Civil Service Commission: Employee group reps blast personnel overhaul plan

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Police Association of New Orleans (PANO) attorney Eric Hessler today told the New Orleans Civil Service Commission that Mayor Mitch Landrieu's proposal — still in the works — to overhaul the city's civil service rules would open the door to abuse and political patronage in the city personnel decisions. Hessler also criticized Commission members for working closely with the administration on the plan in spite of their position as independent arbiters with a responsibility to protect the best interests of city workers.

"The proposed rule changes as we see them ... are extremely damaging to your mandate to guard against political patronage, assure fair testing occurs and that promoting, hiring and firing decisions are above board," Hessler said, speaking at today's commission meeting.

In September, PANO uncovered internal administration documents — draft plans written by Minnesota-based consultant the Public Strategies Group — as well as correspondence that identified Loyola University President and Civil Service Commission Chairman Rev. Kevin Wildes as a leader in developing the proposals. The Civil Service Commission would ultimately have to vote on adopting any changes to civil service rules.

From our earlier report:

The drafts, prepared over the summer by the Minnesota-based consulting firm Public Strategies Group (PSG), contain recommendations to change current hiring and promotions rules that initially were put in place as protections against political considerations in personnel decisions. The draft proposals would give managers more leeway to pick prospective hires from a larger pool of applicants. It also would open all positions to external applicants as well as laid-off employees and those up for promotion, at management's discretion. The suggestions, as written now, would eliminate universal entrance exams, develop a merit pay system and seek to reduce the number of disciplinary appeals.

A memo from last summer indicated that city officials had hoped to introduce a full plan by last month, with a commission vote for today. However, the city has yet to submit anything to the commission, meaning a vote will likely not come until 2013.

Both Wildes and Commissioner Dana Douglas said that since nothing official has come before the commission yet, it would be premature to discuss what are now only drafts at today's meeting.

"We will hold public hearings," before any vote, Wildes said.

(More after the jump)

Hessler said that because of the apparent input from commission members, he was concerned about possible violations of open meetings laws. In September, Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin — who is leading the overhaul for the city — told Gambit that, to his knowledge, no such violations had occurred.

"We think the current system can work," Hessler said. He noted that one of the stated goals of the overhaul was to increase efficiency in the Department of Civil Service and criticized the commission for a failure to investigate — or even vote to investigate — and respond to employee complaints within required deadlines. "I think that's something that can be addressed by the commission without [the overhaul] ... I don't think we're asking for frivolous investigations."

Commissioner Dana Douglas said the commission would take that point under advisement.

Randolph Scott, who heads up the employees group, Concerned Classified City Employees, also criticized the draft plans and Wildes' role in them.

"I think it's quite disturbing that the chairman of this commission has been participating in these drastic proposals," Scott said. "Your mandate is to protect us and not to destroy us. We expect you to live up to that mandate."

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