re-election, Bridget Ann Kelly, Governor Christie’s deputy Chief of Staff orchestrated a fictitious “traffic study” with the complicity of Port Authority officials in order to close two lanes on the GWB. The closing of the two lanes provoked the intended gridlock that lasted for days. The purpose was to provoke commuters to anger that would be directed against the Mayor of Ft. Lee.
When this matter became public, Governor Christie, in a 107-minute press conference took the blame for what happened and apologized profusely. The media’s reaction to the press conference was overall positive. As David Axelrod, President Obama’s adviser said: “Mr. Christie came across as candid, regretful and accountable.”
Governor Christie was adamant that he had no prior knowledge of the action of his Deputy Chief of Staff which he fired promptly. His political future both as a potential candidate to the U.S. Presidency and as the current Governor of New Jersey depends on whether that is true or not. It is hard to imagine that the Governor could think that he could get away with such a lie knowing that both the New Jersey State government the Federal government are investigating the matter.
The worrisome issue in this debacle is the fact that such an abuse of power, deception and recklessness could even happen. The fact that one could even imagine taking such action tells us about the culture of the Christie Administration. It also raises the question of judgment on the part of the Governor on hiring Ms. Kelly in the first place.
The matter is one of corporate culture. As Jack Marshall of Ethics Alarms says:
“…the fact that close aides and subordinates under his leadership thought that it was appropriate to do so demonstrates serious flaws in the ethical culture of the Christie administration…..”
He then adds a series of five questions that I believe should be asked not only to the Governor but to any CEO or senior executive following a serious breach of ethical conduct:
•1. Why did you trust aides capable of doing something like this?
•2. Why did they have the impression that what they did would meet with your approval?
•3. What have you done or said, or not done or said, to encourage such abuses of power?
•4. How can we be sure that this won’t happen again?
•5. What are you going to do to repair and improve the ethical culture in the organization you lead…?
As the French author Albert Camus once said:
“Without culture, and the relative freedom it implies, society, even when perfect, is but a jungle.”