Gov. Murphy taps new education, transportation commissioners

By: - January 30, 2024 11:20 am

Gov. Phil Murphy has chosen former interim Education Commissioner Kevin Dehmer and Francis O’Connor to lead the state's education and transportation departments. (Hal Brown for New Jersey Monitor)

Two of New Jersey’s most visible departments will come under new leadership after Gov. Phil Murphy announced he would nominate new commissioners of transportation and education.

The governor will nominate former interim Education Commissioner Kevin Dehmer to head the Department of Education, replacing Allen-McMillan, who is stepping down after three years in the position. And last week Murphy announced he would tap Francis O’Connor to head the Department of Transportation, replacing his new chief of staff, Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti.

Dehmer, executive director of Rutgers University’s John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development, worked at the education department for nearly 16 years before leaving it to take the research position. He held a high rank in the department, leaving it as its assistant commissioner and chief financial officer.

“Ensuring that New Jersey’s schools are ready to meet the ever-changing and evolving needs of our communities is crucial. Nobody is better prepared to meet this charge than Kevin,” Murphy said in a statement.

The Department of Education faced increased scrutiny during last year’s election cycle, drawing condemnation from Republicans over an equity policy adopted by the State Board of Education and questions about students’ academic achievement following pandemic-related school closures.

“I look forward to reprising my role as commissioner in a more permanent capacity and getting to work on behalf of our students, educators, and our school communities,” Dehmer said.

O’Connor is director of national tolls at the North American branch of multinational engineering firm Atkins.

Gutierrez-Scaccetti’s impending departure as head of the transportation department comes as the dual role reportedly caused some discord within the governor’s office. Some observers have questioned whether she should continue splitting her attention as both the state and NJ Transit — whose board she chairs as commissioner — face fiscal challenges in the coming years.

“As a New Jersey resident and former New Jersey Turnpike Authority employee, Fran shares my commitment to safe, efficient transportation for all New Jersey residents and commuters,” Murphy said in a statement. “I thank Diane for her exemplary service as DOT Commissioner, and I am confident she will continue to excel in her role as my Chief of Staff.”

O’Connor will inherit oversight of the department as NJ Transit prepares to raise fares on trains, buses, and light rail cars for the first time in nearly a decade to cover a $106.6 million fiscal cliff in the budgetary year that begins July 1. The proposal has already drawn opposition from transit advocates and some lawmakers.

He will also oversee mammoth infrastructure projects, including the construction of a new tunnel to carry trains into New York City.

O’Connor has worked for Atkins North America since 2011. Before then, he worked for a tolling consultancy firm. He started his career as a toll collector for the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, an agency he will now oversee, and left the agency as a deputy director.

“I am truly honored to be considered to serve the Governor as the Commissioner of the Department of Transportation,” O’Connor said. “I am excited to be able to help implement the Governor’s transportation vision for New Jersey.”

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Nikita Biryukov
Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov most recently covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. His tenure there included revelatory stories on marijuana legalization, voting reform and Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decamp to the Republican Party. Earlier, he worked as a freelancer for The Home News Tribune and The Press of Atlantic City.

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