Friday, July 3, 2015

Can You Say Nepotism?

Let us start with a simple definition of the term.

nep·o·tism / ˈnepəˌtizəm/
the practice among those with power or influence of favoring relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs.

synonyms:favoritism, preferential treatment, the old boy network, looking after one's own, bias, partiality, partisanship

"hiring my daughter was not nepotism—it was just good business"

Now, lets look at Indiana's "nepotism law" effective July 1 2012.

Ind. Code § 4-15-7-1 : Indiana Code - Section 4-15-7-1: Nepotism

(a) No person being related to any member of any state board or commission, or to the head of any state office or department or institution, as father, mother, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, a husband or wife, son or daughter, son-in-law or daughter-in-law, niece or nephew, shall be eligible to any position in any such state board, commission, office, or department or institution, as the case may be, nor shall any such relative be entitled to receive any compensation for his or her services out of any appropriation provided by law.

(b) This section shall not apply if such person has been employed in the same position in such office or department or institution for at least twelve (12) consecutive months immediately preceding the appointment of his relative as a board member or head of such office, department, or institution.

(c) This section does not apply to the authority of the board of trustees of a state educational institution to employ any person the board considers necessary under IC 21-38-3-1.

(d) No persons related as father, mother, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, husband, wife, son, daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, niece, or nephew may be placed in a direct supervisory-subordinate relationship.

(Formerly: Acts 1941, c.16, s.1; Acts 1961, c.8, s.1.) As amended by Acts 1982, P.L.23, SEC.35; P.L.36-1995, SEC.1; P.L.2-2007, SEC.44; P.L.3-2008, SEC.8.

With this background information, let's take a look at the reappointment of Sarah O'Brien to the Indiana State Board of Education and her recent election as the board's Vice-Chair.  How does this appointment and Vice-Chair position relate to a possible violation of this "nepotism" law, along with a variety of potential ethics violations?  Mrs. O'Brien isn't just a 4th grade teacher from Avon who, as a Republican, was appointed to the SBOE and recently reappointed after legislative changes to the boards structure, she is also the daughter of Republican State Representative Bill Fine of Munster.  This is where the possible violation occurs.  Representative Fine is a Republican member of the House Education Committee who pushed the passage of legislation that changed the structure of the SBOE and co-authored key language that created the Vice-Chair position to share powers with the Elected Superintendent of Public Instruction, Glenda Ritz.

With the passage of this legislation, Governor Pence re-appointed O'Brien to the Board and set up her opportunity to be elected as Vice-Chair.   This selection was rumored before the SBOE met for their restructuring meeting.  The "election" of O'Brien appears to have been a done deal as part of Pence's plan when he made his recent appointments and refused to reappoint certain members who might have been more viable possibilities to be named Vice-Chair.

This may not be a clear violation of Indiana Law, but it appears to set up potential questions regarding "nepotism", board appointments, committee selections, and legislative ethics.

Indiana voters need to be vigilant in monitoring recent SBOE actions, the Governor's continued education agenda, and the co-mingling of legislators and appointed board members.  Raise questions, raise your voices, and demand transparency in all aspects of government activity.  Most importantly,  voters in Indiana need to get to the polls and vote to save our PUBLIC schools from the continued destruction and privatization planned by Pence and his wealthy corporate "reform" supporters.