Thursday, May 20, 2010
Family Ties Run Deep at MDC
By Jeff Proctor
Copyright © 2010 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer
Bernalillo County's drug and alcohol detox facility isn't the only county outfit where family ties appear to run strong.
Ron Torres, director of the Metropolitan Detention Center, has two nephews, a cousin and a daughter under his chain of command at the jail.
Torres said Wednesday that he approved the hiring of all four.
And within the past year-and-a-half, Torres' brother and adopted brother have left positions at the jail, he said.
Torres said he has spoken with County Manager Thaddeus Lucero and County Attorney Jeff Landers within the past few weeks about whether the supervisory chain of command at the jail violates the county's nepotism policy.
The conversations occurred, he said, as Journal stories prompted Lucero to hire a law firm to investigate, among other things, whether Deputy County Manager John Dantis' son, Jamie Dantis, received special treatment while working at the Metropolitan Assessment and Treatment Services facility. John Dantis oversees the MATS facility and the jail.
A week into the Dantis investigation, County Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins called for a top-to-bottom review of all the county's personnel policies, including the one that deals with nepotism.
The policy states: "Near relatives or unrelated persons sharing a spousal relationship shall not work in the same department when there is a supervisory relationship between them, or if the employee is in the near relative's or unrelated person sharing a spousal relationship's chain of command."
Torres said Lucero and Landers told him not to do anything about his family members who are working at the jail until the review is complete.
"I haven't read the current nepotism policy carefully," he said. "But I did have a conversation with (Lucero and Landers) recently. Obviously there's some concern because of the issues that have come up with John and Jamie. Everyone said: 'What the hell's going on here?'
"So, what we're doing now is working with (the county's Human Resources Department) on a plan of action. And I was basically told to hold off on taking any action to see what happens with the policy."
Stebbins said Wednesday that she had received an anonymous correspondence earlier this week saying that Torres had relatives working in his chain of command. She said that she had not yet had time to contact Torres but that the information "clearly reinforces the need for the review."
"We will look at every department and determine whether family members are working for one another," she said. "Our intent is a clear policy in which family members are not in a position of authority over their relatives."
Torres said he has already decided that his daughter, who does administrative tasks at the jail about 10 hours a week, will no longer work at the detention center.
His two nephews and his cousin work at the jail as corrections officers.
Torres said he has always made sure there are layers of supervision between him and any family members working at the jail.
"Our MO has been to have buffers," he said. "There are five supervisors between me and the corrections officers. I can only recall one instance in which one of (my relatives) had to be disciplined, and I passed that along to the County Attorney's Office to make sure there was no appearance of impropriety."
Torres said the issue of his family members came up about a year-and-a-half ago. He said that during that time, he had a "handshake agreement" with the Bernalillo County Corrections Officers Association saying: "OK, we won't hire family members anymore."
Union President Stephen Perkins said he doesn't remember any such agreement. He said the union has never had conversations with Torres about his family members who work at the jail.
Perkins, a lieutenant, said he supervises Torres' nephews and cousin. He said they are good officers who, for the most part, have had no problems at the detention center.
"There have been situations, however, with midlevel supervisors trying to curry favor with Ron by cutting them breaks," Perkins said. "The bigger deal, as I see it, is with his daughter working for him. I don't know what kind of experience she has."
Since the Dantis investigation began, he said, the jail has been buzzing with discussions about possible instances of nepotism among county department heads.
"It's been a smoking topic," Perkins said. "From our perspective, it's always a bad idea (to have family members in a supervisor's chain of command) because it puts the employee in a bad spot. They don't get the respect for their job that they deserve because everyone thinks they only got the job due to a family member."
Torres said a change in county hiring policies could make things difficult at the jail.
"I don't know how we would deal with it," he said. "It's going to be hard because, especially in public safety and corrections, people follow their families quite a bit."