As Gov. Phil Murphy struggles to recover from one hiring scandal, another one is brewing — and it comes at the same state agency that is already being investigated by the Legislature.

The Record of Bergen County is detailing how the new CEO of the Schools Development Authority cleaned house and packed the payroll with family and close friends.

Using state payroll records, reporter Dustin Racioppi is detailing how new SDA Chief Executive Officer Lizette Delgado-Polanco fired dozens of staffers over the last six months. It is reported she then replaced them with friends and relatives making combined salaries of $3.3 million. Questions have already been raised about the qualifications of the new hires.

The SDA is defending the moves, claiming the new staff members are “highly qualified,” but at least one staffer — a second cousin of Delgado-Polanco — had to resign from a previous government job after being accused of sexual harassment.

Patronage hiring is nothing new in New Jersey government, but the optics aren’t good for Murphy, and could further prolong the joint legislative investigation already looking into the administration’s hiring practices. Committee members haven’t had much of a chance to dig deeper into the hirings at the SDA because they have not been able to answer even the most basic question of who hired Al Alvarez as the agency’s chief of staff, despite him being accused of sexually assaulting a campaign worker.

In the case of Delgado-Polanco, that is not in question. As vice president of the state Democratic Party, she was a strong Murphy ally during his campaign and was appointed directly by Murphy. Delgado-Polanco remains VP of the state party, and her hiring appears to be a reward for helping to rally the state’s unions to support Murphy’s bid for governor.

The SDA issued a statement to The Record saying that the agency's chief of staff and executive team members were consulted on all of the new hires. With legislative investigators now likely to look deeper into the agency’s hiring, that will leave little wiggle room for Murphy if lawmakers find irregularities in the hiring process.

EDITOR'S NOTE: A previous version of this article should have said that the SDA's chief of staff, not Murphy's chief of staff, was consulted on the hirings.

Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email sergio.bichao@townsquaremedia.com.

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