What kind of job doesn’t have any competition to apply, lets a person keep their brother employed, gives their husband (who helps approve the budget) a mowing contract, gets paid to use their house as a seldom-used office and have part of their phone paid for? And, oh yeah, it’s all on the taxpayer’s dime?
The job is rural township trustee.
Township government has more offices and elected officials than any other form of government in Indiana. State law creates an environment in which trustees and their relatives in low-population townships have free reign in the office.
A Courier & Press investigation found that more than half of the 38 townships in Vanderburgh, Warrick, Posey and Gibson counties employ relatives, award contracts to relatives or have a trustee’s relative on the advisory board that oversees the office.
‘THERE’S NO ONE ELSE’
Wabash Township is in southwestern Gibson County. It’s sparsely populated with fewer than 36 homes and a pair of river camps along the White River. It’s also rich in oil and farmland.
With its small size, Wabash Township spends more per person than any of the 1,005 township offices in the state of Indiana.
Dorothy Jaquemai is the trustee in charge of it all. But there’s little welfare assistance awarded to residents and the township doesn’t pay for fire protection, two of the key roles of township government.
In the last nine years, the township has provided six households with assistance.
What the township does spend money on is the Jaquemai family and their housing.
About 70 percent of the township’s expenses last year went to Jaquemai and her family:
Jaquemai grew up with township government. Her mother was trustee for years until she died in 2011. Her brother, DeWayne Wade, is now trustee in neighboring Montgomery Township.
- Dorothy’s $12,512 annual salary
- Her brother DeWayne Wade’s $2,945 annual salary
- Her husband Jerry’s $874 annual salary for being an township advisory board member
- Her husband Jerry’s $2,450 in payments for mowing an 8-acre cemetery
- $2,850 for home office rent, utilities, internet and phone
- $376 for mileage reimbursement for Dorothy
Wade also works in the Wabash Township office. Over the past five years he’s earned $13,443.
Jaquemai said of her brother’s role in the Wabash Trustee’s office: “He doesn’t really do much of anything other than answer my questions.”
Before her mother died, Jaquemai served on the board. “I was at a total loss of how to do anything,” she said. His role will soon be phased out, she said.
Wade has been on the township payroll for at least a decade – several years before Dorothy Jaquemai became a trustee.
Her husband Jerry is also on the township’s advisory board, which approves the township budget annually.
When her mother was township trustee, Dorothy and Jerry Jaquemai served on the board.
It’s hard to find anyone else in their sparsely populated township to run for the board or trustee.
“There’s nobody that wants to do it. There really isn’t anyone who will take it. It’s hard to even get people on the board. … You only have about 20 people, and half of them you don’t want," she said.
There’s nothing illegal about townships paying for relatives, having their rent and phone paid for, and other deals.
Ryan Preston, an employee of the Indiana State Board of Accounts, acts as a kind of customer service representative for township trustees.
Preston helps when trustees and their offices have questions or problems, and helps when there are new rules for offices.
Indiana passed sweeping nepotism rules in 2012. It was straightforward: relatives – spouses, parents, siblings, children, nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles and some in-laws – could not be hired to work directly underneath a relative.
There were exceptions for township trustees.
If the township office is in the trustee’s home, they can hire a relative if the person makes less than $5,000 a year in wages and benefits. There was also a grandfather clause: Relatives hired to work in a township office before 2012 could make more than $5,000 per year and not have to work out of the home.
That’s the caveat that allowed Vanderburgh County Scott Township Trustee Bob Harris to employ his wife Barbara Harris at an annual salary of $13,440 in 2016.
Since the nepotism law was implemented, Barbara Harris’ salary has increased 14.8 percent.
The same applies for Ryan Hall, spouse to Hart Township Trustee Kelly Hall in Warrick County.
Ryan Hall received $5,540 in 2016. That includes a $3,500 contract to mow and maintain the township’s three cemeteries, a contract he’s had for more than a decade.
Trustees also have the discretion to rent office space to the township out of their home.
“We will not take exception to that as long as you don’t exceed the board authorized rent,” Preston said.
Twenty-seven of 38 area township governments are based out of the trustee’s house. The average number of households those trustees helped in 2016 was 14, with a median of 6. More than half of the townships based in homes helped fewer than 10 households last year.
Four township offices didn’t provide any poor relief in 2016: Armstrong and Union townships in Vanderburgh County and Wabash and Washington townships in Gibson County.
They also can be reimbursed for Internet and telephone usage.
Taxpayers paid about $60,000 last year for rent paid to trustees working out of their homes in the four-county area.
Hundreds of the 1,005 townships in Indiana are managed in similar ways.
“I would say it’s probably pretty common, especially in your smaller ones,” Preston said.
The pay for the clerks isn’t that much – less than $5,000 a year for those not grandfathered in – and there aren’t a lot of people applying for a job like that, he said.
Preston doesn’t think there is an issue of nepotism within township government.
“It’s because of the number of people involved with townships. I don’t know that nepotism is a huge problem when it comes to employees. Most of your smaller townships are just a trustee and a clerk, or just a trustee,” Preston said.
Relatives don’t just work in the township office – some trustee relatives serve on the board that approves the township budget, including salary increases, or are awarded contracts for quasi employment.
ADVISORY BOARDS AND MOWING LAWNS
About 18 percent of the trustee’s offices in the four-county area have a relative on the advisory board.
Each of the 1,005 township offices in Indiana also have a three-person advisory board. Like the trustee, the advisory board is a partisan, elected position with a four-year term. There are 3,015 advisory board members, more than any other taxing unit in the state.
Since the trustee and advisory board members are elected positions, the state’s nepotism rules do not apply.
The township boards don’t have many duties and responsibilities beyond approving the budget, Preston said.
“It’s different than a city council. They have far less duties as far as day-to-day operations go. In a city and town, before a check is supposed to be distributed, the city council approves those payments.
"An advisory board sets the budget, but (doesn't) have to be involved with payments being received. So the board says a trustee can only spend $1,000 on office supplies. It’s up to the trustee whether to go to Staples or Office Depot," Preston said.
The board also approves trustee contracts, including contracts for fire protection and to mow trustee property.
There’s nothing illegal with having a relative on contract employment, Preston said, so long as disclosure documents are filed.
However, elected trustees aren’t allowed to double-dip and get extra cash for mowing township cemeteries.
The State Board of Accounts has twice in recent years sent out advisory bulletins to trustees about mowing contracts. Basically, the State Board of Accounts opinion is that trustees are paid an annual salary, and since the trustee duties include “provide and maintain cemeteries,” that salary already covers cemeteries.
Most trustees contract mowing work out, however. Often, for rural townships the contracts go to family members.
Sometimes board members who are also related to trustees get the mowing contract.
Jerry Jaquemai is both on the Wabash Township Advisory Board in Gibson County and husband of the trustee.
He mows the township’s lone 8-acre cemetery for $2,450 per year.
“No one wants to mow that one. Reason is because it’s so far away so to get even anybody to do it would probably cost me three times,” Dorothy Jaquemai said.
He’s had the contract since at least 2010, per state records. Before that, a local lawn care company had the contract. In 2009, the payout for lawn care to that company was $1,638. When Jerry got the contract the following year, he received $2,450.
Relatives maintaining cemeteries in Union Township in Vanderburgh County, as well.
In 2016, Tim Steinkamp, the cousin of Union Township Trustee Joe Steinkamp, earned $3,840 for mowing three cemeteries in the southwest Vanderburgh County township.
Tim Steinkamp’s kids are the ones who do the actual mowing.
"He has mowers sitting around and kids that don't have enough to do," Joe Steinkamp said with a chuckle. The kids live next to one of the cemeteries they mow.
In the last five years, the mowing contract to cousin Tim Steinkamp increased 60 percent, from $2,400 in 2012 to $3,840 in 2016.
The township also paid $960 to Brian Redman for mowing the fourth cemetery, a tiny plot. Redman lives next to it, Steinkamp said.
For the 12 years Ruth Ann Hurt has been trustee of Center Township in Gibson County, her husband Virgil has taken care of two cemeteries for $3,400.
“You can get anyone you want to mow it,” Hurt said.
Before her election, the township cemeteries weren’t well-maintained, she said.
“If I was going to be trustee and be responsible for the cemeteries I was going to make sure that it got done,” she said.
Knight Township, Vanderburgh County Chief Deputy Paula Hurt said the expenses the smaller townships pay for mowing isn't that high when taking into account the length of the mowing season and the difficulties of mowing a cemetery.
Hurt said Knight's mowing contract include mowing its one cemetery for 26 weeks.
"We need to thank those people," she said.