On Wednesday, Employment Security Commissioner Tara Reardon resigned amid allegations that she hired her daughter as an intern, then had her layed off in order to receive unemployment benefits. The Telegraph, Monitor, Union Leader, and of course, NHPR, have all the details. We want to know: how could this happen?
There is a law regarding nepotism and executive officials in New Hampshire. However, it leaves quite a bit up for interpretation. As the Nashua Telegraph reports, the law “prohibits any executive branch official from ‘directly’ taking part in hiring, firing, setting the pay or supervising a spouse, child, parent, sibling or close relation by marriage.”
“The focus on the word directly here really narrows the bite of the statute,” said [Martin] Gross, a longtime member of the Legislative Ethics Committee.
“Basically I have to think the statute means what it says and it wasn’t intended to ensnare somebody if his or her department happened to hire a relative. Now if you actively participated and played a role in what happened with that employee that could be viewed as a violation.”
Ethics in New Hampshire
The nepotism law referred to above is a more recent addition to the Executive Branch Ethics Code championed by Governor Lynch during his gubernatorial campaign. The code established an executive ethics committee, on which seven appointed members of the public sit. It’s unclear if the committee has participated in any ethics investigations since its creation, although it does regularly issue opinions. Unlike many other states, New Hampshire does not allocate funds specifically for the ethics committee. The committee may, however, have access to resources of the Attorney General’s office, should an investigation be necessary.
Last year, reporters at New Hampshire Public Radio participated in a nation-wide State Integrity Investigation, in which New Hampshire received an “F” in ethics enforcement.
Can an intern really qualify for unemployment?
In New Hampshire, any paid employee can pay into and receive unemployment benefits. Because paid interns are not considered temporary employees, but rather part-time employees, they too can receive those benefits.