Richter: Time for a policy on nepotism

In June, shortly after Evan Cossette was convicted on federal charges of brutality and obstruction of justice for actions while he was working for the Meriden Police Department in 2010, the City Council asked the city manager to draw up a policy that would regulate, but not necessarily eliminate, nepotism within city departments.

Such a policy was also one of the recommendations made by attorney Thomas Daily in his May 2012 report on the Police Department, a report that was prompted by allegations of nepotism and favoritism in the disciplining of Evan Cossette, who is the son of Police Chief Jeffry Cossette.

“Whenever discipline or reward is to be given to a family member by a decision maker such as the chief or his designee,” Mr. Daily wrote in his report, “there is also always the possibility of at least the appearance of impropriety and people questioning that decision.”

Well, yeah. And although the conclusion of the Daily report (move along, nothing to see here) could hardly be more at odds with the conclusion of the federal jury (guilty), let’s note that Mr. Daily referred to “the chief or his designee” – because one of the problems in the Cossette case is that the chief was already one step removed from supervising his son, but maybe that’s not enough; maybe no member of the top brass who reports directly to the chief should be supervising the chief’s son or other close relative. And let’s also note that Mr. Daily acknowledged not just impropriety but also “the appearance of impropriety” as problematic.

Fortunately, we’re not working in a vacuum here, and one form of guidance might be found by looking at what other towns and cities do. Case in point: When Evan Cossette was first put on desk duty – receiving, for the first year, not only his regular pay but also his 26-week average overtime pay – reporters from this newspaper inquired with comparable departments and found that out of 10 Connecticut municipalities with populations of at least 40,000, none had policies that would allow officers on administrative leave or duty to collect overtime for hours they had not worked – regardless of the circumstances that led to their change in work status.

That’s what other towns do about paying for overtime that was not actually worked by an officer on administrative leave, and it will be informative to learn what other towns do about a nepotism policy.

“We have several examples of policies from other towns,” City Manager Lawrence J. Kendzior told a reporter in a recent email, “and I need to review those and make a recommendation to the Council.”

Well, good. I’m no lawyer, and I’m no Personnel (excuse me: Human Resources) expert, so I’m sure there may be legal or regulatory ramifications of which I’m unaware, but how about starting with something like this?:

“No city employee shall have the authority to hire, fire, promote, demote, discipline, determine the pay rate of, grant a bonus to, set the work schedule for, review the job performance of or directly or indirectly supervise his or her child, step-child or ward; grandchild or step-grandchild; aunt or uncle; spouse or former spouse; domestic partner or former domestic partner; fiancé or fiancée; parent or step-parent; grandparent or step-grandparent; sibling, step-sibling or sibling-in-law; or first, second or third cousin.” Period.

Too severe? OK, maybe exceptions should be made, and that’s probably why Mr. Kendzior is looking at what other towns do.

We’ve heard that a policy is “on the radar screen,” and then we heard it may even be “on the front burner.” Whatever. The city needs to start somewhere.

Reach Glenn Richter at grichter@record-journal.com.



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