Broken Arrow approves changes to nepotism rules


By John Dobberstein, Editor

Changes have been made to tighten up Broken Arrow’s nepotism ordinance, reversing a trend begun years ago of loosening regulations to accommodate different departments.

The revisions approved by the Broken Arrow City Council clarify the definition of “immediate family” and provide clarity to some other situations where a conflict of interest could exist.

The most recent situation involved a new hire at the Broken Arrow Police Department who is the son of a high-ranking official at the department. There is nothing in city ordinances that prohibit such a hiring and there are many members of the same family working other city departments.

The City Council asked City Manager Michael Spurgeon and department heads this spring to review the current rules and determine if changes were needed. Part of the review included a survey of the city’s 900 employees about the current rules, and more than 300 responded.

Department heads main concern

The survey found:

* 89% of employees agreed with the current definition of “immediate family;”

* 81% agreed with the current employment requirements ordinance;

* 53.90% had concerns with a supervisor having a family member work within their same department;

* 41% had a concern about married couples (including common-law, live-in and engaged couples) working in the same department;

* 60% had concerns with a director having a family member work within their department;

* 23% had concerns about Human Resources personnel having family member work for the city;

*18% had concerns about Finance or Accounting personnel having family members work for the city.

The revised measure forbids the hiring of anyone who is a member of the immediate family of the city manager, elected official of the city, or of anyone in the department of Human Resources, Legal, the City Manager’s office, Information Technology, the division of Payroll, or a member of the immediate family of a supervisor within the Finance Department.

Also, a director or department head cannot hire an immediate family member in their department, or a division under their span of control.

If an employee is at a higher grade of employment than a relative of another employee, then the employee at a higher grade cannot be in direct supervision of their relative.

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. The high-grade worker also cannot handle confidential material that could create improper or inappropriate access to confidential material by the relative.

Reversing course

It’s still unclear how the ordinance affects current city employees and if they will be grandfathered from the changes. City councilors admit there is a tradition of family members working at City Hall, including in public safety, and changing the rules could create some difficult situations.

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.

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.

‘This is my watch’

Second Ward Councilwoman Lisa Ford requested the discussion about the nepotism policy earlier this year, saying that a group of sworn and non-sworn police officers had brought concerns to her about the police department hire.

“We don’t want to have one set of rules for one employee and one set for everybody else in the department,” said Ford, who is a former civilian BAPD employee. “I don’t think they should be grandfathered and get a transfer within the same department.”

Others believed restricting movement within a department could cause problems as well, especially with public safety where recruitment can be a challenge.

Spurgeon and the city’s department heads plan to further discuss some of the unanticipated situations with the police and fire departments and provide recommendations to the City Council for review.

“No director’s child or any family member is going to get any special consideration,” Spurgeon said. “This is my watch, so it’s not going to happen. Whether it’s (the Fraternal Order of Police) or (human resources), now it’s a matter of trusting me and my integrity to make sure there is no favoritism. I haven’t shown any in 8 years and I’m not going to start. And I want to make sure all the employees know it’s not going to happen.”

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