New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is no stranger to controversy—namely, the Bridgegate saga—which means that this latest news will sound a bit familiar: the recently-fired NJ Transit chief compliance officer said last week that he was forced to quit the agency, which he described as “toxic” and full of individuals with ties to the administration who “use that influence to terrorize every other employee.”
Todd Barretta, the former chief compliance officer, told state lawmakers on Friday that the transit agency is in “great peril and in need of great assistance,” according to Politico. The agency has left several key positions empty, Baretta said, and pertinent policies haven’t ben updated in years.
Here’s more from Politico:
Barretta said he personally witnessed employees being fed the answers to questions during a safety-training test. The Federal Railroad Administration had raised concerns about such tests, he said, because the results appeared to be too good to be true. He likened the situation to every student in a high school class getting a perfect sore.
The agency, he said, has a secretive culture ruled over by patronage hires who use “fearmongering” to advance their agenda.
“Simply, it is a toxic environment that promotes a culture that was not accepting of any corrective course,” Barretta testified during a public hearing at the Statehouse. “Although my tenure was extremely short in terms of time, I witnessed more occurrences of agency-wide mismanagement, fueled by ignorance, arrogance, hypocrisy, incompetence, patronage, cover-up and corruption, than one can reasonable expect to experience throughout his entire career.”
Baretta went on to take some sharp jabs at the agency, while calling Steven Santoro, the agency’s executive director appointed by Christie, unqualified for the job. He also said that commuters shouldn’t feel comfortable riding with NJ Transit.
“I wouldn’t put my son on the system,” Barretta told lawmakers.
Expectedly, the agency was pissed about Barretta’s remarks. In a statement, Politico reports, NJ Transit said he failed to add “any meaningful facts” to the discussion about the agency.
“Mr. Barretta’s characterization of NJ Transit is uninformed, grossly and completely inaccurate,” the statement said. “He was suspended for brazenly violating NJ Transit’s vehicle policy for his personal benefit, which is especially egregious given his position as chief compliance officer at the time the conduct occurred. ... Due to pending litigation, NJ Transit will not discuss the reason for his ultimate termination. However, it unequivocally was not because of anything he said or reported about NJ Transit.”
Barretta, at times, comes across like a former employee with an axe to grind, but he’s not the only one raising concerns. Lawmakers have asked whether there’s an issue with cronyism in the hiring process, and NJ Transit has reportedly been unable to provide resumes for a number of top officials in the agency.
That didn’t seem like a surprise to Barretta.
“There’s definitely a club of individuals there,” Barretta told the lawmakers, according to Politico. “That particular group of individuals — that club — what they share in common is that each and every one of them has their own unique tie to the current administration. They use that influence to terrorize every other employee.”