The New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) failed to convince the city Civil Service Commission to approve the creation of a new, unclassified position for its current public information officer, Remi Braden, at the commission's May 21 meeting. The request had been pending since April and was made after Braden — an independent contractor — was involved in a minor accident while driving a city take-home car. City vehicles are supposed to be available only to full-time city employees.
Researchers for the Civil Service Department found there was no reason for creating a new position because Braden's job only involves the dissemination of information produced by police employees; she does not participate in strategy or policy decisions. Furthermore, researchers found there is already an equivalent classified position — 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, to commissioners.
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 and access to a take-home car — came to at least $116,000, roughly $25,000 more than Braden's current contract.
Burkart said the department, which has faced increasing criticism from both FOP and the Police Association of New Orleans for what they say is a shortage in personnel, could pay the salaries of several police officers for $116,000.
"Our priorities are not public relations," Burkart said.
In other action, the commission granted the city's request to create 43 new temporary unclassified positions related to federally funded capital projects. This was despite the Civil Service 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 dry up in future budget 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 are expected to continue for at least several more. There also was 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 lay off or furlough classified employees, replacing them with temporary ones.
Despite those objections, the commission approved the positions in a 4-1 vote. — Charles Maldonado