Murphy’s silence speaks loudly about SDA staffing scandal (Analysis)
On Feb. 24, Gov. Phil Murphy said “We’ll get back to you,” when asked about a report his choice to head the Schools Development Authority had packed the payroll with unqualified friends and relatives.
We’re still waiting.
One of Murphy’s first hires after taking office was Lizette Delgado-Polanco as chief executive officer of the Schools Development Authority. Delgado-Polanco is a long-time union official who helped organize support for Murphy’s gubernatorial run. Almost immediately, she began purging the SDA of veteran employees, and bringing in family, friends and former union colleagues. Many are now making six-figure salaries for jobs they seem unqualified to hold. When asked about that in February, Murphy seemed to indicate he was aware of the hirings, and was OK with them.
“We have called balls and strikes," he said at the time. "If somebody was talented and we thought they were doing a good job for the most part, we were somewhere between accommodating and supportive.”
When further pressed on the issue, the governor said he was “trying to figure out what has gone on there, and when we have more to report on that we’ll come back to you.”
When Degaldo-Polanco came before the Assembly Budget Committee, she refused to answer any questions about her staffing decisions. Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz, D-Union, tried to give the benefit of the doubt when she questioned Delgado-Polanco, but said some on her hires “clearly weren’t prepared for the SDA.” Degado-Polanco sidestepped several hiring questions, saying the matter was under investigation by counsel.
“So there’s a lot of things under review by counsel,” a frustrated Munoz snarked. “That is correct,” Delgado-Polanco confirmed. NorthJersey.com reports the State Attorney General is state also looking into the matter.
The exchange again highlighted the frustration of lawmakers with the Murphy administration over its hiring practices. A joint committee is still impaneled to look into various hiring scandals that started with Al Alvarez -- the man fellow administration official Katie Brennan accuses of raping her while they were both on the Murphy campaign -- being named Chief of Staff for the SDA.
Alvarez worked with Delgado-Polanco to fire existing employees and make way for the new hires that appear to have clear connections to her. The Alvarez hire is still a mystery. Months of hearings have still not been able to identify who signed off on adding him to the Murphy team, even as officials at various levels were made aware of Brennan's allegations.
Through all of this, Murphy has been silent. The governor’s silence could be interpreted as de facto support for Degaldo-Polanco, even though he has not publicly said as much. The growing patronage scandal comes at a critical time for the SDA, which is asking for billions more taxpayer dollars to pay for school construction projects. It’s also further damaging to Murphy, who is seeing his approval ratings drop and half of state residents believing the state in on the “wrong track.”
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