Indiana secretary of state under fire for appointing brother-in-law to top post

New Indiana Secretary of State Diego Morales has hired his brother-in-law for a top position paying a six-figure salary, in a move that has drawn criticism as crossing an ethical line.

Shawn Grady began working as the co-director of the office’s Auto Dealer Services Division on Feb. 6, Deputy Secretary of State Jerold Bonnet told The Indianapolis Star. Grady previously worked as a sales consultant at a car dealership in southern Indiana and is married to Morales’ sister.

While critics raised questions of nepotism in the hiring, state law doesn’t prohibit state employees from hiring brothers-in-law or sisters-in-law.

The hiring represents another controversy for Morales, a Republican who took office Jan. 1 after winning election despite twice being ousted from low-level jobs in that office and allegations that he possibly committed voter fraud while running for a congressional seat in 2018.

Bonnet said Grady was recommended for the job ‘as a person with more than 5 years’ experience in auto dealer operations and extensive management experience.’

The Auto Dealer Services Division has previously had a single director, but Grady was hired as its co-director with a $108,000 salary along with Kyle Bonick, an attorney who was previously the division’s deputy director, The Star reported.

Bonnet said the office determined the responsibilities of the role are best met by two directors ‘due to the diversity and complexity of evolving agency duties with respect to motor vehicle consumers, manufacturers, distributors, dealers, resellers, and salvagers.’

One is an attorney who will focus on registration, licensing, investigation and enforcement, Bonnet said. The other, he said, is ‘an individual with industry experience, focused on consumer issues, dealer training and compliance, administration of the Indiana Motor Vehicle Sales Advisory Board, and mediation of manufacturer-dealer disputes.’

Grady did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday from The Associated Press.

Even though the hiring doesn’t violate the state’s nepotism law, ‘when you give the appearance of impropriety, it could cause problems,’ said Paul Helmke, an Indiana University civics professor and former Republican mayor of Fort Wayne.

Helmke suggested that the secretary of state’s office could have sought a formal opinion from the state ethics commission before hiring Grady.

‘It might not be a technical violation but when you’re talking about taxpayer dollars being used to pay for somebody’s position, you want to make it clear that somebody’s not getting favorable treatment because of that relationship,’ Helmke said.

Indiana Democratic Party chairman Mike Schmuhl criticized Morales for ‘hiring people for the personal gain of himself and his family.’

‘This kind of nepotism erodes trust in government and compromises the ability of public officials to serve Hoosiers transparently and effectively,’ Schmuhl said in a statement.

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