They can run, but they can't hide
As politically anointed heads roll in New Jersey and investigators trundle more hacks towards the guillotine, citizens should celebrate not just the hacks' demise but the means that brought them down: public disclosure laws.
Because public officials' emails are public documents under New Jersey law, the closing of Fort Lee toll lanes at the George Washington Bridge last September has been exposed as a political vendetta.
The officials and agencies responsible for creating the congestion that brought Fort Lee to its knees for four days initially stonewalled, of course, when a traffic reporter for The Record, of Hackensask, N.J., requested all of the documents relative to the closing. But the records ultimately were turned over to the newspaper.
Emails among aides of Gov. Chris Christie and one of his appointees to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey are enlightening on their own and indicative of other disclosures that likely will come as more documents are released.
For example, a key email from Bridget Anne Kelly, then Mr. Christie's deputy chief of staff, to authority member David Wildstein is incriminating in itself while pointing to further chicanery.
"Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," Ms. Kelly wrote.
"Got it," Mr. Wildstein responded.
Colossal traffic problems quickly followed. But the email also indicates that the matter had been discussed previously - with whom and in what detail will be major issues as federal and state investigators examine the matter.
Meanwhile, the status of officials emails is an ongoing source of debate regarding public records disclosure in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.
Last year the Obama administration had acknowledged that several officials had created email accounts under false names. And in Pennsylvania an appellate court ruled last year that some public email addresses don't have to be disclosed. Taxpayers just have to pay for the addresses; they don't get to know how they are used.
Lawmakers often propose amendments to the state Open Record Law, often to diminish public disclosure under the guise of privacy concerns.
The New Jersey case demonstrates why emails and social media traffic must be maintained as public records at the local, state and federal levels of government.