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Local View: Nepotism in county attorney's office cheats qualified candidates, our community

When friends behave badly, we have an obligation to say something. Newly re-elected St. Louis County Attorney Mark Rubin hired his son in the county attorney's office in what, given Rubin's quotes in the News Tribune, was a highly biased process....

kevin skwira-brown.jpg
Kevin Skwira-Brown

When friends behave badly, we have an obligation to say something. Newly re-elected St. Louis County Attorney Mark Rubin hired his son in the county attorney's office in what, given Rubin's quotes in the News Tribune, was a highly biased process. He said there were many qualified candidates and that he only interviewed his son, because he already knew that is who he would hire.

Nepotism, hiring someone because they are a family member, has no place in public service. It is, in effect, a form of welfare, perpetuated by those in power, who are most often white men, for others who are like them. Imagine if Rubin was a person of color and he hired his son without giving other qualified candidates as much as an interview: Would that be so easily overlooked?

Rubin justified this hire by saying the practice is widespread in the private legal field and the other qualified candidates would be considered for future positions. It is inappropriate of Mr. Rubin to treat the county as his own private entity, passing on wealth to his son in the form of a position and pay, shielded from the rigors of an impartial application process.

What Rubin did wasn't illegal. The elected county attorney has autonomy in hiring assistant county attorneys and investigators. Prior St. Louis County attorneys have exercised that autonomy as well. But things change - or should - when there exists such a strong case for a conflict of interest.

What Rubin did wasn't a clear violation of county policy, either. St. Louis County doesn't have an anti-nepotism policy, though I understand that both administration and commissioners are considering the need for one.

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So, what is my beef with Rubin setting his son up on the public's payroll? It's wrong. It's wrong because we are better served by a county attorney's office with a diversity of experience, thought, and perspective. It's wrong because perpetuating a good-old-boys network in which who you know is more important than what you can do is a disservice to everyone and violates the best that we as a community can be. It's wrong because it is an injustice to the other qualified candidates.

Is the younger Rubin the best candidate for the position he was hired into? We may never know. By circumventing the standards of professional hiring, his dad tainted not only his own but his son's reputation. The younger Rubin will always be the one who got the job because his dad didn't have the judgment to remove himself from the selection process.

Some will say that nothing can be done now. I disagree. Both Rubins could recognize that this wasn't the right way to handle things. The younger Rubin could resign or be let go without prejudice. He could then re-apply in a process as unbiased and impartial as possible - one void of the senior Rubin. If the younger Rubin gets selected through such a process, then we can all congratulate him on what he earned rather than what was seemingly given to him.

If that doesn't happen, those of us in the community who know and interact with the senior Rubin need to let him know this behavior is not OK and has diminished our regard for him. Silence is what allows injustice and privilege to flourish.

How many who criticized the U.S. president for hiring his son as an advisor have been silent in this case?

Our own integrity is at stake. When we fail to speak to the impropriety of our friends, we show ourselves to embody a selective and self-serving morality.

Kevin Skwira-Brown is an equity and inclusion trainer with Cultural Fluency Associates as well as a member of various equity-related efforts in the community.

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