The Garden Grove city council, under scrutiny after the mayor’s son was hired as a firefighter and relatives of other top officials got city jobs, voted unanimously Tuesday to reinstate a ban on employing the relatives of high-ranking officials

The ordinance, which will come up again for a second reading, would ban the future hiring of relatives of city council members, department directors, the city manager and anyone working as a primary assistant to the city manager. Any relatives currently working for the city will keep their jobs.

Mayor Bruce Broadwater, who requested the ordinance for Tuesday’s meeting, has maintained since last year that he was not involved in the hiring of his son Jeremy.

“I’ve done nothing wrong, I’ve done nothing illegal, and now they’re beating up on my son– so I thought to heck with it I’ll bring back the policy,” Broadwater said before the meeting.

He also noted he wasn’t on the city council in 2005 when the current nepotism policy was adopted, allowing relatives to work for the city.

“I was opposed to it then, and I’m opposed to it now. I didn’t change it, it got changed while I was gone, off the council,” Broadwater said Tuesday. “What am I supposed to tell [Jeremy] — that everyone and their brother can hire somebody and he can’t get hired?”

The new nepotism policy will not allow related employees to work in the same department — for example, two brothers can’t work in Public Works — nor does it allow people to be placed in jobs where they could one day be supervised by a relative.

Relatives of officials could still apply to work 1,000 hours or less in a part-time position, subject to city manager approval, while part-time employees hired prior to September 2014 are still eligible for promotion to full-time employment.

Last year, Voice of OC reported at least eight city hall employees were relatives of high-ranking officials.

Jeremy Broadwater, 37, was sworn in as a firefighter last year, beating out 500 other applicants. He has been criticized by fellow firefighters and supervisors for potentially life-threatening mistakes, according to a recent report in the Orange County Register. 

Three of city manager Matthew Fertal’s sons, as well as his niece, have also worked for the city as interns and in part- and full-time positions. Finance Director Kingsley Okereke’s two daughters, and councilman Kris Beard’s son Casey, have also worked temporary summer jobs in the city’s recreation department.

Councilmembers were supportive of the new policy. While they were concerned about the allegations against Broadwater’s son, none of them objected to relatives of city management working for the city.

“Personally I believe the people who are employed in the city so far have shown to be good employees and if there are other issues regarding employees within the city…we have a system to deal with them,” said councilwoman Dina Nguyen.

Beard characterized the city’s current nepotism policy, which says the city cannot discriminate against or favor someone for a position based on the fact that they are a relative, as a “neutral anti-nepotism policy” and the new ordinance as more restrictive and “merit-based.”

Councilman Chris Phan felt qualified applicants should be able to work for the city regardless of whether they are related to a top official.

“I don’t want to hamstring people who are fully qualified for a job to not be able to apply just because they’re a relative,” Phan said. “But perception is 99 percent reality, and because of what we’re going through right now, I’m going to support the change, but with a very heavy heart.”

Some residents felt the ordinance didn’t go far enough. Paul Marsden, a first-time council candidate whose election mantra is “no more nepotism,” said the city needs rules on the appointment of relatives to city commissions.

He cited examples of previous appointments, such as the appointment of Nguyen’s husband to the Planning Commission and the son of former mayor William Dalton to the Traffic Commission. Nguyen abstained from the vote for her husband, Joseph Dovinh, who is now running for her termed-out city council seat.

“They see this as a light switch to turn the law off and on whenever they feel like it,” Marsden said.

More than two dozen firefighters in matching red shirts showed up for Tuesday’s meeting to remind the council of the fire association’s much-publicized concerns about management within the department.

“Recently, all the comments questions and concerns [from my neighbors] are about the lack of leadership and integrity they keep hearing about,” said Tim Crawford, a Garden Grove firefighter and resident of the city. “Rather than being able to proudly answer my friends and family…now I also have the same questions.”

After the fire association gave a vote of no confidence to fire chief Dave Barlag in June, the city manager hired a firm to conduct an independent investigation into management issues at the fire department, which will include the allegations about Broadwater’s hiring.

As the election season heats up, the 76-year-old Mayor Broadwater is starting to feel pressure on this issue in his bid for re-election to a sixth term in mayoral office. Except for two years, Broadwater has been on the city council since 1992.

One of Broadwater’s challengers for mayor, Garden Grove Unified School District Trustee Bao Nguyen, issued a press release last week reiterating the need for an investigation into Jeremy Broadwater’s hiring.

“We need to hear from the mayor. He’s been silent and that’s very concerning. It almost makes it seem like he’s complicit,” Nguyen said.

“As Mayor, I would definitely urge the fire chief to immediately terminate Jeremy Broadwater. The position that firefighters are in is a matter of life and death. This is different than having a maintenance person in the city, or someone who works as an administrative assistant,” Nguyen added.

Nguyen, on Sept. 4, received a $10,000 campaign contribution from the fire association.

Resident Josh McIntosh said, by allowing relatives of top officials to keep their jobs, the new ordinance doesn’t solve the problem at hand.

“We’re going to be putting this fake little band-aid on it — whoops, no more nepotism — but we’re not going to remove anybody from their cushy positions, and some of them shouldn’t be there at all,” said McIntosh. “Mr. Broadwater, you are the kingpin of this problem.”

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