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Senators might review Alvarez transition actions

Could trigger new round of vetting for Murphy appointees

By Nikita Biryukov, October 18 2018 2:07 pm

Senate members of the select committee that will investigate the hiring of Al Alvarez by Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration on Thursday said they may examine the hires Alvarez made or denied during his time as deputy director of personnel in Murphy’s transition office.

That could trigger a new vetting process of Murphy appointees.

Alvarez resigned from his role as Schools Development Authority chief of staff earlier this month following a press inquiry related to sexual assault accusations leveled by Katie Brennan, who is chief of staff at the state’s housing agency.

“I’ll take it under advisement, that’s for sure,” State Sen. Steve Oroho (R-Franklin) said when asked if the panel should investigate hires Alvarez had input on. “Because he was the head of the personnel, did it taint his – that’s obviously something that has to be taken a look at.”

Oroho one of two Republican senators on the six-member panel expected to make up the upper chamber’s portion of the select committee.

But, his party alignment had little to do with his thoughts on the matter, as a colleague from across the aisle agreed the matter should at least be considered.

“I think that, as a member of the committee, I think that’s probably one of the conversations that may come up, and I look forward to getting more information on that,” Senate President Pro-Tempore Teresa Ruiz  (D-Newark) told the New Jersey Globe.

In his role on the transition team, Alvarez had a degree of control over the recruiting processes the select committee is set to investigate, and it’s possible that other questionable hires were made by the Murphy administration because of Alvarez’s role during the transition.

Those concerns could be assuaged were Murphy to take a clear stance on his role in hiring members of his administration, but his stated position on his role in the hiring process has changed since Alvarez’s hiring became a point of controversy for the governor.

Because of the controversies that have tainted Alvarez’s role in the transition, any decisions he made could be akin to the fruit of the poisonous tree.

At a press conference about Alvarez earlier this week, Murphy said he was aware Alvarez was hired after the fact but didn’t push for the hire or keep up with it as it was going through the process.

“I don’t know how many people work in state government. There’s 60,000 people, I think, so I knew that he was hired, but I didn’t push for it or wasn’t necessarily informed. I Think I was told after the fact he was hired. I also wasn’t aware of any of this, so there was no reason for someone to say ‘wait a minute.’”

He said somebody in the transition – he’s not sure who – was responsible for Alvarez’s hiring.

His statements on Monday contradict ones he made in March following the dismissal of Paula White, who was fired hours after she was unanimously confirmed by the Senate to a role as assistant commissioner of at the Department of Education.

There were allegations at the time that White had been fired at the behest of the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest and most powerful teachers’ union. The group is squarely in Murphy’s corner politically, a point of occasional friction between a governor and Senate President Steve Sweeney, whom the NJEA spent millions trying to unseat last year.

“I make decisions on who works for us on our team and nobody else,” Murphy said at the time, calling the idea that the NJEA was responsible for White’s termination ridiculous.

A member of the governor’s press team did not immediately email seeking comment on the apparent change in position. That request was made at 1:31 p.m., and this story will be updated once comment is received.

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