For a third month, the New Orleans Civil Service Commission has delayed a vote on a major change to city employment policies. The proposed change is an agreement between the Civil Service Department and the Office of Inspector General (OIG) and would provide the OIG, as well the Independent Police Monitor (an autonomous office within the OIG), unfettered access to now-confidential personnel records.
The policy — opposed in its original form by the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) and the Concerned Classified City Employees group — is scheduled for a vote during the commission's January 2012 meeting.
City employees have been bracing for significant rules changes for nearly a year, but so far, little has come. One proposal, backed by Deputy Mayor/Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin, would alter a long-standing layoff procedure known as "bumping." That measure was deferred twice last summer and has not since come up for a vote.
The commission originally was scheduled to vote on OIG records access in October but opted to delay when FOP attorneys objected that they had not been given time to read the proposal and prepare a response. The commission delayed a vote again in November to give the employee groups and OIG staff an opportunity to negotiate a compromise. Last week, OIG acting general counsel Suzanne Lacey Wisdom requested the vote be deferred again until the first meeting of the new year.
"We were unable to reach a consensus," says FOP Secretary-Treasurer Jim Gallagher. Wisdom could not be reached for comment.
The confidential records in question include job counseling and evaluation reports and reports of internal investigations "on the character, personality and history of employees" covered by civil service. According to an October letter from Lacey requesting the change, the OIG is mandated by city ordinance to investigate employee conduct, which, Wisdom argues, necessitates access to the records.
"The OIG will have its hands tied if it is unable to have full access to employee files in order to perform its investigations," she wrote.
But Commissioner Joseph Clark, who in November said he would vote against the proposal, argues that OIG staff is given access to the records if a court decides it's necessary. "If it's cumbersome, that's because there are safeguards (protecting employee privacy)," Clark said during the commission's November meeting. "If it's really cumbersome and you really need it, you'll be motivated enough to get it." — Charles Maldonado