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Lake County Councilman Jamal Washington's second alleged domestic violence case within two years is raising all sorts of questions with which local government must grapple.

The important need to continue curtailing patronage hiring and nepotism in county government should be at the top of those priorities.

Reporter Bill Dolan revealed to Times readers earlier this week that Washington pushed for the recent hiring of his cousin to the Lake County E-911 dispatch. A Washington political ally also was hired on the very same day.

Those two employees appear to be classic examples of patronage hiring.

One was a cousin, Kamaria Buckley, who just last week prompted criminal charges that Washington grabbed her by the neck, slammed her to the floor and threatened her with a hammer at Washington's Merrillville residence, where the cousin was living. Those charges are pending in Lake Criminal Court, and Washington remains jailed.

It’s important to note Buckley later recanted her statements to police, but not before telling police she initially was reluctant to report the incident because she feared Washington would hold sway over her job as a county dispatcher.

Current E-911 Director Mark Swiderski acknowledged Washington pushed for the hiring of his cousin as an emergency dispatcher. But Swiderski claims both Washington's cousin and another dispatcher, Washington ally and Gary City Councilwoman LaVetta Sparks-Wade, were hired on the same day based on qualifications.

Former E-911 Director Brian Hitchcock, however, said Washington's past pushes for patronage hiring at the emergency dispatch center were overt and unsettling.

Hitchcock said Washington appealed to Hitchcock to hire 20 or more people into the dispatch center. The former director also claimed that Washington, who as a county councilman helps set county department budgets, made overtures about the E-911 budget tied to the requested hiring.

"On one occasion, he said to me, 'You hire this person in, and I'll make your budget right,'" Hitchcock, who now leads an emergency dispatch center in Tennessee, told us earlier this week.

Hitchcock added that such patronage overtures were a big reason why he chose to leave the county last year.

We don't blame Hitchcock for leaving.

This type of patronage hiring behavior has been woven into the fabric of Region government and politics for far too long.

The Washington case should prompt county government in particular, but perhaps other levels of local government as well, to audit employee lists and hiring practices.

Taxpayers aren't paying elected officials to turn around and hire friends, family or political allies.

It's a tell-tale sign of bad government and a seeding for corruption.


Members of The Times Editorial Board are Publisher Christopher T. White, Local News Editor Marc Chase, Lake County Editor Crista Zivanovic, Porter/LaPorte County Editor Doug Ross and Deputy Local Editor Erin Orr.