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Her Honor

Judy Nadler, senior fellow in government ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, looks at ethical dilemmas, scandals, and best practices in government.

The following postings have been filtered by tag nepotism. clear filter
  •  Nepotism In The Least Likely Place

    Monday, Aug. 6, 2012

    If you can’t trust the U.S Justice Department (DOJ) to know the difference between right and wrong, whom can you trust?

    The agency’s inspector general said, “high-level officials in the Justice Management Division, or DMJ, violated the federal nepotism statute for advocating for the appointment of their own relatives to positions in the Justice Department.” In one case, “two senior officials simultaneously attempted to assist each other’s relative in securing DOJ employment.”

    Unfortunately, this most recent revelation is the third in the past eight years. Jobs included clerkships and internships, with salaries ranging from $27,000 to $40,000.

    A spokeswoman for the attorney general states “this kind of behavior will not be tolerated, and the department must maintain a zero tolerance policy and swift and decisive action must be taken to deal with those involved in these activities.

    Nepotism such as the type uncovered at the Justice Department is illegal. To learn more about why nepotism in government presents a serious ethical problem, visit the Ethic's Center website.

    Discussion questions:

    1. Helping a friend or family member find a summer or permanent job is commonplace in the sector. Why is the standard different in the public sector?

    2. Should elected officials who assist in securing jobs for family members be required to disclose their actions?

    3. Does an appointed municipal employee have an obligation to disclose that he or she was instrumental in hiring a family member?

    Post your responses in the comment section of this blog.

  •  Conflict Of Interest Or Nepotism -- Or Both?

    Tuesday, Apr. 3, 2012

    The ambulance business is big business, and local government agencies are charged with securing contracts for such service. Because the stakes are so high, there is a need for absolute transparency in the awarding of these lucrative contracts, and any other contracts related to the providers.

    But full disclosure was not the way the Tulsa and Oklahoma City agency, known as EMSA, handled business. A story in the Tulsa World reports that for more than 20 years a law firm had a no-bid contract to provide legal and collections service. To make matters worse, the daughter of EMSA chief executive officer worked for that law firm. Steve Williamson, CEO, says he doesn’t believe it is a conflict of interest, to “negotiate and sign government contracts with his daughter’s employer.”

    The paper quotes him as saying it might look like a conflict, “when you put it like that.” His daughter is a payroll clerk, a job Williamson said he didn’t believe would apply to the city’s ethics policy.

    Michael Slankard, who is with the city’s ethics commission said that although the policy is written for board members, it was intended to cover the CEO. “If the citizens of Tulsa reasonably expect that there’s a conflict, well that’s enough. It doesn’t have to be a conflict, just the appearance of one.”

  •  Nepotism Charge Brings Nasty Response From The Public

    Thursday, Jul. 7, 2011

    Summer jobs are hard to come by, so you can imagine the response from the public when it was revealed that the mayor of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania hired his daughter and niece to work at city hall this summer.

    Mayor Tom Leighton saw nothing wrong with the hires, which had been recommended by the city’s human relations manager. But the positions had not been posted—so the general public didn’t know about them- and the mayor signed the paperwork.

    When I spoke with the reporter covering the story for  the Citizen’s Voice, the first thing that came to mind was nepotism, a violation of ethics laws. The mayor was asked if he thought the decision was a violation of the state Ethics Act. “Not that I’m aware of, I don’t think.”

    The reader comments in the article “Leighton rubber stamped family jobs,” decried the mayor’s actions and expressed concern that there might be other problems at city hall. “It’s now the time to look into other shady deals that come out of this mayor’s office,” wrote one reader. Another vowed to mail a complaint to the State Ethics Commission.

    This type of negative response is only one of the consequences of nepotism, broadly defined as showing favoritism to members of the family. There are several other serious concerns:

    • Fairness. Was the same opportunity given to all members of the public to apply for these positions? It looks like the mayor’s relatives had an advantage not offered to others.

    • Competency. Favoritism undermines the confidence in the qualifications of the employee. In other words, was this person hired on the basis of ability and experience, or because of a family connection? Favoritism can also create tension among employees who may feel there is an unfair standard in performance reviews.

    • Public trust. As the comments from the readers show, there is already skepticism about government employees, and nepotism only makes it worse.

    To read more about favoritism and nepotism, including case studies, visit our Web site.

  •  City Refuses To Disclose Important Financial Information

    Thursday, May. 5, 2011

    In an effort to dodge open records laws applying to employee bonuses, the city of Burbank, California has come up with an unbelievable argument: “the information would reveal private performance evaluations and erode workplace morale.”

    What about taxpayer morale?

    The senior assistant city attorney argues the public record request “falls outside established bounds for access to salary and other compensation information for government employees.” Rather than sharing information about individual bonuses, the city provided an aggregate amount--$1 million for the last fiscal year.

    Putting aside the discussion of whether or not city employees should receive bonuses at all, the idea that giving the public important financial data would “create embarrassment, morale disruptions and personal dissension in the workplace” is certainly no basis for hiding these numbers. In fact, the city's position raises red flags about possible favoritism or nepotism.

    Burbank is facing an estimated $8.7 million budget gap for the next fiscal year. The public has a right to know where every penny is being spent.

  •  Ethics Reform In Philadelphia

    Friday, Jan. 28, 2011


    When it was founded, Philadelphia was called the City of Brotherly Love.  William Penn chose the name from a translation of the Greek phrase philos (love) and adelpos (brother).
    In more recent times, that nickname has come to describe a pattern of nepotism that has destroyed trust in government and cost the city millions of dollars. The good news is that the pay-to-play scandals have prompted long-overdue ethics reform.
    Mayor Michael Nutter has just signed executive orders that fulfill his 2007 campaign promise to “clean up” the culture of corruption at city hall. Although the stricter policies apply to nine out of 10 employees, they do not apply to the city council, controller’s office, “or the city row offices comprising hundreds of employees.”
    With more than 23,000 employees, the ethics commission has more to do now that sexual harassment, restrictions on outside employment, and other reforms have been adopted. The councilmembers  should follow the mayor’s lead and make ethics a priority for Philadelphia – and start with applying the rules to their own offices.


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