NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Mayor Jim Cahill has appointed of Mark Lavenberg as the city’s next Director of the New Brunswick Water Utility, a move approved unanimously by the City Council on July 1.

The appointment makes Lavenberg the fourth person to hold the job in one year, and the fifth since former Water Director Shawn Maloney took his own life in 2007.

Lavenberg replaces Cahill, who had been serving as “Acting Water Director” since March.  Lavenberg started his new job on July 6, and will be paid an annual salary of $107,000.

Four days earlier, he left his superintendent position with the City of Bridgeton, nearly 100 miles away in Cumberland County.  He has worked for that city’s Water and Sewer Utility since October 2010, according to his LinkedIn page.

Lavenberg’s hire comes at an unfortunate time, after the city’s previous Water Director Alexei Walus was demoted by Cahill on March 27 for using a racial slur on the job.

Walus only lasted five months in the position before being demoted, but he remains on the payroll as the Water Treatment Plant Superintendent, a position that pays him $95,000.

Walus’ predecessor left the Director position one year ago to take a job with NJ American Water, a private company that was quickly and quietly hired by Cahill to manage some of the functions of the utility.

One of the key decisions Lavenberg will be responsible for is what to do when the city’s contract with NJ American runs out in September.

The utility is also still trying to recover from the fallout from a recent scandal where the city was caught falsifying water quality records, endangering the public by not issuing required water boil advisories over a three-year period.

A longtime employee on which the federal and state violations are blamed, Edward O’Rourke, remains suspended without pay and may still face criminal charges, according to City Hall.

According to a press release announcing Lavenberg’s hire, he is 52 years old, and has more than 26 years of experience in water treatment and distribution and wastewater management.

The press release stated that Lavenberg has extensive managerial experience from his time at six water and sewer facilities in South Jersey: Bridgeton, Palmyra, Moorestown, Wrightstown, Pemberton and Mount Holly.

He also served for five years as the Water and Wastewater Operations Manager for the Bayside State Prison in Leesburg.

In Bridgeton, Lavenberg presided over the opening of a new headquarters after the city’s Water Works building was flooded in August 2011.

Lavenberg specializes in budget preparation and implementation as well as employee management and training. He is also experienced in labor negotiations, NJDEP compliance issues and bid preparation, according to the release.

He was awarded the USEPA’s Operations and Maintenance Excellence Award twice in his career, for the first time in 1996 and again in 2000, according to the release.

He also holds the following licenses:

  • T3 (Public Water Treatment System)
  • W3 (Public Water Distribution System)
  • S4 (Public Wastewater Treatment System)
  • C3 (Public Wastewater Collection System)
  • N1 (Industrial Wastewater Treatment System)

The press release does not mention Carpenter & Shackleton, the Chicago-based firm that the city has repeatedly hired to find its last three Water Directors.

The City Council approved the hiring of the firm on April 15, and agreed to spend up to $11,000 for the job search.  Last time, when they recommended Walus for the job, the company charged $19,275.

Critics of the private water industry and city officials have expressed a desire to end the relationship with American Water, which took responsibility for water quality violations that occurred in December 2014 and January 2015.

Lavenberg did not return a phone message from New Brunswick Today left for him at the new job.

Reporter at New Brunswick Today