A bill to stop nepotism in Wilmington City Council posts is headed to the full council next month.
Wilmington Councilman James Spadola introduced the legislation Monday night in the council’s Finance & Economic Development Committee.
The ordinance would prohibit members of the council from hiring close relatives of current council members.
“We should set up good guardrails for the employees and the system to operate, to prevent issues,” Spadola told the committee, “and so the public knows that we’re being good stewards of the taxpayer dollar.”
The legislation was passed and is expected to be on the full council’s April 6 agenda.
“Anybody who’s currently on council staff, if they had a family member become elected into office, this would not affect them,” Spadola said. “It does not include cousins, so anybody’s cousin could get hired on council staff after passing this.”
The ordinance defines a close relative as a person’s domestic partner or parents, spouse, children, siblings by blood (whole or half), adoption or marriage.
Nepotism on the City Council?
Spadola said that he isn’t aware of any nepotism issues in the City Council, but he’s seen those issues at the state level, although he didn’t provide any examples Monday.
Committee member Zanthia Oliver pointed out one of the issues with convinced and ousted state auditor Kathleen McGuiness was that she hired her daughter.
“Sometimes, we as council members get involved with other issues that don’t pertain to us,” she said. “I don’t know if I know of, or even ever heard of anyone that has been hired that have been immediate family to someone on City Council.”
The ordinance is illogical because it legislates an issue that is not taking place, Oliver said.
She said she was torn about the bill because many times children aspire to go into the business that their parents went into, whether it be law, politics, construction or another field.
She pointed to a number of family-owned Delaware businesses that include generations of family members.
Oliver said she doesn’t want to “stop someone who may have a dream, because that’s all they’ve ever seen their family members do.”
Such a rule also could add to employee shortages, she said.
Spadola said Oliver was “defending some of the worst parts of the Delaware Way where there can be way too much coziness with family members getting jobs that should be more of a meritocracy.”
The state department doesn’t have this rule, Oliver said. She said she’s received letters and calls from Dover questioning why such an ordinance is necessary.
Spadola noted that the number of positions on City Council are minuscule compared to the number of state jobs.
“Why are we just talking about our department?” Oliver said. “I don’t think it’s that serious to get into and there’s other things we could be doing out there like helping the community, helping our constituents, as opposed to coming up with ordinances to stop individuals from getting into part-time jobs.”
Committee member Michelle Harlee said that in many state-level municipalities family members can simply be appointed.
“On council, we vote so it’s not one person voting for staff members,” she said. “I’m not sure what or why we’re doing an ordinance when we already have a legislative process to hire council staff, which is distinctively different from what has happened in some of these other municipalities.”
Oliver said the ordinance was not fair because it would hinder Delaware’s youth.
Spadola closed the discussion by stressing the importance of the council holding itself to the highest ethical standards, both in appearance and in fact.
The final vote was five to two, with Oliver and Harlee voting present.
Raised in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, Jarek earned a B.A. in journalism and a B.A. in political science from Temple University in 2021. After running CNN’s Michael Smerconish’s YouTube channel, Jarek became a reporter for the Bucks County Herald before joining Delaware LIVE News.
Jarek can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at (215) 450-9982. Follow him on Twitter @jarekrutz
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