- Associated Press - Sunday, August 31, 2014

ATLANTA (AP) - Local governments in metro Atlanta have hired at least 770 relatives of current employees during the last three years, according to an investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The review (https://bit.ly/1sSYiwN ) raises questions over whether rules designed to prevent nepotism are adequate or appropriately enforced.

In one case, Gwinnett County lets an elected official supervise his own girlfriend. An Atlanta city councilman votes on government spending that funds the paychecks of his brothers and sisters. In Clayton County, an employee can work with his brother while his father is the chairman of the county commission. In a DeKalb County division, 10 percent of employees work with a relative.

It’s extremely difficult to track how many local government workers are related to their colleagues. No one consistently tracks that hiring, and safeguards intended to prevent nepotism are limited and often outdated. About 1,700 employees of six governments appeared to live together, based on an examination of home addresses. Most share the same last names.

Experts say nepotism deprives governments of the most-qualified employees. It can also lead to discipline problems, damage workplace morale and create conflicts of interest. Even the appearance of family favoritism can tarnish a government’s credibility.

“At any point, there can be a scandal,” said Robert Wechsler, an expert at City Ethics, which advises local governments on ethics issues.

Policies are inconsistent across different governments. Gwinnett County bans elected official’s relatives from being hired. Most policies do not cover domestic partners. That means a supervisor could employee a partner so long as they are not married.

Clayton County prohibits spouses, parents, children and siblings from working in the same departments. That prohibition does not apply to more distant relations such grandparents, nieces or uncles. Close relatives can work in large departments if they are not in the same division.

It’s not uncommon for children to follow into the professions of their parents.

“I’m kind of a sentimental guy,” said Kevin Keough, a Gwinnett firefighter whose sons Jordan and Chad work in the department. “Just seeing them in this uniform makes me proud.”

Relatives of a current employee may be known, trusted and show more commitment, said Robert Jones, a Missouri State University psychology professor.

But the process can be abused.

A special grand jury in Clayton County cited unspecified examples last year of nepotism and self-dealing it said were rampant in local government. It recommended not hiring job candidates who fail to pass background checks, even if those candidates have relatives in positions of authority.


Information from: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, https://www.ajc.com



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