First-year Boston City Councilor Tania Fernandes Anderson hired her sister and her son to her council staff earlier this year, moves that would appear to violate the state’s law that aims to prohibit nepotism in the public sector.
Fernandes Anderson, who made history last fall as the first African immigrant, first formerly undocumented person, and first Muslim to be elected to the city’s legislative body, said in a Friday statement that the matter represented an honest mistake and that she ended their employment as soon as she learned their presence on her staff violated ethics rules.
She hired her sister, Aline Mercury, on Jan. 3 as her director of constituent services. Mercury remained in her role until Aug. 31, according to City Hall documents obtained by the Globe through a public records request.
On July 16, Fernandes Anderson also hired her son, Louis Roca, to manage office operations and help with constituent services, a role he held until Aug. 31, according to the records.
An advisory explaining the Massachusetts law pertaining to nepotism in public office states that “a public official may not hire an immediate family member.” Immediate family is defined in the statute as a “the employee and his spouse, and their parents, children, brothers and sisters.”
“The conflict law prohibits a public employee from participating in any particular matter in which a family member has a financial interest,” reads the advisory. “The decision to hire is a particular matter in which an official is ‘personally and substantially’ participating, and the family member has an obvious financial interest in the hiring decision.”
In a Friday statement, Fernandes Anderson said, “As a new city councilor, it was a priority for me to hire staff who I could fully trust shared my commitment to providing timely constituent services for District 7 residents.”
“Aline and Louis did incredible work for our communities, but their employment was terminated the same day that I learned about the ethical concerns,” she said. “They brought experience and commitment to public service to our neighborhoods, but I would not have offered them these positions had I known that it violated state ethical regulations.”
The State Ethics Commission, the independent agency that provides free advice to all public employees on the state’s conflict of interest law, and civilly enforces that statute, does not confirm nor deny the cases it is reviewing.
Christine O’Donnell, the compliance director and staff counsel for the Boston City Council, said in a Friday e-mail that all city employees, including councilors, participate in an online ethics training every two years, adding that all new employees, including councilors, also complete an online course.
Mercury’s annual compensation was $65,000, while Roca’s was $55,000, according to Fernandes Anderson.
Boston city councilors make $103,500 annually and the personnel budgets for each City Council office tops $300,000. (The council president’s personnel budget is higher, at $366,000.)
Last fall, Fernandes Anderson was among a slate of newcomers elected to the city’s legislative body, after five open races brought significant turnover. She had never previously run for public office.
Her professional background is mostly in social services, in which she worked for 27 years. She was an HIV counselor and tester, a child and family service coordinator for non-English speaking families, and a career counselor for the homeless, among other roles.
Before her election, she was most recently the executive director of Bowdoin Geneva Main Streets.
In last September’s preliminary contest, Fernandes Anderson, who first arrived to Boston from Cape Verde when she was 10, finished first in the eight-way race to succeed Kim Janey, with a platform focused on improving affordable housing and funneling more resources to the district. She cruised to victory in the general election, soundly defeating perennial candidate and pastor Roy Owens Sr.
She represents District 7, which includes parts of the South End and Fenway but is anchored in Roxbury.