Nepotism rule enforced

Edinger's opponent points out violation; city fires grandkids

COEUR d'ALENE - Three part-time workers were fired by the city of Coeur d'Alene for being related to a councilman, a violation of a rule that had slipped under the city's radar.

City Attorney Mike Gridley said the employees were let go late Thursday after the legal department realized the conflict as it looked into the rules pertaining to familial relationships and government that another council candidate had asked about.

"It's a law we should be aware of, and it's my responsibility to be up to date on things," Gridley said. "We have to make sure it's an isolated incident."

Brock Poole, Cameron Poole and Chris Willoughby are the grandchildren of City Council President Ron Edinger. They worked seasonally for the recreation and street departments, stretching back to 1999, and earned between $9 and $12 an hour.

In a press release issued Wednesday, Edinger, who is up for reelection, said he never used any influence from his position to get the grandkids the job. He called it an honest mistake. He also called it a political attack.

"I am a man of integrity and have and always will run an honest, clean campaign, based on my beliefs," he wrote. "It must have been apparent to some that the only chance they had to defeat me, was to defeat me at my core. You will not win with that tactic. Let me be very clear, today is a sad day for me and my family, but I believe the citizens of Coeur d'Alene will persevere."

The law violated is No. 18-1359, Using Public Position for Personal Gain. The statute states that council members and mayors can't appoint or employ family members where their pay comes from the city's general fund.

Gridley said he began researching the statues after Adam Graves, Edinger's lone challenger for Seat 1, asked about the familial rules.

Edinger's daughter, Paula Austin, has worked in the city's recreation department since the early 1980s. The law wasn't enacted until 1990, thereby her employment didn't violate anything. Graves had called wondering about Austin's status, Gridley said. After his research, he emailed around City Hall wondering if council members had any other family members who were employed by the city.

When the city found out about Edinger's grandchildren, it let them go.

"It was an innocent mistake. Nobody was aware of that law," said Wendy Gabriel, city administrator. "As soon as we found out, everybody took immediate steps to make it right."

Gridley said he is handing over the case to an outside attorney to review.

A charge, should one come, would be a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to a $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail. Gridley said his own review of the situation showed that Edinger didn't know the rule, and hadn't tried to exercise any influence, making a charge against him unlikely.

Graves did not return messages to The Press Wednesday.

"My family has always assumed that they could always apply as well as any other citizen in this community for these part-time positions," Edinger wrote. "I have never, let me repeat, never used my position to further the aspirations of any employee of the city including those of my grandsons. Unbeknownst to them or me, they were ineligible for employment."

The workers had been seasonally employed, ranging from gym supervisors, basketball scorekeepers and roadside flaggers. Willoughby's job ended at the end of August, while the Pooles' were terminated late last week.

Gabriel said the city is reviewing whether any legal holdup could prevent the city from paying the men their final paychecks, but didn't expect one to arise.

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