Friday, November 13, 2015

Nepotism alive and well when it comes to hiring by elected officials in many Kentucky counties

When it comes nepotism in local government, it's mostly a free-for-all in Kentucky, with most counties having few laws preventing government officials from hiring relatives, often without advertising for the position, James McNair reports for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting. "When the state last set out to curtail the practice—in 1994—it wound up letting cities and counties decide for themselves how to address it. The end result was a patchwork of policies, many legalizing nepotism, many with rules so infused with loopholes that officials readily bring their kinfolk aboard." (KCIR map: Kentucky counties where officials can hire family members under certain conditions)
Parts of westernmost counties not shown
Rep. Jim Wayne (D-Louisville), one of 18 co-sponsors of the 1994 measure, told McNair, “It’s basically a state government-supported jobs program for some of these poor counties—and they don’t want any interference."

While nepotism statistics don't exist in Kentucky, the reporting center "confirmed 50 instances of full-time family hiring in various county offices across the state," including in Butler County, where Sheriff Scottie Ward hired his wife, Jamie, to be his secretary. Butler County is the state's only county that excludes spouses from its definition of family, so Ward was legally able to give his wife the job.

Many county officials say they hired family members because they trusted them to do the job or there was little public interest in the position, McNair writes. But the hiring of family members has led to a myriad of arrests across the state, mostly for stealing money. Still, nepotism is rarely frowned upon in Kentucky, said Dee Davis, president of the Center for Rural Strategies, based in Eastern Kentucky. Davis, who called it an “accepted, forgivable form of corruption,” told McNair, “If somebody says, ‘such-and-such hired his nephew,’ do you have time to take that message to the village and to organize against it or to write a letter to the editor when your own economic future might be dangling by a thread? It takes a bit of courage to speak out.”

"As a model for dealing with nepotism, Kentucky’s state government sends mixed signals to local jurisdictions," McNair writes. "The executive branch forbids its workers from having anything to do with the hiring of family members into jobs they supervise. All other means of entry are fine. Moreover, the ban is in the state Executive Branch Ethics Code, not state law, so offenders face no more than a maximum $5,000 fine and a recommendation that they be removed from office or transferred. At the very least, a public scolding." (Read more)

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