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Former Schools Development Chief of Staff Al Alvarez, center. (Photo by Nikita Biryukov)

Alvarez says he’s unsure who hired him

By Nikita Biryukov, March 12 2019 1:16 pm

Former Schools Development Authority chief of staff Al Alvarez said he was unsure who was ultimately responsible for his hiring to the authority Tuesday.

“No one ever said to me ‘you’re hired,'” Alvarez told the Select Committee on Oversight empaneled to investigate his hiring.

Alvarez said he had numerous informal conversations with now former Gov. Phil Murphy chief of staff Pete Cammarano and Jose Lozano, who was executive director of Murphy’s transition team, for which Alvarez was deputy director of personnel.

Alvarez testified that he had at least two short conversations about employment at the SDA with Cammarano and Lozano.

He said he initially sought to become SDA CEO, a position that, at the time was held by Charles McKenna, then a holdover from former Gov. Chris Christie’s administration. Alvarez said he discussed the details of his hiring — his start date, for example — with McKenna.

McKenna has since been replaced by Lizette Delgado Polanco, who is also Democratic state vice chair.

Alvarez agreed that either Cammarano or Murphy chief counsel Matt Platkin would have had to sign off on his hiring.

“Ultimately, I would not have been able to get that position had they had an objection,” Alvarez said. “Meaning, essentially, they needed to sign off and be ok with me going there. I cannot speak specifically to Mr. Platkin. I never had a conversation with Platkin about my interest at the SDA. I can only speak to my conversation with Cammarano, who was aware of my interest to go there and never objected to it.”

Platkin, Cammarano, Lozano and others have testified that they neither hired nor were responsible for hiring Alvarez.

Alvarez said he did not submit an employment application for the SDA chief of staff position, which at the time came with a salary of $140,000.

Alvarez testimony contradicted the testimonies of a number of other witnesses — including McKenna, Lozano and Cammarano — previously called before the committee.

Lozano has previously testified that he had never had conversations about chief of staff salaries. Alvarez said he spoke with Lozano and McKenna about his salary at the SDA.

Alvarez also said he did not tell Lozano that he would be SDA chief of staff. Lozano testified that he did.

Alvarez claimed he was not told to leave state government in March of last year and made no efforts to do so between March and June, when McKenna asked him to leave the SDA at Platkin and Cammarano’s behest.

Cammarano testified that he told Alvarez he should separate from state government in March.

“He did not make it clear to me, at that meeting in March, that I had to leave,” Alvarez said.

The message was more clear in June, but Alvarez said he agreed to depart from his job at the SDA on the condition that Platkin and Cammarano help him find work outside of the administration. He said Platkin agreed, though it’s not clear the latter ever offered any assistance.

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