Markkula Center for Applied Ethics - Better Choices

All About Ethics Blog

Nepotism in a Small Town

 Director of Government Ethics Hana Callaghan weighed in this week on the story of Throop, a borough of 4,000 people in northeastern Pennsylvania, where, as author Andrew Staub of the Pennsylvania Independent put it, "The council has created an employee roster that might be mistaken for a family tree."  In the past five years, close relatives of five of Throop's seven councilmembers have been on the city payroll.

Having elected officials’ family members on a government payroll “really does muddy the waters," Callaghan said. The connections can call into question the fairness of the hiring process and raise concern that other employees will give elected officials’ relatives special treatment to curry favor with the people who run the municipality, Callaghan said.

Ultimately, public officials need to avoid even an appearance of impropriety, she said. “You can swear up and down there is no impropriety here, they’re the best person for the job,” she said. “It still raises that specter, and they have to think about the public trust in all of their actions, particularly in this day and age when public trust is at an all-time low.”


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