ELIZABETHTOWN - Even though officials insist that there is no substance to recent allegations of nepotism driving the hiring practices of Essex County employees, supervisors announced Jan. 19 that an Ethics Committee is being formed to review and potentially revise the county's ethics policy.
A report earlier this month in the Valley News detailed the recent hirings of numerous relatives of Essex County Manager Dan Palmer and his wife, Board of Supervisors Clerk Deborah Doyle-Palmer.
According to Jay Supervisor and Essex County Board of Supervisors Chairman Randy Douglas, public reaction shows there's at least an impression that county government is ripe with improper hiring practices - whether it's true or not.
"Does the nepotism policy need amendment? Maybe," Douglas said, "but I honestly believe some people are getting unfairly beaten up over this."
At Tuesday's meeting of the Essex County Board of Supervisors, Palmer reiterated that he plays little if any role in the hirings made in individual departments.
"If a department head needs a confidential secretary, they can hire anyone they want," Palmer said. "No position gets out of the personnel office unless someone signs off that the person in question is qualified."
After Deb Palmer's sister-in-law Patti Doyle moved from Deputy GOP Commissioner in the Board of Elections to the post of confidential secretary in the District Attorney's Office, the vacancy was filled by another of the clerk's in-laws, Shona Doyle.
"We can't tell someone who to hire as their confidential secretary," Palmer said. "Kristy Sprague can hire anyone she wants."
Numerous other hirings of Palmers or Doyles have occurred in recent years, but officials note that some families are more likely to seek public service and many jobs require a civil service exam.
And for Douglas, it isn't uncommon for relatives of county officers to have an advanced heads-up about upcoming job openings.
"When I worked at Adirondack Correctional Facility I knew when a job was coming open," he said. "Of course I would tell my qualified friends and family about it."
The county hiring policy requires that county officials publicly disclose their relationships to any applicant for county employment.
Though for Palmer, the policy may be lacking something.
"What ours lacks is a provision that makes sure a department head is not directly supervising their relative," Palmer said.
For his part, Palmer said he has 11 staff working directly under him, and none of them are his relatives.
Douglas said that the ethics committee will not only include supervisors, but will include at least two citizen representatives from differing regions of the county.