Anti-Nepotism policies are very important, and most cities have one. We didn’t, until 2017, and you can see it here.
In short, the policy, like most city’s policy, says that if you have a relative or spouse that works for the city, you can’t work for the city. It also says that if two city workers form a relationship, one of them must quit their job or they will both be removed after 60 days. The point of these laws is to prevent favoritism or situations that threaten the integrity of the job.
Most cities specify that no member of the family of any council member or mayor can work for the city, and they lay that out explicitly. Ours does not. Perhaps that’s because at the time it was created, a council member was just starting her second term and her husband has worked for the city for 20 years, now the Senior Civil Engineer for the City of Hickory. Perhaps it was a coincidence.
Either way, this CLEARLY sets the stage for impropriety.
What Does A Senior Civil Engineer Do? Google says that they design, build, supervise, operate, and maintain construction projects and systems in the public and private sector, including roads, buildings, airports, tunnels, dams, bridges, and systems for water supply and sewage treatment.
What Does A Council Member Do? They hire and oversee the City Manager. They also set policies that the City Manager must follow.
What Does A City Manager Do? In Hickory, they have near-complete freedom to run the city as they see fit. They hire all department heads and are the supervisor of the senior civil engineer. The City Manager is the person who signs anti-nepotism policies and overseas their content.
There are several ways this could hurt the city of Hickory, and I’m certainly not saying that these people ARE taking advantage of this system, but it is clear they COULD and a system should not allow for that.
Since Civil Engineers are paid much, much more than the part-time salary City Council members receive, a City Manager could have extra sway over the City Council Member married to the Civil Engineer. A threatened loss of a job with high income is certainly a motivator, and a bad City Manager could certainly hold this over the head of a Council Member, and therefore have too much power.
Another way this could hurt the city would be if a bad Council Member provided extra protection to their spouse by threatening the position of his boss, the City Manager. In this case, it isn’t unreasonable to think that the Civil Engineer, or any other department head, would have enough extra protection that they didn’t feel they needed to do their job as well.
Again, and this is important: I AM NOT SAYING THAT THE CURRENT CITY EMPLOYEES ARE DOING BAD.
I AM saying that this current system allows them to do that bad, and changes are needed. Cities across the country know that department heads shouldn’t be married to City Council Members. Let me remind you that if two city employees date, they are both fired, but our city apparently sees no issue with a Council Member being married to the Senior Civil Engineer.
Since infrastructure and sinkholes are one of the biggest problems our city faces, I think that allowing this crossover is dangerous. BUT. Even if it is allowed to stand, the policy needs to be ratified to include City Council members and Mayors. A grandfather clause can be added so that both of these people can keep their jobs, but this isn’t a problem we need to repeat in the future, so we need to fix the policy.
We don’t have to wait for me to be elected to voice our concerns. You can also email the City Manager here: firstname.lastname@example.org.