TRENTON Asked Monday about a measure giving eminent domain powers to a new Rutgers-Camden and Rowan University joint board of governors, Gov. Christie said he was unaware of such a proposal.
"If a bill like that comes to my desk, I'll have to take a close look at it," Christie said, fielding a call from a listener on NJ 101.5's Ask the Governor radio program. "I haven't heard anything at this point about eminent domain being given to a university - I don't think that's the way it works."
However, Christie signed the bill into law last month. The measure, sponsored by Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) and swiftly approved by the Legislature, confers eminent domain powers on the joint board, created last year to oversee a new health-sciences partnership between Rowan and Rutgers-Camden.
The board is not yet fully formed, but Sweeney has described the eminent domain provision as "a tool that's necessary to move forward to give that joint board more teeth" to do projects in Camden. An amendment to the bill limited the eminent domain powers to Camden.
Sweeney said in a recent interview that he had not directly discussed the bill with Christie.
On the radio Monday, Christie said there was "certainly nothing that Sen. Sweeney has brought up with me in terms of eminent domain."
"I'll say about this bill what I say about all bills: If and when it makes it to my desk, it'll get a thorough vetting by the counsel's office, and they'll give me advice about whether they think it's appropriate for me to sign or not."
A spokesman for Christie did not respond Tuesday to requests for comment on why the governor would have been unaware of the bill after signing it.
The bill was among 100 that Christie's office said he signed Jan. 21. The governor also pocket-vetoed 44 bills that day.
The synopsis of the measure reads that it "revises the authorities of the Rowan University-Rutgers Camden Board of Governors and authorizes Rowan University to participate in public-private partnerships." Within it is a provision giving the Rowan-Rutgers board a number of new powers, including the ability to acquire land and the use of eminent domain.
Christie said Monday he would have to see if the bill were "appropriate for the purposes we're trying to help develop," referring to the "eds and meds program" at Rowan and Rutgers-Camden.
Rowan officials have said they want to build a college of health sciences in Camden, linking Cooper University Hospital and Cooper Medical School of Rowan University to the city's campuses of Rutgers, Rowan, and Camden County College.
Last summer, Camden's redevelopment agency agreed to negotiate the sale of several pieces of land to Cooper Health System.
Referring to the Rutgers-Rowan collaboration, Cooper Health's chief of staff, Louis Bezich, said at the time that the agreement was "a strategy to give us some options as some other policies unfold." Christie has since appointed Bezich to the joint board.
The board will not be fully formed until a Rutgers-Camden board of directors - also created last year through the state's higher education restructuring - makes its appointments to the panel.
The Rutgers-Camden board is awaiting two more appointments from Christie, a spokesman for the school said Tuesday.