The St. Louis County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously passed a nepotism policy for direct supervisors of county employees.

The policy was crafted in response to the St. Louis County Attorney Mark Rubin’s hiring of his son, Tony, as a prosecutor over more experienced applicants. Tony Rubin, the only finalist for the job, started in his new role on Jan. 14.

The policy, which aims to combat “actual or perceived conflicts of interest,” reads in part: “No employee or official shall be directly involved in any decision regarding hiring, promotion, supervision, salary adjustments or grievances made regarding an immediate family member or significant other in the same line of authority.”

The policy, however, continues to encourage family members of county employees to apply for jobs with St. Louis County.

The County Board’s action Tuesday will have no bearing on the county attorney’s office or Rubin’s decision, a fact that 6th District Commissioner Keith Nelson highlighted in comments before the vote.

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“We have spent a whole bunch of time on something that really changes nothing,” Nelson said, citing existing civil service rules in effect.

County attorneys in Minnesota are allowed by law to appoint their own assistant attorneys. However, most of St. Louis County's 1,850 or so employees are hired and protected based on civil service rules that date back to the 1940s. A Civil Service Board exists in the county to ensure hiring and employment decisions are based on qualifications and merit.

Though Nelson voted for the policy, he defended Rubin, who was present for Tuesday’s meeting.

“I see a public servant who has been with us for 40 years, one of the finest prosecutors in the state of Minnesota,” Nelson said. “I also see a member of his staff” — referring to Tony Rubin — “that he has every right in state statute to choose.”

Nelson spoke of a lack of respect for elected officials.

“We as elected officials should not have targets placed on our backs just because we chose to be sworn in,” he said. “For individuals in the press or in the audience who don’t have respect for elected officials, I feel sorry for you. I really do. Because this democracy is founded on a lot of things, and one of them is mutual respect.”

Nelson also criticized members of the media, addressing television cameras in the room.

“You’ve got the cameras back here, so there might be something wrong in St. Louis County,” he said. “They don’t show up for the 29,384 things we do right.”

First District Commissioner Frank Jewell reminded commissioners that the board is taking up the nepotism policy because “this is about the attorney hiring his son. We are doing it because of that.”

Jewell said the County Board is taking action not because it wants to target elected officials but because it’s responding to many calls and emails from constituents about the issue.

“(They’re) sending emails and have called me and said, ‘Why did you’ — and they’re very direct — ‘Why did you allow a situation in which you can hire your family members?’” Jewell said. “So whether or not this affects the action that took place, it’s really appropriate for us to stand up and say we have a policy that says we won’t hire family members, etc., if we are the direct supervisor.”

One member of the public addressed the board Tuesday. Allen Richardson said he represented a newly formed anti-nepotism task force.

“It’s my opinion that respect has to be earned by public officials,” he said. “The reason that this policy is before you today is that Mark Rubin’s hiring decision, while not illegal, is widely perceived as having been immoral and unethical by the residents of St. Louis County.”

Richardson gestured to his T-shirt, which read: “I didn’t ask for a Rubin Sandwich.”

“County Attorney Rubin has reduced the integrity of the county attorney’s office to a punchline,” he said, “and I feel like it’s the least we can do as members of the populace to return the favor.”

The remarks drew consternation from Nelson, who called Richardson “disrespectful of economic policy and by singling out someone in this role and attacking someone in this room.”

Jewell said that Richardson didn’t deserve a “tongue-lashing” from Nelson for getting up to speak, to which Nelson responded that he was addressing County Board Chairman Patrick Boyle and not Richardson himself.

The nepotism policy first was introduced at the County Board’s March 5 committee of the whole meeting. At that time, Nelson wanted stronger language in the policy with regard to the hiring of veterans.

Commissioners delayed a vote on the measure, originally planned for March 12. On Tuesday, Nelson thanked James Gottschald, county human resources director, for reiterating the county’s commitment to veterans.