Public service is a family affair

Perhaps we’re fossils of a bygone era in which gambling was illegal instead of something the state constantly advertises, liquor was sold only in clubs, prescription drugs were never advertised, and non-prescription pills had to prove they actually treated something instead of simply making outlandish claims.

Last we checked, however, nepotism was regarded as bad thing — so bad that major corporations and especially government went to great pains to avoid even the appearance of conflict of interest by having spouses and other relatives in positions that would let them influence the careers of family members.

These days, virtually every local governmental body seems to have a least one elected board member, commissioner, council member, or other official who has a relative on the very payroll that the official is charged in part with supervising.

Nothing against the people involved, both elected and hired, most of whom seem to be fine public officials or public servants.

However, since when was it considered a good thing to have government resemble small, family-owned businesses, in which a growing percentage of the work force and people in positions of authority are related?

We don’t mean to suggest that people not vote for Lori Lalouette-Crawford for county commissioner merely because her husband is road and bridges superintendent or that people shouldn’t have voted for Melissa Mermis for city council because her husband is police chief. The fact that Mike Connell’s wife works at St. Luke Hospital doesn’t make him a bad hospital board president. New city clerk Tiffany Jeffrey’s husband serving as a police officer doesn’t inherently create a conflict of interest.

The thing is, the list doesn’t stop there, and it seems to be growing with each new election or appointment.

We admire those officials who manage to keep personal connections from interfering with official duty — and who, after all, appear to be among the dwindling number of well-meaning people actually willing to accept elective or appointive public office.

We do wonder, however, as we do with the county’s ambulance system, whether somewhere down the line our luck in finding high-quality officials who refuse to let their connections interfere may run out.

— ERIC MEYER

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