5 years ago

Interview with Alan Sagner - Center on the American Governor

Interview with Alan Sagner - Center on the American Governor

Q: Are you saying we

Q: Are you saying we have an extra lane on the Parkway because you were able to go to Birmingham , Alabama and learn how to get through a loophole or exploit a loophole? ong>Sagnerong>: Well, it wasn’t a loophole; it was a provision that we weren’t aware of. There’s something furtive about the word “loophole.” But of course, that’s one of the-- I think there’s six lanes now in either direction. That shows how far back we go. Q: You say you got an extra lane. Do you remember whether it was on a piece of the Parkway? ong>Sagnerong>: No, I don’t remember, but we were able to add a lane. Whether it was from one end to the other, I don’t know, but we were able to do that. Q: How did you find state government after years and years of managing your own business? ong>Sagnerong>: It was different. It was different, because there are many parts of it. One is you made a mistake in your business, it reflected on you, on your pocketbook, on your career or your business. When you make a mistake in government, especially when you’re in administration, it’s not just your mistake, but it reflects on your government, your governor, your party and it affects many people. Then there was one thing in common ong>withong> business and government. That’s the media. Very often in business, for example, in Livingston when I proposed building multifamily housing for the community, I was accused of all sorts of antisocial motivation to destroy the community, to make unworthy profits, none of which were true from my perspective. The same thing happened in government. You would make a proposal and, depending on how careful the media was, you would be criticized. I remember some, I forget the reporter’s name who criticized our wanting at the early beginning talking about improving the bus subsidy program by the state, taking over the buses. He listed every possible harm that could come from that system, which had been working in other states and has worked. Very unfair criticism ong>withong> what we proposed to do as a proposal. On the other hand, sometimes you would do things and you would get complimented for things that you really didn’t deserve. So there’s a big difference between private and public. But I think the most part about the public thing is that you’re not your own boss and that you are reflecting, as I said, your governor, your administration, so you have to be extra careful. Q: It’s interesting to me that you say that, because there is thought to be in government this notion that you cover your ass and what you say sort of sets up why that notion exists, because what you’re worried about is making a mistake. You see the correlation? ong>Sagnerong>: Like everything, it’s a matter of degree. You can use the expression “cover your ass.” You can use the expression “be cautious.” You can use the expression “be responsible.” If you carry any of that to an extreme, it’s not the right thing to do. I think the most important thing in government is to be able to, when it’s an important enough issue, to take the position you think is the right position. I’ll give you an example. Another field that I’m not involved in was in healthcare. I just read a very interesting long, long article evaluating our present healthcare system. They talked about the difference in the politicians’ attitude toward Medicare and Medicaid. The point they made is that Medicare has a constituency--older people, most of them of an age and nature that would vote and watch what’s going on. Medicaid is mostly for low income people who are stark; they are not active or responsive in government. The bottom line was that for a politician to be concerned about Medicaid calls for a sense of responsibility and social justice that’s very hard to find in politicians. That’s what we need. We need more politicians who will decide, “I’m not going to cover my ass. I’m going to take this position.” That’s something that you have to do. Q: What are you most proud of in those three years as DOT commissioner? ong>Sagnerong>: The things that we tried to do. I think the most important thing was our effort consistently to promote public transportation. For example, I fought against the federal administration. I went down and testified when they put up the mass transit financing plan. They were going to base it on population, rather than density. Some of the same problems we’re having now ong>withong> the money on homeland defense where they’re giving it out based on -18-

population rather than where the state is and what the risks are, any terror issue. That same idea applied then, that they were going to give money for public transportation to a state ong>withong> a large population where there was no density that would make public transportation a viable alternative. So we fought that at the level in Washington . We fought the legislature in New Jersey . While we didn’t accomplish very much, I think we set the stage and started the dialogue that eventually ended up ong>withong> our getting New Jersey Transit, which I think something New Jersey can be very proud of. I think they do a good job and very helpful for the economy and for the convenience of the people in our state. Q: We were discussing the differences between the private sector and government. One difference is civil service. Did you have any difficulties ong>withong> the civil service system or frustrations--hiring, firing? ong>Sagnerong>: There were occasions, but it’s something you have to put up ong>withong> and live ong>withong>. I remember one night Peter Stangl had a girlfriend who was a singer or something and he-- Q: Who’s Peter Stangl? ong>Sagnerong>: He was a public transportation commissioner in the Department of Transportation who went on to a very successful private career. He had this girlfriend who was “a singer.” He invited everybody over and he wanted to give her an audience of all the people from the Department of Transportation, all of the head officials. They were drinking and talking and I remember sitting ong>withong> my back to two men that were on the staff talking. One of them was saying, “How are you getting along ong>withong> these people?” The other said, “I don’t know,” he said, “but we’ll be here and they’ll be gone.” So that was one view that I had of civil service. But that’s not the main point. The main point is that I found in government people who did their job and reported for work. I would often tell my friends who talked about civil service and public employees that on balance, most of the people that I saw gave a good day’s work for what they were supposed to do. I wasn’t out in the field watching everybody every day, but most of the people when there was a problem, people would work and stay overtime and address the problem. I, for the most part, felt that most people in state government deserve proper treatment and attention. Q: On that note, let’s end this session for today. ong>Sagnerong>: On a positive note. Okay. ####End of first session####### -19

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