Murphy’s new lackluster rules would have done little to help Katie Brennan

Murphy’s new lackluster rules would have done little to help Katie Brennan

Source: Op-Ed by Asw. Nancy Munoz

If there were still questions about a need for the legislative investigation into the handling of allegations against a former administration official to continue, Gov. Phil Murphy answered them late Tuesday. Our work is far from finished.

Nancy F. Munoz

In a press release issued just hours after new testimony about how the allegations were handled, Murphy announced what he called “sweeping revised policies and procedures.” Those rules mostly expand the role of a little-known government office, the state’s Division of Equal Employment Opportunity and Affirmative Action. These new corrective measures clarify existing procedures for handling complaints and expand the state’s jurisdiction to investigate.

This might help some employees and applicants, but none of it addresses the issues brought forward by Katie Brennan. She had access to people in the highest positions of power in the Murphy administration and used that access. The problem was that those supposedly in charge didn’t do anything about it or simply didn’t take her sexual assault allegations seriously.

What makes us think that a director in the state’s affirmative action office could have gotten a different result? These rules do nothing to prevent top administration officials from shrugging off their responsibility and denying knowledge. Policies only work to the extent they are followed. In this case New Jersey already has strict policies; it is just that the Murphy administration didn’t follow them.

This case involved two high level officials in the administration, and some responsibility needed to be taken by those in charge at the governor’s office. The question we all have is who was in charge? This is why the answer to the question of who hired Al Alvarez as chief of staff to the New Jersey Schools Development Authority is so important.

We still don’t know who. Even Murphy’s own investigation couldn’t figure that out. Former Supreme Court Justice Peter Verniero, the man hired by Murphy to investigate, concluded that Alvarez’s hiring seemed to be “a foregone conclusion” given his involvement in the Murphy campaign and association with the transition office.

In hearings this week, Murphy’s director of personnel at the transition office told the lawmakers only three people had the authority to make hiring decisions. But, all three have testified under oath that they did not hire him. It seems no one can explain it. Perhaps, Alvarez, who previously turned down an invitation to appear but has denied the claim and was never charged, should finally come forward to provide us with real answers.

If Murphy wanted to make a real change before we get the answers to this investigation’s lingering questions, he should sign the bill on his desk prohibiting secrecy under non-disclosure agreements, which just passed the Senate and Assembly. The agreements were used by his campaign and administration to thwart transparency.

Change is desperately needed and it isn’t just at one division in the governor’s office. Changes need to be made at every level of the administration – starting at the very top.

Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz is a co-chairwoman of the special legislative committee investigating allegations of sexual assault involving members of the Murphy administration. She represents parts of Union, Somerset and Morris counties in the 21st Legislative District.