Ex-Aide at $12 Billion New Jersey Agency Draws a Blank on Who Hired Him

(Bloomberg) -- Albert J. Alvarez says some of Governor Phil Murphy’s closest advisers told him about his job duties, pay and even parking spot. He’s hazy, though, on who hired him at a $12 billion New Jersey agency operating under court order to build schools.

“I couldn’t tell you,” Alvarez, a former New Jersey Schools Development Authority chief of staff, told a legislative panel in Trenton. “I would agree that’s unusual in most settings."

Lawmakers are seeking hiring details and other information as a window into Murphy’s stewardship of the authority. Media reports in recent months have documented a series of questionable personnel maneuvers at the agency, established in 2007 to replace an earlier entity that had wasted hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.

Having almost exhausted the more than $12 billion borrowed, the staff is operating a public-relations campaign to build support for the authority to sell more debt. At the same time, Senate President Steve Sweeney says the agency has no reason to exist and its duties should be carried out by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority.

Alvarez’s role came to lawmakers’ attention in October, when he resigned while the Wall Street Journal was readying a report about a sexual-assault allegation made against him by Katie Brennan in April 2017. At that time, he was working on Murphy’s campaign. Prosecutors declined to file criminal charges, citing a lack of evidence.

“The sexual contact between myself and Ms. Brennan was consensual,” Alvarez told lawmakers in his first public comments about the matter. The accusation, he said, has “devastated my career and brought an emotional toll on myself and my loved ones.”

Alvarez appeared before the legislative select oversight committee under an agreement that he not discuss the assault allegation. Instead, Michael Critchley Sr., the attorney hired by lawmakers to lead their questioning, pressed Alvarez about who hired him even though a number of Murphy campaign, transition and administration advisers were familiar with Brennan’s report. Alvarez named one aide who made him aware of the job opening, another who sent him a Schools Development Authority employment letter and a third who walked him through duties, pay and office parking. Asked repeatedly about who brought him aboard, though, Alvarez didn’t offer a name.

“You hired yourself,” Critchley said.

Brennan, chief of staff for the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, in prior testimony said she contacted top Murphy aides and the governor to tell them about the incident. She said she was assured that Alvarez would leave state government. Alvarez told the panel that Pete Cammarano, the then-chief of staff, and Matt Platkin, the chief counsel, urged him to leave, but Alvarez wanted time to find another job. Without a position lined up, he said, he stayed and received a $30,000 raise, bringing his annual total to $170,000.

What made him leave, he said, was an order from Lizette Delgado Polanco, the schools authority’s chief executive, as the Wall Street Journal story was about to be published. Her leadership now is under scrutiny amid reports that seasoned staff members were fired and at least two dozen others were brought in. Many appeared to have personal or professional connections to Delgado Polanco, a Murphy ally who is the vice chairwoman of the State Democratic Committee.

Sweeney, the Senate president, has called the staff changes a “disgusting” patronage move, and said the agency should be disbanded. Delgado Polanco has said the new workers were hired appropriately and came with broad experience.

The legislative committee is expected to recommend policy on how the state handles internal sexual-abuse reports.

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