A task force named by Gov. Phil Murphy to investigate tax incentives approved by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority refuses to say if they are conducting government business using personal e-mails or if their process for records retention is consistent with state government policy.
“We’re not going to comment,” task force counsel Jim Walden told the New Jersey Globe on Wednesday.
Reminded of Murphy’s transparency mandate and criticisms leveled at Gibson Dunn attorney Randy Mastro for failing to maintain interview notes during his internal investigation of lane realignments at the George Washington Bridge in 2014, Walden was unmoved.
“I’m not going to provide you with the information you asked for,” the former federal prosecutor said.
Walden refused to say who was serving as the official custodian of records for the task force or whether task force members were issued government e-mail accounts or devices.
“I’m not going to comment,” he said.
Walden also declined to say where a request might be directed for documents under the Open Public Records Act.
“I’m not going to respond to your questions,” said Walden.
Asked whether the task force is maintaining records paid for by New Jersey taxpayers, Walden would only say that he was “aware of the obligations of the task force.”
The steadfast refusal by the task force to answer a process question of how they are communicating could make the pubic view them as arrogant.
“It’s never good optics to be less transparent than you’re able to be. It’s a sure-fire way to set off alarms about what you might be hiding,” said Micah Rasmussen, the director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University.
Rasmussen noted that the state now has dueling investigations of the EDA following announcements by legislative leaders that they will also hold hearings.
“It’s worth noting that the Legislature has exempted itself nearly totally from OPRA and the state’s records retention,” Rasmussen said. “So if we are looking for one body to comply with policies it may or may not be subject to, it’s probably fair to ask the other body the same.”
Ronald Chen, the task force chairman, did not respond to a call seeking comment at 4:03 PM on Wednesday.