We were genuinely surprised to learn recently that Wendell Town Manager Teresa Piner had hired her daughter to work for the town. It didn’t take long to discover that the job was a part- time gig – about 30 hours a week – and temporary – about a month in duration.
The job Piner hired her daughter to do was to input information from historical documents into a database that could be housed at the state Department of Archives. There is great value in preserving historical documents, even if they may only deal with routine items. Preserving copies of the documents off site is a wise move for the town.
Less wise, is the idea of hiring a family member for an unadvertised job, regardless of the amount of time and the duration.
The work Piner’s daughter was asked for perform was an effort to relieve part of the load on town clerk Sherry Scoggins, who would normally be responsible for such things. As Teresa Piner pointed out, there were a lot of documents that needed to be added to the database, some dating back to the early 1900s, Piner said. That tells us the task has never been a priority for any of Wendell’s town clerks.
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If Piner, as she has said, was worried that a fire or some other disaster might destroy the documents, it seems wise to us that she would have instructed Scoggins to make the work a greater priority than it had been previously.
When your boss tells you something is a priority, that bit of work tends to get done more quickly. If, on the other hand, the boss isn’t worried about a task that has lain unattended for more than 100 years, chances are high the employee wouldn’t make it a priority themselves.
Town officials, from Piner to Mayor Ginna Gray and Commissioner David Myrick have all said they don’t see a problem with Piner’s decision to hire a close relative, considering the fact that the job was temporary and part time. Piner, herself, has said she would not consider hiring a family member for a permanent job whether it was full time or part time.
The perception among the public, though, is that Piner did her daughter a solid and let her pick up a quick $800 for work that hadn’t been a priority to anyone else over the past century and without proving her mettle against other candidates who might have been even more qualified for the job.
At this point, though, the action has been taken, The employment term has expired and the dual relationship has ended.
In the wake of this action, now would be a good time for commissioners to spell out, in policy form, what is acceptable and what is not. If commissioners are comfortable hiring having their employees hire relatives for certain kinds of jobs, spell it out so everyone is clear on what the rules are. If they are comfortable having staff make those decisions without offering the jobs publicly, they can say so in the form of a document that makes their position the official rule of the land. If commissioners think it would be best to eliminate such practices entirely to avoid even the appearance of such favoritism, they can make that choice too.