Monday, May 12, 2014
In Defense of Nepotism
Her name is Mary Alice Einfalt, and she is currently an Accounting Manager in Assessment. She's been with Northampton County since 2010, having previously worked in the private sector for Air Products. She is a CPA. A few weeks ago, the whispers started. There were several anonymous comments, published on this blog, that Einfalt would be the new Fiscal Affairs Director. This was the price Peg Ferraro supposedly demanded for her vote on some key administrative initiatives.
I contacted Ferraro, who told me her daughter had no interest in being the Director of Fiscal Affairs, which is an exempt position subject to the political winds.
Then I began hearing new rumors. This time , it was that a major promotion was in the works for Einfalt. I was told that her new raise would be paid for by taking money from Gracedale's budget. I was also told that one of the accountants there would be reduced in pay.
This bothered me. I don't begrudge anyone a promotion, but not when it's on the back of another worker. So I ran the rumor down.
Here's what I know.
1) County Executive John Brown is planning a major reorganization in the Finance Department. Details may have gone to Council members on Friday, but they have not been released to the public. That will probably happen today or tomorrow.
2) Einfalt is being proposed for a major promotion and increase in salary, commensurate with an increase in her responsibilities.
3) Brown will propose a new person at Gracedale, which is a $5 million annual drain on County costs, to keep an eye on finances
4) One Gracedale accountant is seeing his responsibilities reduced in accordance with what he actually does on the job, although his salary will remain where it is.
As with anything, the devil's in the details. But on the surface, this kind of reorganization seems to me like a good idea. That includes the promotion of Einfalt, who has taken over responsibility for General Purpose Financial Statements (GPFS) and the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR). She's transformed Payroll, initiating paperless pay, eliminating OT there by 97%, and has taken some Human Resources tracking from there to Payroll. She has identified and eliminated internal control weaknesses missed by the outside auditor and Controller. Glaring examples include a payroll staff that had unlimited access to employee information, and accounts payable being permitted to create new vendors. She is a cross-training advocate and also a disciple of Continuous Improvement (CI), which ironically was championed by John Brown's opponent, John Callahan. She wants accountants reporting to other beancounters, not department heads.
She also has a bit of humility. She told me she's nowhere near ready to assume the responsibilities of Doran J. Hamann, the County's Acting Director of Fiscal Affairs. I have asked around about her, and she has an impeccable reputation at the courthouse.
If Mary Alice were completely unrelated to Ferraro, everyone would be congratulating Brown for recognizing and rewarding her abilities. But because she's her daughter, a number of people insist it is favoritism.
Do you like Mars candy bars? Nobody seems to complain about the nepotism at that family-owned business, which has existed since 1912. How about the company that built the Hoover Dam? That's been owned and operated by the Bechtel family for four generations, and no one seems overly concerned that the damn will burst. I never heard anyone boycott Coors beer over the fact that it was in the same family for too long.
Nepotism, by itself, can sometimes be a good thing. Our judges have recently been told they can no longer employ relatives as tipstaffs. It looks bad. Really? Isn't a judge entitled to have one person around which he is free to be himself? One person in front of whom he can act intemperately, pick his nose or blow off some steam? And who better for a job like that, which pays lousy and has unsteady hours, than a relative? Who else would want it?
In the name of political correctness, we often do stupid things. Let's hope that a good person is allowed to save money for Northampton County, even if she is related to an elected official. Under the County's nepotism policy, Peg Ferraro is barred from voting for or against her daughter's promotion. That strikes me as a sufficient safeguard.