County Attorney’s Hiring of Son Raises Nepotism Controversy

By now you’d think that nepotism policies guarding against favoritism in hiring of family members would be standard procedure in government. But St. Louis County belatedly adopted a nepotism provision this week, following a prolonged controversy stirred up County Attorney Mark Rubin and closely followed by the Duluth News Tribune and other media.

One member of the public addressed the board Tuesday. Allen Richardson said he represented a newly formed anti-nepotism task force.

“It’s my opinion that respect has to be earned by public officials,” he said. “The reason that this policy is before you today is that Mark Rubin’s hiring decision, while not illegal, is widely perceived as having been immoral and unethical by the residents of St. Louis County.”

Richardson gestured to his T-shirt, which read: “I didn’t ask for a Rubin Sandwich.”

Shortly after running unopposed in winning his third term last November, Rubin hired his son Tony as a prosecutor over several candidates with longer resumes. The public outcry forced the county board to belatedly take action, according to the Duluth News Tribune.

The policy, which aims to combat “actual or perceived conflicts of interest,” reads in part: “No employee or official shall be directly involved in any decision regarding hiring, promotion, supervision, salary adjustments or grievances made regarding an immediate family member or significant other in the same line of authority.”

Hard to argue with a policy that brings St. Louis County into line with standard practice in business and government. Yet one commissioner, Keith Nelson, came close, blaming his constituents and the media for forcing the issue.

“We as elected officials should not have targets placed on our backs just because we chose to be sworn in,” he said. “For individuals in the press or in the audience who don’t have respect for elected officials, I feel sorry for you. I really do. Because this democracy is founded on a lot of things, and one of them is mutual respect.”

But one of Nelson’s colleagues also laid it on the line, acknowledging the public’s concerns were well founded.

[Commissioner Frank] Jewell said the County Board is taking action not because it wants to target elected officials but because it’s responding to many calls and emails from constituents about the issue.

“(They’re) sending emails and have called me and said, ‘Why did you’ — and they’re very direct — ‘Why did you allow a situation in which you can hire your family members?’” Jewell said. “So whether or not this affects the action that took place, it’s really appropriate for us to stand up and say we have a policy that says we won’t hire family members, etc., if we are the direct supervisor.”

The new policy isn’t retroactive, but the verdict is in on the St. Louis County Attorney’s controversial hiring process.