Council may let nepotism continue

Relatives would keep jobs under grandfather clause

10 members employ family

October 03, 2003|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

As it debates strengthening the city's ethics laws, the Baltimore City Council is considering a grandfather clause that would allow six of its members to continue employing their adult children even as the council prohibits future lawmakers from hiring their own family members.

After a hearing of the council's Judiciary and Legislative Investigations Committee last night in City Hall, City Council President Sheila Dixon said she favors the idea of a grandfather clause, which would prevent current council employees from losing their jobs.

"I think in some cases, the grandfather clause is fair, in particular in regard to areas where it could affect someone's livelihood," said Dixon, who employs her sister as a part-time assistant.

Dixon is one of three council members - along with Pamela V. Carter and John L. Cain - who employ a sibling. This practice appears to be prohibited by the city's ethics laws, and would continue to be outlawed, although the city's five-member Board of Ethics is considering the three cases and what should be done about them.

Six of the council's 19 members - Carter, Kwame Osayaba Abayomi, Agnes Welch, Bernard C. "Jack" Young, Paula Johnson Branch and Lois A. Garey - employ their adult children. This is currently allowed by the city's ethics laws, but it would be prohibited under a bill called "Ethics: Raising the Bar" that was introduced by Dixon on July 14. The proposal came after more than three years of study by the city's Board of Ethics, which recommended the changes.

Nepotism became an issue in the recent Sept. 9 City Council primary after The Sun reported on July 27 that a majority of council members - 10 of 19 - have hired a relative. One councilman, Robert W. Curran, hired a niece and another, Kenneth N. Harris Sr., hired his mother-in-law.

The idea of a grandfather clause to protect the jobs of all relatives on the city's payroll was introduced last night by Avery Aisenstark, executive director of the city's ethics board. He argued that the state made a similar allowance when it outlawed in 1999 the hiring of certain family members of state legislators.

Aisenstark said the six council members who employ children might consider recusing themselves from the vote on the grandfather clause, because it might affect their relatives.

The committee did not vote last night, but held the first of what will probably be several meetings to discuss the proposed changes to the ethics law.

Other proposed strengthenings of the ethics law include a prohibition on public servants accepting gifts or tickets from people who do business with the city, except for most tickets to public or cultural events given by the event host as a courtesy to the council. Another change - objected to by some council members - would create a two-year prohibition on "revolving door" employment by officials who leave city jobs to take positions with companies performing work on projects that they worked on while in office.

The one member of the public who testified, Joan L. Floyd, said the ethics law should be tightened even more. "How many of Baltimore City's problems can be truly solved without first addressing this culture of corruption?" asked Floyd, an independent candidate for council president in November 2004.

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