Analysis, Commentary, Local, Opinion, Park Forest, Politics, Schools

Déjà Vu in SD 163: Board President Takes Another Shot at Getting Wife a Job

Park Forest, IL-(ENEWSPF)- It’s déjà vu all over again in School District 163. The wife of Board President Walter Mosby and aunt of board member Judy Hawthorne is on the agenda again for consideration for a job in the district, this time as a “12 Month Secretary,” according to the SD 163 website. Board member Judy Hawthorne is the niece of Board President Walter Mosby. This will be the second time in two months that Belinda Mosby’s name is on the agenda, the last time for a higher-paying position as the district’s Grants and Budget Coordinator.

Apparently undeterred by the failure of the board to approve his wife’s hiring in July, Board President Mosby is set to preside over another session that will consider employment for his wife. In July, board member Randall White argued that board members should be able to hire their family members because it had been done in the past and the board has a policy that allows for such practices. He said in July that not hiring Belinda Mosby would be the equivalent of throwing Mr. Mosby “under the bus.”

Mr. White’s argument, in effect, is circular. We paraphrase it thus:

It’s okay for board members to hire family members because we, the board members, said it is okay for us to hire our family members.

Should the Board of Education agree to hire Belinda Mosby at Monday’s meeting, nothing would stop the superintendent from moving Ms. Mosby to the Grants and Budget Coordinator position she did not receive in July — or a similar higher-paying job. That’s because board approval is not required for employees to be reassigned after they are hired, thus creating a “back door” for Ms. Mosby to land the higher-paying position she was denied two months ago.

Why It Matters

School District 163 does indeed have a policy that allows for nepotism, the hiring of the relatives of board members. ”For the purposes of this section, a relative is defined as a child, parent, grandparent, sibling, niece, nephew, cousin, spouse or partner of the aforementioned relatives who is connected to another in that regard by way of a legal relationship or member of the same household,” the policy states. So it’s okay for board members to hire their relatives, correct? It is, after all, “policy.”

Except that the Board of Education sets policy for the district. That’s the task of elected officials. By creating a loophole where board members can hire their relatives, other applicants are excluded. So you, the person reading this article, your relatives, neighbors, and friends have a lesser chance to find employment in the district. Others may be more qualified, but a policy of nepotism introduces one key qualification that others lack: being related to a board member. Born to the wrong family? Too bad. You don’t get the job.

The Village of Park Forest has a strict anti-nepotism policy which asserts that the “employment of family can cause various problems, including charges of favoritism, conflicts of interest, family discord and scheduling conflicts that work to the disadvantage of the Village, its employees and elected officials.”

The ordinance in Park Forest cites the following potential problems a policy of nepotism, officials being permitted to hire family members, presents:

  1. Residents may believe that the related person was employed not on the basis of merit but rather on the basis of the relationship with a current employee or elected official. Whether correct or incorrect, such perception may weaken the credibility of the Village.
  2. Submission of an application by a related person creates the risk that other members of the Village may feel pressured to act favorably on the application out of loyalty and the need to work with the related member, rather than on the merits of the application.
  3. Those who have supervisory authority over a related person may feel reluctance to properly evaluate or discipline that employee, particularly when the person conducting the evaluation or administering the discipline reports directly to the related employee.
  4. The related person may be privy to confidential information maintained by the related employee that they would not typically have access to.

This anti-nepotism policy in Park Forest was strengthened in 2019 to include all professional city/village managers/administrators who are not official members of ILCMA/ICMA, closing a potential loophole that might exist if an incumbent chose to forego membership in ILCMA/ICMA, an organization that has a strict code of ethics.

School District 163 Needs an Anti-Nepotism Policy

All of the points listed above for Park Forest apply to School District 163 as well. Simply change the word “Village” above to “District” and it is obvious why jobs should be awarded based on merit alone — and why family members of those hiring should be excluded.

“As Village Manager, I’ve hung my hat on the Illinois City Manager’s Association’s code of ethics where professional village managers want to avoid any appearance of impropriety,” Village Manager Tom Mick said in 2019. “The Village has prided itself in being what I call a meritocracy where we hire people for what they know and not who they know. This approach is clearly in the best interests of Park Forest residents and the employees who work for the Village.”

School District 163 officials would do well to abolish the current policy that allows board members to hire families. Board members may have been free to arrange for the hiring of family members in the past, but who knows what assurances or deals might have been pledged in the past outside the public eye? Justifying the continuation of a policy of favoritism-by-relation because “they got to do it before us” is not fair at all.

Opportunities for employment must be based on merit alone, not on the cloudy assertion that someone’s child, spouse, sibling, aunt, uncle, or any other type of relation is somehow more qualified than the person whose only fault is that they were born into the wrong family.