Hiring This Summer? Remember That Nepotism Means More Than Authorizing Employment

Nepotism is a crime in Ohio.  Public officials (i.e., school employees and board members) are well-aware that nepotism is illegal.  So why are public officials still being dinged for violating nepotism restrictions?

Most public officials think of nepotism as authorizing the employment of a family member,[1] which is one form of nepotism.  To that extent, R.C. 2921.42(A)(1) prohibits a public official from authorizing a public contract, including a public job, for a family member.

But what some do not realize is that nepotism encompasses more than just authorizing the employment of a family member.  In that regard, R.C. 2921.42(A)(1) also prohibits public officials from employing the authority or influence of their public position to secure authorization of a public contract.  Moreover, R.C. 102.03 prohibits public officials from soliciting or using their authority or influence, formally or informally, to secure anything of value for their family members.

Stated differently, nepotism also means using the authority or influence of a public position, in any way, to secure a public job or job-related benefits for a family member.  This means that a public official cannot participate in any part of the decision-making process with respect to a family member’s job, such as recommending, discussing, and lobbying other officials and subordinate employees to secure the job[2] – even if the board makes the final decision.  Likewise, for example, a public official cannot review any applications, interview, rate or rank the candidates – if a family member is one of the candidates.  And if a public official’s family member is lawfully hired – that official cannot participate in matters affecting his/her family member’s employment, such as assignment of duties, changes in compensation or benefits, evaluations, or actions involving promotions, disciplinary actions, lay-offs, and removal.[3]

Thus, when public officials are cited for violating nepotism restrictions, it is usually because they used their authority, in some way, to secure something of value for their family members.[4]

As a reminder, this does not mean that two family members can never work for the same school district.  The law does not prohibit such a situation.  Rather, the law prohibits public officials from using their position, in any way, to secure a job or job-related benefits for family members.

If your district has any questions regarding potential conflicts of interest, do not hesitate to contact the attorneys at Pepple & Waggoner.

[1] Family members include: (1) parents and step-parents; (2) grandparents; (3) spouse; (4) children and step-children; (5) grandchildren; and (6) siblings.  Any other individual who is related to the public official by blood or marriage is also a member of the official’s family if he or she lives in the same household with the public official.  Ohio Ethics Adv. Op. Nos. 80-001 and 2008-03; Walsh v. Bollas, 82 Ohio App. 3d 588, 591 (11th Dist. 1992).

[2] Ohio Ethics Adv. Op. Nos. 82-003 and 89-005.

[3] Ohio Ethics Adv. Op. No. 92-012.

[4] See https://embed.documentcloud.org/documents/20441341-shafer-by-preble-county-prosecutor.

Milko Cecez may be reached at mcecez@pepple-waggoner.com.

Follow on Twitter @MilkoCecezPW