All in the family

We begin with a few anecdotes.

Critiqued for hiring cronies and campaign workers in his new administration, former Democratic Mayor Don Quick responded, “What do you expect me to do, appointment my enemies?”

Responding to a preliminary county legislature reapportionment plan that attached his Marlborough base to distant mountain districts, former Republican legislator Rich Gerentine complained, “Even my relatives can’t vote for me!”

Questioned by media after a letter to the editor identified a dozen people named Cahill in various government jobs, Assemblyman Kevin Cahill quipped, “They missed the in-laws.”

Nepotism, deeply imbedded political DNA, reared its all too familiar head this week in Kingston with the revelation that Mayor Steve Noble was planning to consolidate the city’s public works and recreation departments and reassign his wife Julie to a new administrative position therein with a $23,000 raise. Collectively, with the mayor’s $5,000 raise this year (and another $20,000 in the pipeline in equal yearly increments), Team Noble will be pulling down something like $150,000 a year at the end of his second four-year term.  The good news for taxpayers is they need only one ($35,000) family health plan.

Noble is also talking about creating two new $60,000 a year positions to handle housing and intergovernmental affairs. Is there any end to new jobs in this administration and will these jobs also go to insiders?

It is interesting to note that in the widely publicized election completed less than three months ago, the mayor said nary a word about what some might see as a self-serving consolidation plan.

Now, it can and will be argued that the people the mayor is placing in these critical positions are well qualified and experienced and (I love this one) why should they be penalized because of close connections to the appointing authority?

Here’s why. This is our government. We all pay for it. These jobs should be publicized and made available to any qualified, interested taxpayer. And if no local fits the bill, cast a wider net.

But then, to attempt to legislate self-interest would be to deny human nature (see above), as Alexander Hamilton might have said. That’s why we have ethics committees. But I jest.

As of now, all we can hope for is some honest debate, perhaps some red faces, but wait. This is a one-party government being run by divine right. Despair, all ye (taxpayers) who enter there.

Sticky business – Speaking of close encounters, we didn’t have these kinds of complications when I was a boy reporter. Aldermen only schmoozed with department heads.

It seems that alderperson-at-large Andrea Shaut may have a conflict of interest in that she is dating Ed Norman, the city’s public works superintendent whose department will be the subject of common council scrutiny in the coming months.

As council president, Shaut, a former alderwoman elected to that post last November, will assign a council committee that will recommend action to the full-nine-member governing body. Newly-minted 9th Ward Alderwoman Michelle Hirsch has called on Shaut to recuse herself from anything involving the DPW chief. Ironically, Hirsch, who ran without opposition, replaced Shaut as 9th ward representative.

Given his $99,000 a year salary, it is doubtful that Norman will do a Duke of Windsor on behalf of his romantic interest. (For the historically-challenged, the duke gave up the English throne in 1937 “for the woman I love.”

Shaut says she’s not making any decisions about anything since she hasn’t officially received the mayor’s proposal, sent to media before anybody in the council saw it.

In any case, her voting on it would be highly unlikely since council presidents only vote to break ties. And if Shaut can’t name a special committee – or assign it to a standing committee -whom then? The city charter leaves that sole authority to the council president. But I like the way Hirsch called out a painfully obvious potential conflict of interest, unlike some others in city government.