Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Tale of Two Residences (And Offices)

OK, so no confirmation hearing for Chris Cerf on Thursday.  Like Jersey Jazzman, I am a little disappointed.  I was getting geared up to testify about the glaring lack of transparency in the NJDOE under Acting Commissioner Cerf, but I guess it will have to wait.  I'm sure it will just give me more ammunition if he ever does get a hearing because I'm not going away, and Cerf isn't going to start playing by the rules.

Jersey Jazzman already recapped how Cerf got tripped up, and how Sweeney ultimately pulled the plug:

State Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3), West Deptford, shut down the Thursday hearing for Acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf based largely on discomfort about Cerf’s declared residency status, a source said. 

In the same article that revealed Cerf had "two homes," Christie was playing hard ball:   

“We have no concern whatsoever about his residency being an issue during consideration of this extremely qualified individual for commissioner of the Department of Education,” said Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak. “We are finally moving forward in spite of the baseless, obstructionist conduct by Sen. Rice in particular — and I’m being very kind in my selection of adjectives in describing Rice’s handling of this nominee.”

Rice’s use of senatorial courtesy is an abuse of the system, the administration believes.

“It’s because they use it for political leverage to try to get something else,” Christie said of the reasons why Rice and Codey have used the practice on the governor’s Essex County nominees.

And the governor is willing to play hardball.
”I know that they’re used to the old game of rolling governors on stuff all the time,” Christie said of the Essex senators. “They’re messing with the wrong guy on this one.” (emphasis mine)

So, what do Christie and Cerf have to say now that the cat's out of the bag?

Christie’s office declined to comment.
Cerf deferred questions about his nominations and residency to his spokesman at the Department of Education, Justin Barra, who did not return calls and emails seeking comment.

Where'd all that bravado and bluster go, guys?

While the hubbub over Cerf's residence may be a mundane example of the kind of deception and bullying Cerf and Christie are capable of to get what they want, it also exemplifies all that is wrong with the way they conduct themselves.  Here's what Senator Rice wants before Cerf goes before the Judiciary Committee:

Rice, D-Essex, blocked Cerf’s nomination as education commissioner for 13 months, demanding he testify before the Joint Committee on the Public Schools, which Rice co-chairs.

Rice's request sounds totally straightforward and reasonable, so why won't Cerf do it?  I'm sure he doesn't want to answer the tough questions Rice is likely to have for him, which would probably be very similar to Jersey Jazzman's.  Here's what Rice had to say about the cancelled hearing.

Rice said the comments about Cerf’s residence were further proof of an “integrity problem” with the acting commissioner.

“I never thought he moved in the first place,” Rice said.

And here's what Cerf had to say about his two homes:

"The facts are that I own a home in Montclair and that I reside there many nights a week. I have also rented a home … in the southern part of the state and I spent several nights a week there. I use it to shorten my commute," Cerf said.

But in Peter Meyer's love-fest profile, in which Cerf was depicted as a grizzled outdoorsman and education reformer that can weather any challenge set before him, an interesting tidbit was revealed. 

The drive from Trenton to Newark was the third part of an interview that began in downtown Newark several days earlier, in a large, bare office that looks out over Jersey’s troubled largest city. Cerf uses it as a transit station, a temporary office while on his way to or from meetings in the state’s more populated eastern counties, his home in a northern suburb, or across the Hudson in New York City. I had caught up with him for part two of our interview in his official Trenton office, 50 miles to the south and west, where the state’s education department is headquartered and where he has lively paintings drawn by schoolchildren on the walls.

This is a great twofer.  Simultaneously confirming both that Cerf's home is, was and most likely always will be, in a northern suburb, namely Montclair, and also that in addition to his "official" Trenton office he also has an office in Newark.  I am not exactly a Trenton insider, and even I have heard that there is a Newark satellite office that Cerf uses when he doesn't need to be in Trenton.  So why is the state paying for a satellite office in Newark if Cerf has "shortened his commute" to Trenton by renting a home in Montgomery Township?  Perhaps that wasn't the real reason for the "move?"

Days after Michael Winerip submitted questions to NJDOE spokesman Justin Barra for his column revealing the mess we all know as Tikun Olam, we were finally granted a meeting to discuss what we knew.  We were told that Cerf couldn't meet with us, because after all, he is "The Decider."  Instead we met with Deputy Commissioner Andy Smarick, Chief of Staff David Hespe and Interim Charter School Office Director Amy Ruck, and Barra joined us via conference call from the Newark office.  

How much you wanna bet Cerf was in that Newark office listening in on the conference call?


Maybe Christie should have stayed quiet on this one...

Christie, who acknowledged during the news conference that Cerf’s family is maintaining its Montclair residence, said Cerf’s changing of his driver’s license and voter registration should be proof enough for lawmakers.

Except that...

As of 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, no one named Christopher Cerf was registered to vote in Somerset County, according to Diane Miller, a confidential aide in the Somerset County Clerk’s Office. The county’s election board updates its database every day.

It's anyone's guess whether Cerf is resting his head in Montgomery or Montclair tonight, but wherever he is I bet he's not sleeping too well...

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