The New Orleans Civil Service Commission (CSC) today delayed for one month a vote on recently proposed rules that would limit time for public comment and impose a criminal penalty for disruptions. The vote for delay came after employee groups raised an objection that the CSC's contracted attorney, Gilbert Buras, was unable to address.
Section 2 of the 18-page rulebook establishes the presiding officer — CSC Chairman the Rev. Kevin Wildes in the current commission — as the person responsible for preserving order. Subsection 2E gives him the power to order out anyone found to be creating a disturbance during a meeting. If that person fails to comply, he or she can be charged with a misdemeanor that carries a possibly 5-month jail sentence and $100 fine.
"As an employee of the New Orleans Police Department, if were to be arrested, I would be terminated," Jim Gallagher of the Fraternal Order of Police said. He added that an NOPD officer would be subject to firing — or some other disciplinary action — as soon as he or she were charged, even if later acquitted.
In that case, the CSC would be the body responsible for overseeing any appeal of that termination, a potential conflict, since its members would also be witnesses to the alleged infraction (and would likely all have to recuse themselves).
"That's a good point," Buras said. "If the commission holds someone in contempt, can it then hold over a termination hearing?"
He said he didn't have an answer.
In an interview after today's meeting, FOP attorney Raymond Burkart said the problem goes beyond police. Any city employee charged with breaching security at City Hall could, in theory, face disciplinary action, then have to appeal it to his or her own accusers.
"We're talking about a due process issue," Burkart said.
Other employees groups, notably the Concerned Classified Civil Service Employees group led by Randolph Scott, have identified a number of issues with the proposals — that they limit public speaking time too much while giving government representatives unlimited time, that they give Wildes too much power to guide the meetings — characterizing them as attempts to silence opposition to Landrieu administration-proposed changes to the city's civil service system.
"Why and why now?" Burkart said. "These meetings are not known to be boisterous. They're not known to be rude. They're relatively civil."
Delay on NOPD request to redesignate spokesperson
The CSC also delayed action on a request from Deputy Mayor of Public Safety Lt. Col. Jerry Sneed that Remi Braden — NOPD's contracted spokesperson — be designated a full-time unclassified position.
Braden's $91,000 contract expired in March. The unclassified position would reduce her salary to $83,000 but would allow her access to a city car, not available to contractors. She was, of course, driving one anyway until last month.
City personnel director Lisa Hudson said the change was requested to be put onto today's agenda only a few days ago, and her department didn't have enough time to analyze the change and present a report.
Asked by commission members why the city was asking for the change so suddenly, Sneed said, "Her contract was expired ... As we were going through redoing the contract, this occurred to us."
He did not cite the vehicle as the reason for the change.
Burkart questioned the city's haste in making the request and hoped that personnel would carefully study whether the position — with an annual salary equal to that of more than two police recruits — could be filled by a classified police officer already with the department. He also said that the request — made with such urgency — shouldn't rank as a priority over personnel increases and adequate law enforcement equipment.