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Thursday, Nov. 3, 2011 08:17 pm

Should Cousin Bob get a city job?

Anti-nepotism ordinance defeated, confusion reigns

Ward 9 Ald. Steve Dove
What, exactly, was contained in an anti-nepotism proposal rejected Tuesday by the Springfield Council?

The answer depends on the alderman.

The crux is whether the proposal sponsored by Ward 9 Ald. Steve Dove would have given the council the power to reject hires of close relatives of city officials. Two weeks ago, Dove in an interview said that his proposal would do just that, and he also predicted the measure would pass.

But on Tuesday, in response to a question from Ward 7 Ald. Joe McMenamin, Dove said that the proposal would not give the council the power to approve hiring decisions made by the mayor.

“If a close relative is to be hired and the relationship is disclosed in the hiring process, does the hiring have to come before this council for approval?” McMenamin asked.

“It doesn’t have to, no,” Dove answered.

Rather, Dove told his colleagues, the proposal would require new hires to disclose the names of relatives employed by the city.

However, Ward 5 Ald. Sam Cahnman, an attorney, says that the ordinance would indeed have given the council power to reject hires on nepotism grounds.

Cahnman first points to the opening clause: “Employment of close relatives is prohibited except as provided for in this section.” The alderman then cites an ensuing clause titled “Exceptions” that states the council may waive provisions of the proposal and lists factors the council must consider when considering a waiver request, including whether relatives would end up supervising each other.

“I can’t see that it was confusing at all,” says Cahnman, who voted in favor of the measure that failed on a 6-5 vote, with Mayor Mike Houston casting the deciding vote against it.

Dove said that his proposal originally gave the council the power to reject hires, but that provision had been removed. He said that he could not recall when the change was made. According to a 2008 story published in the State Journal-Register, Dove’s proposal, not yet in ordinance form, included a requirement the council approve before relatives of city employees joined the payroll.

In any case, Dove now says that hiring decisions should rest with the mayor.

“The power to hire and fire is the mayor’s, we all know that,” said Dove, who is running for state senate.

Both Houston and Dove said they were surprised by the outcome. But McMenamin, who voted in favor of Dove’s measure, predicted rough sledding after aldermen at a committee-of-the-whole meeting last month expressed concerns about both substance and technical errors.

“Several aldermen had expressed some reservations about different aspects of the proposal,” McMenamin said before Tuesday’s meeting. “Therefore, in its current form, it would be unlikely to pass.”

Aldermen voting against the measure included Ward 3 Ald. Doris Turner, Ward 4 Ald. Frank Lesko, Ward 6 Ald. Cory Jobe, Ward 8 Ald. Kris Theilen and Ward 10 Ald. Tim Griffin.

“I don’t want to see us get in a position to limit any employment pool in any way, shape or form,” Griffin said during a committee-of-the-whole meeting last month.

Turner said much the same thing in an interview before Tuesday’s vote.

“I think that it does a lot to shrink the pool of qualified applicants,” Turner said. “In some ways, it’s too far-reaching.”

Before Tuesday’s vote, Dove, who made nepotism a campaign issue when he won city office in 2007, said that he waited until Houston took office before moving forward with an ordinance because former Mayor Tim Davlin’s administration hadn’t seemed receptive.

“We held off a little bit,” Dove said. “We decided to bring it forward when we had a new administration.”

But Houston says he has concerns. For one thing, he said, a requirement that applicants disclose the names of relatives employed by the city might actually work in their favor when hiring decisions are made. In any case, Houston said the ordinance wasn’t ready for a final vote.

“I think there’s a little bit of confusion in terms of the ordinance,” Houston said. “There have been so many changes. … I really believe that it probably should have gone back to the committee to be looked at again.”

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.
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