Monday, September 19, 2011

Employees group: "This Commission should not be controlled by any mayor"

Posted By on Mon, Sep 19, 2011 at 2:51 PM

Baton Rouge attorney Arthur Smith today criticized Mayor Mitch Landrieu's attempts to change rules governing layoff procedure for city employees as "reminiscent of Gov. Huey P. Long."

Speaking before the New Orleans Civil Service Commission, Smith, along with former city employee Randolph Scott, presented the five-member Civil Service Commission — which is charged with oversight of the city's personnel department and is able to rewrite the rules that govern employee hiring, firing and discipline procedures — a six-page letter on behalf of the Concerned Classified City Employees group.

The letter specifically addresses a Landrieu proposal, which the board deferred in June and is yet to consider that would change the way the city lays off its employees, known as "bumping." Current rules (Rule XII) allow veteran employees whose departments are facing layoffs to "bump" other employees in any other city department. The Landrieu administration believes that bumping preference is given certain employees purely based on tenure, while employees opposed to the move say it's based largely on performance evaluations.

From the letter:

"... Political influence appears to be occurring in this situation. Indeed, it is our understanding that it is the Mayor's Office itself which has submitted the proposed amendment to Rule XII. It is my understanding that on October 14, 2010, The Times-Picayune quoted Mayor Landrieu as saying that he wants the Civil Service Commission to eliminate the system-wide system bumping rule and, if it doesn't, he will name new members who will go along with his ideas. This statement is reminiscent of the political control exercised by the late Governor Huey P. Long, whose control tactics led to the creation of the civil service system in the first place."

Emphasis added by author for the following reason: Today the commission did, in fact, welcome two new members, Loyola University president the Rev. Kevin Wildes and longtime public library employee Joseph Clark both of whom were backed by the administration. Just hours after his swearing in, Wildes was appointed new chairman of the commission, to audible jeering from a room packed with civil servants, attorneys and clergy, many of whom were there to support Smith and Scott. Dana Douglas, who's been on the board since 2004, was appointed vice chair.

More generally, Smith criticized a series of "so-called reforms" (said Smith) to civil service rules proposed in a March report by Minnesota-based consulting group the Public Strategies Group (PSG). PSG, in essence, recommended that restrictions on hiring and firing be lifted and managers be given more power over their personnel.

Many of the changes PSG recommended were based, and justified, by similar ones already put in place for state employees in Louisiana. The changes resulted in severely decreased morale among those workers, Smith said.

"I haven't seen one employees, as a result of these so-called reforms, demonstrate any confidence in the state Civil Service Commission," and its ability or inclination to protect them, Smith said. Smith said that the end game for the state had simply been to circumvent the system to make way for mass-firings, firings without cause and politically motivated job placement.

"My clients have had very little dialogue with the Landrieu administration," which has thus far refused to meet with the group, Smith said. "They would extend the offer to be involved [in any future rule change proposals] in any way that you, the Civil Service Commission, deem appropriate."

The commission heard a request from the city's Office of the Inspector General to hire two new employees independently, without going through the civil service department or the commission and whose jobs are not subject to civil service rules (unclassified employees). The employees, requested and to be paid for by the state, will be involved in investigating construction fraud in the state-run Recovery School District.

Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux said he had already interviewed a group of applicants for the unclassified position though he did not have commission permission to make the hires. That upset audience members enough, more so when he delivered news that the group came at the recommendation of a professor at Texas A&M University's Bush School of Government and Public Service, which last year made its own recommendations for civil service reforms in the City of New Orleans.

The commission approved Quatrevaux's request 5-0.

"It's a new commission, a new day," said a dejected Randolph Scott after the meeting.

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