Thursday, June 13, 2024
HomenewsIs Murphy's Last-Minute Amendment to A New Jersey Bill a Ruse to...

Is Murphy’s Last-Minute Amendment to A New Jersey Bill a Ruse to Fire the Agency Head?

New Jersey lawmakers sneaked in a last-minute round of modifications to a huge revamp of state campaign finance regulations on Thursday, which would modify how individuals and businesses with public contracts can contribute to politicians, parties, and other organisations.

One change tucked away in the proposed “Elections Transparency Act” gives the governor the authority to designate the executive director of the Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC), the organisation that monitors all elections in New Jersey, from school board elections to gubernatorial contests.

Presently, the executive director is selected by the four ELEC commissioners. The move would require the agency head to “serve at the pleasure of the governor,” which, according to detractors, undermines the role’s and agency’s independence and opens the door to political intervention and abuse.

Latest in Months-Long Campaign

Bruce Afran, the attorney representing ELEC’s current executive director Jeff Brindle, claims the move is the latest in a months-long effort by the governor’s office to compel Brindle’s retirement over an email he sent to a colleague regarding National Coming Out Day. Politico was the first to report the news story.

Afran told NorthJersey.com that Brindle was presented with a pre-written resignation letter on the governor’s letterhead during a meeting on November 2 with Murphy’s chief of staff George Helmy, general counsel Parimal Garg, and chief ethics officer Dominic Rota.

Afran stated that they accused Brindle of making an anti-gay remark, but wouldn’t tell him what it was, and threatened him with publicity if he didn’t resign. Murphy spokesperson Mahen Gunaratna denied that the governor’s office had threatened to make the statement public, but declined to comment further on Afran’s claims.

National Coming Out Day email

The gathering was initiated by an ELEC employee’s email promoting National Coming Out Day. On October 11, Brindle responded to the employee, “Are you leaving? No birthdays for Abraham Lincoln or George Washington, but we can celebrate national coming out day.” NorthJersey.com has gotten a copy of the relevant email.

This is hardly an antagonistic comment, “Afran disputed. “That is merely a political viewpoint. After 40 years of loyal service to the state, you do not dismiss or force the resignation of an employee over an opinion expressed in an email of this sort.”

On November 3, Brindle informed Rota that he would not be resigning.

‘Direct Interference in Independent Agency

Afran stated that on November 15, Rota called the chair of ELEC, Eric Jaso, and instructed Jaso to terminate Brindle for allegedly making anti-gay and racial remarks.

ELEC Commissioner Stephen Holden, a Democratic attorney chosen by Republican Gov. Chris Christie, said NorthJersey.com that commissioners requested copies of the alleged remarks to initiate an investigation, but neither the governor’s office nor the attorney general’s office responded.

Holden stated, “Our attitude has been, and we’ve written to the governor and attorney general, that we take such matters very seriously, and insofar as it is our responsibility to hire and fire, we must conduct an investigation among the commissioners.” “We sent several letters, but received no response. Our legal team addressed letters to their legal team. I believe the response was the modification of the law.”

“These charges are really grave, and if they are false, they risk trivialising the concept,” Holden explained.

Afran stated that the Attorney General’s Office requested Brindle’s participation in an investigation of “an alleged discriminatory behavior” and “training” prior to the probe.

Afran stated that there was direct meddling with an autonomous agency. “They basically attempted to coerce the executive director’s resignation in an illegal and improper manner. Only the commissioners have the authority to hire and terminate the executive director. They attempted to coerce his departure by threatening him with publicity.”

Head of Agency Since 2009

Since 2009, Brindle has served as the executive director of ELEC, having worked for the organisation since 1985.

Afran stated, “We feel that Mr. Brindle’s outspoken criticisms of dark money were likely the impetus behind his dismissal.” “We hope that this episode will convince members of the Legislature that the independence of this 50-year-old ethics organisation, which has performed quite well, is under jeopardy, and frankly, we become a bit of a banana republic if the governor can just dominate an independent ethical watchdog.”

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Parvesh
Parvesh
Parvesh is the Content Writer for New Jersey Local News. Here at New Jersey Local News, she covers local news of New Jersey state. Moreover, Parvesh likes to dance and listen to music. She also finds time in her hectic schedule to relax and spend time with loved ones.
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