Proposed Civil Service Commission meeting rules: Who's allowed to speak?



The New Orleans Civil Service Commission is scheduled to vote Monday on new meeting procedures, theoretically intended to make the meetings more orderly. (More at The Times-Picayune.)

One section that civil servants will probably like deals with closed executive sessions. As it stands, the Commission schedules executive sessions prior to nearly every meeting, often without a stated reason, which employee groups have recently claimed is illegal.

Under state law, a public body may call a closed meeting in a limited number of exceptional circumstances — like discussion of pending litigation or collective bargaining — and must state the reason for the closure. The new proposals explicitly state that the Commission must abide by that law.

For the most part, the 18-page rulebook brings the (admittedly sometimes chaotic) meetings in line with City Council policy, including the new Sandra Wheeler Hester-inspired ban on unauthorized recording.

Like City Council, an attendee who is found by the presiding body to be disruptive and refuses to comply with Commission requests to leave can be fined and potentially jailed. In City Council, there's a maximum $50 fine and 30 days jail time, per a city ordinance that only applies to City Council Chambers. The applicable law here addresses breaches of security in public buildings, a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $100 and as much as five months incarceration.

And as in City Council, attendees wishing to make public comments must fill out a speaker request card and can only speak for a limited time. There's where things get convoluted.

There are five classifications of speakers in the rule. First, city officials or representatives of same, who will not have to fill out a card prior to speaking or presenting. Moreover, unlike speakers from the general public — including city employees — it appears that there are no time limits on speakers from city government. They can speak until the chairman — the Rev. Kevin Wildes, president of Loyola University — tells them to stop, which Randolph Scott of the Concerned Classified City Employees group says is unfair.

"The administration gets to talk for four hours, but city workers only get a minute?" he says.

The comment cards, shown in the proposed rulebook, have four speaker classifications and give a varying time limit for each. A civil servant who has a representative with him or her may address the Commission for one minute. A civil servant without a representative may speak for three minutes. A representative gets 10 minutes. And a none-of-the-above gets three minutes.

The rulebook doesn't define "representative." No document — city code or the state or city civil service rules — appears to, actually. I asked city personnel director Lisa Hudson, who said that "representative," as used here, would apply to attorneys or unions.

Presumably unions would include the recognized police associations — like the Fraternal Order of Police, the Police Association of New Orleans and the Black Organization of Police — the International Association of Fire Fighters or SEIU Local 21, which represents about 600 city employees, president Helene O'Brien told Gambit in September.

What's less clear is whether other groups count as "representatives." Among the more active organizations involved in Civil Service Commission politics is Scott's group — the Concerned Classified Civil Service Employees — which is relatively new and not yet an incorporated nonprofit, let alone a recognized collective bargaining unit.

"I can't answer that," Hudson said when asked whether that group or others like it would be covered under the 10-minute "representative" rule. Hudson referred me to Commission-contracted attorney Gilbert Buras, who assisted in drafting the proposal. Buras was not immediately available for comment.

Scott said the rules weren't clear on who or what qualifies.

"I'm really not sure I can give you a definite answer," he said. "That would be a good question to ask the commission during Monday's meeting."

Update: Scott has drafted an alternate version of the proposed rules, which would diminish the Commission chair's power to set speaking time limits, require 30 days notice before voting on any policy changes, ban votes on agenda items added mid-meeting and require a video or audio record of all meetings, which record will be retained permanently.

Read the full proposal, with Scott's revisions in red and blue, here: PROCEDURES_FOR_THE_CSC_Meeting.pdf

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