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Published: Monday, 12/4/2006

Governor-elect needs to address nepotism in appointments

DEAR Governor-elect Strickland:

The citizens of our state of Ohio are looking forward to a new era of state government where nepotism and pay-to-play would be a thing of the past. One area that needs your immediate attention is the way you would make appointments to state boards, commissions, and regulatory agencies.

There are about 187 boards and commissions in Ohio that regulate utilities, oversee the running of state educational institutions, and ensure quality in various professions.

In the past, appointment to these bodies was a thoroughly political process. All one had to do was contribute to the coffers of the political party in power and have strong political connections. This money-paved route led many an incompetent and marginally qualified person to get appointments to coveted institutional boards. This has been the norm in both the Republican and the Democratic administrations.

One of your predecessors, Republican George Voinovich, was fond of repeating that contributors to his campaign got nothing in return except good governance. However, those who contributed to his campaign were indeed rewarded with appointments to prestigious boards.

It would be unfair to say that all such appointees were not up to snuff. Except for occasional cosmetic and blatantly inappropriate appointments, the majority of appointees have been good and have served admirably. I object to the process, not necessarily to the people who received the appointments.

A close look at the makeup of these bodies reveals some start ling and alarming facts. Whereas the majority of the members are white Americans, with a proportional sprinkling of African-Americans, there was until a few years ago a blatant absence of other minorities except for those who trace their origin to India. Thanks to their savvy political skills, they have in the past served or are currently serving on the boards of the University of Cincinnati, Cleveland State University, Miami University, Wright State University, and the state medical board. They have done a good job.

By contrast, there has been an almost complete absence of Muslims, Arabs, Turks, Pakistanis, or Americans of Far Eastern background on any of the 187 bodies.

Coincidence? Perhaps, but one cannot ignore the lingering suspicion that the money still makes the mares go.

In an enlightened society, a quota system for institutional appointments is distasteful. Unfortunately, we do have an implicit quota system in this country. Starting with the Supreme Court, where there is a de facto Jewish and an African-American seat, and there are state and federal cabinet appointments that take into account minorities and women. The practice permeates the admission policies in educational institutions, hiring, and promotions in police forces, and appointments in local governments.

If the county chairmen of political parties would look around their counties, and if the governor would look around the state, they would be able to find people who are capable but lack the political clout. But Lucas County s chairmen have had the habit of getting ahead of others for such appointments. One past chairman of the Lucas County Republican Party was appointed to the board of regents even though he had no college education. Another got himself appointed to the University of Toledo board of trustees.

The Blade took note of these practices in 1994 when a House seat in Columbus became vacant after the resignation of Tim Greenwood. In an editorial, this newspaper urged the Republican Party to seek a replacement from among the sidelined minorities. In the end the old boy s club won out.

Here are some interesting statistics. There are 150,000 Muslims living in Ohio and they constitute 1.5 percent of the population of our state. Until a few years ago there was hardly a person or two from this group or from the other minorities mentioned earlier serving on state boards and agencies. It is a crying shame that Bob Taft and his predecessors have totally neglected and snubbed this large group.

The job for you, Mr. Strickland, is to put a stop to nepotism and politics-of-exclusion and seek out suitable candidates from among the sidelined minorities to serve on our institutional boards and regulatory agencies. Every citizen of this state, regardless of race, religion, or ethnicity, has the right to be considered for appointment to such boards, provided the person is qualified and competent.

Dr. S. Amjad Hussain is a retired Toledo surgeon whose column appears every other week in The Blade.

Contact him at: aghaji@bex.net



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