15% of city workers have kin on staff

June 26, 1994|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,Sun Staff Writer

Government business in the city of Annapolis might also be called family business.

Seventy-three of the city's 467 employees -- more than 15 percent of the work force -- have relatives on the city's payroll.

Those employees include Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins, the fire and police chiefs, the head of the personnel office and a city alderman.

The issue of family ties became public Monday during a stormy City Council session. Alderman Carl O. Snowden, a Ward 5 Democrat, took the floor to deny allegations that another alderman was trying to win favors for the alderman's wife.

"If you're going to make charges of feathering the nest, it's obvious who the beneficiaries are," said Mr. Snowden, holding a list of city employees with relatives working for the city.

He was responding to Personnel Director Thomas Engelke's allegations in a memo to council members that Alderman Samuel Gilmer was trying to influence budget deliberations to gain a raise for his wife, Sylvia, a City Hall secretary.

Now Mr. Snowden wants legislation to outlaw nepotism in Annapolis government and to prohibit those already working for the city from supervising their relatives. He said he wants to ensure that all qualified candidates have equal access to city jobs.

The mayor, personnel director, police and fire chiefs say that nepotism isn't a problem and that the city already has personnel policies to guarantee fairness.

"The system is open to everyone. It's a merit system," said Mayor Hopkins, whose daughter, Barbara, is a police lieutenant. One son-in-law, Eric Deuschle, also works for the Police Department, while another, Ronald McCloskey, works for the Public Works Department.

Personnel rules the city adopted in 1992 prohibit "the employment, promotion or transfer of a member of the immediate family of an employee or other relative by marriage . . . to a position where an employee would be either supervising or directly influencing the activities of his relative."

Relative is defined as a "father, mother, spouse, son, daughter brother, sister, mother-in-law, father-in-law, son-in-law, daughter-inlaw. brother-in-law, sister-in-law, stepparent, stepchild, grandparents, grandchildren or other members of the employee's household." The rules allowed those already employed to keep their jobs.

Before Annapolis created a Personnel Department in the early 1970s, officials frequently gave friends and relatives jobs. As in many cities, employment in the police. fire and public works departments was often a family tradition.

"I'm sure in the past there was preferential treatment," said Mr. Hopkins, who used to serve on the City Council's police and fire committee, reviewing hiring and promotions of police officers and firefighters. "But that's been eliminated."

Mr. Hopkins said he believes the current personnel rules are adequate. "You can't deny someone a job because they're related to someone," he said.

"This is a small community," said Mr. Engelke. "Everyone is related to everyone."

The police, fire and public works departments have the largest numbers of related workers.

In the police department, 23 of 120 employees have family members on the force. Twelve workers in the 136-member public works department have relatives in the department, while 14 employees in the fire department have relatives on the 97 member staff.

Police Chief Joseph Johnson, whose nephew is an Annapolis police officer, said that in most cases relatives are spouses who met after coming to work for the department.

"In the 3 1/2 years I've been here, there has been no preferential treatment given," he said.

Except in his case, relatives do not supervise other family members, the chief said, noting that the city's personnel nepotism rules do not apply to uncle-nephew relations.

Fire Chief Ed Sherlock, whose brother, George, is a fire captain, said family affiliations are a tradition in the fire service, but the department tries to avoid possible conflicts.

Most of the related firefighters joined the service years ago, Chief Sherlock said. Today, sons and daughters rarely follow their parents into the department.

Prospective firefighters must take tests administered by the Personnel Department. They are interviewed by boards made up of fire department supervisors who are not allowed to interview family members.

Ultimately, a list of qualified candidates is given to the fire chief.

Instances of direct supervision by relatives are rare, Chief Sherlock said. In the department hierarchy a battalion chief separates the chief from his brother. In other cases family members work different shifts or in different firehouses. The chief also said he goes out of his way not to play favorites.

Mr. Snowden has asked City Attorney Paul Goetzke to research the nepotism rules in other jurisdictions before drafting an ordinance for Annapolis.

In 1990, Anne Arundel County adopted nepotism rules that prohibit employees from dire directly supervising or being I under the direct authority of relatives in the same department. The county's nepotism rule defined relative more broadly than the city' s and included aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews.

Some employees had to be moved to other jobs after the rule was adopted, said Tricia Hopkins, a County personnel analyst.

Mr. Snowden said nepotism with in the city may not be a problem, but perceptions are as important as reality.

"It has the appearance of impropriety priety and that contributes to the low morale," he said.

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