Sunday, June 13, 2010


Christie supports Roxbury school board member censured over protest

ROXBURY — Gov. Chris Christie criticized the local
school district's tactics in censuring a member of
the school board, while also addressing upcoming
nominations to the Lake Hopatcong Commission
during a town hall style meeting Thursday.

"The whole idea I think for a public official is, you
should speak up," Christie said, referring to the
school board censuring fellow board member
Maureen Castriotta for appearing on Roxbury High
School property unannounced during a student
protest against the governor's school aid cuts. She
had criticized school officials for allowing the rally
during school hours.

Christie, of Mendham Township, spoke to a
standing-room-only audience of more than 200
people about his proposal to put on November's
ballot a measure to cap state and local property tax
increases at 2.5 percent with certain exceptions. He
also discussed his plans to disband the state
Council on Affordable Housing, returning the
obligation to build affordable units to municipalities
using a market-based approach.

In speaking about Castriotta, Christie was
responding to a question posed by township
resident Marie Felix at the Roxbury Performing Arts
Center on Eyland Avenue. Castriotta and fellow
board member Chris Rogers, both of whom attended
the meeting, had voted against the school budget
and against the censure motion last month.

Christie rhetorically asked the audience whether
school administrators would have allowed a student
rally critical of the New Jersey Education

"That protest was permitted by school officials
because it supported their political point of view,"
said Christie, who chided what he described as
bully tactics used by teacher unions who sought to
intimidate school boards.

He stressed his objection was with union leadership
and not with rank-and-file members.

Castriotta smilingly applauded the governor's take.
Schools Superintendent Michael Rossi and board
member Greg Somjen, both of whom supported the
censure, left the meeting together before it
concluded, and did not comment when asked if they
wanted to address Christie's criticisms.

The governor also addressed a resident's concern
about the cash-strapped Lake Hopatcong
Commission, which oversees maintenance of the
state's largest lake.

"Right now, I have to be honest with you, we don't
have the money for it," Christie said, adding that
should revenues pick up in the years to come, he'd
look to readdress the matter.

During a press conference following the town hall-
style meeting, Christie said he would make
appointments to the commission within the next
week. When asked whether he would nominate
Jefferson Mayor Russell Felter, who currently sits on
the commission, to be its chairman, Christie
wouldn't say, but praised Felter.

"I have great admiration for Russ," Christie said,
adding he's known Felter for 16 years. He said if
Felter was interested in working for the state "he's
someone who I would clearly love to have."

Later in the day, state officials announced that Felter
Advertisement was nominated to chair the Commission, replacing
Mount Arlington Mayor Art Ondish.

Christie's primary purpose in being in his home
county was to prod supporters of capping property
tax increases at 2.5 percent a year to write and call
Democratic leaders in Trenton to allow the question
to come up for a vote in the Legislature to put it on
the public ballot.

"They may not post it for a vote, so you won't know
whether your legislator voted yes or no," Christie
said. He said he wants every lawmaker to go on
record whether they support the ballot initiative.

'Those people who vote no on that are going to hear
from the governor in 2011," Christie said of the next
time statehouse elections will be held. He said the
only way property taxes could be increased above
2.5 percent is to address debt service, or if the
residents vote to raise them.

Regarding COAH, Christie said a bipartisan group of
lawmakers was working to eliminate it.

"I said one of my first priorities was to make sure we
gutted COAH," he said, later adding, "we're going to
have a funeral for COAH, respectfully bury it and put
it away forever."

Matt Manochio: 973-428-6627;