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Hawthorne Criticized for Nepotism

June 30, 1985|JILL STEWART | Times Staff Writer

The county Grand Jury has found what it calls serious problems of nepotism in Hawthorne city government and has recommended that the city adopt an anti-nepotism policy and halt its practice of allowing related employees to work in the same department or to supervise one another.

Deloitte Haskins & Sells, a certified public accounting firm hired by the Grand Jury to investigate complaints of nepotism, found about 10 instances "of relatives, family members, friends, or former business associates of city staff who had been hired into the city," including some who were supervised by relatives. The firm interviewed more than 20 people, including city employees and residents.

'A Bit Strong'

Mort Pinz, chairman of the Grand Jury's audit committee, said the report, made public last week, was prompted by complaints from several Hawthorne residents over the past three or four years.

Although nepotism is not illegal in Hawthorne and the Grand Jury's recommendation is merely advisory, Pinz said, "I would characterize it as a serious problem that has not been addressed."

However, Hawthorne city officials called the Grand Jury's findings and recommendations "a bit strong."

"I guess the Grand Jury has a little bit different viewpoint than we do," said City Manager Kenneth Jue.

"In the past we've had brothers in the same department and husbands and wives on staff," Jue said. "They are good employees, and when you get a good employee you tend to hire someone they recommend and know. It has worked pretty well."

Councilman Steve Anderson agreed.

"This is kind of a mountain out of a molehill," Anderson said, "but I am willing to consider an anti-nepotism ordinance and hear both sides on this."

Occurred Before Recall

According to the Grand Jury report, most of the hiring of relatives and friends occurred before a bitter recall election in November, 1982, in which three city councilmen were removed from office.

Although the recall was prompted largely by issues unrelated to nepotism, one of the three councilmen, Joseph Miller, had come under fire for helping his daughter land a management-level job in the city's Business License Department, Pinz said. In addition, several relatives of city officials were working for the city, he said, prompting complaints from residents who said nepotism should be abolished.

However, Anderson said that since the 1982 recall, the hiring of relatives and friends of city officials has dropped off dramatically.

"It's such a touchy issue here that everybody is too scared to hire cronies or their relatives anymore," he said.

Resident Disagrees

But Ginny McGinnis Lambert, one of the residents who complained to the Grand Jury, said many Hawthorne residents believe nepotism continues to be a major problem.

"If everything's running smoothly as they say, why have people in Hawthorne been complaining about these problems since the 1970s?" she said.

Jue said the Grand Jury reacted to complaints of Lambert and several City Council "watchdogs" who he said "have been trying to get control of the City Council for years."

But Lambert, whose husband has run for City Council twice, said her concerns over nepotism "have absolutely nothing to do with my husband's run for a council seat. I don't care who's in there as long as they represent the people instead of representing themselves."

Jue said many complaints date to a 1981 controversy in which Lisa Miller, the daughter of then-Councilman Joseph Miller, was promoted by Jue from an entry level clerk-typist job to a deputy city clerk position just a few days before she filed as a candidate in the Hawthorne city clerk race.

Job Created

She lost the election, but soon afterward Joseph Miller persuaded the City Council to create a job in the city's business license office, for which his daughter was hired. Lisa Miller still holds that job, Jue said.

The younger Miller has publicly defended her rise in city government, arguing that she was qualified for the job and should not be discriminated against because of her father.

The Grand Jury report called the incident "the celebrated case of the City Council 'creating' a position for a daughter of a council member," but noted that since then "there have been no blatant examples of council members involving themselves in the hiring process."

However, Jue said some residents have also complained because his office hired the son of a Hawthorne Civil Service commissioner as a manager at the Hawthorne Airport.

Not Civil Service Jobs

"Our local watchdogs are alleging that there was some sort of favoritism there . . . but the Civil Service Commission has absolutely no say in the matter," Jue said. He said that because the position--like most Hawthorne city management jobs--is not classified, applicants are not hired through the Civil Service Commission.

Mayor Guy J. Hocker Jr. also defended current city employees who are relatives of past or present city officials.

"I don't see the problem," Hocker said. "I feel very confident that the people who are there are doing their jobs. I don't think there are any current abuses."

Hocker said he did not have an opinion on whether the city should adopt an anti-nepotism policy, noting that he did not want to penalize current employees who are related to one another.

"I personally appreciate the families who work in our city," he said. "These people dedicate themselves to the city of Hawthorne by living here and working here."

But the Grand Jury's Pinz said it is time for the city "to clean up its act" and urged that the council take action on the recommendations.

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