Guest Column: Current nepotism policy works for good of whole city

Although we are facing issues within our community at the moment to include electric rate reductions and crime, I am deeply troubled by a city of Kinston policy discussion up for debate again tonight at 5:30 p.m. Maybe you’ll agree with some of my conclusions, maybe you won’t. Join with me if you will and remove personalities from this discussion and truly consider the policy question at hand: Should elected officials’ family members be allowed employment with the city of Kinston?

Let’s take a step back for a moment. The mid-80s saw many positive happenings within the city of Kinston. We landed some major industrial plants and were named an All American City. And in August of 1987, the city Council was concerned enough about nepotism in the workplace that they paused their busy schedules to take up the issue. They concluded that family members of their body should not be allowed to work for the very organization they were charged with overseeing.

One could determine that the current policy has worked well since 1987 when it was unanimously approved by Councilmembers Eddie Kornegay, the Rev. W.C. Dortch, Andrew Culpepper, Mansfield Creech and Herbert Spear Sr. The presiding mayor was Buddy Ritch. What problem were they trying to solve? What would cause them to want to forbid their family members from getting jobs with the city?

I’m not certain of those answers and I’m not certain how many applicants have succumbed to this policy. I would submit, however, that in my six years of elected office only two applicants have been denied employment based on this policy. Does the current policy limit the pool of applicants which could also include the most qualified candidate? That answer is yes.

And, if one could conclude the pool is limited without those family member’s applications, then one could also conclude that changing this policy may actually keep the most qualified applicant from applying out of fear of competing with an elected official’s relative. If the choice for a position came down to two people, an elected official’s child and your child, who do you believe has a better chance at getting the job?

Is that hypothetical? Yes. Is that possible? Yes. Does changing the policy build goodwill? Is changing the policy fair, equal and beneficial to all concerned? You decide.

Another concern of changing the policy is the culture of our organization. When a department head is faced with your child’s application versus an elected member’s child’s application, then this presents a lose/lose scenario. If your child is hired, then a department head may rightly or wrongly fear retribution or further scrutiny during our public council meetings. If an elected official’s child is hired, then their co-workers could well conclude that the hire was made as a favor to the elected official. Passing any policy that systematically causes lose/lose scenarios that didn’t exist before is simply unfortunate.

If it’s so easy to discern the negative cultural impact to our organization, then what tangible benefits does the change provide for our citizens and employees? The change is only directed at helping six families in Kinston.

The policy to be voted on tonight states that a board member’s relative is allowed to work at the city of Kinston “provided there is not a direct or indirect reporting relationship.” Yet, every single employee of the city of Kinston either directly or indirectly reports to the City Council by the fact they are ultimately hired and/or fired by the city manager. For example, the council was the entity that instructed the human resources manager to bring a revised policy back to them. And she complied, of course. But, why did she comply? Why do department heads implement any policy as instructed by the City Council?

Who’s to say the next HR Manager, Public Safety Director or any other department head wouldn’t also be a family member of an elected official? This is the slippery slope.

As I’ve wrestled with communicating these concerns, I can only conclude with one question. If the elected members of the city of Kinston are voted on by the people to enact budgets and policy that best reflect the people’s positions, then if this policy were voted on by the people, what would they decide? Although we are two months away from municipal elections, if you could walk in the voter’s booth tonight and push a button, would you vote to relax this nepotism policy or would you keep it as is?

Your opinion counts, so please let us know how you’d vote. You may call us at 252-939-3110 to let us know your thoughts or send us an email to council@ci.kinston.nc.us. Feel free to copy me at mayorbjmurphy@gmail.com.

I write this out of love for this great community and sincerely want to hear from you. We have so many great opportunities ahead. Let’s continue to grow Kinston together!

BJ Murphy is mayor of the city of Kinston.

Should elected official's family members be allowed employment with the City of Kinston?

  • No (82%, 210 Votes)
  • Yes (18%, 45 Votes)

Total Voters: 255

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Published in the Kinston Free Press on 9/8/2015.


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