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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Favoritism has a corrosive effect

Telegraph Editorial

Taxpayers in Nashua should be concerned – perhaps even alarmed – that the issue of nepotism has been raised with regard to hiring in the city.

Board of Education member Sandra Ziehm brought up the subject last week with regard to a teacher that Ziehm maintains was not qualified to be hired out of a field of 40 applicants. ...

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Taxpayers in Nashua should be concerned – perhaps even alarmed – that the issue of nepotism has been raised with regard to hiring in the city.

Board of Education member Sandra Ziehm brought up the subject last week with regard to a teacher that Ziehm maintains was not qualified to be hired out of a field of 40 applicants.

Nepotism is generally defined as preferential treatment given to a person in the hiring process because of family connections. It’s a form of favoritism or, if you prefer, cronyism.

“Our community has the unfortunate label of ‘nepotism’ – it’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” Ziehm said.

The person who was hired is married to a member of the school administration, according to Ziehm, who implied that relationship had something to do with the administration’s decision to recommend that candidate. In the end, the Board of Education voted 5-3 to approve the hire.

According to a story last week by The Telegraph’s Tina Forbes, there are no hard and fast statistics that show how many of the 3,600 full and part-time city and school employees in Nashua are related. A review of employee suggested that as many as 400 city employees – more than 10 percent – are related to someone else who is on the payroll.

If that sounds like a lot, it’s probably because there are no city regulations to prevent, or even regulate, hiring someone who is related to another city employee.

There should be.

We don’t know of a perfect hiring system, but some are more imperfect than others, and Nashua’s seems particularly wide open.

City regulations prevent an employee from directly supervising a relative, but there is nothing to preclude department heads or school principals from hiring each other’s children, for instance. In some cases, as many as four employees with the same last names reside at the same address and are on the public payroll.

There may be nothing wrong with that, or there may be a lot wrong with it. Either way, it cries out for a closer examination of city and school-district hiring practices.

The problem with nepotism – or the appearance of any type of favoritism – is that it can discourage qualified people outside the system from applying for jobs if they hear through the grapevine or otherwise acquire the impression that the “fix” is in and the process isn’t a fair one.

Favoritism also has a corrosive effect on morale if employees believe hiring rules are bent for some workers but not for others. Favoritism doesn’t reward the most talented, skilled or hardest-working employees, and can even provide a disincentive that encourages the best employees – not to mention the most ethical – to take their talents elsewhere.

When that happens, taxpayers are the ones who suffer. They have to pay for higher turnover, lower productivity and the costs associated with a dispirited workforce.

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

The mayor is right, and that principle shouldn’t apply to just senior management positions. It should be the ethic throughout the city.

In the end, it not only falls to the mayor and school superintendent to make sure the hiring process is fair and honest. It’s also the responsibility of voters to make sure that the people they elect are willing to call shenanigans when the process runs afoul of ethical boundaries.