Civil Service Comm. delays vote on allowing OIG access to confidential personnel records

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In its monthly meeting today, the New Orleans Civil Service Commission (CSC) delayed for a second month a vote on an agreement allowing the city Office of the Inspector General (OIG) access to confidential city employee personnel records, including job counseling and evaluation reports and reports of internal investigations "on the character, personality and history of employees" in civil service. The OIG says it needs the records for investigations into patterns of employee misconduct and, if any exist, whether departmental disciplinary response has been appropriate.

The agreement, initially scheduled for a vote during the October CSC meeting, has thus far met with stiff resistance from representatives from the police and fire unions as well as the Concerned Classified City Employees group. CSC Chair Kevin Wildes today advised representatives from the OIG to meet with the employee groups before the next meeting on Dec. 19, to attempt to reach a compromise on the policy. A draft report from those talks is set to be published prior to the meeting.

"We see a lot of problems with this," said Claude Schlesinger, attorney for the Fraternal Order of Police.

(More after the jump)

Specifically, Schlesinger said, it's not restrictive enough. Schlesinger and others were troubled by the fact that the OIG request couldn't say exactly what type of information it needed and how it would be used in investigations. Plus, he said, the agreement request fails to make a distinction between the OIG and the Independent Police Monitor (IPM), a police oversight agency within the OIG. Schlesinger said there's nothing in the agreement saying that IPM investigations into police personnel wouldn't, in fact, be guided, by the OIG or that the personnel records would be destroyed after an investigation.

"When does an investigation end?" Schlesinger said.

IPM Susan Hutson and OIG general counsel Suzanne Lacey said that such access is normal in other cities which do not have equivalents to the Civil Service Commission. The CSC's position as a constitutionally guaranteed entity with the power of law is near unique, Lacey said.

Hutson, who before coming to New Orleans in 2010 worked at the Los Angeles Police Commission's Office of the Inspector General, said that OIG access to personnel records was recommended by the U.S. Justice Department in its consent decree with the LAPD. The NOPD will soon face similar federal oversight.

Commissioner Amy Glovinsky asked Hutson whether the justice department has a stated position on NOPD records. Hutson said it has not announced one.

"(The consent decree) hasn't been published yet. We don't know what's going to be on it," Schlesinger said.

Commissioner Joseph Clark said he intended to vote against the agreement, saying that the IG and the IPM could already access any personnel records they need, including confidential ones, provided they have a court order.

"If it's cumbersome, that's because there are safeguards," protecting employee privacy, Clark said. "If it's really cumbersome and you really need it, you'll be motivated enough to get it."

Glovinsky disagreed, saying that subpoena power doesn't constitute a viable alternative to ready access.

"We have to be concerned about government efficiency, efficiency of time and resources," Glovinsky said.

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