Nepotism has no place in government Anne Arundel council: Lawmakers squander chance to remove kin from payroll.

January 12, 1998

PITY THE ethically challenged Anne Arundel County Council. Last week's defeat of an anti-nepotism bill indicates that four of Anne Arundel's council members apparently believe that public office holders should have carte blanche to put kith and kin on the payroll.

Opponents contended that the bill -- introduced by James "Ed" DeGrange Sr. -- was written to target County Executive John G. Gary and Councilman George F. Bachman, whose spouses work for county government. If passed, the bill would have taken effect next November and required Ruthanne Gary, the county executive's wife, to relinquish her position as director of community services if her husband won re-election. Her job, which she began in 1991 before Mr. Gary won office, now pays $69,598.

In theory, the legislation also would have prohibited Mr. Bachman from employing his wife, Anna, as his legislative assistant and paying her $50,589 a year. But because Mr. Bachman is prohibited from running for a third four-year term on the County Council this year, there was no real impact on him or his wife.

Nevertheless, council Chairman Bert L. Rice and fellow councilmen William C. Mulford, John J. Klocko III and Thomas W. Redmond Sr. used this "problem" as an excuse to undercut a much-needed law. Mr. Gary's situation could have been solved easily. The council could, and should, have crafted language that "grandfathered" Mrs. Gary's job. Mr. DeGrange, the sponsor, and Diane R. Evans voted for the bill. Mr. Bachman abstained.

If and when the council reconsiders this issue, it will have to deliberate on how to handle merit-system employees whose relatives get elected to office. The merit system was created to prevent politics from playing a role in hiring. People who occupy those jobs should not have to lose them because of politics. There can be a reasoned debate on this issue, but it did not occur this time around.

There should be no debate about public officials hiring relatives. It cannot be tolerated. Nepotism has a corrosive effect on public trust. Elected officials should feel an obligation to take actions that reinforce the public's faith in government. At the moment, Anne Arundel County has no prohibition against nepotism. This must be corrected.

Pub Date: 1/12/98

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