In a move that might be the first act in a political drama, the nine-member board overseeing the Jersey City Employment Training Program – made up of newly-appointed members with strong political connections to Mayor Steven Fulop – has voted 5-3-1 to remove Jim McGreevey, executive director of the JCETP.
On Jan. 8, McGreevey, a former New Jersey governor, was escorted out of the JCETP headquarters that he helped to build. He said he was given no explanation as to why he was being terminated.
But McGreevey said his termination may be tied to his firing of Eugene McKnight in March of 2018. McKnight is a key political operative for the Fulop Administration. According to McGreevey, McKnight, himself an ex-offender, is currently under federal investigation for an alleged scheme to collect kickbacks from the salaries of ex-offenders placed in jobs through the JCETP, which is funded by Jersey City.
According to a letter sent to Fulop from Michael Critchley, an attorney hired by McGreevey, McKnight was terminated pending the outcome of the investigation, and McGreevey’s firing could be interpreted under state and federal law as retaliation.
“We weren’t told why we were being asked to fire him. I kept saying he should have due process. Nobody listened.” — Bob Knapp
Fired without explanation
At the board meeting at JCETP’s headquarters on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, McGreevey supporters argued on his behalf for more than an hour. But the board ultimately voted to terminate him; he’d served for nearly six years.
Several board members said they had no previous official discussion about issues regarding McGreevey’s performance.
“There was no discussion as to why McGreevey was being terminated,” said Bob Knapp, who is the longest-serving member of the board. “We weren’t told why we were being asked to fire him. I kept saying he should have due process. Nobody listened.”
Few other board members made public statements before or during the vote to terminate him.
The board voted to name newly-appointed JCETP Board President Sudhan Thomas as acting executive director in McGreevey’s place.
Pathways to better lives
McGreevey is considered one of the leaders of the reentry movement in New Jersey and has worked closely with several governors, U.S. and local legislators – in particular with State Senator Sandra Cunningham – to create a pathway for ex-offenders to build productive lives after incarceration.
Discussions with Thomas after the meeting suggested that McGreevey’s firing may have stemmed from his alleged failure to keep separate two similar but unconnected programs overseen by McGreevey: the Jersey City-funded JCETP, and the privately-operated NJ Reentry Program, a not-for-profit with six locations throughout the state.
Thomas claims that McGreevey allegedly used city resources through JCETP to benefit clients of NJ Reentry, many of whom were not Jersey City residents. This resulted in JCETP allegedly neglecting other broader spectrum programs the agency was developing, such as those for young people without criminal records, and other persons in need of employment.
JCETP is supposed to oversee summer jobs programs for young people, which it failed to do in 2018, according to Thomas.
“This has become a one-stop shop for ex-offenders,” Thomas said. “Many of these people come from other of NJ Reentry Corp. offices elsewhere in the state but are paid for by Jersey City.”
McGreevey disputed these claims, saying that only 22 percent of the population served by JCETP was reentry population. He said, “78 percent are non reentry people,” and “92 percent of those involved in the program are from Jersey City or originated here.”
McGreevey said his firing was a political move, and the biggest victims are the people who need jobs in Jersey City.
A much more political explanation?
Since McKnight’s firing, McGreevey said, Fulop has been replacing longtime and often well-qualified board members with political associates who have close ties to his political operation.
These include: Thomas, also the school board president; Rev. Rudolph Daniels, a close personal friend of Fulop’s; Jeremy Farrell, the former Fulop administration corporation counsel; Stacey Flanagan, a Fulop appointed city health officer who also works for the mayor’s reelection campaign, and others, including a police officer who is assigned as Fulop’s driver.
Anticipating his firing, McGreevey had warned the board that the city risked a lawsuit under federal and state whistleblower protections, since it was McGreevey who uncovered the alleged McKnight kickback scheme currently under investigation by the FBI.
Critchley, who formerly represented Gov. Christopher Christie in the Bridgegate inquiry, said McGreevey’s actions toward McKnight were covered under whistleblower provisions and that McGreevey’s termination could be seen as retaliation.
“Due to the nature of Mr. McKnight’s improper actions,” the letter to Mayor Fulop said, “(McGreevey) also reported McKnight’s actions to a federal law enforcement agency.” Critchley said this provides McGreevey with legal protection from political retaliation.
The letter said that since McKnight’s termination in March, Fulop has replaced former board chairman Roger Jones and numerous other members on the board overseeing JCETP, and the replacements appear to be acting as agents for Fulop, according to the letter.
As a result, the letter went on, through these appointees Fulop appeared to be trying to “intimidate” McGreevey and “concoct false premises for dismissing him as executive director of JCETP.”
These actions, Critchley went on to say, constitute retaliation against McGreevey and would be a violation of the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA) better known as the Whistleblower Act.
The JCETP board members were also presented with, and approved, two resolutions to hire a new attorney and new auditor.
“But we weren’t allow to review or discuss their qualifications,” Knapp said. “There were no resumes supplied for either or information prior to the vote for their approval.”
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