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County manager responds to rumors of nepotism

ELIZABETHTOWN - Amid calls for better disclosure in Essex County government hiring practices, Essex County officials are going the extra mile to dispel surging rumors of nepotism.

Several county officials have drawn scrutiny following a news article earlier this month that mentioned county positions recently granted to their relatives.

Most prominent among them is County Manager Dan Palmer, who, together with his wife, Board of Supervisors Clerk Deborah Palmer, is related to at least five other county employees.

Palmer, along with many town supervisors, has been quick to dispel any implications of nepotism, repeatedly stating that he has been completely up front with the hirings of all his relatives and has not imposed undue influence over the hiring process.

In a Jan. 22 interview, Palmer acknowledged that many county employees are related to each other, as has been the case for many years; but he said that doesn't mean any unethical hiring practices have occurred.

"The worst thing a department head can do is hire a bad employee," said Palmer, noting how, after six months on the job, employees in many positions become permanent and it becomes very difficult to remove them from the position.

For that reason, Palmer explained, many department heads tend to choose someone whose family has a history of employment at the county because they see them as a safe bet.

"You know that they have a strong work ethic; they come from a family with a strong work ethic, so it's a known quantity," Palmer said.

One example is Brianne Weber, Deborah Palmer's daughter, who was hired in 2008 to work in the County Clerk's office. The hire, which required no Civil Service test or minimum qualifications, was authorized by County Clerk Joe Provoncha, Dan Palmer's cousin.

"I think it had a lot to do with the fact that he knew Deb," Palmer said, noting his wife's long record as a hard-working, dependable county employee.

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