When legendary Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo was accused of cronyism, he famously replied, "What do you want me to do - hire my enemies?"

We couldn't help but think of Rizzo's quip when we read Press staff writer Donna Weaver's story noting that of the Little Egg Harbor Township Municipal Utilities Authority's 21 employees, six are father and son.

To paraphrase, the Rizzo-esque responses from MUA officials and others went something like this: Hey, it's a small town - who else are we going to hire? And just because somebody's dad works here doesn't mean they're not qualified.

Like Rizzo, the defenders of the MUA's hiring practices almost have a legitimate point. Should someone be disqualified from getting a job at a public agency simply because he or she has a relative who works there? That wouldn't be fair.

But that reasoning only goes so far. And six related employees out of a total of 21 employees indicates a disturbing pattern. If nothing else, it is tone-deaf to the political realities of the time.

People - that is, the people paying the Little Egg MUA's salaries - don't like to see this kind of thing. Most are savvy enough to know how things work everywhere - it helps if you know someone. But at a public agency in particular, appearances matter. And appearances of favoritism are, at the very least, unseemly.

Of course, this isn't the only thing that has raised eyebrows at the Little Egg MUA. Director Dave Johnson is paid $201,220 a year - considerably more than the governor's salary of $175,000. Johnson's son, Vincent, is paid $82,643 as the MUA's operations chief.

In 2011, Gov. Chris Christie went after the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission over similar issues regarding high salaries and the hiring of friends and relatives. Christie fired 71 employees and forced several commissioners to resign.

But the governor has been uncharacteristically quiet about the Little Egg MUA in the Republican bastion of Ocean County.

Furthermore, the Little Egg MUA doesn't even have something that virtually every other public agency has - a nepotism policy forbidding employees from directly supervising relatives. Johnson says none of the six father/son pairs at the MUA have such a reporting relationship. But as director, Johnson supervises his son's supervisor. How's that work?

The MUA needs to rethink it hiring practices.

And it needs to adopt a formal nepotism policy. We're guessing even Frank Rizzo knew enough to do that.


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