Murphy must own the SDA fiasco | Editorial

Posted Apr 14, 2019

Currently, there is an internal inquiry of the hiring practices and payroll management at the Schools Development Authority, the agency still tasked with upgrading schools in our poorest communities despite its legacy of Jersey-caliber depravity.

There is also a “review” of hiring protocols at the SDA and other state authorities, by order of Governor Murphy.

Plus, various legislative panels are looking into the SDA’s eight-month makeover under the merry murderess of meritocracy, CEO Lizette Delgado-Polanco.

And even the formidable State Commission of Investigation reportedly might dive in, because it is one of the few agencies that endorses government integrity without eliciting belly laughs.

All this should be of some comfort to taxpayers.

But it’s also anticlimactic, because here’s what we already know:

Delgado-Polanco sacked dozens of qualified employees without warning or justification under the rubric of reorganization.

She replaced them with 38 others, many of them from her extended family or cronies from her carpenters union, whose collective salaries add up to $3.3 million.

A preposterous portion of those hires are verifiably unqualified, which is either validation that the SDA is an orgy of nepotism or proof that the person in charge is a deluded mediocrity.

And there are credible accusations from those former employees who said that positive reviews and promotion recommendations have been scrubbed from their personnel files.

So – spoiler alert – we really don’t need any of these investigations.

We only need Gov. Murphy to have a meaningful chinwag with Delgado-Polanco, and to ask his $225,000 appointee whether she believes that “all of the new hires are experienced professionals with the skill set and decades of experience needed to succeed in their roles at the SDA,” as she asserted in February.

Because The Record last week took a deep dive on 10 of these hires – and the résumé each brought to the SDA — and exposed that assessment as pure horse hockey.

Three random examples:

The qualifications for Deputy Director of Small, Minority and Women Owned Businesses include a “preferred” master’s degree and some experience in “strategic planning” in “business diversity.” The guy Delgado-Polanco hired for the $105,000 job has no college degree, no planning experience, and was last employed at a car dealership, The Record learned.

The position of Deputy Director of Contract Management requires a BA in engineering, architecture, construction management, or law, plus a minimum of five years in the construction industry. The guy Delgado-Polanco hired for that $110,000 gig is “halfway toward a bachelor’s degree and has no experience in construction,” The Record reported.

And Delgado-Polanco’s HR director did not have the degree nor the certification the job calls for. Just two weeks on the job, that director accidentally released sensitive employee data, including social security numbers. The State Police had to investigate. For this, she received a promotion and a raise.

Asked repeatedly about her hiring practices at an Assembly Budget Committee hearing Thursday, Delgado-Polanco hid behind lawyers and the mealy-mouthed blather of the apparatchik: “I did what any other CEO in my position was afforded,” she said.

Yes, patronage is endemic to New Jersey. The spoils system didn’t end in 1883, when Chester Arthur signed the Pendleton Act. And at-will employees can be fired.

But the SDA oversees $11 billion in school construction projects. It is not a job for amateurs or a place for the CEO’s pals to park their pants for eight hours a day. Touted as a skilled leader trying to diversify government — a noble aim — Delgado-Polanco has instead been exposed as a shameless fraud.

This is not merely an oversight task for our Democratic Legislature. This is also a test for Murphy, who has let an ally bring disgrace to a government he had promised to cleanse.

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