Vohden, Mudrick appoint former Essex Democrat to top job
On Sunday, Herald reporter Rob Jennings wrote a very interesting column about Sussex County's new top dog -- County Administrator Stephen Gruchacz.
At last week's meeting of the county's Freeholder Board, Gruchacz -- who had been the county's Human Services Administrator -- was appointed County Administrator on a 3-2 vote (Crabb, Vohden, Mudrick voted yes; Phoebus and Graham voted no). Along with the promotion, Gruchacz picked up a 22% salary increase worth $30,000 a year and the opportunity to boost his taxpayer-funded pension with a three-year contract.
Not bad for someone who has never lived in Sussex County. Crabb, Vohden, and Mudrick waived the county's residency requirement to allow Gruchacz, a resident of Somerset County, to take Sussex County's top job.
We don't know about Crabb, but what Vohden and Mudrick should have known as they made these decisions was that Stephen Gruchacz had once been a very active Democrat Party politician in Essex County. In fact, Gruchacz was the Democrat Municipal Chairman in Maplewood -- part of the particularly repugnant party machine in Essex County/Newark.
When Gruchacz was a Democrat candidate for local office, the campaign he ran was too rough even for Essex County. The Republicans actually sued Gruchasz and his Democrat running mate for making "false and defamatory statements" against the Republicans. Gruchasz and the Democrats dismissed the charges as "political grandstanding." The accusations were over an alleged "no bid contract." Are you experiencing deja vu?
Hey, politics isn't bean bag and we're sure Gruchasz got as good as he gave. In fact, he's risen in our estimation -- but did any one of these Republicans stop and think about it before waiving the rules, giving a raise, and promoting this one-time machine Democrat to the top job in the state's most Republican County?
This is a vote that only a R.I.N.O. would make. That's R.I.N.O. -- as in Republican In Name Only.
As Democrat Chairman of Maplewood, Stephen Gruchasz also held an appointed county position with Essex County, as that county's Director of the Division of Community Health Services. Jennings notes that he was Essex County's Director the Department of Health & Rehabilitation. Gruchasz left Essex County for Somerset County in April 2002 -- about the same time he started working for Sussex County.
In contrast with Sussex County and its unelected County Administrator, Essex County has an elected County Executive. In April 2002, a two-year investigation culminated in the Essex County offices being raided by the FBI. That October, indictments were announced against the County Executive and others. The County Executive pleaded guilty to two of twenty counts filed against him -- admitting that he had solicited an illegal $15,000 campaign contribution in exchange for a county contract. He was sentenced to 13 months in prison.
Gruchasz' time at Essex County had its controversies -- particularly when he tried to mastermind the sale of that county's geriatric center. As reported in the Star-Ledger (August 17, 1995) residents and labor union leaders demanded that Gruchacz be fired. Deja vu, all over again?