Nepotism could be a no-no in Smithtown

Smithtown Supervisor Patrick Vecchio listens during a town Smithtown Supervisor Patrick Vecchio listens during a town board meeting. (Feb. 7, 2012) Photo Credit: Ed Betz

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Seeking to end what they say is a tradition of town employees hiring relatives, Smithtown officials are backing a new rule outlawing the practice.

The anti-nepotism clause in the town code of ethics would forbid officials from being involved in decisions to hire -- or promote or fire -- members of their families. Adding the statute to the ethics code was among several recommendations the state comptroller's office made two years ago in an audit of Smithtown.

Supervisor Patrick Vecchio said that for many years there has been "a pattern of employees being hired whose families work for the town.

"In certain departments, you may have a grandfather, father, son . . . I just don't think it's fair that the public doesn't have an equal opportunity to get a town position. Inherent in there is the potential for favoritism."

The issue will be the subject of a public hearing before the Smithtown Town board at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Eugene A. Cannataro Senior Citizen Center, 420 Middle Country Rd.

The proposed amendment says: "No elected official, officer or employee of the town shall participate in any decision to hire, fire, promote, discipline or discharge a relative or family member for or in any position in the town government."

Councilmen Thomas McCarthy and Robert Creighton said they would vote for the amendment and expect it to pass. "You have to do what the New York State comptroller's office wants you to do," McCarthy said.

Town officials said nepotism has been especially apparent for decades in the highway department.

Highway superintendent Glenn Jorgensen, who took office in 2010, acknowledged he hired his son, Eric, 19, last year as a $32,988-a-year laborer; and his daughter, Alix, 21, earned $1,291 last summer as a part-time sanitation helper. She no longer works for the town.

No rules barred Jorgensen from hiring his children. But the nepotism clause, if passed, would prevent him from taking part in decisions on whether to promote or fire his son.

Jorgensen said his son's employment is governed by union rules that cover decisions such as hiring, promoting and firing workers. "He doesn't get any special treatment," Jorgensen said. "It's all by the book."

Some officials say it should remain legal for relatives to work for the town, as long as they are not hired and supervised by family members.

"I don't necessarily see that as a bad thing," Creighton said.

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