Working for the City of Garden Grove Is a Family Affair

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At least eight current and former Garden Grove employees are close relatives of high-ranking city officials, including the son of Mayor Bruce Broadwater, City Manager Matthew Fertal’s three sons and the daughters of Finance Director Kingsley Okereke, according to a Voice of OC review.

Fertal’s sons — Jason, Alex and Matthew Fertal Jr. — and niece, Shawna McDonough, have worked at the city in paid, rank-and-file positions since Fertal became city manager in 2004, according to records provided by the city clerk’s office.

The records also show that Okereke’s two college-age daughters, Kimberly and Jennifer, have worked temporary summer jobs for the city’s recreation department and that Broadwater’s son, Jeremy, has been working as a community services coordinator for the city since 2007.

Before 2005, such hiring would have violated the city’s nepotism policy, which was passed as an ordinance in 2000 during one of Broadwater’s earlier terms as mayor. But in 2005 when Broadwater was off the City Council, it voted to change the policy so relatives of top-level officials could work for the city.

In an interview late Monday, Broadwater said that aside from his own son he was unaware until about a week ago that relatives of higher-ups were working for the city. He said he will bring the policy before the council by the end of the year.

“I will get some background on this before we do anything. I can’t give you any dates. I will tell you that something will happen,” said Broadwater.

Broadwater said he disapproves of his son’s position with the city and played no role in his hiring.

“[Jeremy] told me, ‘If other guys can have it worked out, why can’t I?’ So he did take employment here, none of which I had anything to do with,” Broadwater said. “I said there’s no reason he can’t do it. He’s not violating the law.”

Meanwhile, both Fertal and Okereke defended their offspring’s employment by the city, saying it did not present a conflict of interest.

“There’s no conflict. If there was, I wouldn’t support this or allow it,” said Fertal.

Matthew Fertal Jr. worked as an intern in 2007 and has held two other positions between 2009 and 2012. Jason Fertal started as a part-time trainee in July 2007 and was later promoted to a full-time position, which he still holds.

Alex Fertal worked temporary summer jobs for the city starting in 2008 and has since worked almost two years as a part-time paid intern.

McDonough, the niece, interned at the city’s redevelopment agency for more than a year starting in 2008, eventually interned at the Finance Department and was later promoted to her current job as a senior account specialist.

Additionally, Veronica Avila, a friend of Fertal’s son, began as a part-time intern in 2011 and still works for the city.

The maximum salaries of Fertal’s sons range from $27,248 annually for a paid internship to $62,784 annually for an administrative aide position. The highest salary his niece could receive is $55,152 annually.

Kimberly and Jennifer Okereke earned more than $2,000 each summer, and the annual salary range for Jeremy Broadwater is between $44,568 and $59,724.

A California Public Records Act request by Voice of OC for resumes, employment history and hiring notices for each of the officials’ relatives is pending, after a 14-day extension requested by the city.

A History of Nepotism

Garden Grove is no stranger to controversy over nepotism.

In 2011, the council appointed the relatives of two council members despite receiving applications from more than 40 residents for 12 seats, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Councilwoman Dina Nguyen’s husband, Joe Dovinh, was appointed to the Planning Commission. Dalton’s son, Robert, was appointed to the Traffic Commission.

Under the 2000 ordinance, none of the current officials’ relatives could be collecting a city paycheck. It prohibited the employment of relatives of top-level officials, such as council members, the city manager, his or her assistant and department directors.

But in 2005, the council, under then Mayor William Dalton, voted 4-1 to change the policy, removing the ban on hiring relatives of top-level employees.

That policy, still in place today, does not allow employees to work within the same department or under the supervision of a relative but also states that “no person shall be disqualified from employment in the City, or be given special consideration … by virtue of the fact that the person is a relative” of a current employee.

Human Resources Director John Clark said the hires do not violate the city’s nepotism policy.

“There’s nothing in our administrative policy or municipal code that has any prohibition [on hiring family members],” said Clark. “And I’ll say that just in general, it’s not unusual for sons to follow in their father’s footsteps in the public sector as well as in the private sector.”

When asked whether he influenced or played a role in his offspring’s hiring, Fertal declined to answer any further questions and said, “I think your public records request will provide you the information you’re looking for.”

Okereke said his children applied for employment without his help or involvement.

“I acknowledge that public servants are held to a higher standard,” said Okereke. “But if they go through the same process as anybody else, should I deprive them of that opportunity?”

“I wouldn’t hire them myself and I wouldn’t want them to work for the Finance Department,” he added.

Please contact Thy Vo directly at thyanhvo@gmail.com

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