Rule of outright nepotism needs to be softened: panel | News, Sports, Jobs

Staff photo by Clay Schuldt The city charter commission is recommending a change to the nepotism code to allow relatives of elected officials to remain in city employment.

NEW ULM — City employees will no longer be fired if a relative is elected mayor or councillor.

Article 24 of the city’s autonomy charter and municipal code prohibits the employment in the city of members of the immediate family of elected officials. Anti-nepotism language has been in the charter since 1973, but few city officials knew about the language until 2020.

Since then, three incidents have forced individuals to resign or not be considered for a position due to a family connection working with the city.

Last month, the city convened the Charter Commission to review potential changes to the charter. There were concerns that the provision would punish potential city employees because of family relationship, but it did little to prevent unfair treatment in the workplace.

On Wednesday, the commission made a formal recommendation to change the language of the charter. The new language would no longer prohibit relatives of elected officials from working for the city, but added language saying the mayor or city council could not “influencing or attempting to influence the hiring, transfer, suspension, promotion, discharge, reward, discipline or settlement of a grievance of a related party”.

The new provision then defines “related persons” to include parent, child, grandparent, grandchild, brother, sister, half-brother, half-sister, uncle, aunt, nephew, niece or first cousin.

It also includes relationships by marriage or domestic partner such as husband, wife, parent-in-law, son-in-law, brother-in-law, half-sister, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, father-in-law, mother-in-law, son-in-law – daughter-in-law, uncle, aunt, nephew, niece.

Divorce or the death of a spouse would end a significant family relationship through marriage.

City Attorney Roger Hippert said the Section 24 amendment prevents a city employee from losing their job and clarifies that elected officials cannot take action to impact a parent. For example, if the board were to vote on an issue that affected an employee to whom they were related, the board members should recuse themselves from the vote. The change would also prevent an elected official from pressuring the city manager or department head to hire or fire a relative.

The commission recognizes that changing the clause would not resolve all conflicts of interest in city government, but it does set expectations for elected officials.

We are not going to be able to legislate specifically on everything,said Commissioner Linda Heine. “The main thing for me was that I was not comfortable continuing to have a provision that says someone is going to get fired if they are a person in a relationship.

The commission had additional concerns if there were to be a consequence for an elected official who tries to influence a parent’s position with the city. The commission continues to examine the possibility of establishing a code of ethics in the charter in order to specify more clearly how elected officials should behave in the event of a conflict of interest.

No formal action was taken on a code of ethics at Wednesday’s meeting, as the commission opted to table it for a future meeting.

The changes to the nepotism clause were unanimously recommended by the commission. This recommended change will be submitted to City Council along with other changes and additions recommended by the Charter Commission.

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