Embattled NJ sewer authority chief stepping down

The News Leader

February 13, 2010 9:38:29 AM PST
Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission Director Bryan Christiansen will step down, just weeks after his $313,000 annual salary drew sharp criticism from new Gov. Chris Christie. Christiansen will leave office March 1, commission spokesman Rich Ambrosino said. A former four-term mayor of Edgewater, Christiansen had been with the Newark-based commission since 2004.

Christie, who has no control over the commission, has called Christiansen's salary outrageous because the agency "gets its money predominantly from disadvantaged ratepayers." He also noted that the commission has 96 people who make more than $100,000 a year on its $46 million payroll.

"Surely the stress and strain of what has been going on contributed to his reason for retiring a few years earlier, but it is not the only reason," Ambrosino told The Record of Bergen County. He said Christiansen has put in place millions worth of savings and efficiencies at the agency.

Christiansen did not immediately return a telephone message left Saturday afternoon. He had issued a statement earlier this month saying the agency was "anxious and ready" to give the Governor's Office information to "properly evaluate PVSC's operations and performance."

He noted that there was a hiring freeze in place since 2005 and that the agency offers the lowest average residential sewer rates in the state.

The PVSC serves 48 communities and 1.5 million people in Passaic, Bergen, Essex and Hudson counties in North Jersey, and it recently adopted a budget last week of $164 million.

Michael Drewniak, a Christie spokesman, called the resignation "good news" and said the state would continue to scrutinize the commission's operations.

"If ever there were a place that cried out for change, the PVSC is it," Drewniak said. "The patronage and other abuse of taxpayer dollars at PVSC was deplorable under (Christiansen's) leadership."

Before joining the commission, Christiansen had served as chairman of the Bergen County Utilities Authority and was executive director of the Joint Meeting of Essex & Union Counties, a wastewater treatment agency in Elizabeth.