By Gary Grossman
The Daily Item
Wayne Bryant, a powerfully placed assemblyman and state senator from New Jersey’s 5th District, parlayed a series of well-placed legislative roles into four public jobs that he held simultaneously and six other positions for two brothers, his wife, his son and a sister-in-law that stacked up to $700,000.
Bryant, an attorney with Zeller & Bryant LLP in Camden County, was a lawyer for several communities and for a public advisory board, where, as attorney of record, he would accrue pension eligibility, even though junior members of the firm would make appearances and do the work.
When Bryant edged his way toward retirement in 2007, with pension rights calculated to be north of $180,000, newspapers and prosecutors inquired about his work for the former University of Medicine and Dentistry in Seton Hall, where he was a public affairs liaison and for Rutgers University law school in Camden as a lecturer.
What they found were no-show or “low-show” jobs that the universities supported because Bryant’s influence on appropriations and education committees meant he could funnel millions of dollars to state campuses.
Bryant, referred to as the “king of double dipping” in the press, was indicted on a long list of bribery, corruption, mail fraud and wire fraud charges and convicted of influence peddling. He did 40 months at a federal prison camp in West Virginia.
Wayne Bryant was a poster child for why newspapers seek information about pensions and pay-outs and secrecy clauses in separation agreements and lawsuit settlements involving public funds.
People in elected offices and in pivotal, publicly supported administrative jobs have far more influence over the terms and conditions of their employment and retirement than people in the private sector.
Successive waves of voluntary or elected board members installed by a broadly distracted or disinterested electorate are no match for a determined, skilled and self-interested professional. This absence in continuity of oversight creates an imbalance in negotiations for retirement packages when small pieces are added over time.
When the employees write their own retirement contracts, they have or have access to the power to establish easy eligibility, lifetime healthcare, survivor benefits and annual payments equal to or in excess of the compensation they received while working full time.
The question in the public sector is “who regulates the regulators and who governs the governors?” The answer is “everybody.” When a job is everybody’s job, it is nobody’s responsibility — and it is an invitation for mischief.
At the same time, when everybody is boss, how the money is spent is actually everybody’s business. Secrecy agreements and information walls should not prevent the public from learning where their money went.
Around the time things began to unravel for Wayne Bryant, there was a provost at the law school in Camden who had the task one year to meet with newspaper editorial boards and lobby for more education funding in the state budget.
The provost was a chief administrator, the fellow who was actually responsible for Senator Bryant’s low-show lecture role at that university branch.
We listened attentively while he made the case for sustained college funding. Then we shifted topics to Senator Bryant’s lecture series. Bryant was an adjunct professor for five years, a visiting lecturer, who had been paid, altogether, $130,000, while he helped pass legislation that invested $11 million in campus expansion.
Full-time professors at the college did not know about Bryant’s role as a distinguished lecturer, nor could they recall having seen him on campus. When we got into questions about the senator’s classroom schedule, the provost could see where the interview was headed.
He promised to look into the details and get back to us and then he exited for what he said was his next appointment.
Shortly afterward, the provost made a career move to Philadelphia before the grand jury inquiries began in earnest.
Corruption doesn’t happen one day when Tony Soprano’s crew offers you an unnecessary insurance policy. It happens when a state senator in a key role to appropriate millions in public funds asks if you would like to have a “distinguished adjunct professor on law and public affairs.”
That, too, is an offer you cannot refuse.
Gary Grossman is publisher of The Daily Item and The Danville News.