Last July, the administration of Gov. Phil Murphy hired former Passaic councilman Marcellus Jackson for a $70,000 job as an aide in the state Department of Education.
A couple of months later, Jackson had to resign under pressure after Politico New Jersey reported that he had accepted $26,000 in bribes and corrupt payments in 2007 from those seeking Passaic’s insurance business.
His federal conviction in the case should have barred him from employment in New Jersey, but Attorney General Gurbir Grewal found the paperwork to enforce this disqualification hadn’t been filed.
Give Grewal credit for having his office look around to see if other convicted public officials were hired in violation of state law. He has found at least eight others so far, including two former Pleasantville Board of Education members who pleaded guilty in a 2007 bribes-for-government-contracts scheme and subsequently got jobs with Atlantic County.
One of them, Jayson Adams, admitted accepting $62,500 in bribes for his help steering school board contracts. The other, Maurice “Pete” Callaway, admitted accepting $13,000 in the case, which charged 11 people including the board president.
Both went to prison. After their release, Callaway got a job with Atlantic Cape Community College in 2010 and Atlantic County employed Adams as of 2017. Adams was fired after the Attorney General’s Office inquired about his hiring, and the college would only say that Callaway was no longer employed.
State law says that public officials convicted of a federal or state crime related to their work “shall be forever disqualified from holding any office or position of honor, trust or profit under this state or any of its administrative or political subdivisions.”
Officials who commit a crime against the public are more likely to commit another similar crime. And it’s not as if government has so much trouble filling jobs with excellent pay and outstanding benefits that it has to rehire those who used such a position to criminally enrich themselves.
A benefit of the law that seems to be slipping is that it limits how much government officials can favor the politically connected and protected. Patronage is bad enough, but tolerating crimes against taxpayers and the public interest in the pursuit of favoritism is doubly offensive.
Apparently not to Murphy.
His response to getting caught improperly hiring Jackson: “He did what he needed to do and he raised his hand and he asked for a second chance. … We have to get to a better place and give folks, Marcellus and generations to come a second chance.”
Murphy’s idea of a better place seems to be one in which political favoritism transcends the law. Indeed, Jackson was hired after a legal review by the Murphy administration.
After government workers are convicted of crimes, prosecutors are supposed to file forfeiture orders to ensure they don’t work in government again. The hiring process at government agencies should see those orders and adhere to them. And even if that fails through incompetence or possibly corrupt neglect, the disqualification should become obvious when the new hire is enrolled in the state pension system.
Grewal’s investigation should lead to a review of how this system is failing and changes to ensure it doesn’t keep happening. Gov. Murphy may not like the law, but unless he gets it changed, his responsibility is to uphold it and protect the public’s interest.