Earlier this week, Auditor of State Keith Faber’s office announced that an Ohio grand jury had indicted a former school superintendent for numerous violations of law. Among the violations were 13 counts of having an unlawful interest in a public contract for securing contracts for a family member. The indictment alleges that, while he was superintendent, the charged individual used his public position to secure 13 separate contracts for his family member to work as a substitute employee or as a coach.

This case has yet to be prosecuted. Still, the indictments are a reminder that Ohio’s law prohibiting public sector nepotism is clear (and it’s a felony). Ohio Revised Code (RC) 2921.42 (A)(1) provides that public officials and employees cannot “authorize” or “employ the authority of influence of [their] office to secure authorization” of any public contract in which their family members have an interest.

Employment is specifically included within the definition of public contract (RC 2921.42(I)(1)). This includes full-time and part-time employment in temporary and permanent positions.

“Public official,” as used in the statute, includes any elected or appointed officer and any public employee. In a school district, all board members, administrators, and employees, including teachers, are public officials subject to this restriction.

The Ohio Ethics Commission, in its opinions on this topic, has explained that a public official’s family members are:

  • The official’s spouse, siblings, parents, grandparents, children, and grandchildren, including steps-relatives, no matter where they live.
  • Anyone else related to the official by blood or by marriage and residing in the same household with the official. 

The law prohibits a school official from taking any formal or informal action, including voting, discussing, deliberating about, recommending, nominating, or lobbying for, within the scope of his or her public service, to get a job for one of these family members.

In most cases, the law does not prohibit a relative of a school district official or employee from seeking employment with the district or from being hired by the district, provided the school official or employee takes no action to secure the job. The official or employee must be able to withdraw, remove, or abstain from any action affecting the family member’s employment. In the very rare situation when an official is required by law to participate in the employment process, and cannot withdraw, the official’s family members cannot be employed by the public agency.  

For more information, you can check out the Ethics Commission’s e-course on nepotism, and these fact sheets: Nepotism restrictions FAQs and Information Sheet on Restrictions on Nepotism. You can also reach out to OSBA's legal division—(855) 672-2529 or 855 OSBA-LAWand we’ll be happy to provide you with other available resources.

Posted by Jennifer A. Hardin on 6/10/2022