August 27th, 2019 2:00 PM
By MARIA MAXHAM
Since his April election, Forest Park Mayor Rory Hoskins has promised to institute an anti-nepotism policy for Forest Park's village government. Monday night, after a lively discussion among commissioners at a village board meeting, an anti-nepotism policy was adopted with one commissioner, Ryan Nero, opposing passage.
According to the official document, "It is the policy of the Village of Forest Park to provide equal employment opportunities and to base personnel procedures and hiring practices upon individual merit and qualification, rather than political or family advantage or favoritism." The document, which is just over two pages long, outlines the reasons for the policy and how it should be applied. It defines "relative," "family" and "supervisor/subordinate relationship" as it pertains to the new rules. And it details what sort of employee relationships are prohibited and how the policy applies to existing employees.
There are a few exceptions to the policy. One allows current employees in prohibited relationships to be grandfathered in and allowed to continue working for the village unless there is "impropriety or appearance of impropriety," in which case "appropriate steps" to ensure there are no conflicts of interest will be taken.
Also exempt from this policy are "uncompensated volunteers or interns, or employees hired through competitive exam administered by the Forest Park Board of Fire and Police Commissioners."
The discussion of the policy prior to the council's vote was thorough and initiated by Commissioner Nero, who cast the only vote against it. He made it clear that he supports the policy in general but wanted wording to ensure that the most qualified person for a village job, whether related to someone already working for the village or not, would be hired. He said he was "looking for a language change… to allow special circumstances to go before the commissioners and mayor." Nero said he wants to make sure that even if a potential employee is related to someone already working for the village, a "candidate who is the perfect fit for said position [should] at least have an opportunity" to apply.
Commissioner Joe Byrnes also had concerns. He brought up summertime help, such as teenagers employed at the village. If they have a relative employed by the village, and they have to reapply each year for the job, they would be subject to this new policy, which states that "if a grandfathered employee terminates his or her employment and later re-applies, he/she would be subject to this policy," and therefore no longer eligible for the position.
But Hoskins reminded the commissioners that this policy isn't being instituted to address teenage employees. He said the need for this policy grew out of a "relatively small number of households holding a disproportionate number of village jobs" and the perception this created. And he pointed out that "optics made a difference" to him when his own children were employed by the village. They didn't hold village positions while he served as commissioner.
In fact, the policy makes it clear that not only are anti-nepotism practices important to ensure equal opportunities within the village, they're also important to protect the village's credibility. According to the policy, "perceptions" of nepotism "may weaken the credibility of the village." In another section of the document entitled "Prohibited Employee Relationships" it is stated that hiring a relative wouldn't be allowed in cases where there would be a "an actual conflict of interest or the appearance of a conflict of interest."
Nick Peppers, village attorney, said that this is a "policy, not code." It's "flexible," and should be viewed as a "placeholder to at least start with." He said the document can be amended once passed. Other villages, he commented, have a wide range of anti-nepotism policies, some basic and some extremely detailed. Hoskins concurred, stating that it would be difficult to get all the language in the policy perfect, and he doesn't want to see "perfect be the enemy of the good."
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