Are Phil Murphy staffers channeling their inner Spicoli? (Analysis)
TRENTON — As lawmakers continue to investigate the hiring practices of Gov. Phil Murphy's administration, a pattern has emerged: "I don't know."
In varying iterations, that has been the response to the most basic of questions: Who hired a credibly accused rapist into a senior position in Murphy's newly forming government?
One observer told me it reminded him of the scene in the 1982 classic "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," when Mr. Hand asks a confused Jeff Spicoli, "Why do you shamelessly waste my time like this?" After a long pause, Spicoli responds, "I don't know."
Lynn Haynes' signature appears on Al Alvarez's hiring form elevating him to chief of staff for the Schools Development Authority. Haynes was director of personnel for the Murphy transition. However, she testified last week she didn't sign the form personally and it must have been an electronic signature.
So who did hire Alvarez? Haynes said there could only be three possibilities: Pete Cammarano, the then-incoming chief of staff; Matt Platkin, the then-incoming chief counsel; or Jose Lozano, who was director of the transition office. All three testified they didn't hire Alvarez. When asked who did, their response was essentially a Spicoli-like "I don't know."
When asked if Murphy could have hired Alvarez, Haynes paused even longer than the confused Spicoli (a full 18 seconds), before responding, "I don't know."
As the legislative investigation continues, the issue is problematic for Murphy for two reasons. Members of the investigating committee have grown frustrated over the lack of answers and accountability. They have heard 38 hours of testimony without anyone being able to answer the hiring question. That may further extend the hearings into the budget season. Additionally, many of those who say they don't know still hold senior positions in the Murphy administration, and their credibility has been called into question during the hearings.
A report from former state Supreme Court Justice Peter Verniero failed to turn up who hired Alvarez, and made no recommendations for discipline or firing of any staff member involved. Murphy said the report contains some "hard truths." Perhaps the hardest truth is the continuing toll a lack of answers will take on an administration that is already struggling to advance a progressive agenda that Democratic lawmakers have greeted with lukewarm enthusiasm.
Eric Scott is Vice President, Senior Political Director and Director of Special Projects for New Jersey 101.5. He anchors "New Jersey's First News" and weekday morning newscasts from 5 to 10 a.m., in addition to hosting a bimonthly Town Hall series.
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