When Union County Manager Al Faella, of Mountainside, retired in March of this year there was waiting in the wings an heir apparent ready to step into Faella’s shoes.
A Woodbridge resident, Ed Oatman, was hired to work in the County Manager’s office as a part-time seasonal employee at a rate of $25 an hour on January 3, 2018. Hot off of the political campaign of Gov. Phil Murphy, Oatman also worked as the Chief of Staff and District Director for the office of Sen. Nick Scutari and Assemblyman Jim Kennedy from 2012 until 2018.
Oatman was also partners with Nick Fixmer in Parktowne Associates from 2012 to 2018, a political consulting firm catering to Democrats. Fixmer ran the show as Executive Director of the Union County Democratic Committee during the absence of the late Assemblyman Jerry Green, Chairman of the UC Dems.
The resignation and the passing of Green as well as the retirement of longtime Union County political king Senator Ray Lesniack set into motion a giant game of chess. Various persons were scuffled around between jobs, with Oatman supplanting Faella as County Manager. Lesniack’s Chief of Staff, Tony Teixeira, slid into Oatman’s slot, and Oatman’s business partner, Fixmer, was showing Congressional candidate Malinowski around the 7th District, though he denies taking any money for the gig. (Only time will tell on that one.)
County employees are expected to live in Union County. The administrative code of the county states that at the time of appointment the County Manager may live outside the county by contractual consent if there is a contract or by a waiver granted by a majority of the full Freeholder Board.
A waiver may not be required if one was previously granted while the County Manager was employed by the County in another capacity. The waiver was granted by Res. 2018-165 , Feb. 8, 2018, with Freeholder Estrada voting NO and Freeholder Jalloh absent. About a month later on March 1, 2018, 100% of the Board approved resolution 2018-792 giving Oatman a starting salary of $169K as the new County Manager replacing Faella. With residency restrictions settled and starting salary in place, Oatman was set to go as Faella exited in late March.
Oatman started his governmental/political employment when he graduated from Kean University in 1997 with a degree in Political Science. He worked as a “tracker” for the McGreevy campaign following, taping and photographing Republican Christie Whitman as she made public appearances. He did a 13-month stint as a marketing director for a politically oriented firm and then in 2002 to 2016 for Assemblywoman Linda Stender as chief of staff overlapping, it appears, with Scutari from 2012 to early 2018. All the while he worked on the campaigns of Bob Menendez and Linda Stender, as well as several other high profile Democrats.
Our County Manager, supervises controls and directs all county departments and is responsible for 2,800 employees as well as a budget of $500 million. The manager negotiates numerous contracts, handles collective negotiations with employees, and on and on. Though his previous experience is impressive, it is not a fit for the job. Further nowhere on his resume does it indicate the number of employees he has been responsible for or the amounts of the budgets he managed, if he did. His resume states that he “Managed staff members based on their daily, weekly and monthly duties.” (Even with over 25 years as a recruiter/headhunter I am not sure exactly what that bullet point means.)
Freeholder Kowalski praised his experience in a County press release stating “Ed has great experience in developing solutions to complex issues”, really a meaningless accolade. It is unknown if internal candidates were considered, such as the Deputy County Manager, or the number of other candidates resumes reviewed and interviewed besides Oatman.
According to a letter sent to The Local Source in February just before his appointment a Union County resident had obtained legal counsel and was threatening litigation because the Board of Chosen Freeholders had appeared to avoid and circumvent the county administrative code requirements for filling the position of County Manager.
The actions of this Board need must be reviewed for ethical violations as they appear to make up the rules as they go along to fit the circumstances and as in this case making sure that their own are gainfully well employed.
Please consider me for a seat on the board because seriously, what have you got to lose? I assure the County residents that I do not operate this way and would never favor friends when making decisions regarding the running of county government.
Former Garwood Mayor; Clark Candidate for Union County Freeholder