Tuesday, October 10, 2006

North Canton Council Oblivious to Appearances of Impropriety Regarding Nepotism

Prepared Comments Made to
October 9, 2006

“N. Canton Council says no to ban on family hires.” That was the Repository’s lead in the paper last week. Are these really the actions of city leaders working on behalf of the citizens of North Canton?

Unfortunately, that does not appear to be the case.

What it does appear to be is politicians circling the wagons to wage an escalating war with the mayor which ultimately serves no one?

I was present at last week’s council discussion of the proposed legislation by the mayor to ban the hiring of elected officials’ relatives to city jobs and it was anything but a discussion of the proposed legislation. The Repository described the nepotism discussion as “heated.”

I believe council’s reception to the proposed legislation regarding nepotism was more like an ambush followed by an absence of professionalism and sincerity. There was no honest debate on the merits of the proposed legislation to ban the hiring of elected officials’ relatives to city jobs.

The question I have to each and every one of you is if you are actually a representative of the people and you want the public to maintain confidence in their government, how could you oppose legislation to ban nepotism in North Canton’s hiring practices?

Why not embrace Ohio’s Ethics laws regarding the hiring of family members of elected officials? If you don’t, you are only opening the door to problems for the city.

What were the reasons North Canton’s elected leaders chose to defeat the nepotism legislation?

Council President Doug Foltz believes the practice of hiring relatives of elected officials can work just fine and that having generations from the same family working for the city adds vast knowledge and expertise. If that line of thinking were the norm, Mr. Foltz, the pool of applicants for a city job would be narrowed down to merely the relatives of the existing employees already on the payroll. Furthermore, think of the problems you are creating when parents, spouses and siblings register their complaints as to how their little Johnny or Susie is being mistreated in the department.

Where is it written that if there were a choice between hiring your child or my child that just because you are already an employee of the city that your child already has more knowledge or expertise than my child for a city job?

Chairperson of the Personnel & Safety committee, Susie Hines, cited a list of cities from her prepared remarks on this topic noting that some municipalities prohibit the practice of nepotism and some municipalities do not prohibit the practice. From that, Chairman Hines somehow concluded that since there are still communities that do not prohibit the practice of nepotism that North Canton should also not prohibit the practice of nepotism.

Chairman Hines failed to mention that Summit County, the only county government in the state organized under its own charter has been exposed for abuses in the hiring of relatives of elected or appointed officials in numerous articles in the Beacon Journal throughout this year.

What do you think the public thinks when they see nepotism activity in their local government?

I believe I can safely say that the practice of nepotism in filling government jobs does not inspire confidence in the government nor does it inspire respect for the elected official and their relative who benefits in the hiring.

The Vice Chairperson of the Personnel & Safety committee, Pat DeOrio, stated that the proposed legislation to ban the hiring of elected officials’ relatives to city jobs was not a particularly good piece of legislation.

Mr. DeOrio, the proposed legislation simply reaffirms a very important restriction imposed by the State of Ohio on the hiring of family members. Apparently you do not believe that Ohio’s ethics laws regarding the hiring of family members is a good piece of legislation either. I am very sorry that you feel that way.

Councilmember Kathy Magel, the third member of the Personnel & Safety committee obviously does not believe that a city council meeting is the proper venue to discuss and debate issues of importance to the public. Mrs. Magel, your actions in displaying a picture of a STOP sign to the mayor as he began to present legislation for discussion by this body is beyond comprehension.

I believe that you owe an apology to the mayor, to the public, and to this council body for unprofessional conduct.

I hope I never see anyone in this chamber attempt to stifle or quash open and honest discussion of issues before this council body ever again.

Councilmember Jon Snyder, you provided your input on the proposed legislation and quite frankly, after listening to your comments at last week’s council meeting and reading a verbatim transcript of your comments, I can only guess that you were preparing for next year’s election a little early. In your comments regarding the proposed anti-nepotism legislation, you proclaimed “…We should be proud of the fact that there are very few elected officials in the country today that can stand as proud as the seven members of Council and the mayor and the Administration….”

What do comments such as these have to do with the proposed legislation to ban the hiring of relatives of elected officials to city jobs?

Councilmember Jim Repace, your bitterness and your anger on this issue rings loud and clear. The situation that you now find yourself in clearly has obliterated your ability to see this issue from the vantage point of your constituents and it appears that you are unable to vote on this issue as a representative for the public because of it.

If North Canton City Council had already enacted anti-nepotism legislation years ago when it was first discussed by prior councils, this council would not now have to choose whether or not to support one of its members and Mr. Repace would not now find himself retaliating against the mayor.

The circumstance this council now finds itself in is a perfect example of why North Canton City Council should embrace the proposed anti-nepotism legislation.

Mr. Repace, if you truly desire to make a difference in the City of North Canton as you stated last week, your personal disdain for the present Mayor of North Canton will have to be left at the door.

Mr. Repace, your strong-arm tactics and intimidation anytime you are unhappy with the actions of others is not what people expect from city leaders.

I would like to suggest to members of this council body that the proposed legislation to ban the hiring of elected officials’ relatives to city jobs should have been discussed utilizing what is termed the “appearance of impropriety” standard.

“Appearance of impropriety”, according to Wikipedia, is a term used in reference to a situation where ethics are deemed questionable. In other words, a layperson, without knowledge of the facts, would assume that something he/she saw or heard was inappropriate or a violation of a rule/regulation.

The impropriety standard at the turn of the twentieth century was termed the “appearance of evil” doctrine. The appearance of impropriety standard was later adopted by the Model Code of Professional Conduct which has served as ethics rules for lawyers.

The impropriety standard has long been a part of ethics rules for lawyers and judges. And it is intertwined into the ethics laws of the State of Ohio.

Why not embrace these laws and show the citizens whom you represent that you are working on their behalf and not for yourselves?

Ethical standards in government promote public confidence in the integrity of government.

When ethical standards are not implemented at all levels of government, there is the risk of disservice to the public interest.

Simply put, nepotism is not good for the City of North Canton and the city’s elected officials should recognize that without hesitation.

Thank you
Chuck Osborne
City of North Canton