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Nepotism in county government; visitors association in the crosshairs

By Fritz Mayer
September 12, 2012

The request for proposals for organizations interested in running the tourism promotion business in Sullivan County, which went out on August 31, seemed to be an attempt to disqualify the Sullivan County Visitors Association (SCVA), the organization that has been doing the job for the past decade. The RFP said that “no more than one member of the nuclear family unit” could work for the company that wins the contract.

Roberta Byron-Lockwood is the president and CEO of SCVA, while her husband, Herb Clark, is the vice president. On September 5, the RFP was amended to say that the “one member of the nuclear family unit” was “encouraged” but not mandatory.

Interestingly, the next day at the government center, the county legislature had a lengthy discussion about whether or not the county should have a policy regarding nepotism that would cover county employees and contracting agencies.

Lawmaker Gene Benson, who has been very critical of SCVA, came out firmly against the idea of adopting a policy. He said, “Most of the highway departments and water and sewer departments in this county would not have a full compliment of staff if they couldn’t hire relatives.”

Lawmaker Kathy LaBuda agreed, saying, “You cannot compare our county to Orange County because our workforce is limited. An executive order in Orange County dating to 1983 says, “No one in the immediate family of anyone employed by Orange County government shall hold a position of employment in direct line of supervision as his or her relation.”

Lawmaker Jonathan Rouis said, “Whether it’s an honor or a curse, I work in a family business [the accounting firm Rouis and Company LLP] and it works well, and I’m glad that I do, and I hope that it continues to flourish. So we’ve got to be careful of the message we’re sending. Our county is made up of a lot of good family businesses that work very well together and that are very productive.”

Lawmaker Cindy Gieger, however, said the legislature should consider adopting a policy because constituents have raised concerns about the issue. She asked the question of whether in a single department, such as family services or the department of public works, “Do you really want a husband, a wife and a daughter-in-law in the same department? I think that creates some problems.”