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

Murphy demurs on Brown’s lavish severance package

Severance payments must be ‘deserved,’ governor says

By Nikita Biryukov, June 16 2020 2:41 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy declined to take a stance on a lavish severance package for the former head of Choose New Jersey, a non-profit that aims to draw businesses to the state.

“I can’t remember when I first heard about it, but again, this is not under my control,” Murphy said. “I don’t have a general philosophical view one way or the other on severance payments other than they have to be deserved, and beyond that, I’ve got no more insight into the specifics of that.”

Michele Brown, a longtime confidant of Gov. Chris Christie who headed the Economic Development Authority in his administration before becoming president and CEO of the industry-funded non-profit, received $200,000 in severance and $150,000 bonuses after departing from the organization in April 2018, according to 990 forms filed by Choose New Jersey.

Totaled, Brown received $495,284, including $105,785 in salary, from the organization in the three-and-a-half months she spent with Choose New Jersey in 2018.

Politico New Jersey first reported the cost of Brown’s severance package on Monday.

By contrast, Brown was paid a total of $477,366 in 2017, and Lozano received $205,114 from the non-profit over the roughly eight months he spent there in 2018. Filings for 2019 are not yet available.

Murphy attempted to put space between the state government and Choose New Jersey Tuesday.

“You say quasi government — it is a private. I’ve described it ‘outside the castle, inside the kingdom’ organization, but it is privately funded,” the governor said. “And while I’m a huge believer and supporter of Jose Lozano, that actual board has to approve, as an example, his position there.”

The non-profit’s board appointed Lozano, who chaired Murphy’s transition team, at the governor’s recommendation.

Lozano has remained close to Murphy during his time as Choose New Jersey’s CEO.

The organization funded part of an economic mission to India Murphy took last year. Lozano attended that mission and others to Israel and Germany Murphy made in 2018.

Neither trip marked the first time political allies were kept close in Murphy’s orbit.

In July, the New Jersey Globe reported the existence of a weekly conference call involving top members of Murphy’s administration and the governor’s foremost outside political advisors.

The “inside/outside” calls drew wary looks from some lawmakers, but the issue was largely put to rest after the New Jersey State Ethics Commission said the calls did not run afoul of state ethics laws.

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