The family that serves together Anne Arundel County: Councilman never should have hired his wife as paid aide.

March 10, 1998

GEORGE F. BACHMAN should be taken at his word that firing his wife, Anna Bachman, as his paid legislative assistant on the Anne Arundel County Council is "the hardest thing" he has ever had to do as a politician. The sad reality is that Mr. Bachman has only himself to blame.

Although the county lacked an anti-nepotism ordinance when he hired his wife, Mr. Bachman should have known better. Previous members of the council had employed relatives, but that didn't make it right.

Faced with a situation where no explicit prohibition existed against hiring relatives, Mr. Bachman saw no impediment to making his wife a paid employee. Nevertheless, it was apparent to all but him that this was a self-serving action. Clearly, Mr. Bachman used his elected position to benefit himself and his family, particularly after Mrs. Bachman became the council's highest paid staff member. Last fall, he approved a raise for her of 6.8 percent, more than double what most county employees expected.

When public officials have questions involving possible conflicts of interest, they should feel free to seek a ruling from the Ethics Commission. Mr. Bachman waited until this controversy boiled to a head to obtain a ruling. It would have been to his advantage to have done so when he took office in 1990. Failing that, he could have asked the commission to review the propriety of his employment of his wife any time during the past eight years.

The ruling, of course, would have been the same, because the conflict is obvious. Mr. Bachman could have avoided this anguish by quietly making his wife an unpaid assistant, as he is doing now.

Future council members won't have to wrestle with this particular question. The council vote 6-0 last month, with Mr. Bachman abstaining, to pass a bill prohibiting the future hiring of relatives. Ironically, it was written in such a way as to protect Mrs. Bachman's position through the end of this term, which will be her husband's last because of term limits.

Nepotism has always had a corrosive effect on public trust. Elected officials should feel an obligation to take actions that reinforce the public's faith in government. Mr. Bachman's decision to remove his wife from the payroll will mitigate some of the damage done.

Pub Date: 3/10/98

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