New anti-nepotism law may transform local government employment

2012-07-02T00:00:00Z 2012-07-02T14:47:16Z New anti-nepotism law may transform local government employmentBy Dan Carden, (317) 637-9078

INDIANAPOLIS | A new state law that took effect Sunday signals the end of Northwest Indiana's tradition of nepotism in local government jobs.

House Enrolled Act 1005 prohibits a local government employee from directly supervising a relative or making decisions about his or her work assignments, pay, grievances, promotions and performance evaluations. Under the law, "relative" includes a spouse, parent, child, sibling, niece or nephew, aunt or uncle, and half-, step- or in-law.

Local government employees currently overseeing relatives are exempt from the new law so long as both individuals continue in their current jobs. Precinct election officers and volunteer firefighters are not considered government employees for the law.

For years in communities such as East Chicago, the city's organizational chart resembled a family tree with relatives hiring and supervising their family members, often regardless of work quality.

With the new law in place, Mayor Anthony Copeland has ordered department heads to compile lists of family relationships among city workers to ensure changes in employment don't run afoul of state law.

But East Chicago is hardly alone. Munster has at least five relatives supervising family members, most in the fire department. Ross Township Assessor Angela Guernsey worked under her father, Randall Guernsey, when he was township assessor, and hired him as her deputy when she was elected in 2010. Hammond City Clerk Bob Golec made his daughter, Susan Dimopoulos, his chief deputy in 2000.

Porter County Clerk Karen Martin hired her daughter, Carrie Martin-Schenck, after taking office in 2011, even though her daughter was fired by a former county clerk in 2004 for alleged misconduct. Hebron Public Works Director Jim Shelhart has a brother and nephew working in his department. And Valparaiso was embroiled in an ethics controversy in 2011 when Fire Chief David Nondorf's son, Nicholas, was hired as a firefighter after topping the candidate testing list.

Nondorf said he never intended for his son to end up under his supervision.

"His mother and I insisted he go to Purdue hoping he would lose his interest in firefighting, but he didn't," Nondorf said. "I wish I'd known that before. It could have saved me $30,000."

Tom Dabertin, a local government human resources specialist, said the anti-nepotism law should be rewritten to better accommodate children following in a family member's footsteps.

"Police and fire are steeped in a culture -- many of them went into it because their fathers or uncles were in it," Dabertin said. "This nepotism law makes no exceptions for that history."

He also said local governments will now be forced to regularly quiz their employees on ever-changing familial relationships. 

"If elected officials fail to carry out the law, they could be impeached and their government body could lose their entire budget for next year," Dabertin said. "I think there are a lot of issues that have to be sorted out."

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