The New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) was not able to convince the city Civil Service Commission to approve the creation of a new, unclassified position for its currently contracted public information officer, Remi Braden, at today's commission meeting.
Researchers in the city personnel department found that there was no reason for creating a new position since the job primarily involves the dissemination of information produced entirely by classified police officers rather than independent policy making. Furthermore, there is already an equivalent classified Civil Service position, researchers found — marketing development coordinator — currently in use by one other city agency — the French Market Corporation.
The maximum salary for the marketing development coordinator position, however, is just over $70,000. NOPD hoped to pay Braden $83,000.
"To equate a public safety public information officer with the French Market Corporation is ludicrous," said Lt. Col. Jerry Sneed, deputy mayor of public safety.
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But Raymond Burkart, an attorney for the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), pointed out that the actual annual value of the position NOPD was requesting — including benefits as well as access to a take-home car — came to at least $116,000, $25,000 more than Braden's contract is worth.
Burkart said the department, which has faced criticism from both FOP and the Police Association of New Orleans for what they say is a shortage in personnel, could afford several police officers for $116,000.
"Our priorities are not public relations," Burkart said.
The NOPD's request died when no commission member moved to bring it to a vote.
The commission today granted the city its request to create 43 new temporary unclassified positions related to federally funded capital projects. This was despite the personnel department's findings that 40 of the requested positions — primarily project management and financial analysis and support — are, like the NOPD position, already covered by city classifications.
Deputy Mayor Cedric Grant argued that, since the positions are federally funded and the money for them might be cut off in future years, departments needed salary-setting, hiring and firing flexibility not offered under Civil Service Rules for classified positions. Others at the meeting, including Randolph Scott of the Concerned Classified City Employees group, disagreed, pointing out that the capital projects requiring these employees have been ongoing for several years and planned to continue for at least several more. There was also some concern among attendees that the city, thus far unable to push through a number of changes to the Civil Service Rules, was planning to layoff or furlough classified employees, replacing them with temporary ones.
Despite the department's findings and objections of attendees, the commission approved the positions in a 4-1 vote. Joseph Clark was the dissenting vote.
The Civil Service Commission also unanimously approved a new set of meeting procedures. Before the vote, the new rules were amended from the original version written by attorney Gilbert Buras. The amendments included the removal of one provision requiring that anyone found to be disrupting a meeting be charged with a misdemeanor, a problem since a charge could result in departmental disciplinary action which would then be appealed before the Commission, who, as witnesses to the inciting event, would presumably all have to recuse themselves.