Oversight panel frustrated, disgusted — and asking about Murphy
TRENTON — After 38 hours of hearings across seven days, an increasingly frustrated legislative oversight panel is unable to answer a basic question: Who hired the campaign and transition official accused of sexual assault at the Schools Development Authority?
Lynn Haynes, who was director of personnel for the transition and then became a deputy chief of staff for Gov. Phil Murphy, said Al Alvarez informed her just before Murphy became governor what his job would be for the administration.
“He said they’re sending me over to SDA to be the chief of staff,” Haynes said.
Haynes said she doesn’t know who "they" are or who interviewed Alvarez. She assumes one of three people who decided on all hires had signed off: 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 of them have testified under oath that they did not hire him. Here’s how Lozano described the hire last month to Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin, D-Essex.
“Who told you that Mr. Alvarez was going to be the SDA’s chief of staff?” Marin said.
“Mr. Alvarez,” said Lozano, now president and chief executive officer of the economic development agency Choose New Jersey.
State Sen. Sandra Cunningham, D-Hudson, asked if a fourth person could have decided on hiring Alvarez: Murphy, at the time the governor-elect. Haynes paused 18 seconds before answering her.
“That wasn’t a part of the process, having the governor involved,” she said. “And so, I don’t know. I would just be speculating.”
“We all know how campaigns work. We take jobs in campaigns so that we can get positions,” said Cunningham. “And because he obviously knew all the players and knew everyone, it seems to me that it’s very simple for the governor said, ‘Hey, take care of Al.’ So that’s why to me it seems like a logical answer to the big question.”
Murphy has said he doesn’t know who hired Alvarez for the SDA job. Committee lawyer Michael Critchley read a letter at the Tuesday hearing that said Murphy had authorized hiring Alvarez to the position of deputy personnel director for the transition office.
Haynes said her signature on Alvarez’s SDA offer letter has probably been affixed electronically. She said she was told his salary would be $140,000 by Lozano, who has said he didn’t set salaries for officials at the independent authorities.
Haynes said that, contrary to the testimony of campaign counsel Raj Parikh, no changes were made to Alvarez’s personnel responsibilities during the transition as a result of the accusations that were made that had ended with prosecutors not filing charges. She was told by Parikh that had been an issue with Alvarez on the campaign but wasn’t told the details or the seriousness of the allegations.
“It wasn’t odd,” Haynes said of Alvarez being offered a job at the SDA. “He had long-standing relationships from the campaign. He was friends with the folks on the campaign, he had relationships on transition and he knew the governor well. So it was just a natural progression to me. I wouldn’t have looked into it.”
Committee members and lawyers said the conflicting answers and lack of clarity are frustrating.
“I’m just very frustrated, but I have to laugh about it because this is more and more insane each time we sit here,” said Marin, the committee co-chairwoman. “Each time someone comes up, the inconsistencies – and at the end of the day, all that we’re asking for is someone just give us an answer. It’s not that big of a deal. But the more you don’t give us an answer, the bigger of a deal it becomes because it just looks unprofessional.”
“At the end of the day when we leave, we’re so disgusted because we haven’t learned anything after eight hours,” said Assemblywoman BettyLou DeCroce, R-Morris.
“In the words of Alice from Alice in Wonderland, every time we ask a question it gets more curiouser and curiouser. And I just don’t know why that’s the case,” Critchley said.
“To borrow a phrase, it’s almost like a mystery inside a riddle inside an enigma,” said Joseph Hayden, an attorney for the committee.
Tuesday night, after the hearing, Murphy’s office announced changes to state policies and procedures for handling allegations of sexual misconduct against state workers and job applicants.
The changes resulted from a review Murphy requested after Katie Brennan, chief of staff at the state Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, detailed her allegations and the lack of a response to them in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.
State policies prohibiting workplace discrimination now apply to gubernatorial transition offices. A broader definition of sexual harassment will be in place. Victims are specifically permitted to pursue discrimination complaints as well as criminal charges. New interim measures are allowed before a full investigation begins, including removing a person from the workplace. And the jurisdiction of state policy is being expanded in a number of ways, such as making it irrelevant if the alleged incident occurred before either of the parties involved was a state worker.
A situation like the one brought by Brennan would now be eligible for a discrimination investigation.