Richmond leaders may end practice of letting family members join city boards

RICHMOND — Relatives and business partners of sitting Richmond City Council members may soon no longer be welcome on city commissions and other decision-making bodies.

The City Council on Tuesday began considering a nepotism ordinance that would prevent council members and staff with recruiting power from appointing their family and professional associates to boards, commissions, committees and task forces. It would also prevent them from hiring relatives for jobs in town.

But if the decision is ultimately approved, relatives who currently serve on those boards would be allowed to complete their terms.

Under the city charter, the mayor has the authority to recommend appointments to the board, which then require council approval. On Tuesday, Vice Mayor Claudia Jimenez and Councilman Cesar Zepeda, who introduced the ordinance, argued that the lack of a clear policy on nepotism left the city vulnerable to corruption.

The city’s administrative manual includes a broad definition of family members: everyone: parent, stepparent, stepparent, grandparent, child, stepchild, grandchild, brother, sister, half- brother, sister-in-law, aunt, uncle or first cousin – but that doesn’t stop someone from hiring a relative.

“In a perfect global scenario we have no corruption, but we are not there and this is the only opportunity we have to ensure that in the future we prevent this from happening,” Zepeda said. “It’s there to protect the people of Richmond in the future because we don’t know what future councilors and mayors will do.”

Former council members have appointed family members to decision-making bodies in the past and several current council members have relatives who serve on various committees.

Councilwoman Doria Robinson’s partner served on the Human Relations Commission and her term just expired on March 30. Councilor Soheila Bana’s husband is also on the Human Relations Commission, with his term expiring next year. Former Mayor Tom Butt was on the council while his son Andrew Butt was on the planning commission.

And at least one city employee, a former finance director, had a “sphere of influence” over his wife who was then police chief, Mayor Eduardo Martinez said at Tuesday’s meeting. Martinez’s wife currently serves on the Richmond-Regla Twin City Committee.

Jimenez, Zepeda and Martinez argued in favor of allowing individuals related to current council members who are currently serving to complete their terms, but not be allowed to reapply for appointment until the member of their family is no longer part of the council.

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