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Governor Gets Highlands Leader Fired

The governor’s and Council’s action is a serious attack on regional planning in New Jersey.

March 16, 2012


Last night, Governor Christie got Eileen Swan, executive director of the NJ Highlands Council, fired by a 9-5 majority of the Council.  Deputy Director Tom Borden immediately resigned his position, making clear he could not work for a Council that would take such an action.

The governor’s and Council’s action is a serious attack on regional planning in New Jersey.

No one claimed Ms. Swan was fired for poor job performance, because on any reading she has done an extraordinary job.  Under her leadership, the Council adopted the Regional Master Plan and has already brought almost half of Highlands towns into conformity with the Plan – with more on the verge of conformance.  Swan won the praise of numerous local officials who testified last night to the high quality of her work.  Of course, it was all in vain, because the decision had been made well beforehand.

The governor won’t publicly take responsibility for this action – his office declines to comment.  But the fact that he packed the Council and then demanded the firing is undisputed.

One member of the Council, Bergen County surrogate Michael Dressler, damned the action as “the most gutless move in 37 years of politics.”

The Highlands Council and the Pinelands Commission are, by law, independent agencies that are not supposed to be run by the governor or the legislature.  Gubernatorial power-plays like last night in the Highlands represent a fundamental attack on the integrity, bi-partisanship, and stability of these planning agencies.

Last night’s action struck a serious blow against good government, environmental protection and smart growth.  I only hope this outrage against the Highlands galvanizes support for the Highlands and the Pinelands programs!

Here are links to some relevant articles:

N.J. Highlands Council votes to oust director at emotional session.  Star Ledger

Highlands director fired in 9-5 vote.  Daily Record.

The Thursday night massacre.  http://www.njspotlight.com/stories/12/0316/0117/

3 responses to “Governor Gets Highlands Leader Fired”

  1. Bill Wolfe says:

    Carleton – good post, but I agree with Tony O’Donnell’s remarks.

    PPA’s failure to speak out undermined efforts to raise concerns, hold Gov. Christie accountable and pour back again this across the board assaults on planning and environmental protection.

    I wrote about Ms. Wittenberg’s appointment in this June 24, 2011 post

    Christie Agenda Comes to the Pinelands

  2. Fred Akers says:


    John Stokes began to attack Pineland’s protection several years before he left. Using the EIA to expand Pinelands Regional Growth Areas, pushing through mandatory clustering in Rural Development Areas to create pockets of high density development, pushing the mega-casino bubble for expanded build out in Atlantic County, and pushing for local sewer systems in Pinelands Villages, are several examples.

    The new Executive Director is a foot soldier appointed by Governor Christie to take down Pineland’s Protections as much as possible. PPA is now a prime target to be neutralized and discredited, and the legal warning at the last meeting that any Pinelands Commissioners’ who attended PPA’s water forum could not vote on future water policy is one of the opening attacks.

    There should be no doubt that Regional planning in New Jersey is now under full attack on all fronts, and it is time for aggressive defense of all past protections and aggressive offense against the new bad policy changes that are sure to come.

    Fred Akers

  3. Lisa says:

    Thanks for this information, but this blog article doesn’t direct us as to what to do. What’s the next step an “average” person like me should take to support the Highlands Council? Is there a petition? Something?

    Also, it might be helpful to have an option to “subscribe to comments” on this blog.

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