Home>Feature>Governor’s staff kept looped on questionable hires at Schools Development Authority

Gov. Phil Murphy. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

Governor’s staff kept looped on questionable hires at Schools Development Authority

Commission of Investigation report says Murphy administration knew about Delgado-Polanco’s hiring spree

By Nikita Biryukov, September 30 2020 11:14 am

Gov. Phil Murphy’s staff was kept in the loop while former Schools Development Authority CEO Lizette Delgado-Polanco fired dozens of longtime SDA employees and filled their positions with friends and family members who often lacked qualifications, according to a State Commission of Investigation report released Monday.

The commission found front office staff were told about Delgado-Polanco’s questionable hiring decisions as they occurred.

“So, every hire that Lizette, you know, every person that Lizette hired, salary, she didn’t do any — she didn’t take any step without calling the governor’s office,” Delgado-Polanco deputy chief of staff Patricia Arcila Cabrera told the commission. “And this is interesting, because nobody is talking about that but me, being that I was the deputy chief of staff, I was always in her office, she constantly called in, they knew everything that was going on, everything, every hire, every move.”

Cabrera described herself as Delgado-Polanco’s best friend in sworn testimony given to the commission.

Delgado-Polanco, the former vice chairwoman of the Democratic State Committee, resigned from her positions at the DSC and the SDA after the Bergen Record reported a hiring spree that saw longtime authority employees culled and replaced with her friends and family members, many of whom lacked credentials for their jobs at the authority.

Al Alvarez, who was Delgado-Polanco’s chief of staff before being resigning over allegations that he sexually assaulted New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency chief of staff Katie Brennan, also said his boss was in close communication with the administration.

“I would say Ms. Delgado-Polanco consulted the governor’s office at every step of the way in the entire reorganization process, so they were made aware of all the decisions that were being contemplated before they were actually executed,” he told the commission.

The commission’s report sheds little light on how Delgado-Polanco was selected to lead the Schools Development Authority, an organization that was already regarded as a patronage pit before the former CEO’s hiring spree.

Murphy’s administration exercised executive privilege to stop former Murphy chief of staff Pete Cammarano from answering questions about the process of hiring Delgado-Polanco.

Questions about Alvarez’s hiring before a Senate Select Committee active in 2018 and 2019 were similarly stonewalled, though members of the governor’s staff simply said they were unaware who offered Alvarez the job instead of invoking executive privilege.

The commission also found deficiencies in an outside investigation into patronage hires at the authority commissioned by the office of the attorney general spawned by whistleblower reports of improper hiring at the agency.

“Case in point: an inquiry conducted by a private law firm at the behest of the State Office of the Attorney General after a whistleblower complaint about irregular hiring practices failed to include interviews with individuals who worked inside the Governor’s Office and had direct oversight responsibilities for the SDA,” the commission’s report said.

The report adds uncertainty to the SDA’s already shaky future.

Senate President Steve Sweeney has vocally backed abolishing the authority, which has depleted its funds to the point that it now administers only a handful of projects. Sweeney repeated his position on the SDA as recently as last week.

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