So earlier this summer, Oakland City Council Ignacio De La Fuente introduced an anti-nepotism ordinance (PDF). It first came to the Finance and Management Committee before recess, and it failed to pass onto Council.
A revised ordinance (PDF) came back to the Finance and Management Committee today. They made a number of minor changes that I think are reasonable, but then stuck on the issue of what relationships people should disclose. The ordinance that De La Fuente is proposing would require applicants for jobs with the City to disclose any relationship – family, romantic, or co-habiting with anyone currently holding a supervisor position within the City of Oakland upon receiving their offer of employment. Nancy Nadel and Jane Brunner wanted to limited the requirement so that applicants would only have to disclose relationships with supervisors within the department that they’re applying for a job in. Ignacio De La Fuente wouldn’t budge on this point. Jean Quan seemed more on the fence, but ended up voting in favor of the ordinance.
The argument basically went like this:
Ignacio De La Fuente: If I’m applying for a job in, let’s say, Public Works. Should I not disclose that my father is the fire chief or the Deputy City Manager, because that’s a different department or another agency? Doesn’t mean I’m not going to get the job, but it means that I should disclose that as an applicant, that my uncle is the Deputy of, or Director of the Fire Department.
Nancy Nadel: Help me understand why an applicant in Public Works needs to disclose that their uncle is the Fire Chief?
Ignacio De La Fuente: I guess, because, if the Deputy Fire Chief – and I’m just picking an agency – the Deputy Fire Chief knows the Director of Public Works or Libraries, and I’m his nephew or his wife, I guess I would have a better shot at the job, don’t you think?
Nancy Nadel: But how will disclosing that make that any different?
Ignacio De La Fuente: Then I think it will be on the record – you’re disclosing it. So that doesn’t mean you will not get the job, but at least, it will be on record that it is disclosed. And the person is disclosing the fact that they have that potential advantage. I don’t see what’s wrong with disclosing it. Doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going to exclude you. But that means that – you’re applying for a job, and it’s one of the problems that we have. And that’s the issue here. It is the relationships.
And like this:
Ignacio De La Fuente: Are you going to tell me that really honestly we’re going to say the head of one department doesn’t have the influence of another department hiring people?
Nancy Nadel: But disclosure is not going to change that.
Ignacio De La Fuente: I think it’s going to change it, because then it’s no place to hide. Because people will disclose it. I’m not willing to – I can only do so many changes to water it down to nothing, and I’m not going to do that.
Jane Brunner: I just think you’re invading people’s personal life. And there’s a world of privacy. What someone does at home really is their private life. And this government, the past – the national government, has been invading our personal lives. I’m not going to be a part of invading someone’s personal life unless there’s really a need to know. And I’m willing to say there’s a need to know if you’re going into that department and that supervisor’s going to have influence over the person who’s making the decision. But if you’re going to hire a janitor under public works, you do not need to know that that janitor is living with or is dating another aide – another person whose a supervisor in another department..
Ignacio De La Fuente: Or is the son of one of the supervisors
Jane Brunner: I don’t think we need to know. Well, you’re not just doing sons, you’re doing dating relationships. So you’re going deeper than I’ve ever seen. And you’re not doing just husband and wife, you’re not doing just domestic partner, you’re doing dating relationships. I’m just a little uncomfortable, and I’m trying to narrow it to a point where I can get comfortable. So if it’s a supervisor in that department where that person’s gonna work, I think that’s okay. But if it’s any supervisor in the city of 4000 employees, with a dating relationship, I think that’s entering someone’s bedroom.
Jean Quan: In institutions our size, it does appear occasionally that there could be some trading off. Okay. I’ll help your relative if you help mine. There could possibly be that kind of trading off. And if it doesn’t affect the final hiring, I would rather at this point err on the side of a little bit more disclosure. We’ve limited it to only supervisors, so it’s not like “Are you related to the custodian over at Brookdale Park and Rec. It’s “Are you related to another, basically, manager within the system.” And that’s where I’m willing to compromise with him. I am not totally comfortable with how broad it is, but it’s not going to be clean here, we’re gonna have to try to make some compromises, I think.
So…I can understand the reasoning that requiring people to disclose any romantic relationship might be extreme. It’s a point where I could go either way, honestly. I definitely think that a romantic relationship that has escalated to the point of cohabitation should be disclosed – I don’t really understand how anyone could object to that. I mean, that seems to me like it’s obviously as significant a relationship as like, your uncle or cousin or something.
But although dating was referenced a couple of times by the dissenters, it wasn’t the meat of their objection. Brunner and Nadel were insistent that applicants should not have to disclose relationships with supervisors in departments other than the one they want to work in. I just don’t follow. It seems self-evident to me that such relationships could theoretically result in nepotism in hiring practices, and of course, we know for a fact that Deborah Edgerly had relatives working in departments other than her own. Nadel and Brunner said that we should wait for the results of the hiring practices audit so we can see if there any evidence of interdepartmental nepotism within the City currently.
Now, I’m all for basing policy decisions on evidence. But I don’t really see how that argument applies in this case. If one can reasonably anticipate that interdepartmental nepotism could be an issue, and like I said above, it seems clear to me that it could, then why should we wait until it becomes a problem before we make a law addressing it? I just don’t see how asking applicants to disclose their relationships with supervisors within the City is such a violation of privacy as Nadel and Brunner seem to. I mean, the only two times in my life I’ve held jobs with large corporations, I had to fill out on my application if I was related to anyone who did or had ever worked for the same company. It isn’t exactly the bizarre request the seem to be making it out to be.
Anyway, with a 2-2 vote, the ordinance did not move onto the full Council. But that doesn’t mean it won’t. De La Fuente will simply have to introduce it at Council himself and find someone to second it, and they can have the same fight all over again.