City of Broken Arrow taking second look at nepotism rules
By John Dobberstein
The city of Broken Arrow is taking another look at its rules about nepotism after a city councilor says she received concerns.
The Broken Arrow City Council recently voted to have City Manager Michael Spurgeon, Human Resources Director Kelly Cox and the city’s department heads review the city’s nepotism ordinance and report back with any potential changes.
The city also distributed a survey to its employees to gain insight into their “perception, attitude and feelings” about nepotism in the workplace. It’s expected the survey results and any potential changes to the ordinance will be discussed at a future City Council meeting.
Second Ward Councilwoman Lisa Ford requested the discussion about the nepotism policy, saying that a group of sworn and non-sworn police officers had brought concerns to her about someone wanting to become employed in the police department.
Ford said she felt it was most appropriate to bring the concerns to the City Council for discussion. She noted that Broken Arrow is a much bigger city now than it was during the 1970s and policies that were appropriate then might not be so now.
“We do have a lot of relatives that work for the city and I think it does say a lot. But I think it would be great if they worked in other departments,” Ford said at a recent council meeting. “Our city’s growing and we need to look at like all the departments and not just have special rules for certain departments.”
Daniel Hurst, president of Broken Arrow FOP Lodge 170, told the City Council that nepotism was a “non-issue” within the police department.
“We set up parameters that safeguard our officers. We have many people that are related within our police department. We have husbands and wives, aunts and uncles, cousins, you name it,” Hurst said.
“We’ve always found a way to work around that in every situation, whether it’s discipline or promotion or those different opportunities that we provided for them. We try to be as transparent in all these issues as we possibly can.”
City Manager Michael Spurgeon said when he arrived at his current job 8 years ago, “it was almost weekly I heard that you had to be related to somebody to come to work here.
“My thought at the time was we shouldn’t discount somebody that’s related to someone work here. I asked HR and what I found out was that HR was not involved in all the hiring processes, which immediately concerned me.
“I made it clear to the HR director and all the directors that they need to participate in every recruitment. And, if in fact there was a situation where a relative of someone in the organization is the top candidate, they must send me an email so I’m aware of every single person that's been hired that’s related to somebody in this organization.
“And I’ve said ‘no’ on a couple of occasions. But for most part I’ve said ‘yes’ because HR, not the director, has told me that they believe this was the best person. I feel good about where we are in terms of the quality and the top candidates that we’re getting for the positions.”
Longtime policies relaxed
The city’s nepotism rules go back to the 1970s. Initially the city’s policy prohibited anybody who was related to a city employee from working for the city.
That policy went unchanged until 2004, when the rules were relaxed and exemptions were made for Broken Arrow police and fire departments. But senior employees were prohibited from supervising another relative.
“That seemed to start a trend, because each of the revisions after that basically expanded the exemptions,” said Broken Arrow City Attorney Trevor Dennis. In 2004, the Public Works and Parks and Recreation departments were added.
In 2005, the City Council added Development Services, Engineering and Construction, Streets and Stormwater, and Utilities and General Services.
In 2006, the council exempted all city employees, with the only caveat being the city couldn’t employ immediate family members of the city council, the city manager or the director of the Department of Finance.
The city’s current employment requirements state:
* If a candidate is a member of the immediate family by blood marriage of any employee, special restrictions apply. Nepotism is prohibited for immediate family members of the city manager, an elected official or a supervisor in the department of finance.
* If an employee is at a higher grade of employment than a relative of another employee, the employee at a higher grade cannot be in direct supervision of their relative except in an emergency.
* The higher-grade employee cannot participate in the relative’s evaluation or be involved in any aspect of the relative’s promotional or disciplinary process and cannot handle confidential material that could create improper or inappropriate access to confidential material by the relative.
* A family member of the City Council and/or the city manager, or a supervisor in the Department of Finance are ineligible for employment.
Not set in stone
Spurgeon said if HR and a department director tells him that a person that’s related to a current employee is the best person for a position, he would have a document that both individuals sign to understand what the process would be “to protect the employee and also to make sure the director understands the expectations I have for them.”
Cox said the last municipality she worked in “did not have a formal policy in place. But it was an unwritten rule that you would not supervise one of your family members. I think policies out there are all over the board.”
“What I can assure you,” Spurgeon said, “is that the directors we have in this organization have a tremendous amount of integrity, in my opinion, and I don't really have any concerns. I also want to have the written agreement to make sure everyone's understands the expectations, should there have to be a special circumstance.”