OGDEN -- The Weber County Mosquito Abatement Board may be dealing with problems like the West Nile virus, but an issue with its choice of employees has been taking up the time of new director Ryan Arkoudas. Allegations of nepotism persist concerning the hiring of the former director's daughter to a full-time position worth more than $70,000 a year.
"The board approved the hiring of the director's daughter for a part-time position, but as she was not supervised by her father, it technically did not violate any state laws regarding nepotism. But she has a full-time position now, and makes about $70,000 per year," said Stacey Haws, a former Riverdale city council member.
The former director, Bruce Bennett, served as director for about 20 years and on the board for about 30 in other positions. He announced his retirement at a board meeting in January. After an interim period, Ryan Arkoudas, who has worked in Davis County's mosquito abatement program, was hired to fill his position. During an early, closed meeting of the board, one member brought up the employment of Becky Christiansen, Bennett's daughter and the administrative assistant/bookkeeper.
Christiansen, according to Arkoudas, had been a part-time employee beginning in 2002. She worked part time for four years before she was hired as an administrative assistant full time. The 16-member board approved her hiring, the same as all the other employees at Weber Mosquito Abatement.
"She was a seasonal employee at first. At this point, she has been doing the bookkeeping for several years. When I was initially hired, I spoke with the board, and there was one board member who brought up the issue. I spoke with (Weber County) Commissioner Gibson, and he left it up to me to decide what to do. I told the board I wanted to give it a few weeks, and I decided she was somebody I wanted to keep on," Arkoudas said.
The transparency.utah.gov website lists Christiansen's paid compensation totaling $70,510, including $47,737 salary and $22,773 benefits.
Commissioner Kerry Gibson is currently chairman of the mosquito abatement board, but he was not involved with the agency when Christiansen was hired. However, when he found out that Christiansen was working there, he went to then-Director Bennett and spoke with him about the situation. He felt that it was his duty to make sure that there was no inappropriate or illegal activity involved with hiring a close relative.
"At first, from what I could tell, she was working for Bennett, and I thought that was not acceptable. I went to him and told him the situation had to be rectified. Then he retired. As soon as I became aware of the situation, I took the steps to rectify the situation and correct the problem," Gibson said.
Ultimately, Arkoudas was left to decide what to do about the situation. Utah has laws in place prohibiting the hiring of close relatives in certain situations, and the board had approved her full-time status several years earlier. He decided, with support from Gibson, to give Christiansen a trial period lasting weeks to determine if she was suitable to work in her position. He concluded that she was, but acknowledges why Gibson and others might have felt concerned. Arkoudas said:
"I can tell you, from my experience working with her, that she is qualified. I can't speak for seven years ago, and I didn't feel like I could just let her go, but I needed to see what her qualifications were."