The California Department of Tax and Fee Administration adopted a new anti-nepotism policy on Oct. 27, 2017 after employees complained about the prevalence of family relationships among its 4,000 or so workers. Rich Pedroncelli AP file photo, 2014
The California Department of Tax and Fee Administration adopted a new anti-nepotism policy on Oct. 27, 2017 after employees complained about the prevalence of family relationships among its 4,000 or so workers. Rich Pedroncelli AP file photo, 2014

The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

The State Worker

Helping a friend or relative land a job could get state workers punished at this department

By Adam Ashton

aashton@sacbee.com

October 27, 2017 10:00 AM

UPDATED October 28, 2017 08:08 AM

The state tax department where 1 in 5 employees works with a relative is implementing a new anti-nepotism policy to make it more difficult for workers to help their loved ones land jobs there.

The California Department of Tax and Fee Administration as of Friday will require current employees and job candidates to fill out forms disclosing whether they have personal relationships with people on staff, according to the policy. Those forms could determine whether current workers are handed new assignments, or whether job candidates are eligible to work at the department.

The department also now explicitly bans its employees from advocating for close friends and relatives who seek jobs there. That language is intended to discourage current employees from subtly boosting their relatives’ chances of winning jobs at the department, such as by telling managers to “look out” for certain applications.

Employees who violate the policy can be disciplined with punishment up to termination depending on the severity of the offense, the department’s director said.

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“I really wanted to make sure the point comes across loudly and very clearly. It’s a new day here at CDTFA,” said Nick Maduros, the department’s director.

The new policy is aimed at addressing complaints Maduros heard from employees when he began his job at the department in July, as well as a forthcoming audit from the State Personnel Board that found that almost 20 percent of the department’s staff had a relative in the organization.

His department was created to take over most of the work that the Board of Equalization previously handled. Lawmakers in June voted to strip the Board of Equalization of almost all of its power and staff after audits found that it failed to allocate tax revenue correctly, and that its elected leaders improperly meddled in the agency’s daily operations.

An April personnel survey found that more than 800 employees at the former Board of Equalization reported that they have at least one relative on staff, according to sources who received updates on the report.

The board’s elected leaders last year received complaints about nepotism within one of the agency’s divisions from an anonymous state worker, which triggered the personnel audit. The Board of Equalization’s elected leaders earlier this year were developing an anti-nepotism policy, but their work stopped when the Legislature gutted their agency.

State government has a merit-based hiring system that is intended to diminish favoritism. Job candidates must take exams and complete a fairly rigid process to be considered for a position.

The state also has general hiring guidelines that discourage nepotism. The state prohibits relatives from supervising each other, and it allows departments to reject relatives of current workers if doing so would disrupt morale or create conflicts.

Recent reports in The Bee have shown that Board of Equalization member Jerome Horton rushed hiring for a project in 2012 to help new employees gain better pensions, and that staff for board member George Runner had a say in recommending candidates for entry-level tax-collecting positions. Other ongoing complaints at the State Personnel Board raise questions about favoritism among other Board of Equalization executives.

The new tax department’s policy goes further than the state’s general guidelines by compelling workers and applicants to detail their personal relationships with other employees. The department’s human resources bureau is charged with evaluating relationship disclosure forms and recommending whether hiring a candidate would violate the anti-nepotism policy.

“If it’s determined that personal relationships are problematic then they won’t be hired,” Maduros said. “I do want to make sure from this point forward that all hiring has to be based solely on merit.”

Adam Ashton: 916-321-1063, @Adam_Ashton. Sign up for state worker news alerts at sacbee.com/newsletters.