The Broward school district is beginning a comprehensive review of its nepotism policy after embarrassing revelations about a vast family clan working in the bus division, superintendent James Notter said this week.
He said the policy is getting extra scrutiny in response to a Sun Sentinel investigation Feb. 25 detailing how Transportation Manager Lucille Greene, a grandmother, has had 13 relatives and six close family friends, including her pastor, working alongside her.
Since the story appeared, the Sun Sentinel has learned that Greene has at least two additional relatives: a niece and nephew, also working in the district: an office manager and mail hauler.
"We are certainly having deep discussions about the perception of nepotism and discrimination in the district," Notter said in an interview. "This district listens to its community and takes action where it's needed. We are looking at our policies and saying, are they working?"
Greene and her boss, Transportation Director Ruben Parker, were reassigned from their posts late last year while the district launched an investigation into allegations of mismanagement, which union officials say include nepotism, kickbacks in exchange for jobs, sexual harassment and other issues. Recently, Notter said he turned the matter over to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement because it was "too big" for district investigators to handle.
Nepotism itself is not illegal. But it creates perceptions of favoritism that can cause ill will in any organization or business. As the largest employer in Broward County, with about 37,550 workers, the district employs a raft of relatives, including husbands and wives, parents and children.
A review of the district's 2009-2010 personnel database shows about 2,400 people share a home phone number with at least one other employee. And more than 1,300 share an address with another staffer.
Notter said his staff will compare the district's nepotism policy with that of other large districts in Florida and present the findings within the next few months.
Broward's policy allows relatives to work for the district, even in the same office, but one cannot directly supervise another.
The Palm Beach County School District has a slightly stricter policy that addresses indirect supervision, in which certain employees can not manage a relative working in their chain of command.
Greene did not directly supervise family members, including a daughter, granddaughter and nieces, but had many working several levels under her, according to the district's organizational chart.
She is not the only manager with family ties in the same workplace.
Roy Norton, manager of grounds and custodial services, has a 20-year-old son, Jarrett, working in his division, driving tractors.
Hired as an apprentice bulldozer driver in 2007, Jarrett Norton spent a year in training before a district committee that included his father voted to let him complete his three-year program in just two years. Such advancements, while not unprecedented, are rare, said Jim Silvernale, an employee union official who sits on the eight-member committee. "We have had two or three cases like Jarrett's out of 50 apprentices in the program over the last four or five years," he said.
Program coordinator Steve Deery said Jarrett Norton "would have got hired and would have advanced quickly even if he didn't have his father overseeing the department."
But it still didn't sit well with some colleagues.
Dennis Brown, 52, a journeyman carpenter in the district, said he spent four years in the district's apprenticeship program when he was first hired 27 years ago.
"I had to sacrifice and be patient and wait," said Brown. "I don't think it's fair to the other apprentices for Jarrett to waltz in and get the rubies so quickly."
A federal jury last fall awarded Brown $210,000 after he sued the Broward district, claiming racial discrimination, nepotism and violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The district appealed the ruling earlier this month.
The Nortons did not return multiple messages left at their home and work.
The Physical Plant Operation Department, in which Norton is a manager, includes the custodial/grounds and maintenance departments. Working in the maintenance department are brothers Ted and William Mowery, who are both managers; and brothers Mark and Phillip Dorsett, a manager and supervisor, respectively. Their father, Thomas Dorsett, worked for the district for 17 years before retiring as a foreman carpenter. Mark Dorsett's wife, Barbara, is an information specialist in the equal educational opportunities department.
In the custodial/grounds department are brothers Richard and Robert Ellis, both supervisors, as well as Norton and his son, who does not report directly to him.
Deery said the apprenticeship committee believed Jarrett Norton's prior experience qualified him to skip a year of training. Jarrett worked for nearly a year clearing land, digging trenches and grading hills with heavy equipment for Action Excavation, said Tony Caccavale, who owns the Southwest Ranches company.
The committee discussed Jarrett Norton's advancement at two meetings in the summer of 2008. According to minutes of the meetings, Roy Norton abstained from voting on his son's advancement in July 2008, but there is no indication that he did in June 2008. Deery could not explain why.
Ron Eggenberger, who reports to Roy Norton and supervises Jarrett's boss, scoffed at the notion that some employees received favorable treatment.
"I am probably harder on [Jarrett] than anybody," said Eggenberger, the district's grounds manager. "I have to be impartial with every employee."
Jennifer Gollan can be reached at email@example.com or 954-572-2083.