Aside from announcing that Quiet Commute Cars will soon be offered on trains to and from Hoboken during midday hours on weekdays, New Jersey Transit Executive Director Veronique “Ronnie” Hakim said there are some other changes coming to the agency soon.
NJ Transit’s methods for settling personal-injury lawsuits and other legal claims against it, as well as managing its insurance program, have come under fire. According to reporting by Karen Rouse of The Record and reported in the Star-Ledger (Sept. 12), the railroad has not voted in public on such issues in years. The votes apparently come behind closed doors, despite NJT’s stated goal of transparent operations. Millions of dollars in expenditures are involved.
The secret votes do not appear in publicly posted minutes, but The Record obtained them through a public-records request. Even these records obtained were heavily redacted; the amounts involved were often blacked out. Previously, NJT came under fire for keeping its rail hurricane plan from the public, initially releasing only a blacked-out document. The actual document was released only after The Record filed a lawsuit to obtain it. Commenting on the reports of excessive secrecy, an NJT spokesperson said that the agency had recently updated procedures for closed-door sessions, but declined to be specific.
It’s always been problematic for those interested in how public agencies work to get access to internal documents. Laws such as the federal Freedom of Information Act and New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act are one way by which the public can find out what’s actually going on in often-opaque public agencies and authorities. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey seems to be more opaque than most; as a bistate agency, it can make the best (or worst?) of the laws of both states. Recently, a man arrested by Port Authority police at the PATH station in Hoboken tried to access Port Authority documents, first through the federal law, and then the New Jersey law. The Port Authority responded that some of the documents requested were exempt under the federal law, and also demanded nearly $4,000 for copying costs. He then tried under the state law, but a New Jersey appeals court ruled that the state Open Records Act doesn’t apply to the Port Authority—because it’s a bistate agency and thus can’t be subject to control of any one state. (Oct. 4; Associated Press via the Wall Street Journal and transportationnation.org)