Tuscola County Courthouse

None in the family: Decades after first proposal, county approves nepotism, fraternization policy

CARO — Tuscola County finally has a nepotism and fraternization policy, decades after one first was proposed.
The county’s board of commissioners voted 4-1 on May 27 to approve the policy, which was modeled after one in use by Livingston County. It goes into effect June 15.
District 3 Commissioner Kim Vaughan cast the lone “no” vote.
Before approving the policy, the commissioners changed it to reflect it only covers first cousins. That was a direct response to a concern by emergency dispatch director Sandra Nielsen. She had ques-tioned the use of the word “cousins” because it didn’t designate which level of cousins.
“I think that could get a little sticky when it comes down to it,” she said.
Nielsen also said she was concerned that the policy governs anyone who lives with someone else who is a county employee, regardless of family relation.
“Is that going to apply to people who are roommates, who are not in a personal relationship, per se?” she said.
The commissioners didn’t alter that language.
The policy’s goal is “to hire, promote and transfer employees on the basis of individual merit and to avoid any suggestion of favoritism or discrimination in making such decisions. The employment of rela-tives, or individuals involved in personal relationships, in positions where one employee has influence over the terms and conditions of the other’s employment is a violation of this policy. Even if favoritism or discrimination is not actually established, the mere existence of a personal or familial relationship between employees may precipitate questions about favoritism or cause discomfort for co-workers.”
The new policy bans the hiring of anyone where a relative would be their direct supervisor, or where a relative could influence the decisions of the employee’s direct supervisor. “Adherence to this policy will avoid favoritism and discriminatory treatment based on personal or familial relationships,” accord-ing to the policy
A relative is defined as a parent, foster parent, spouse, child, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, aunt, uncle, first cousin, niece, nephew, in-law or step-relative or any person not related by blood, marriage or other legal relationship who resides with the employee.
The policy also applies to all employees, elected officials, independent contractors, volunteers and student interns.
The policy also bans all fraternization, which it defines as “a relationship of an intimate or romantic na-ture between a supervisor and his/her subordinate or conduct by a supervisor that creates the ap-pearance or impression that such a relationship exists.” Any supervisor found dating a subordinate or in any other form of fraternization faces disciplinary action and/or possible termination.
The policy acknowledges that some familial relationships already exist within the county and those are exempt from the policy, but it says steps should be taken to remove any direct supervisory relation-ship between relatives.
“If the county determines that a conflict affecting employment or a potential for conflict exists be-cause of the personal relationship,” the policy states, “the employees involved will be given the op-portunity to decide which employee will be transferred or terminated if no position is available. If the employees do not decide, the county will make the decision.”
The commissioners once again took up a nepotism policy based on recent hirings, especially at the sheriff’s office. A policy had been considered at various times through the years, but none ever had ever been approved. The last time the board considered one, it was over the effort of a drain commis-sioner to hire his daughter.
This time the commissioners followed through, in part because of what District 2 Commissioner Thom-as Bardwell said was the possibility of litigation.
Sheriff Glen Skrent had defended the hiring of Ryan Hull, the son of sheriff’s office Lt. Ted Hull, indicat-ing Ted Hull had been removed from direct supervision of his son and that Ryan Hull had passed strin-gent review and background checks and received high marks in an interview by an outside agency, done to remove any chance of favoritism.
The commissioners also:
■ Officially designated land along the banks of the Cass River in Indianfields Township recently ac-quired from the Michigan Land Bank as county park property.
■ Had a public hearing on a continuing Community Development Block Grant emergency home repair program project for the Human Development Commission from the Michigan Economic Development Corp.
■ Altered the county’s vehicle policy to allow for the use of an online auction to sell vehicles no longer in use.
■ Approved Katie House and Cameron Jones as part-time material handlers at Tuscola County Recy-cling.
■ Approved the Tuscola County Suicide Prevention Coalition to use the courthouse lawn during Sep-tember for an awareness campaign.
■ Moved any discussion of the controller/administrator’s contract and the lease proposal from Dost Property to Monday’s Committee of the Whole session.
■ Appointed Eugene Davison to the Region VII Council on Aging, with a term ending Dec. 31.
■ Will pay Marlette Roofing $82,100 to replace the roof on the courthouse annex building.
■ Will pay Booms Construction of Bad Axe $2,375 to install viewing windows in the cat room at the Tuscola County Animal Shelter.

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