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NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Mayor James Cahill has demoted his new Water Director, assuming control of the embattled utility for the second time in less than a year.
New Brunswick Water Utility Director Alexei Walus was demoted “effective immediately” to Water Treatment Plant Supervisor “following an incident involving the use of derogatory and inappropriate language.”
The announcement came in an unusual posting on the city government website on March 27.
It is just the latest episode in a chaotic series of events that began with the suicide of a Water Utility Director in 2007, and subsequent revelations that the agency had been falsifying records for several years under his successor, Thomas Loughlin, who also serves as the city’s Business Administrator.
Walus has been reassigned to the position of Water Treatment Plant Superintendent, and his salary reduced from $105,000 has been reduced to $95,000, according to the statement posted on March 27.
However, other parts of the website still list Walus as the Director. A phone message left for him was not returned.
Last summer, the city’s well-respected Water Director Frank Marascia left the job around the same time a suspended housing inspector accused of a racial slur was transferred into his department.
Mayor Cahill quietly took over the Water Director position, and without consulting the City Council or notifying the public, began seeking a private company to take over some of the utility’s functions.
Just weeks before Walus was hired, the city cut a one-year deal worth $868,000 with American Water to provide “licensed operators,” personnel that are required to operate the city’s large water system, which also serves Milltown and parts of Franklin Township.
“In hindsight, [the deal with American Water] worked out exceedingly well,” said Mayor James Cahill in an exclusive interview, where he made it clear he would not promise to end the relationship with American Water when the deal expires.
“I’m willing to promise that [ending the reliance on American Water] is my goal,” said Cahill in the January 9 interview. “I don’t know what’s going to happen over the course of the next six months.”
Mayor Cahill said he would feel comfortable ending the relationship if he had at least one more T4 licensed operator, and “one or two other folks who are T1’s or T2’s.”
Walus has been registered as the utility’s sole T-4 operator of record since February 10.
“Unless and until I’m completely comfortable that we have all the personnel we need on board to provide the services that we need, I’m not going to make a commitment that it’s going to end at any given time.”
Now, with six months left on the American Water deal, Walus has been removed from his cabinet-level position effective immediately.
“In the interim, Mayor Jim Cahill will serve as Acting Director of the New Brunswick Water Utility while the City actively pursues a new candidate to fill the position,” reads the city’s statement.
“This is another unfortunate incident where the administration of the New Brunswick Water Utility has had serious problems,” said Jim Walsh of the non-profit consumer advocacy group Food & Water Watch.
“The City needs to quickly hire a new director and conduct an independent investigation of these incidents,” said Walsh. “This is vital to ensuring they are providing the safe and affordable public water that people deserve.”
As we reported, New Brunswick’s five-member City Council unanimously approved Walus’ hiring on October 15, but admitted they had not met or spoken to him.
Walus was hired after the city paid $19,275 for the services of search firm Carpenter Shackleton, the same company that helped the city find Marascia, who lasted about 18 months in the position.
Prior to Marascia, the last full-time Water Director was Shawn Maloney, who allegedly took his own life shortly after learning of an investigation into corruption in New Brunswick.
Just ten weeks into his term as Director, Walus requested the Council approve three years worth of 5% increases to the rates paid by the utility’s customers. They unanimously approved the rate hike, as we reported.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.