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Monday, April 26, 2010
Nepotism and public employment in New York State
Public Officers Law §73.14 (a)
New York State Inspector General Joseph Fisch alleges the New York State Theatre Institute’s (NYSTI) Producing Director, Patricia Snyder, has engaged in nepotism* by “routinely [hiring] members of her immediate family for NYSTI productions” while Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has alleged that a State Senator, Pedro Espada, Jr., had engaged in nepotism by employing a relative to serve as a special assistant when he took office.
Public Officers Law §73.14 (a) provides as follows:
No statewide elected official, state officer or employee, member of the legislature or legislative employee may participate in any decision to hire, promote, discipline or discharge a relative for any compensated position at, for or within any state agency, public authority or the legislature.
The New York State Commission on Public Integrity, charged with interpreting, administering, and enforcing the State's ethics laws, has commented that the current definition of the term “relative” for purposes of §73.14 (a) “is confusing and fails to recognize significant relationships that should appropriately be included within the definition.”
To cure this, the Commission has proposed that Public Officers Law §73(1)(m)** be amended to clarify the term “relative” to include blood relatives as well as persons living in the same household that may not share a blood relation.
According to the Commission, as currently written the statute defines a relative as “any person living in the same household as the individual” and includes foreign exchange students, friends and roommates and "direct descendants" of the State Officer or employee grandparents or the spouse of such descendants.
The following relationships, said the Commission, are not “relatives” for the purposes of the statute unless such individuals reside in the state officer’s or employee’s household: foster children, adopted children, step children, “in-law” relatives, and step-relatives.***
The trend in many states, said the Commission, is to define the term “relative” by identifying the actual relationship the term is intended to capture. It recommends that legislation be enacted that would re-define the term “relative” by specifically identifying the blood relationships, and step relationships that fall within its plain meaning, and domestic partner relationships.
NYPPL has set out some court and administrative decisions concerning nepotism at:
* Although an anti-nepotism policy is generally viewed as barring of the employment of relatives in the same organization, technically nepotism involves an appointing authority appointing others to public positions because of the blood or marital relationship of the individual to the appointing authority. In other words, nepotism does not simply involve the employment of relatives within an organization; it results when the individual is employed within the organization solely because of the influence or authority of his of her relative to effect the employment.
** Public Officers Law §73(1)(m) currently defines the term “relative" to mean “any person living in the same household as the [State officer or employee] and any person who is a direct descendant of that individual's grandparents or the spouse of such descendant."
*** In its 2008 Annual Report the Commission stated that “The Commission proposal [amending the definition of "relative"] would clarify the term to include blood relatives as well as persons living in the same household that may not share a blood relation. As currently written, said the Commission, the following relationships are not captured by the statute unless such individuals live in the same household: foster children, adopted children, step children, “in-law” relatives, and step-relatives.”
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