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Assemblyman Chris DePhillips. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

DePhillips: Neuwirth firing not just a personnel issue

Assemblyman concerned former assistant commissioner’s side-jobs may be an ethics breach

By Nikita Biryukov, June 02 2020 5:13 pm

Assemblyman Christopher DePhillips (R-Wyckoff) doesn’t think the firing of an assistant commissioner in the Department of Health during a pandemic is just a personnel issue.

“My concern is that this is not a simple process issue. It’s not just a simple personnel matter,” he told the New Jersey Globe. “I think the controversy goes to the heart of the Department of Health’s response to the pandemic — how the commissioner is handling the crisis and the management and oversight of the department’s staff.”

Gov. Phil Murphy has repeatedly declined to say why Chris Neuwirth was fired from his post at the Department of Health, citing a policy that bars comment on personnel issues.

The former assistant commissioner of Public Health Infrastructure, Laboratories and Emergency Preparedness was abruptly fired from his $127,386-a-year job on May 28.

So far, Murphy’s administration has declined to identify the reason for his termination.

The New Jersey Globe first reported Neuwirth’s ouster last week.

There is speculation – backed up by several sources – that Neuwirth’s firing was related to a part-time job he held with Margolis Healy & Associates, a national emergency management consulting firm that is affiliated with the Cozen O’Connor law firm and was not noted on Neuwirth’s financial disclosure.

Per the firm’s website, Neuwirth was employed there for two years. His financial disclosure lists him as an owner of Emergency Manager Project LLC, which provides training classes for EMS professionals who are licensed and regulated by the office he ran.

“I think everyone agrees that it’s not appropriate for a fulltime assistant commissioner to have two side jobs,” DePhillips said. “And it’s apparent that his side jobs implicated his own management of his own responsibilities and certainly calls into question whether those side jobs, in and of themselves, were ethical violations.”

Separately, Neuwirth is one of several officials suspected of leaking embarrassing details about the department’s inner workings to the press, sources confirmed to the New Jersey Globe.

Neuwirth’s inclusion on that list was first reported by the (Bergen) Record.

Those leaks, which, among other things, called into question how closely Murphy was following the advice of Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli, have become something of a headache for Murphy.

“The bottom line is we can’t just simply ignore what we’re learning and what we’re hearing through these leaks and what feedback we’re apparently receiving from department employees,” DePhillips said. “We sort of can’t unwind what we’ve now learned.”

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