Wednesday, October 22, 2014
My Account  | Login
Nashua;50.0;http://forecast.weather.gov/images/wtf/small/ra.png;2014-10-22 17:34:43
Sunday, August 24, 2014

Nashua school board reviewing hiring practices to discourage favoritism

NASHUA – School officials are reviewing the district’s hiring practices after one board member’s accusation of nepotism in the city’s hiring practices.

Sandra Ziehm has pushed for further safeguards against favoritism when hiring employees since she first raised the issue at a July 21 Board of Education meeting. ...

Sign up to continue

Print subscriber?    Sign up for Full Access!

Please sign up for as low as 36 cents per day to continue viewing our website.

Digital subscribers receive

  • Unlimited access to all stories from nashuatelegraph.com on your computer, tablet or smart phone.
  • Access nashuatelegraph.com, view our digital edition or use our Full Access apps.
  • Get more information at nashuatelegraph.com/fullaccess
Sign up or Login

NASHUA – School officials are reviewing the district’s hiring practices after one board member’s accusation of nepotism in the city’s hiring practices.

Sandra Ziehm has pushed for further safeguards against favoritism when hiring employees since she first raised the issue at a July 21 Board of Education meeting.

“Our community has the unfortunate label of ‘nepotism’ – it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. … It’s not a good image, it’s not healthy for the community,” Ziehm said at the meeting.

Out of a list of personnel recommendations reviewed by the board in July, Ziehm said one person pegged to be hired did not meet basic qualifications.

“There were 40 applicants” for the position, Ziehm said. “I couldn’t believe not one could meet all qualifications.”

She said top candidate wasn’t certified and didn’t have enough experience to manage a classroom.

“Most disheartening to me is the fact that his wife works in administration,” Ziehm said.

Ziehm said nepotism, or more broadly, favoritism, could be affecting hiring in the district and city.

“Favoritism shown to most internal interim appointments creates an unlevel playing field, which discourages out-of-district applicants,” Ziehm said. “Ultimately, this creates a lack of depth of educational experience in multiple environments.”

The city has no rules against hiring people who are related to other city employees. Nor does anyone track how many city employees are related.

A Telegraph analysis of city payroll records from last year found more than 200 examples of Nashua employees who share the same last name and reside at the same address. In some cases, four city employees with the same last name live at the same address.

While it isn’t definitive proof the employees are related, the analysis suggests as many as 400 city employees are related to someone else who is on the city’s payroll. With a workforce of more than 3,600 full- and part-time employees, that encompasses more than 10 percent of Nashua’s employees.

The city does have policies preventing a family member from supervising a relative, but offers little guidance on hiring decisions.

“The anti-nepotism policy speaks to direct supervision of employees by close relatives,” city Human Resources Director Barbara Hill said.

Hill said city oversight for hiring practices falls on the Human Resources Department, as well as Mayor Donnalee Lozeau.

Lozeau said the city tries to safeguard against nepotism and favoritism.

“For key positions, we have more than one interview team,” Lozeau said. “Nobody should get a job because of who they know – or not get a job because of who they know.”

On the School District’s end, it’s the responsibility of the school’s human resources department and the superintendent of schools to monitor who it hires.

The city’s ethic rules also say city workers shouldn’t take any action to financially benefit themselves or family members.

“The municipal employee shall not take any official action that he knows or should have known at the time of the action taken which would primarily benefit in matters of financial interest his or her immediate family, business or employer,” according to city ordinance ethics rules.

The state sought to address nepotism in a law passed in 2009.

The law barred any executive branch official from directly hiring, supervising, evaluating, setting compensation for or terminating the employment of any full- or part-time employee, temp or member of a state board or commission if the employee is related to the official. The law applies to immediate family members, including in-laws and adopted children and stepchildren.

The 2009 statute was cited in the resignation of Nashua Employment Commissioner Tara Reardon in July 2012. Reardon resigned after being accused of having a subordinate lay off her daughter so she could collect unemployment benefits.

Nashua school board member Steven Haas said Zeihm’s nepotism charge didn’t apply in this case because the candidate’s family wouldn’t directly supervise or be supervised by the candidate.

However, school board member Dorothy Oden said she saw room for improvement with the policy after attending recent personnel interviews.

Ziehm and members of the school board’s Human Resources Committee are working on revising the district’s hiring policies with Superintendent Mark Conrad.

She said a revised hiring policy could make all the difference.

“The elements that give rise to the preferential treatment could be stemmed by our proposal,” she said.

For instance, one change would limit how many direct co-workers were included on an internal candidate’s interviewing team. Another would prevent internal candidates from finding out interview questions ahead of time.

“Things like that could make a difference,” Ziehm said.

The candidate in question was hired July in a 5-3 vote. Board member and clerk Kimberly Muise, Ziehm and Oden voted nay.

Tina Forbes can be reached at 594-6402 or tforbes@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Forbes on Twitter (@Telegraph_TinaF). Telegraph staff writer Jim Haddadin contributed to this report.