Home>Governor>Probe finds SDA hires were connected to Delgado-Polanco

Lizette Delgado-Polanco. Photo by Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe

Probe finds SDA hires were connected to Delgado-Polanco

New hires told investigators ‘who you know is what matters’

By David Wildstein, July 23 2019 2:45 pm

The Murphy administration today fired 30 yet-to-be-named employees of the troubled Schools Development Authority following the release of an independent review finding that ex-CEO Lizette Delgado-Polanco hired them improperly.

The Star-Ledger was first to report news of the terminations.

Delgado-Polanco resigned in April amidst an extended controversy over allegations that she hired relatives and friends to high-paying jobs

An investigation report issued by the Morristown firm of Caramagnola & Ritardi found that “nearly every new hire was directly or indirectly connected personally or professionally to… Delgado-Polanco when hired.”

Murphy said copies of two legal reviews and an inside audit were submitted to the Attorney General earlier this month.  It is not immediately known if the investigations will lead to criminal charges.

Delgado-Polanco defended her decision to assemble her own team when she took over for Charles McKenna in 2018.

“Several of the new hires we interviewed expressed the sentiment that who you know is what matters when it comes to getting a job,” the report noted.  “It is unusual, however, to see so many positions filled by individuals connected to the CEO.”

A report issued by the politically influential DeCotiis law firm said that their investigation “failed to turn up any hard or compelling evidence of ‘file-tampering within the HR department of the SDA.”

The probe also found evidence that politically-connected hires benefitted from favorable treatment as it related to their salaries and titles.  It als found that some positions were created specifically to accommodate people Delgado-Polanco wanted hired.

“A newly-hired employee candidly admitted that she had no background in her Department area, yet was hired with a “senior” title and with the second-highest salary in the Department,” the report of the investigation said. Longtime SDA employees were understandably upset at having to train a new employee who was hired in a position superior to them and a higher salary then they were being paid.

Most of the new hires were qualified, the report said, but some were not.

A report issued by the politically influential DeCotiis law firm said that their investigation “failed to turn up any hard or compelling evidence of ‘file-tampering within the HR department of the SDA.”

The DeCotiis firm, hired by the state, did find fault with Delgado-Polanco’s decision to have Patricia Cabrera, a special projects director, review the personnel files of a terminated employee. They found faulty with a lack of written policies or guidelines about “what files are to be kept within the HR department, and what specific documents are to be kept in those files.

Gov. Phil Murphy said his office moved quickly to review allegations made against Delgado-Polanco, a political ally who served as vice chair of the Democratic State Committee, even though it took months for Delgado-Polanco to step down.

“When allegations of impropriety were first raised about personnel actions at the SDA, my administration took swift action to investigate these matters in a fair and appropriate manner through the retention of outside counsel,” Murphy said. “The findings of these three reports will help guide SDA leadership in recommitting to the organization’s core mission: providing underprivileged students with safe, high-quality learning environments. SDA Board Chair Rob Nixon and Interim SDA CEO Manny Da Silva have my full and unwavering support to make any management decisions they deem necessary based on the findings of these reports.”

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin said he that the findings of the three reports will be reviewed and that they may “serve as a productive roadmap for the best practices of the Authority.”

“I will be supportive of any restructuring plan that will result in the SDA operating efficiently and cost effectively and helps restore the people’s faith in the Authority,” Coughlin said.

This story was updated at 6:58 PM to include comment from Coughlin.

SDA Caramagola & Ritardi 2019

SDA DeCotiis 2019

SDA Audit Hiring 2019

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