Middletown Mayor Gerard P. Scharfenberger was disingenuous at best and downright dishonest at worst when he kept mum about a state job he took while running for re-election. It seems that politicians only keep their mouths shut when they’ve got something to hide.
That seems to be the case with Scharfenberger, who started working as the executive director of the state Office of Planning Advocacy in mid-August while running for a third term on the Township Committee. The full-time state job, which pays $95,000 a year, is not so much a case of double-dipping — Scharfenberger doesn’t take a salary as mayor — as it is mendacity. It’s a lie of omission.
Scharfenberger’s hiring also again raises the question of whether a double standard exists in the Christie administration regarding people holding two public positions. And whether hiring decisions are based on qualifications or politics.
In September, Christie unveiled a package of ethics reforms that proposed a ban on elected officials holding more than one public job — regardless of whether they were drawing a paycheck. That same month, Jackson Mayor Mike Reina, a Christie loyalist who had been working as a security guard at the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant, was appointed to a $78,000-a-year position at the state Department of Transportation, which, according to its website, was in the midst of a hiring freeze. Reina was hired as a “confidential aide” in the Office of Emeergency Managment.
Two weeks ago, an Asbury Park Press reporter working on a Middletown election preview story asked Scharfenberger what he did for a living. He said he was an archaeologist and a Monmouth University professor. (He is an adjunct faculty member.) Did his new day job just slip his mind? Well, no. Last week, asked why he didn’t mention the state job at the time, Scharfenberger said, “I just assumed that everyone knew.”
As head of what used to be called the Office of Smart Growth, Scharfenberger is responsible for guiding economic growth and land use through state planning, said Shawn Crisafulli, a spokesman for the Department of State, which oversees the office.
“The administration hired him because of his public experience,” Crisafulli said. “Dr. Scharfenberger has vast expertise in land use, zoning, planning and open space.”
Did the Christie administration settle on the archaeologist after an extensive nationwide search? The state isn’t saying.
“Out of fairness to both Dr. Scharfenberger and any other candidates we interviewed and considered, we do not discuss this process publicly,” Crisafulli said.
It seems one of Scharfenberger’s chief qualifications was his sycophantic boosterism of the governor, calling him a “rock star” during Township Committee meetings and at political events, and shilling for him at every opportunity.
Scharfenberger has had a few months to settle into his new position, and according to some knowledgeable observers, it is disconcerting that a politician and not an accredited planner has been appointed to this pivotal job. Qualified or not, Scharfenberger should heed Christie’s words about the problems inherent in one person holding two public jobs — even if Christie doesn’t hold members of his own party to that standard.
Scharfenberger should resign from one of his positions. If he doesn’t, Christie should either insist on it or explain why he has changed his thinking on public servants holding more than one public job.