Any Possible Justifications for the Nepotism Policy?

Board Meeting

Let’s play pretend for a few minutes. Let’s suppose that the state or some state agency actually ordered the Huntsville City School Board of Education to include the ridiculous nepotism policy that family members of board members who work for the district must resign. Let’s suppose that those local (and national) individuals who benefit from the inclusion of such a draconian approach were actually required to include it.

Who would have recommended this policy’s inclusion?

The Process

It helps that they’ve listed several groups in their presentation on the matter, so let’s look there for some possibilities.

Belinda Williams, the Human Resources Director, reported on June 7, 2012 that the district had taken the following steps in their process of revising the manual.

  • Retained an expert on school district polices to begin a review of the policy manual. (This unnamed expert is, yes, yet another consultant hired by the administration without explicit approval of the board of education. There was no board action approving this retainer. As Wardynski took pains to point out during the eight minute presentation and discussion, this expert also compared the policy manual “to statute.” Williams states later in her presentation that this “expert” was from a law firm in Birmingham. Dr. Wardynski also said that the consultant was from the “school board association” later during the meeting. I assume that he is referring to the Alabama Association of School Boards. If so, perhaps one of these attorneys was the “expert” involved.)
  • A committee was convened to review the proposed policy manual change recommendations. (Again, this committee was unnamed, but was under the direction of Frank Spinelli the CSFO and one could assume that Ms. Williams was also a member as she spoke in first person when describing approximately four months of work this committee engaged in. They compared the previous policy with the new policy. I assume that the working document of this committee was the March 2012 version that did not include the new nepotism restriction.)
  • Superintendent’s Leadership Team reviewed drafts of the policies. (And again the public does not know who was on the Superintendent’s Leadership Team, but one assumes that the superintendent was at least one of the members.)
  • Department heads conducted a review of the policies and provided edits. (Ms. Williams provided no additional information about this point when she read it on the June 7th.)
  • An offsite meeting was held to do a comprehensive review of all policy change recommendations. (Notice the use of the passive voice here? Kinda makes you wonder what is being covered up, doesn’t it? Ms. Williams seems to be going to great lengths to say as little as possible about the process of review. She did mention that the Board attorney, J. R. Brooks, and the “policy expert” were present at this “all day session.” Wardynski claimed that everyone at the “leadership level,” or “everybody” was present at this offsite meeting.)
  • Final changes to the policies were incorporated.
  • The Policy Advisory Committee reviewed the policy manual. (This meeting took place during the middle of May. They reviewed the final changes and made a presentation to the superintendent on the changes. Ms. Williams described the final changes as minor during their “good meeting.”)

Dr. Robinson also stated at the conclusion of the discussion that the AASB provided the consultant. So with the exception of Mr. Brooks (the school board attorney), the only outside individual who reviewed the policy manual was the unnamed lawyer from AASB.

Thus, what if this lawyer, “expert,” and AASB consultant suggested the inclusion of the Nepotism policy?

Alabama Association of School Boards’ Recommendations

Does the AASB have a standing recommendation on nepotism that they’ve published to help school boards with the difficult job of staying legal?

Why yes, yes they do.

If you google the AASB site, you’ll see that there are basically three references on their website to nepotism. The first is the case that I mentioned my first posting on Saturday. This was the Rep. Buskey opinion which read:

to avoid running afoul of the nepotism statute when recommending a relative: (1) recommend at least one other equally qualified person for the position, and (2) refrain from participating in the board’s decision-making process. This would give the board the option to select either of the qualified applicants.

As I posted on Saturday, this 2008 opinion accepts as a given that the board could in fact hire a family member, so long as the recommendation met certain standards.

The second one can be found in the summer 2009 edition of the Alabama School Boards magazine. If you download a copy, you will want to look at a piece written by Denise L. Berkhalter called “Help.” This is a Q & A posting that asks, “What is the law requiring the hiring of relatives of the superintendent or board members?”

Ms. Berkhalter’s response was:

A May 19, 2008, attorney general’s opinion found that the state’s anti-nepotism law under section 41-1-5 of the Alabama Code does not prohibit employment of a board member’s relative within the fourth degree as long as the related board member doesn’t participate in the decision-making proceedings.
The attorney general also explains a superintendent, who refrains from the board’s decision-making proceedings, may recommend a relative within the prohibited degree along with at least one other equally qualified person. This allows the board to choose among equally qualified job candidates.
Appointments that violate the anti-nepotism statute are void, and violators face a misdemeanor punishable by up to $500 in fines and/or up to a year behind bars. Because this process conflicts with the ethics law, confer with your school board attorney.

Clearly in 2009, the AASB believed that even the hiring of relatives of board member was consistent with the law.

AASB 2012 Nepotism Resolutions

But what about in 2012? After all, a lot has changed in the past three years in the state’s education laws.

It just so happens that the AASB has issued a collection of Resolutions for 2012. While it isn’t clear what the purpose of these resolutions are, they are quite detailed. (In fact, given how often, Dr. Robinson refers to the AASB during board meetings, a closer review of these “Resolutions” would certainly be in order.)

There are two references to Nepotism in this collection of Resolutions. The first one reads:

G-17 School Board Member Ethics
AASB encourages school boards to adopt a code of ethics in agreement with the National School Boards Association code. AASB encourages reasonable measures concerning nepotism.

Nepotism is mentioned a second time as well:

P-26 Nepotism
AASB encourages school boards to adopt policies prohibiting assignment of employees to supervise members of their immediate family. AASB supports reasonable restrictions on the new employment and promotion of sitting local board and superintendent family members within a school system.

As you can see, neither of these resolutions recommends that a school board require family members to resign. Now let me ask you, would a lawyer from an organization that is currently and clearly calling for reasonable restrictions on the new employment and promotion likely going to suggest to a school board that they should require family members of board members to resign? Somehow, I doubt it.

AASB has not recommended a policy requiring family members’ resignations in their public documents.

But even if such a lawyer were to suggest this as a course of action, why would a school board enact a policy that so clearly goes beyond the requirements of state code?

Alabama State Code

By the way, Alabama Code Section 41.1.5 reads:

Nepotism in state service prohibited.

No officer or employee of the state or of any state department, board, bureau, committee, commission, institution, corporation, authority or other agency of the state shall appoint any person related to him within the fourth degree of affinity or consanguinity to any job, position or office of profit with the state or with any of its agencies. Any person related to the appointing authority within the prohibited degree shall be ineligible to serve in any capacity with the state under authority of such an appointment, and any appointment so attempted shall be void. Whoever violates this section is guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be punished by a fine not to exceed $500.00 or by imprisonment not to exceed one year, or both. This section shall not apply, however, in the case of an appointment of a person to a position in the classified service of the state made from the register of persons eligible as certified by the State Director of Personnel.

The provisions of this section shall not apply to any individual or individuals employed as of September 16, 1963, in any branch, department or bureau of the state or the reappointment of any individuals employed on September 16, 1963.

(Acts 1963, No. 588, p. 1285.)

Alabama State Code does not require family member to resign. Why would the school board establish policy that so far exceeds the requirements of the law?

There will be another school board meeting tomorrow night. If board members should decide to respond to these questions from the public, they will likely respond by saying that the “expert” from the Alabama Association of School Boards recommended the inclusion of this policy.

If they do, make sure you ask for that expert’s name. Make sure that they back their claims with specific evidence.

And make sure that any board member who tries to disavow their responsibility for this policy knows that we know that it wasn’t the AASB who voted this excessive policy into existence.

Make sure they know that we know who benefits from such an extreme policy.

Make sure they know that we know how to vote.

There is no reasonable justification for the inclusion of this nepotism policy. The election will be held August 28th.

"Children see magic because they look for it." --Christopher Moore, Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff, Jesus' childhood pal.


  1. Many, many years ago, I worked for the Tennessee School Boards Association writing school board policies. I can assure you that out of the many counties we worked with, I do not remember a policy ever being as ridiculous as this. I worked closely with our attorney, and he would never have recommended this kind of strict, policy. I don’t think the AASB did, either. W is just trying to pass the buck onto them. This is just another step toward W and the board having complete control of our school system and one way the public has lost another portion of control of our own system.

    1. I think you’re right about that. Since I’ve called their redirection on this one, I wonder what they’ll come up with tomorrow by way of excuse?

      And no, I don’t think the AASB recommended this either.

  2. Again thanks for bringing this to light. I wonder why it’s not being reported in the mainstream media? Never mind. We know.

    The Board isn’t going to say a word about this at the board meeting because they don’t have too.

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