SOUTH BEND – An Indiana lawmaker says he wants to clean up local governments.
In the weeks that led up to the November, 2010 election for St. Joseph County prosecutor, Republican candidate Scott Duerring and incumbent Democrat Mike Dvorak went face-to-face.
The two candidates talked about the issues, but we heard a lot about something else – nepotism.
"Clearly this issue of nepotism and the idea that it would not be popular with voters was something both candidates were trying to use against their opponent," said Dr. Elizabeth Bennion, political science professor at IU South Bend.
Bennion was the moderator for one of the debates. She said one of the issues addressed was Prosecutor Mike Dvorak's wife, Kathy, who works as the director for child support in Dvorak's office.
"I think the issue of nepotism within the prosecutor's office was one that critics had raised, and surfaced before the debate," said Bennion.
And the issue isn't over yet. The Indiana House passed a bill that would stop cases where people hire or supervise their relatives and other conflicts of interest in local government.
The bill needs the state Senate's support.
Bennion said the bill will likely pass, because the Senate passed a similar measure, already.
A system of checks and balances keeps our governing bodies – the mayor and city council – in check.
They make decisions that affect all of us – the taxpayers and city employees.
State lawmakers, though, say it is a problem when city employees, like police or firefighters, become members of the council and make decisions that could benefit themselves.
"I think it reflects public skepticism about folks who vote on their own salaries, or hire their relatives in a tight labor market where many people are looking for secure, stable employment," said Bennion.
On South Bend's Common Council there are members who currently serve, or recently served who also worked for the city's police and fire department.
Once the bill becomes law, firefighters and police officers will have to choose – run for Common Council or keep their day job.