Christie assembles NJ Safe Task Force to undertake report on violence

Gov. Chris Christie today requested a New Jersey Safe Task Force under the leadership of Attorney General Jeff Chiesa to undertake a comprehensive look at how to curtail gun violence and the root causes of violence in New Jersey.

The Sandy Hook Connecticut massacre, said the governor, “compels us to have a much deeper conversation. This is the beginning of us leading that conversation in our state.”

Christie underscored his commitment to a holistic approach in composing the task force of law enforcement, school security, substance abuse experts and psychiatric professionals. 

“I’ve always said I support the laws we have on the books today,” Christie said. “That doesn’t mean there aren’t more common sense steps we can take. We have to examine the effectiveness of our gun laws (and other causes of violence).”

The task force will put together a recommendation over the course of the next 60 days.

“This is not a time for grandstanding, and it is not a time for politics,” the governor said.

“We have an obligation to protect our citizens,” Chiesa said.

Democrats criticized Christie for not coming out stronger specifically against gun violence in the aftermath of the murders.

“I’m not worried about the NRA, I’m not worried about the Brady campaign against gun violence, but I’m willing to listen to all of them,” Christie said. “None of them have all the answers.”

The governor did not offer an opinion of President Barack Obama’s sweeping gun reform proposals, which include a renewed assault weapons ban, limits on high-capacity magazines, and universal background checks.

“I have to keep my own house in order,” Christie said. 

Asked if he favors an assault weapons ban and/or gun magazine limit, he said,  “I don’t feel it’s appropriate to give my opinion on that right now. …I’m not going to put handcuffs on them before they start their work. It’s not my job to prejudge this. …I want to go about this in a thoughtful and deliberate way.”

The governor was critical of a National Rifle Association ad taking Obama to task for opposing beefed up security in schools while his own children enjoy the protections of executive privilege.

“Reprehensible,” Christie said. “The president doesn’t have a choice and his children don’t have a choice of whether they’re going to be protected or not.”

As presented by the governor’s offce, the membership of the NJ SAFE Task Force includes:

Co-Chairmen:

Former Attorney General and Associate Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court Peter G. Verniero (Clinton Township, Hunterdon County), Co-Chairman, NJ SAFE Task Force 

Peter Verniero is a former Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court and a former New Jersey Attorney General. Presently, Mr. Verniero work in private practice at the firm of Sills Cummins & Gross, P.C. as Chair of the Firm’s Corporate Internal Investigations and Appellate Practice Groups. He has served in senior positions within the executive and judicial branches of state government. Appointed by Governor Christine Todd Whitman as her Chief Counsel, Mr. Verniero served in that capacity from January 1994 to February 1995, when he became the governor’s Chief of Staff. He remained in that position until July 1996, when he became Attorney General of New Jersey. As Attorney General, he personally argued cases before the New Jersey Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Mr. Verniero was appointed to the Supreme Court of New Jersey in 1999. As an associate justice for a five-year period from September 1999 to August 2004, Mr. Verniero authored and signed 124 judicial opinions touching on a wide array of civil and criminal areas, including employment, corporate, and constitutional law.

Former Attorney General John J. Degnan (Chester Township, Morris), Co-Chairman, NJ SAFE Task Force 

Former Attorney General John J. Degnan currently serves as Senior Advisor to the CEO of The Chubb Corporation. Prior to assuming this role, he served in various leadership capacities at Chubb including, COO, Vice Chairman, Chief Ethics Office, and President. Prior to joining the private sector, he served as Attorney General from 1978 – 1981 after serving in the Office of Governor Brendan Byrne. While in the Office of the Governor, he served as Chief Counsel to the Governor (1977-1978), Executive Secretary to the Governor (1976-1977) and Assistant Counsel to the Governor (1974-1976). Additionally, Mr. Degnan clerked for New Jersey Associate Justice John J. Francis. His current board service includes seats on the boards of trustees for the Saint Barnabas Medical Center, St. Benedict’s Preparatory School in Newark and serving as a Fellow for the American Bar Foundation. General Degnan is a graduate of both Harvard Law School in Cambridge, MA and St. Vincent College in Latrobe, PA.

Members:

Dr. Manuel Guantez, LCADC, Chief Executive Officer, Turning Point, Inc. (Fairfield, Essex), Member, NJ SAFE Task Force

Since 2001, Dr. Manuel Guantez has served as Chief Executive Officer of Turning Point, Inc., an organization in the field of alcohol and drug addiction treatment in New Jersey. Each year, Turning Point provides more than 2,400 men and women with the services and treatment they need to end their addiction. He has served the fields of addiction and mental health treatment for more than 20 years in a variety of capacities, including work in residential and outpatient addiction treatment conducting individual, group and family therapies, and coordinating programs for adolescents and individuals with co-occurring mental disorders.

Dr. Guantez has served as the Coordinator of Addiction Studies at Montclair State University and, as Assistant Professor, taught all core graduate and undergraduate courses in addiction and mental health. In addition, Dr. Guantez has served on the New Jersey Division of Addiction Services’ Residential Licensure Standards Revision Committee, the Residential Treatment Services Committee and the Quality Standards Substance Abuse Treatment Committee. He holds a Psy.D. and a M.S. in Clinical Psychology from Long Island University and his undergraduate degree from Montclair State University.

James Romer, Monmouth County Services Director, Monmouth Medical Center (Howell, Monmouth), Member, NJ SAFE Task Force

James Romer is a mental health professional with more than 30 years of experience. He currently serves as the Monmouth County Services Director for Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch, New Jersey. He previously served for nearly 20 years as Director of Screening Services for Ocean County at Kimball Medical Center in Lakewood, between 1991 and 2009. Romer is President of the Mental Health Emergency Screening Association, was the first certified screener in New Jersey and serves on the Monmouth Youth Council. Romer has been proactive reaching out to law enforcement regarding issues of kids in crisis. His current work includes health screening for individuals, providing evaluations for the danger they pose to themselves or others, kids and adults alike. Romer has also experience working with school populations on youth suicide issues. He obtained his Bachelors of Arts from Seton Hall University.

Evelyn Sullivan, Managing Director, Daytop Village of New Jersey (Manahawkin, Ocean), Member, NJ SAFE Task Force

Evelyn Sullivan currently serves as a Managing Director of the Pittsgrove office of Daytop New Jersey, Inc., a comprehensive substance abuse treatment and education program. Sullivan has worked in many aspects of drug and alcohol prevention and treatment, including residential, outpatient, development, planning, supervision and training. Evelyn previously served as the Director of Substance Abuse Services at Preferred Behavioral Health of New Jersey for 15 years and as the Director of the Central Intake Unit for the Newark Target Cities project. Additionally, she has worked for the Elizabeth General Medical Center – Department of Psychiatry, the Monmouth County Department of Human Services and as a counselor in private practice for individuals and families.

Sullivan earned her undergraduate degree from the City University of New York and graduated with honors. Ms. Sullivan holds a Master’s Degree in Social Work from Rutgers University.

Dr. Brian Zychowski, Superintendent of North Brunswick Township Public Schools (Mendham, Morris), Member, NJ SAFE Task Force

Dr. Brian Zychowski currently serves as the Superintendent of the North Brunswick Township Public Schools, which includes 6 schools and approximately 6,200 students. Prior to assuming that role in 2007, he served as the Superintendent of the Clark Township Public Schools. Dr. Zychowski previously also was Superintendent of the Henry Hudson Regional School District, a regional 7-12 school district serving the communities of Atlantic Highlands and Highlands. In addition to his various roles in educational administration, Dr. Zychowski is an adjunct professor at Seton Hall University and previously one at Monmouth University. In 2010, Dr. Zychowski chaired the New Jersey Educators Effectiveness Task Force, which delivered recommendations to Governor Christie in March 2011 that served as a blueprint for remaking public education in the state and refocusing the fundamental goals of the system to center on high student achievement and results for children.

Dr. Zychowski holds a Doctor of Education in Education Administration from Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey as well as a Bachelor of Arts in History and Masters of Arts in Educational Administration, both from Kean University in Union, New Jersey.

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