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Traffic Jam

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.”

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Comments (2)

January 14th, 2014 at 12:34 pm Posted by Barry Newman

I appreciate your thoughts on the “Christie scandal”, and while I am only a partial admirer of the NJ governor, I have watched this drama unfold with detached humor. Our current sitting president has “overseen” an IRS scandal, the most intrusive violations of individual privacy in history by our NSA, extensive use of extrajudicial Drone killings which have been marginally overseen by any US regulatory or judicial body, and the institution of the gun sale “fast and furious” by a justice department and attorney general who is still in office (as well as the president, who was reelected despite these–if not illegal, then ethically ambiguous– actions) and we are looking at a scandal regarding traffic patterns that while noxious hardly rise to the same level of ethically bad behavior already seen in government. Just askin’


January 15th, 2014 at 3:36 pm Posted by Andrea Gils

I think Jack Marshall’s article is spot on just like this one. The questions that Jack Marshall posed are excellent- certainly questions which any good journalist should ask. Most likely, if there is something that doesn’t make sense and questions are asked right, the loophole/lies will come to light.

Whenever there is someone doing something unethical or illegal, just about anything that would jeopardize people, the reputation of a company, etc., I always think of the president/director of that company and HR.

We make mistakes and learn from them, including people in HR, but when a thing like this happens, when it’s not a mistake but a malicious action, I ask myself the following questions:
- What was that person (HR/CEO) thinking when he/she hired the employee?
- Did the hiring person ask the right questions?
- Did HR/hiring person research properly the candidate?
- Was the screening mediocre or properly done?
- Did the candidate misrepresent herself/himself or lie?
- Were there a lot of candidates or did they hire whoever was the least worse?
- What could have been done better to avoid the problem?

Of course a company/organization can be mislead by potential candidates but sometimes there are things that can be perceived simply by talking with someone for a while and asking the right questions.

I don’t think we can put all the blame on the HR manager for the administration’s mistakes because HR can’t control every single employee’s actions, moves, emails, etc. but I do think they share fault because if the hiring was done right in the first place, then maybe Bridget Ann Kelly wouldn’t have caused such problems. But I see this also being tied to the company’s leader and culture, not just HR.

A leader sets the example. A CEO is a leader. Governor Christie is a leader and he sets the example. Apparently he set the record straight with the press and said he fired his Deputy Chief of Staff (if that’s true or not that’s another story), so I’d say it was a good move. But if people have such liberty in that office as it appears, then how does he not know there’s someone else doing something similar behind his back? How does he know if current employees also believe they can do such things and get away with it in the future? If his administration’s culture portrays/encourages/implies unethical behavior, then he has quite a challenge to face now: change how people see him in the office and change a culture which he had been fostering before the GWB incident happened. We’ll see what happens.


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