Doug Millroy: A Family Affair at City Hall

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As nepotism at city hall was discussed by council at its Dec. 11 meeting, there were many references to the city’s policy in regard to the hiring of relatives which was put into play in 1982 and revised slightly in 2011.

But no one there that night gave us the nuts and bolts of that policy and the media didn’t bother to include the information in their stories.

Council doing so would have given us all a better perspective as we followed debate on the resolution presented by Councillors Ozzie Grandinetti and Matthew Shoemaker which called for staff to once yearly report to council on how many of the city’s employees across all departments are related to one another.

The councillors in their resolution said they were not looking for the names of those employees, but simply the numbers and percentages for council’s information.
The resolution noted that a perception exists locally that family members of existing staff are given preference for city positions and this negatively affects the trust of residents in the operations of the city.

It said a policy already exists that regulates nepotism in the city’s hiring practices and full transparency of the facts is the best way to counter this perception.

This would have been the time to present the policy, as no one in attendance seemed to have a handle on it.

In any event, the resolution failed by an 8-3 vote.

I was of two minds about it.

I know the perception is out there that relatives are given preference and I would have liked to have seen the matter addressed a little more deeper than what occurred at council, where the majority simply sloughed it off.

I don’t see anything wrong with doing something to combat the perception, especially since all that the two councillors were asking for was numbers, not names.

And after all, beyond perception, there is the fact that there are quite a few people working for the city who are related, some in the same department. Council members may not know this or may not want to know this, but most staff members probably do.

In regard to the resolution, I thought it was especially necessary for the Hiring-of-Relatives policy to be trotted out when Mayor Christian Provenzano sought clarification of what constitutes a relative.

He asked if in-laws are considered relatives? Spouses? First cousins?
The answers to those questions are contained in the policy that is on the books. It reads:
“Purpose: This policy provides guidelines for the hiring of relatives within The Corporation of the City of Sault Ste. Marie. It is intended to eliminate any potential for conflict of interest or the perception of bias in the selection process. The policy is designed to avoid direct reporting relationships whereby one relative has direct authority to administer monetary gain, conduct performance evaluations, recommend for hire or promotion or administer discipline to another relative.

“Relative is defined as:
“Spouse: Person to whom the employee is legally married or is in a common-law relationship. “Child: Natural, adopted and stepchildren.
“Parent: Includes father, mother, stepfather, stepmother.
“Sibling: Brother or Sister includes half brother and half sister.
“In-laws: Father/Mother in-law, Sister/Brother in-law, Son-in-law, Daughter-in-law.
“Policy:
“Supervision shall be defined as having formal direct responsibility for the day-to-day supervision of relatives.

The Corporation of The City of Sault Ste. Marie shall not hire, transfer, promote or assign an individual to a department/division, which will result in the individual being supervised by a member of senior staff related to them. Senior staff refers to a department head, division head and deputy.

“No person shall participate directly in a selection process or appointment involving a relative. “Notwithstanding the above, no persons shall be hired and assigned to an area where an employee related to them would supervise them. This also applies to Student employees.

“If the skill and qualifications required for a position or if organizational or collective agreement provisions necessitate departure from these guidelines, council will be advised of the circumstances.”

Although I don’t see anything wrong with the resolution presented by Grandinetti and Shoemaker, I also believe the present policy does a pretty good job of nailing things down.

It stops short of declaring that two people who are closely related cannot be hired by the city, as well it should.

It would be patently unfair to allow only one member of a family to be employed by the city.

I don’t think the city is any different from many corporations in hiring relatives as they take into consideration the work ethic of family members already there. If those persons are doing a fine job, it is only natural that those doing the hiring would believe that their relatives would also do a fine job.

Will there be mistakes? Sure. I can attest to that from personal experience.

My father years ago got me a job in the Dryden Paper Company, the company taking me on based on his work ethic and qualifications as a blacksmith. I wasn’t afraid of work, so that part came off OK. But the company got shortchanged in the area of quality as I was a klutz when it came to working with my hands.

I gather there are quite a few sons and daughters of city employees hired as summer students by the city. Apparently at one time the city had to pay the basic rate for a position to summer students but when the unions agreed that could be at minimum wage, the hiring rate was doubled.

There seemed to be some question at council as to how to determine which employees were related.

“Staff would have to take all the employees in the city and figure out a system where retroactively they can determine who has relations with another employee,” the mayor said. “That is what you want staff to do?” he asked Grandinetti and Shoemaker.

I would suggest that finding out would not be that hard, that the question could be simply put to department heads. Most of them would know or could easily find out from subordinates.

If I can find out that there are related people at city hall and even within departments, surely council can. Something like one higher-up having a husband working there is hardly a secret.

Shoemaker said he thought it was important to show the community what percentage of folks here are related to one another, that this figure would probably be much lower than people presume it is.

I really don’t see anything wrong with doing that.

9 COMMENTS

  1. If everyone remembers correctly, Mannesman Tube, when owned by the Germans, used to hire strictly like this. The only time they hired someone that wasn’t related was when there was no relatives left. Yes they were a private company. Put yourselves in their position, wouldn’t you hire a relative instead of a stranger?
    I quote Taxpayer, “I wouldn’t fire him because I know he has three kids to feed.” In this case, I would hire him because he has 3 kids and a wife to feed.

  2. Thank You Doug Millroy! Once again your wealth of experience fills in the blanks for us!!!! Why wouldn’t any of our senior council point out there was an existing policy when it was brought up? To those that say shoemaker and grandinetti were just grandstanding and should have done their research…ok, fair, but rather than shut it down without explanation like they did, why the hell didn’t anyone else on council point out the existing policy?? Makes me think nobody else knew about it either, including our mayor. But Doug Millroy did! lol. Doug for mayor!!
    Nepotism runs rampant in the steel plant, and they don’t hide that fact, it almost seems they are proud of it, but they are a private company, they can do what they want.
    City workers are a different story. And it should be transparent to us the taxpayers. The perfect example is the Police Chief, his wife worked there, did this cause the problem and was the catalyst for him leaving? We should know why the Chief is leaving, not have to guess! Our taxes pay his salary. It is our right to know what happened there, if for nothing else- but to avoid it in the future. Bringing in a new police chief is a major deal and serious upheaval for the entire force. Maybe we need Doug to find that info for us too!?
    If you have a job working for the city and your direct superior is a relative that should not be allowed. That puts both in a bad position if something goes wrong. As an example, if I’m my sons direct supervisor and he screws up big time, I wouldn’t fire him because I know he has three kids to feed and it would cause animosity in my family and strain our personal relationship. So there is very good reason that scenario should not be allowed to happen.
    Thanks again Doug, and hey, do the city and all of us a favour and find out why the Chief is leaving will ya?

  3. The result of family members being hired within the city results in a lack of diverse thinking.

    Hiring family members does not come in the form of manager hiring a direct report. It comes in the format of cross department hiring.
    This happens in a number of ways here’s an example..
    An existing employee calls a member in the other department starting the conversation about my interviewing. Then they talk to their coworkers who are interviewing saying how they know someone coming in. A bias is pulled in favor of that individual before they even interview.

    On the topic of diverse thinking and action, it’s more common than not to have spouses who see and view the city and the work in front of them the same way. And same goes for their children – similar thinking.
    Rinse repeat on this and you have a mesh of people who know each other. If a person is not performing well, you get into this situation where you don’t want to fire so-and-so since they are married to someone over in another department.

  4. One has to wonder why our councillors, when bringing forward resolutions, never seem to do any research on their proposals. Take this one for example. These two councillors brought this forward, but had no idea what the existing policy was regarding hiring relatives. Why would they not do a little research ahead and avoid wasting valuable council time? Grandstanding at it’s best. They continue to give the impression that they are acting on the best interest of the taxpayer, but are unwilling to do the work and constantly dump this stuff on city staff. Typical politicians, pointing fingers, but never supplying answers.
    I agree that nepotism needs to be curbed, if it indeed is present, however, not hiring people just because they are related is ridiculous. Passing over qualified people because they are a relative would be an injustice to our local operations.
    My advice to the councillors would be to do your research before you bring forward resolutions. Also do your research before voting on resolutions and anything else brought forward to you at council.
    This advice should also go to the city’s human resources. Properly researching people you hire can prevent controversy down the road.
    Have a safe Holiday Season

  5. I look at it this way:

    Why should a non-relative suffer because relatives are being hired, and,
    Why should relatives suffer because they have a relative already working there.
    The only way to hire is to look at the requirements of the job and the qualifications of the person applying for the job.
    Oh well, back to square one.

  6. It’s still deeply seeded and running wild. I sat on the call out list for 2 years after passing every test and interview. Then I’m told a new HR manager was hired and was going to revamp the hiring process. But not before her step son and someone else was hired at works Dept and not off the list. Of course my info comes from friends and acquaintances I know from works Dept. In the end I’m told after a “REFRESHER” Interview that I didn’t pass it and was kicked off the call out list. Being provably the last guy in the list from my calculations and conversation with my friends in the Dept about the number of new hires. I can’t help but feel it was just a way to get a family member on board. I’m sure council would say otherwise but with information from inside and 10 years service at the city of Ottawa where nepotism runs wild as well I find it hard to believe council doesn’t now it happens. Gone are the days of the best man/women for the job got it. Now the influential positions dictate who gets in. If that means family first. It happens. Wether we like it or believe it or not.

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