EDITORIAL: Hiring Family Members

by | Oct 6, 2014

Is it appropriate for elected bodies to oversee hiring and negotiate employee contracts of family members? That was the subtext of a EG News story last week, “New Position Goes to Daughter of School Committeewoman,” which outlined the recent School Committee decision to give a $2,000 a year performing arts coordinator job to Megan Catelli, the daughter of Committee member Mary Ellen Winters.

The story was not about whether Winters did anything wrong. It was also not about whether Catelli – a music teacher in the district – was qualified for the job.

As noted by School Committeewoman Deidre Gifford in a comment on the story, Winters has done much over the years on behalf of East Greenwich. EG News agrees. People like Winters, who are willing to donate their time and talents on school and community endeavors, are just the sort of people who make for a good community. Additionally, Catelli, through her teaching, appears to have won the hearts of many school children and their parents in the few years since she was hired.

Rather it was meant to alert the public of the process on this particular hire, since the position was a new one and was created – at least in part – at the urging of Winters.

“School Committee members have to be constantly sensitive to what may be perceived as a conflict of interest,” said Tim Duffy, executive director of the Rhode Island Association of School Committees, speaking about hiring practices in general. “It’s the appearance of impropriety more than anything else.”

Does this mean family members should never be considered for EG School Department positions? Duffy singled out new positions as potentially more problematic, especially if their creation arises from the school committee, as it did in this case.

Duffy said EG School Committee hiring practices mirror those of other districts. He noted school committees are bound by R.I. General Law and cited Chapter 16-2-9,  “(13) To give advice and consent on the appointment by the superintendent of all school department personnel.”

In East Greenwich, that means the panel votes on every hire made by the district, from superintendent to part-time volunteer coach.

Winters and colleague Susan Records both recused themselves on votes to hire their children and on subsequent votes when those same children sought additional posts in the district. But is recusal all that is needed to keep the process from being tainted? Other School Committee members can vote “no” on a family hire, but at what cost? Is it fair or right to put other committee members in that position?

Perhaps it is time for the School Committee to review hiring practices so it does not find itself in the midst of the appearance of impropriety.

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7 Comments

  1. Readmore

    This position was never even advertised to the general public. It is certainly wrong to CREATE a position and then fill it with a family member! How many people interviewed for this job? Who was on the interviewing committee? Sounds like nepotism to me.

    Reply
  2. EG Lawyer

    @ Elizabeth…that was exactly the point of my comments when you wrote the story last week…..good for you on this follow-up editorial! The comments by a few ie Danielle and Heather Larkin who totally missed the point and responded with emotion and not rational thought. My point was nepotism and had nothing to do with Ms Catelli personally or professionally and is not disrespectful in any way. I’m sure she is a very nice person and might be qualified but my comments were specifically pointed toward both Committeewomen Gifford and Winters. These elected officials should know better…. the point that they suggested, created a position that obviously knew would be applied to by Ms. Winter daughter and wink… wink would be given to her…..it’s what it is…if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, quacks like a duck …you get the drift. This is nepotism at its best and for Deidre Gifford or Ms. Winters can’t see it (that something wrong with this picture) I question their ability to be effective (non-biased) members of the school Committee. The town should immediately construct a strict nepotism policy if they want to have any credibility….which I have seen many constituents comment on lately! These EGSC members need to open their eyes quickly……RI can’t afford the political club mentality anymore. If anything it is disrespectful toward the electorate.

    Reply
  3. I live in East Greenwich

    “School Committee members have to be constantly sensitive to what may be perceived as a conflict of interest,” said Tim Duffy, executive director of the Rhode Island Association of School Committees. Well said Mr. Duffy.

    “Perhaps it is time for the School Committee to review hiring practices so it does not find itself in the midst of the appearance of impropriety.” Well said Elizabeth.

    Reply
  4. EgObServer

    I would also like to know how many people applied for these positions.

    Reply
    • Elizabeth McNamara

      EgObServer, one person applied for each position. I believe (but will double-check) that job listings like these are offered internally first, as dictated by union contract. In both cases, the applicants were staff members.

      Reply
  5. EGres

    Ms. McNamara- you say it is your desire to inform the public of the hiring process and not target Mrs. Winters or Mrs. Catelli. Yet you imply that Mrs. Winters influenced the vote because it would put other SC members in a difficult situation to vote “no” against her daughter. What gives? As the overseer of this site, I do wish you would remain more objective and only moderate articles. Your two articles on this issue and their sensationalist headlines provide the impression that you are leading a personal crusade against specific individuals.

    Reply
  6. EG Lawyer

    I wanted to post this here also as I have posted the same comment on the original story…

    @EGres…As always when the facts are presented, blame the person (in this case E. McNamara) who presents the facts, please tell me if the facts presented in the article headline or body are false?…..Did Ms. Castelli get the job that was initiated by her mother, EGSC member Mary Ellen Winters and then cheerleading by another EGSC member Deidre Gifford (see her comments above)? Maybe you think it’s alright even if EGSC member Winters voted on her getting the job? Your insinuation that the “ends justify the means” in my mind is disturbing, your thinking is at the least very troubling (ethics). No matter what Mrs. Winters has done as an elected official before this incident has no place in what has transpired here……this whole thing stinks of nepotism and unethical on its face. Are you saying because Mrs. Winters has given her time as a school committee member her daughter should be entitled to a job?…..and please do NOT tell the electorate that any other member of the EGSC would have voted against Ms. Catelli for her new assignment…please be real. This whole incident with this job going to Ms. Catelli, initiated by Mrs. Winters (and Gifford) SCREAMS of an ethics investigation by the state. Allowing this to continue as is totally deteriorates the public’s perception of honest politics and gives leaves a bad taste of the “Good Ole Boy (Girl) System” of RI politics and politicians…..if this is positive change I want no part of it!

    Reply

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