NJ governor conducts 15th town hall meeting

PARSIPPANY, N.J. (AP) - December 3, 2010

Speaking to a mostly supportive crowd at the Morris County Public Safety Academy in Parsippany, the Republican governor pushed his package of proposed reforms and criticized legislators he said were more interested in passing petty measures like animal neutering laws than grappling with "the hard stuff" of property tax caps and pension reform.

"Sticking our head in the sand is no longer an option," Christie said. "We don't have the money to pay for it anymore; we never did, but now the bill is coming due."

In his 15th town hall meeting since September, Christie continued to criticize New Jersey's public teachers union. Questioning why the union not only charged annual dues to members but also levied a fee for opting out, Christie said the practice reminded him of a line in a hit song by The Eagles: "It's like Hotel California: You can check out, but you can never leave," he said.

Christie reiterated proposals he has long pushed: an expansion of successful charter school models into the public school sphere, merit pay for teachers and a cap on superintendents' pay.

At a town hall meeting last month, Christie had singled out the head of the Parsippany-Troy Hills school district after the local board of education attempted to boost his pay ahead of a new salary cap scheduled to take effect in February. At the time, Christie said Superintendent LeRoy Seitz's $200,000-plus salary made him "the new poster boy for all that is wrong with the public school system."

At Friday's meeting, Chatham resident Jonathan Chatinover, who serves on the school board in that town, confronted Christie over his criticism of superintendent salaries, arguing the rates were board approved, determined by market forces and meant to attract the most effective candidates.

"Seventy percent (of superintendents in New Jersey) making more than $175,000 per year is not a market rate," Christie shot back. "It's an inflated rate, an artificial rate they've created amongst themselves."

Despite a number of contentious exchanges with public school teachers and residents who said they resented his critical tone, the packed gymnasium was mostly a sea of heads nodding vigorously at most of the governor's comments.

Ana Reyes, of Kearny, said she was impressed with Christie's speech but disappointed he was so focused on his battle with the teacher's union and hadn't talked about bringing jobs to New Jersey. At 62, Reyes was laid off in June from her job as an insurance adjuster for a company that relocated part of it's operations overseas.

"I want to work, I'm not used to not knowing where my next meal will come from," Reyes said. "I'm the type of person who believes you should work for what you have, and I see those values in Governor Christie."

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