RAHWAY — A Union County freeholder acknowledged as an expert in homeland security had a chance to intervene because someone he believed to be an unqualified appointee was selected for a high-paying emergency management job.
He instead opted to put politics ahead of the lives of a half-million residents and got his girlfriend a better job.
Rahway mayoral candidate and Freeholder Rick Proctor claimed that power broker Ray Lesniak’s 30-year old girlfriend was inept at her $70,000 job in the county office of emergency management.
He could have used his power to get Selena Carroll removed.
Instead, he used the conflict to maneuver Denise Santiago, his live-in girlfriend, into a higher paying job with less responsibility and supervision.
Through her incompetence as the Domestic Preparedness Planner for the county Office of Emergency Management, Carroll repeatedly jeopardized funding for potentially life-saving projects, programs and equipment, Proctor alleged.
Santiago, who earned a Masters degree from the US Naval Academy for Homeland Security Studies, stirred things up while she was county health officer because she alerted officials that Carroll’s incompetence could have had tragic costs in a catastrophic situation, according to the Freeholder.
As domestic preparedness planner, Carroll is responsible for enabling all emergency response agencies to work together in a domestic terrorism crisis or natural disaster.
Proctor failed to get involved when the matter merely involved Carroll being given responsibility for which he felt she was ill-equipped.
When political bosses tried to squelch his girlfriend’s complaints, Proctor did step in.
Sources say Proctor nearly came to blows with Lesniak’s nephew, County Manager George Devanney, who told him in 2006 that Santiago could lose her the job for blowing the whistle on the Senator’s lover.
Devanney also allegedly threatened to disclose Proctor’s meddling in the affair as a conflict of interest.
However, Proctor admitted that he maintained his silence because county political boss Charlotte Defilippo intervened. Defilippo set up a deal that transferred Santiago to a $75,878 post at the Union County Utilities Authority.
Carroll is also responsible for the implementation of emergency shelter and evacuation programs for 525,000 residents. She made $32,000 in her previous job as a secretary to the deputy county manager.
Carroll strongly disputed the allegation that she was unqualified and offered names of several state emergency management officials who she claimed would attest to her performance.
“I’m one of the best in the country,” said Carroll. “The past two years I got picked as a peer reviewer by the federal Department of Homeland Security.”
“I scored number one on my civil service test,” said Carroll, who claimed she is not a political appointee although she was selected for the job before she took the exam.
Carroll remains in the $76,152 position with charge over programs that could mean life or death during a terrorist attack or other catastrophic event and her boyfriend — Lesniak — is supporting Proctor’s campaign for mayor.
Meanwhile, a Homeland Security expert is assigned to watch over Union County’s garbage and Carroll feels like an innocent victim of a political conflict.
“I’m good at what I do and the only reason you’re picking on me is because I’m (Lesniak’s) girlfriend and that’s not fair,” said Carroll.