Nepotism concerns persist

Critics see a conflict in county employing Craig's son-in-law

May 21, 2006|By JUSTIN FENTON | JUSTIN FENTON,SUN REPORTER

County Executive David R. Craig's son-in-law was hired recently to work in the county's community services department, prompting questions of nepotism for the second time in two months.

The position sent the relative to a conference in Atlanta this month, and came under fire last week as County Council members struggled to define his duties during budget deliberations.

Last month, it was reported that Craig had worked out an unusual arrangement that allowed his sister-in-law to remain on the Havre de Grace payroll while working for the county, an effort to protect her retirement benefits.

The hirings appear to conflict with the county policy on employment of relatives, which prohibits "relatives from working for other relatives" and allows them to be hired only if there is no direct or indirect supervisory relationship in the chain of command.

As county executive, Craig is the chief executive officer of Harford and is atop the county's chain of command.

Roxanne Lynch, a spokeswoman for Craig, said there isn't a conflict because the relative applied for the position on his own terms and does not fall under Craig's direct supervision.

But others believe the hirings flout rules against hiring relatives.

"It certainly violates the spirit of [the policy] if it doesn't violate the actual rule," said George Harrison, who is working on the campaign of Craig's Democratic rival, Ann C. Helton. "It is just kind of distressing that a person appointed and running to be elected for the first time is doing these things. If he's willing to do this at this stage of the game ... "

Steven Overbay, the husband of Craig's daughter, was hired as a community development coordinator in January. He was also one of three county employees - two of them department directors - who traveled to an Office of Economic Adjustment conference in Atlanta to discuss growth issues related to expansion at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Separate from the family connection, confusion arose recently over Overbay's function within the county government as leaders sparred over the budget.

When the council slashed funding for a newly created administrative office, Craig and Chief of Staff Aaron N. Tomarchio said the council had shown a disregard for Edgewood and cut out its voice.

Councilman Dion F. Guthrie, a Democrat whose district includes Edgewood, was skeptical of that characterization and had his secretary call the county as a citizen and ask for the name of the liaison to Edgewood. The answer was Overbay, he said.

Similarly, some community leaders in Edgewood said Overbay has been introduced to them as their liaison to the county. He was also hired to replace the former liaison, Mark Decker.

"This group [Craig and his staff] spins everything out of sight," Guthrie said in an interview. "My meetings with the county executive earlier on - he said they were going to hire someone to be the liaison to Edgewood. The next thing I know, Overbay is showing up at meetings, but now he's not the liaison?"

According to Tomarchio, Overbay, who will make $50,000 next year, is one of several county employees assigned to work on projects related to the U.S. 40 corridor. Tomarchio, as chief of staff, is intended to be the common voice for those employees to the county executive.

In April, a local newspaper reported on an arrangement under which Pamela DiMauro, Craig's sister-in-law, will receive a salary and benefits from Havre de Grace until Dec. 1 to help her reach the 30 years needed to receive city retirement benefits.

DiMauro was a longtime employee of the city whom Craig brought to the county to be his personal secretary after he became county executive in July. The county reimburses the city for the expenses.

Hiring of family members is not prohibited in Havre de Grace, according to City Council President Frederick H. Cullum, and was, for a time, nearly unavoidable.

"The city is just now growing to the size it is," said Cullum. "It used to be so small that it was kind of difficult to have a job and not be related to somebody, somehow."

But the county government has an explicit policy, drafted in 1994 and most recently revised in 2004, which is meant to "provide employment opportunities to as many different families as possible ... as part of a sound management program." It does not exempt the county executive from the chain of command.

Lynch said the administration's interpretation of the county policy against hiring relatives is that employees are under Lorraine Costello, the director of administration, with Craig an elected official beholden to the voters.

Donald F. Norris, a professor of public policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said that reasoning is flawed.

"He is the highest official in the county, and all of the department heads and employees work for him," he said. "They serve at his pleasure."

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