In Glendale Heights, a town in DuPage County, your chances of getting a government job appear to be greatly enhanced if you’re related to the boss. A daughter, daughter-in-law and two sons of Village President Linda Jackson are set to collectively make about $240,000 in base salary from their local government jobs in Glendale Heights this year.
Last year, two grandsons worked seasonal jobs, and another relative previously worked for the village. That’s enough to put the brazen nepotism of Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios to shame.
Jackson and her aides claim there’s nothing wrong with this scenario — family members should have a right to public employment in their hometown as long as there are strict rules in place to prevent hanky-panky in the hiring process.
But who oversees municipal hiring in Glendale Heights?
That would be Ms. Jackson, who’s been village president — mayor, essentially — since 1999.
Government as a “family affair” doesn’t look or smell right — nepotism invites favoritism — and the only way around it is an unambiguous statute that prevents top executives from hiring their own family members or steering them into government jobs they control.
A recent Better Government Association investigation found other egregious examples of family hiring in the suburbs of Summit and Calumet City, and it’s been widely reported in many other places over the years. Summit reacted to an earlier nepotism revelation with a pledge to “study” reforms recommended by the BGA, then turned around and hired a trustee’s niece. So much for “studying.”
As for Glendale Heights, Jackson told us it would be unfair to prevent her children from getting jobs at the village hall:
“Should my kids be punished or have it held against them because I am mayor?”
That, unfortunately, is the wrong question. Jackson should be asking if it’s fair to other Glendale Heights residents who may be well qualified for village jobs, but aren’t likely to get them if a relative of is applying. Or whether any chief executive should be allowed to use local tax dollars to hire family members,
The answer to both is “no,” and we’d encourage Jackson to take a 20-minute drive to the town of Bartlett, northwest of Glendale Heights, which has a much different view of nepotism.
In 2013, the village banned the hiring of relatives of elected officials or municipal officers unless, on rare occasions, three-quarters of the village board votes to waive the prohibition to fill a key position quickly.
“Nepotism in village government is contrary to good governance,” Bartlett’s 2013 law states.
Employees need to understand, the law goes on to explain, that promotions should be based on competence, not clout, because the appearance of family influence can lead to “erosion of public confidence.
“Nepotism creates an appearance of impropriety, whether or not any actual improper activities exist, and can hinder investigations of alleged or actual improprieties, further eroding effectiveness, integrity and public confidence in public institutions.”
Bartlett’s got it right, and other governments in Illinois should view its ban as a “best practice” that merits consideration.
Government should be a service — not a family business — in Glendale Heights, and every other public venue funded with our tax dollars. We elect and appoint public officials to take care of our business, not their relatives.
Andy Shaw is President & CEO of the Better Government Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 312-386-9097.