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June 10, 2012

Local governments push to meet anti-nepotism law

State can shut down local governments that refuse to comply

INDIANAPOLIS — A new state law aimed at curbing nepotism in local government kicks in July 1, but some communities are worried about meeting the deadline for the law’s requirements.

The new law mandates all local governments adopt and implement anti-nepotism policies that restrict local officials from hiring or promoting their relatives; it also compels local elected officials to disclose any financial ties they may have with contractors that receive taxpayer dollars.

The penalty for not doing so can be severe: the state has the option of essentially shutting down a local government that refuses to eventually comply.

As the July 1 deadline looms larger, some local governments are scrambling as they work to figure out how to get the policy — and all the paperwork that comes with it — in place.

“I don’t know that we can physically meet that deadline,” said Auburn Mayor Norman Yoder at a recent meeting of the Indiana Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations.

Yoder may not be alone. The Indiana Association of Cities and Towns, known as IACT, is fielding “a lot of questions” from local mayors about how to put the law into place, said Rhonda Cook, the association’s legislative counsel.

The same goes for the Indiana Township Association and the Indiana Association of Counties. All three organizations advocate and advise local governments.

The challenge is logistical: The new state law spells out the minimum requirements for what must go into the anti-nepotism policies. But each local government unit must pass an ordinance, during a public meeting, making that policy into law and then figure out how to put it into practice.  

Local governments are being warned not to hire or promote any one or enter into any contract after July 1 unless they’ve met the new law’s requirements.

The new law has some exemptions. Some current employees are grandfathered in, for example. And there are some carve-outs for county coroners, sheriffs and some township trustees.   

It’s not unusual to have relatives working with and for each other in government in Indiana. About 400 of the 1,000 township trustees in Indiana have a relative working for them.

It’s unclear how many city and county employees will be affected. Under the new law, “relative” is somewhat broad. It’s defined as a spouse, parent or stepparent, child or stepchild, brother, sister, stepbrother, stepsister, niece, nephew, aunt, uncle, daughter-in-law or son-in-law. It also includes half-sisters, half-brothers and adopted children.

The new law doesn’t bar relatives from working with each other. But no one can “directly supervise” a relative. Local governments are being advised to document who’s related to whom, so they don’t later get into trouble. Falsifying a document is considered perjury.

As an organization, IACT supported the new anti-nepotism law. But some of its members see the new law as burdensome to implement. “They’ve got to create a paper trail,” Cook said.

Another piece of the law compels local elected officials — including mayors, city and county council members, and county commissioners — to disclose if they’re related to anyone who gets a contract with that local government to provide goods, services or public works. That includes relatives who may own a partial interest in the business entity that gets the contract.

There was some grumbling about the new law at the June 8 meeting of the Indiana Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Affairs. The commission is made up of local officials and state legislators who meet several times a year to talk about issues that impact them.

State Sen. Beverly Gard, a Republican from Greenfield, chairs the commission. She has some sympathy for the concerns of local officials, having served 12 years on her city council before being elected to the General Assembly.

“I think it’s going to be burdensome to some extent,” Gard said. But she said polling of Indiana voters showed strong support for the anti-nepotism legislation when it was being debated by the state legislature. “The public really, really wanted this to pass,” Gard said.

Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com.

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