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Sunday, March 01, 2009

Ind. Gov't. - "Township jobs: all in the family"

Updating this ILB entry from Feb. 24th, quoting from the Indianapolis Star investigative series on township government, today's story by Tim Evans, Mark Alesia, Heather Gillers and Mark Nichols is subheaded: "In 617 townships examined, 2 out of 3 trustees had a relative on the payroll." A quote from the lengthy story:

Urban or rural, large or small -- whether the job pays a pittance or a pretty penny -- nepotism is a tie that binds Indiana's disparate 1,008 townships.

A continuing examination of township government by The Indianapolis Star shows that, based on a sample of 617 townships, two-thirds of trustees had a relative on the payroll.

In addition, those relatives received more than $1.4 million in taxpayer money -- a conservative estimate of the overall picture that, like other aspects of township government, is nearly impossible to ascertain because of the autonomy of trustees, lax oversight and inconsistent record-keeping.

More than 300 townships didn't file the payroll disclosure form required by the state and used by The Star to help determine family relationships in township government.

Numerous other examples of nepotism go uncounted because only spouses and dependents are required to be reported on conflict of interest forms -- a process that excludes parents, siblings, grandchildren and other extended family members from the overall tally.

In many townships, often in rural areas, nepotism is taken for granted as innocuous and even essential to running a low-budget, hyper-local operation.

But no matter how quaint the operation, when the family business is local government, it raises ethical issues, real and perceived: Is the trustee or board lining the pockets of friends and family? Are there other deserving applicants being shut out of the process? Is your son-in-law really the most competent person for the job? And, if not, are you willing to fire the father of your grandchildren?

Peggy Kerns, director of the Center for Ethics in Government, said family hires sometimes can make sense, but added, "Generally, when public money is involved, there should be a lot of effort to make (hiring) an open process."

The issue is front and center in the legislature. Senate Bill 512, which originally called for the elimination of township government, was amended and now includes a provision that ends nepotism in township government.

"Anytime you use taxpayers' dollars you have to have standards for employees and contracts," said Sen. Connie Lawson, R-Danville, the bill's author.

"It's for the protection of taxpayers."

The current anti-nepotism language in SB 512 can be seen on pp. 19-20 of the bill as it passed the Senate.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 1, 2009 07:11 AM
Posted to Indiana Government