Ingrid Reed: Eagleton Institute
Ingrid Reed is the policy analyst and director of the New Jersey Project, Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University and a resident of Princeton Borough.
Campaign promises aside, Chris Christie’s term as governor likely will be defined by his day-to-day dealings with lobbyist trying to curry his favor. His success or failure will be in how he interacts with them.
To Governor-elect Christie:
No need to remind you these are tough times in New Jersey. And maybe you don’t need to be reminded that you bring impressive assets to leading the state. But I will remind you anyway.
You represent the new generation of leaders in their mid-40s who have experienced unprecedented opportunities but are still striving to make the most of them for themselves and society.
You are comfortable with the new media. You communicate with ease, both formally and informally.
Your successful campaign showed that you can produce smartly on a modest budget.
Your career as U.S. attorney seemed to invigorate shared values of ethical public service and raise expectations for how the business of government should be conducted.
You enlisted the voters to entrust you with leading our state to a brighter future.
You appear to have enlisted the legislature to work with you. New Jerseyans will be watching how our basic belief in a system of separation of powers will work out for the benefit of the citizens. This will be tested when decisions about budget cuts reveal conflicting political values and concerns for efficiency and fairness when crafting solutions to the state’s problems.
Since no democracy can succeed without a competent and dedicated bureaucracy to carry out the work of government, you will need to enlist the public managers — those now running programs and those you recruit. Count on them to do more with less. Have high expectations of them. Trust their assessments when they tell you what can and cannot be done as well as who gains or loses when tough choices are made.
Expect them to be accountable. Take advice from New York City’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg. He runs a city with the same number and diversity of people as our state. He says “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” Apply that advice when reforming regulations and mandates to separate complaints from problems. Use it when evaluating state grants and investments.
For example, grants for initiating shared services should include expected saving. Grants to support municipal consolidation should demonstrate how to lower cost of government. When the state pays, it should mean that all state taxpayers gain in efficiency, effectiveness, and lower costs.
Finally, enlist the people. They want and deserve real facts and reliable explanations to understand our state’s problems. Be a teacher, not a preacher, but remember that you do have a bully pulpit.
You have a state website. Describe what an $8 billion deficit actually means. What are the components of the revenue needed? Where does it come from? What expenditures are absolutely necessary? Which ones are optional? Use charts, pictures, easy to understand terms.
A democracy works if people can trust their leaders and can verify what they learn from them. You do have assets — except financial ones — going for you. Use them in good health and with great satisfaction and success for you and us.
Steven Some: Public Affairs Analyst
Steven Some is president of Capital Public Affairs, a public policy group based on Mapleton Road.
Some worries about the state of the economy — one of the worst in the last 50 years — but is optimistic that Christie can rejuvenate the state, so long as he can maintain the public’s confidence.
Upon taking office in January, Governor-elect Chris Christie and his administration will be facing an unprecedented fiscal crisis requiring extraordinary measures. Severe cuts in state spending and possible state employee layoffs, along with other major changes to the way state government has been functioning over the years, are likely being considered by the new administration.
Right now the public is hopeful that the new governor and his administration will do what is necessary to restore New Jersey’s fiscal well-being, which will enable the state to provide a better future for the next generation. My advice to the new governor is to assemble the best and brightest communications professionals to work with him in the governor’s office.
Maintaining public support for the new governor’s agenda for change is extremely important and will be critical to his success in dealing with the state legislature. It is essential for him to remain very close to the public, especially in the early days of his administration.
Chris Christie is an articulate speaker and has a strong personality, two qualities that serve him well in communicating with legislators and the public. He should follow in the footsteps of former President Ronald Reagan, who was hailed as a great communicator, and take every opportunity to speak directly to the public.
I would recommend that Governor Christie have regular press conferences, appear regularly on “Ask the Governor” radio talk shows, and hold town hall meetings and forums throughout the state so that he can answer questions from the public.
In addition, the governor’s office should take full advantage of the new social media, like Facebook and Twitter, in communicating with the public, and the governor should encourage the public to write to him at a special E-mail account.
William Dressel: NJ Municipalities
William Dressel is the executive director of the New Jersey State League of Municipalities in Trenton. More than anyone, Dressel is concerned over how the state’s actions affect every town in New Jersey. A major factor, as it always is, will be affordable housing.
Governor-elect Christie should focus on cost-savings that are permanent in several priority areas. The most pressing issue is unfunded mandates — something Lieutenant Governor-elect Kim Guadagno has been charged with identifying. Relief from these mandates would mean real property tax relief for all New Jersey taxpayers. These mandates include:
COAH reform. There is little doubt that affordable housing is a real and persistent need in our state. However, the assessments and calculations by the Council on Affordable Housing are the subject of the current controversy. New Jersey municipalities have already spent tens of thousands of dollars, and, in some cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars, preparing plans based on faulty data and on projections that conflict with other state planning priorities.
With two dozen current appeals of the COAH third round regulations pending, it is likely that local governments will again be forced to expend resources preparing new plans. The Christie Administration must reform the COAH process, to harmonize housing policy with other state planning priorities, and to reduce the financial obligation on our taxpayers.
Binding interest arbitration. This process allows a union to bring in a neutral third-party arbitrator whenever economic issues, such as salary percentage increases, longevity pay, or shift and rank differentials, remain unresolved between a town and its fire or police force after at least three negotiation sessions. After considering guidelines contained in the law, the arbitrator has the power to impose the terms of a new contract.
Currently, arbitrators function without supervision or control. Although the statute has criteria dealing with ability to pay, and requires a measurement of the “total net annual economic change” for each year of the contract, they often receive little attention. The recent State Commission of Investigation report, “The Beat Goes On,” details many such abuses in compensation and benefits that result from this process.
In addition to police and fire fighters, almost all other local government employees have benefited from this, though to a lesser extent. At times municipal collective bargaining units will wait for the municipality to settle with the police or fire union prior to negotiating, so as not to “lose out” on any benefits, including percentage increases, given to the police or fire unions.
Pension contributions. The municipality must contribute a percentage determined by the Division of Pension instead of negotiating the employer “match” by contract. Every municipality is unique and should be able to come to an agreement with their employees through the contract negotiation process.
More than ever, in tough economic times, the people need property tax relief. To do this, Governor-elect Christie should provide immediate relief from unfunded mandates.
Rich Lee:Press Advocate
Rich Lee is the communications director for the Hall Institute of Public Policy, a non-partisan policy advocacy group based in Trenton. and the former head of communications for Governor Jim McGreevey.
One of Lee’s concerns is the pending relationship between Chris Christie and the press. At age 47, Christie is among the youngest governors elected here, and his technological savvy makes him comfortable with all forms of electronic and traditional media.
But he also is known for his temper with critics. How he will manage his public image and how the people of New Jersey will respond to him will rely on how accessible Christie will be while in Trenton.
In the few years that have passed since I taught public relations at the college level, the business has changed significantly, largely due to the continued growth of the Internet and social networks. However, the greatest change in the industry may not have been a technological one but a fundamental shift in the relationship between the news media and the people and organizations they cover.
As a public relations instructor, I stressed the value of building a strong, working relationship with the press. Whether it was writing press releases, planning news conferences, or answering questions from reporters, I taught my students that the best way to garner positive coverage for their clients was to be honest, accessible, and cooperative.
Lately, however, I sense that the dynamic has changed.
On the national level, Sarah Palin rarely gets through a speech or an interview without chastising the media — and she’s drawing record crowds to her public appearances while her book is on top of the best seller lists. And it’s not just conservatives who have been taking aim at the Fourth Estate. The Obama administration has been extremely vocal in its criticism of Fox News and has even boycotted the network at times in an effort to alter the tone of the coverage and fire up the President’s supporters.
So would national figures such as Barack Obama and Sarah Palin receive failing marks were they to take my Public Relations 101 course? Poor grades might have been justified four or five years ago, but I have to admit treating the press with disdain has its advantages today.
For starters, public opinion of the news media is at a low point. According to the PEW Project for Excellence in Journalism, public opinion on accuracy, morality, professionalism and bias in the press is lower today than it was a generation ago.
And an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll conducted earlier this year found that only 8 percent of Americans have a great deal of confidence in national news media — and 18 percent have no confidence at all.
Secondly, since public opinion of the media is so poor, the press makes a perfect scapegoat for politicians who are unable or unwilling to address the many serious and complex problems confronting our nation, our states, and our communities today. Why not blame the press for fueling partisanship and polarization – or for focusing on motor vehicle infractions, infidelity and other transgressions instead of substantive issues (even when it often is politicians and their campaigns — not the media — driving these stories)?
Lastly, why should public figures bother to court the press and build relationships today when it is so easy to bypass traditional media outlets and deliver information directly to the public through the Internet and social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube? Their messages can arrive in the inboxes of constituents just as they intended it, without the editing and scrutiny of the press.
This trend in media and government relations comes to mind as a new gubernatorial administration is preparing to take office in New Jersey. Governor-elect Chris Christie and his transition team have begun the process of building their administration, and much time will be spent on structuring the executive branch.
For the new Governor’s press office, this means making decisions such as who will serve as the chief executive’s spokesperson, who will write his speeches, and how many deputy and assistant press secretaries will be needed.
But a more important decision may be what type of attitude the new Governor and his administration take toward the media.
Is it still important to build a strong, cooperative relationship with the press? Or do the advantages of using the press as a foil outweigh the benefits of developing a good rapport with the media?
The answer is not as simple as it was a few years ago, but New Jersey’s recently completed gubernatorial election suggests that taking on the media can be an effective strategy.
During the campaign, Christie showed that he wasn’t shy about criticizing reporters and news organizations when he felt he was being treated unfairly — and now he’s the one preparing to move into the Statehouse.