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Tuesday, August 8, 2023
Molokai Principal Gets Nepotism Exception
By News Release @ 3:07 AM :: 2104 Views :: Education K-12, Ethics

Nepotism Exception Decision for Kaunakakai Elementary School Principal Daniel Espaniola

from Hawaii State Ethics Comm, Aug 4, 2023 (excerpt)

… Kaunakakai Elementary School is the only public school on Molokai serving preschool special education students. In June of this year, the incumbent preschool special education teacher resigned, which necessitated the hiring of a new teacher. The position was posted in July on the DOE’s NEOED hiring platform, which recruits worldwide. Your daughter applied through NEOED and was the only applicant who applied before the start of the new school year. She is a licensed and certified special education teacher. You recused yourself from the interview process but, based on the recommendation of the hiring panel, you granted final approval to hire your daughter. You, the Complex Area Superintendent, and the Assistant Superintendent of the Office of Talent Management all stressed that it is extremely difficult to fill these positions on Molokai given its geographical remoteness. All of you indicated qualified applicants are few and far between. You asked for an exception to the Nepotism Law so that your daughter may continue in the position in order to meet Federal requirements for serving the needs of preschool special education students.

The purpose of the Nepotism Law is to eliminate favoritism in hiring and employment decisions, promote public confidence in state employees and state government, and prevent abuses of power by prohibiting state officials and employees from using their positions to benefit family members. Given the strong public policy supporting the law, the Ethics Commission believes that exceptions should rarely be granted. In this case, however, given the unique circumstances, and provided you recuse yourself from the direct supervision of your daughter, we believe an exception to the law is warranted.

The DOE is required to provide special education services to students and, thus, this is a critical position to fill. The position was widely advertised through the NEOED platform. Only one candidate applied. As noted earlier, Molokai presents unique staffing challenges given its remoteness. All of these factors indicate that an exception is appropriate. Balanced against this, however, is the fact that, given the short time frame available for the hiring process, this position was posted only for a short time on a single platform. Generally, hiring efforts should be significantly more robust before an exception to the law is granted. Nonetheless, taking all the circumstances into consideration, we believe the exception is appropriate.

That said, this approval is conditioned upon your recusal from any supervision or evaluation of your daughter. You stated you would not be involved in the day-to-day supervision of your daughter and that, in the past, your direct supervision of this position has amounted to an annual evaluation. You are able to recuse yourself from this evaluation and have another education official perform the evaluation.

Finally, you should be aware of an additional section of the Ethics Code. Haw. Rev. Stat. §84-13(a) prohibits state employees from using their state positions to grant themselves or anyone else any unwarranted benefit or advantage. State employees who work alongside relatives must be extremely careful not to accord their relatives any special treatment….

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