Nepotism charges on both coasts, and a New Jersey bill to fight it

Rahway, New Jersey (population 28,077): Rahway’s first-year mayor repeatedly sought to get his wife a six-figure job by pressuring a top city official in charge of the hiring process, according to an ethics complaint filed with New Jersey’s Department of Community Affairs. The complaint, which The Star-Ledger obtained last week, details numerous occasions when Mayor Rick Proctor allegedly encouraged Rahway’s business administrator to hire his wife, Denise Proctor, as the city’s health officer. The mayor held that position for nine years until he resigned before taking office in January. Denise Proctor has since withdrawn her name from consideration, and another candidate has been hired for the job. An attorney for the mayor defended his client and accused others of distorting the facts for their own interests. The allegations of nepotism surfaced after several weeks of turmoil in Rahway, where the Democratic mayor has come under attack for allowing the health officer position to be vacant during Hurricane Irene and staffed only 10 hours per week during the first six months of the year. State law requires full-time staffing of the position.

Proctor, who was a Union County freeholder for eight years, was already publicly accused of not recusing himself from the hiring process, despite his wife’s candidacy and the advice of the city attorney. But the newest accusations paint a far broader picture of the mayor’s involvement, even alleging he promised the job to his wife and another candidate before the results of a civil service exam were released. The complaint was filed by Peter Pelissier, the city’s longtime business administrator and the official responsible for hiring the new health officer. He sent the complaint in August to the state’s Local Finance Board, which investigates possible ethical violations, and filed additional documents Sept. 16. The business administrator said, in a detailed narrative, the mayor not only wanted his wife hired, but he also demanded she receive a top salary and be named a director, which would have afforded her 25 vacation days. Read more at NJ.com.

News of Rahway Mayor Rick Proctor’s alleged interference with the selection of the city’s vacant health officer position prompted New Jersey Assemblywoman Amy Handlin, R-Monmouth, to sponsor anti-nepotism legislation (A-3963) introduced May 9, 2011 that would impose penalties on elected officials and public employees at the State, county and local levels of government. Current law only addresses certain jobs and certain relatives, and lacks specific penalties. Handlin’s bill, known as the “Comprehensive Anti-Nepotism Act,” defines the scope of who would not be able to be hired due to conflict of interest issues and provides that should the relevant ethics committee determine that the law was violated, the official would be immediately removed from public office or employment, and fined an amount three times the amount of the current penalty for ethics violations. Read more at NJ Assembly Republicans.

Meanwhile, on the west coast, there are charges of nepotism from both the former administrator and the former mayor of Oakland:

Okland, California (population 410,886): Cash-strapped Oakland has spent nearly $1 million and counting on outside lawyers to defend the city’s decision to fire former City Administrator Deborah Edgerly and her top assistant, Cheryl Thompson. Edgerly and Thompson were both fired in 2008 by then-Mayor Ron Dellums after Edgerly was accused of warning her nephew William Lovan, a convicted felon who worked for the city as a parking meter repairman, of a planned police gang sweep. Lovan resigned from the city last September after his arrest for drug possession. At the time, he was on home detention for a gun conviction – and soon after was sentenced to 16 months in state prison for violating parole.

Edgerly and Thompson were both at-will employees and served at the mayor’s pleasure, so they could be fired without cause. The two fought back, however, filing separate lawsuits claiming sex discrimination. They also claimed that the real reason they had been shown the door was their refusal to go along with Dellums’ use of city money to pay for a new office for his wife, who was acting as a City Hall adviser, and for refusing to use city money to pay for a trip Dellums took to South Africa a year after he took office. Thompson also claimed that Edgerly had promised her a severance package when she signed on as her $216,000-a-year assistant. The San Francisco law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, which was brought in to defend the city, has so far billed Oakland $571,000 in Thompson’s case and $368,000 in Edgerly’s – at an average of $400 an hour.

City Attorney Barbara Parker felt the city could win both cases. But a majority of the City Council decided last week that it was time to cut its losses and pay Thompson $500,000 to go away. Edgerly’s case is still outstanding. Read more at the San Francisco Chronicle.

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