A family affair? Talk about putting the ‘eek’ in Board of Equalization

The Board of Equalization building.
The Board of Equalization building. bnguyen@sacbee.com

Not that we want to pile on personnel rules, or discourage careers in civil service, but can it really be that 1 out of 5 employees at the Board of Equalization is working with a relative?

That’s what’s emerging from an ongoing state audit, The Sacramento Bee’s Adam Ashton reports. More than 800 of the tax agency’s 4,200 employees are related. Worse, family members have nepotism conflicts in chains of supervision.

If it’s all true, we can only plant our faces in our hands in exasperation. As it is, “Putting the eek in equalization,” might as well be the BOE’s motto.

Questions abound, some raised by Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, in an email to an editorial board member: How does the Board of Equalization compare to other departments? Did the hiring process for the 800 family members vary from standard practices? How does the board ensure family members don’t supervise family members?

The questions might not be so pointed except that some elected Board of Equalization members have in the past been less focused on the public good than on their own well-being. In fact, public distrust was such a festering carbuncle that the Legislature earlier this summer stripped the BOE of much of its authority.

While there always have been exceptions, California has a tradition of adhering to civil service rules. And we live in a company town. State employees are married to one another, and have siblings who work for the state. Adult children follow in their parents’ footsteps. Problems arise when family members pass on inside information or otherwise tip the scales.

We hope the State Personnel Board audit gets to the bottom of it. Another black mark is the last thing California needs at what’s looking like the worst-managed state agency in modern memory. But government cannot be run like a machine in which patronage jobs are handed out to family members and loyalists.