Opinion

Your cousin can’t be the only person qualified for that job

It’s hard to say no to a family member. But if you are a public official, you have to.

It’s in Mississippi law: Mississippi Code § 25-1-53. Here’s the executive summary: Don’t hire your relatives.

There’s nothing in the law that says you can’t have another official hire your relative. But how that hiring comes about makes all the difference.

Take the Gulfport-Biloxi Airport Authority appointment in August.

It wouldn’t be against the law for Rep. Richard Bennett’s wife to serve on that body. In fact, she might have made a fine board member. It’s an appointment by the Harrison County Board of Supervisors, a body Bennett neither sits on nor has any direct control over.

Still, we have questions.

Harrison County Supervisor Beverly Martin said Bennett asked her to back the appoint and, when she refused, he said there would be consequences.

It’s not a good idea to confront any elected official in that fashion. And it’s an even worse idea when the official doesn’t mind speaking her mind.

Bennett said that’s not his recollection, and since we weren’t a fly on the wall at those “negotiations,” we don’t know what went on. But what did Martin have to gain by speaking up, other than better government?

A short time later, investigators with the state’s Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review showed up asking questions about the Board of Supervisors.

We’re not blaming the PEER Committee members. They do good work. And they found some things the supervisors acknowledge they have to fix.

And they were acting on a request from one of its legislative members. Bennett said he was not that member (he’s the chairman of the committee).

It just looks suspicious. And people already have, rightly or wrongly, a growing distrust of government. We have to wonder, as did Board attorney Tim Holleman, why whoever made the request didn’t come straight to the supervisors with their concerns.

Too much of government operates in the shadows under a cloak of anonymity. And that is not good government.

So here’s what we’d like. The next time there’s an opening on one of the myriad boards and commissions on the Coast, the body in charge of the appointment should make the opening and the qualifications well known. And make it clear that relatives, or relatives of the powerful, need not apply.

It should look at all the candidates who answer that call and choose the one best qualified to serve.

And do it with less — or heaven forbid, no — behind the scenes arm twisting or other parlor games.

The editorial represents the views of the Sun Herald editorial board. Opinions of columnists and cartoonists are their own.

  Comments