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Understanding Nepotism in Missouri Local Government

Most people would agree that is often a bad idea to allow government officers to use their positions to promote family members. It smacks a little of the feudal monarchy and lordships that our Founding Fathers fled from to create our nation. And it risks violating the free market commitment to always work to find the best person for the job. For those reasons, the citizens of Missouri long ago placed a ban on all public officer from appointing family members to government positions.

In legalese, it's called nepotism, and under Article Eight, Section Six of the Missouri Constitution, any public officer who appoints a relative immediately forfeits their office or position. The definition of relative extends to include first cousins and grand nephews, and reaches reaches to relationships created both by blood and by marriage. In some smaller communities, that definition of relative can sometimes put public officials at risk of violating the constitutional standard.

In the Summer of 2012, the Mayor of Tracy, Missouri faced a problem that eventually cost her the position of mayor. Tracy, Missouri is a small community, located north of Kansas City and having a population of only about 200 citizens. When the city's wooden sign was damaged, Mayor Rita Rhoads hired her son-in-law as and independent contractor to repair the damage to the sign. When the work was completed, Mayor Rhoads wrote a check for $100.00 from the general revenue fund to pay him for his work. On June 4, 2013, the Missouri Court of Appeals determined that Mayor Rhoads had violated the state prohibition on nepotism, and she was removed from office.

In small towns throughout the state, mayors are often faced with the dilemma of hiring personnel from a limited pool of qualified candidates. To add to the concern, many small communities are heavily inter-related through either blood or marriage, increasing the risk that some of those qualified candidates may be excluded by the state's constitutional law. Local government officials must constantly be conscious of the limitations on who they may or may not employ, as hiring someone in violation of the constitution will immediately cost them their hard-earned position.

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