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Leadership on nepotism


Nepotism is too common in local government. But a state law taking effect July 1 should address the problem of nepotism and encourage greater disclosure of conflicts of interest. And proposed legislation from City Councilman Mitch Harper could make Fort Wayne the model for other units of local government to follow in meeting local requirements of the law.

According to the state law, as of the 2014 election, anyone elected to a council or board cannot also be an employee of that government agency. The law also bars government leaders from directly supervising family members and requires government officials to disclose conflicts of interest.

The most recognized example locally is Deputy Police Chief Marty Bender, who also serves on City Council. Bender abstains from voting on a salary ordinance that determines his pay. But it’s nearly impossible for him to avoid voting on every matter before the council that could affect his work for the police department.

Under the law, local units of government must also create anti-nepotism and conflict of interest disclosure rules or risk having the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance reject their budgets. Harper recently introduced two bills that would incorporate anti-nepotism and conflict-of-interest disclosure requirements from the state law into city code.

The law also allows local governments to adopt more stringent rules.

“It’s almost like an invitation,” Harper said. “I have in mind wanting to support more stringent language, but I want to hear from the public and council members.”

For example, the state law allows a government official to do business with companies owned by the relatives of government officials, as long as the government officials disclose the relationship.

Harper suggested the city should consider an outright ban.

Residents have long observed questionable situations where government workers on legislative bodies or township boards with the power to set budgets, select vendors or hire employees have hired relatives or otherwise voted on issues to their personal benefit. The measures to reduce these conflicts of interest are long overdue, and Harper deserves credit for leading the first local effort to meet new state standards.