ALBANY — The County Legislature, with overwhelming support, approved a measure to eliminate nepotism.
The new regulation, passed on Thursday, Dec. 5 after the regularly scheduled meeting of Monday, Dec. 1 was snowed out, would apply to all employees not represented by a union. It would prohibit any current employee from having any direct input on any decision regarding the hiring of a relative or the promotion or discipline of an employee.
The definition of a “relative” according to the legislation, sponsored by Legislators Richard Touchette, D-Coeymans, and Chairman Andrew Joyce, D-Albany, would be: “Any person living in the same household as the employee and the employee’s father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, first cousin, nephew, niece, husband, wife, father-in-law, mother-in-law, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, stepfather, stepmother, stepson, stepdaughter, stepbrother, stepsister, half-brother or half-sister.
The new regulation will only apply to those employees hired and/or disciplined going forward and not any current employee.
Three legislators voted against the regulation. Sean Ward, D-Cohoes, was concerned about confusion created by the fact the county ethics regulations already defines “relative” and it is different than this definition. Legislators Gary Domalewicz, D-Albany, and Peter Crouse, R-Colonie, also voted no.
Later in the same meeting, the Legislature, mostly along party lines, voted down a proposal first made in 2018 by Legislator Todd Drake, R-Colonie, that would have prohibited relatives of elected county officials “from being hired or appointed for any paid position that qualifies as a policy making official or high ranking county position.” It would not apply to any relative who wants to volunteer for a position, such as a board, that does not include a salary.
If a prospective employee is a relative of an elected official, his bill would require the county executive submit a letter to the legislature disclosing any “potential conflicts of interest, any appearance of impropriety, the explanations for any conflicts of interest and/or appearance of impropriety and will demonstrate the candidate’s qualifications for the position.”
The candidate would then have to appear before the Legislative Personnel Committee to talk about experience, education and other background issues. The committee could also ask about other potential candidates for the position. It would then make a positive or negative recommendation before the prospective hire went to the entire Legislature for a vote.
“It brings some measure of accountability on hiring family members and I applaud it but I don’t think it goes far enough,” Drake said of the bill that did pass. “The public does deserve accountability for taxpayer dollars. But, it is a ‘do me a favor resolution,’ if you will. Does this really do anything to prevent politically connected families from getting help from other politically connected families? To be honest I don’t think it is the case.”
His bill would also not apply to civil service positions or those under a collective bargaining agreement.
Paul Burgdorf, R-Colonie, while voting in favor of both bills, said the county Ethics Law already does most of what the bill that was passed.
“What I like about Mr. Drakes proposal is it applies to those policy positions that are important enough to do financial disclosure, and set policy in the county,” he said on the floor of the Legislature. “If there was a family member who was going to go into one of those positions, it would be no different that if we were going to approve a commissioner. If the merits are there, it would go to making a positive recommendation. This is not or would not affect those in collective bargaining units but it would add to the transparency of putting family members into policy making positions.”