By Jon Alexander
ELIZABETHTOWN - Inquiring minds want to know whether a last name helps or hinders a person's chance of getting a job in Essex County government.
Following intense scrutiny from a handful of residents, Essex County supervisors are considering the creation of an ethics committee, and they may begin requiring more disclosure of personal and family relationships between county leadership and candidates for county employment.
Over the last few months, the hiring of several close relatives of County Manager Dan Palmer and his wife, Board of Supervisors Clerk Deborah Doyle-Palmer, have some residents wondering if nepotism is running rampant in Essex County.
But county supervisors and department heads refuted the rumors and allegations of unfair hiring practices, calling the claims unfounded.
At an organizational meeting of the county Board of Supervisors Jan. 4, Essex resident Sandy Lewis addressed the group and urged greater disclosure of the county's hiring process, particularly when family members of current employees are involved.
Essex County Board of Supervisors Chairman Randy Douglas said he doesn't believe any bias now taints hiring decisions, but said it may be time to list the many close relationships among county leadership and staff.
"At this point we will do some study of it, but I don't think it is running wild like everybody thinks it is," Douglas said.
Before taking the helm of the county, Douglas had chaired the Personnel Committee for five years. He noted that it may be time for the formation of a county Board of Supervisors ethics committee, which could oversee potential conflicts of interest and provide greater protection to the taxpayer.
Supervisors typically only oversee the hiring of department heads, who in turn hire staff as long as the position already exists.
County officials said department heads sometimes consult with the county manager and the personnel office before making a final decision.