Weinberg: Christie Nominations To Highlands Council Violate Residency And Partisan Requirements In The Law

Senator Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, speaks about a nominee during a meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Senator Urges Governor to Comply with Statutory Requirements

TRENTON – Noting that the Governor’s recently announced nominations to the State Highlands Council do not comply with the residency and political party requirements laid out in the law, Senator Loretta Weinberg today urged Governor Christie to reconsider his appointments in favor of real preservationists who will serve as responsible stewards of the Highlands region.

“In an effort to overturn one of the biggest environmental accomplishments in New Jersey in the last decade, Governor Christie has stepped outside the bounds of statute and ignored residency rules and political party requirements which were intended to give balanced representation to the entire Highlands region,” said Senator Weinberg, D-Bergen, and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee which provides advice and consent on gubernatorial nominations. “If the Governor disagrees with the purpose and intention of the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Council, he and his allies in the Legislature can follow the appropriate steps to abolish it through the legislative process. But he’s outside of his rights to stack the council with Morris County cronies who will do his bidding and dismantle the council from the inside-out.”

Under the law governing the make-up of the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Council, the seven counties which make up the Highlands region – Sussex, Hunterdon, Warren, Passaic, Morris, Bergen and Somerset – each send one representative holding elective office, municipal or countywide to the Highlands Council. The county with the biggest population within the Highlands region – presently Morris – sends two representatives. Of the eight members representing municipal and county government in the Highlands region, no more than four can be of the same political party.

Governor Christie’s nominations, announced Tuesday night, would tip the balance on the Highlands Council in favor of the Republicans (five to two, with one seat vacant) and would eliminate seats on the Council for elected representatives from Bergen, Warren and Passaic counties.

“The current members of the Highlands Council have served with distinction and have worked to preserve the drinking water supply for more than one million New Jersey residents,” said Senator Weinberg. “They have upheld the preservation goals set forth in the original Highlands law that was approved by a majority of the members of the Legislature and signed into law in 2004. Governor Christie may not agree with the law, but he’s duty-bound to follow it until such time as the law changes – and I and my colleagues in the Legislature aren’t about to let that happen anytime soon.

“I’ll work with my colleagues on the Senate Judiciary Committee to consider the Governor’s appointments when he’s in his rights to make those appointments,” added Senator Weinberg. “In this case, he’s let his ambition to dismantle the Highlands Act overshadow his reading of the law.”