A small group of city employees, organized by the group Concerned Classified City Employees, gathered tonight at the Little Zion Baptist Church hoping to develop a strategy to fight an attempt to overhaul the Landrieu administration's plan to overhaul the city's civil service system.
The group, led by Randolph Scott, began meeting last year to protest a proposed change to a procedure for reemploying laid off employees — called "bumping" — and the appointment of Loyola University President Rev. Kevin Wildes to the Civil Service Commission, the policy making body for personnel rules.
"Now this is coming to a head here. We were fighting for bumping before. Now we're fighting for the very existence of civil service," Scott said tonight.
The meeting was called in response to a package of proposed changes to the civil service rules recently uncovered by the Police Association of New Orleans. According to an internal city memo, those changes could go to the Civil Service Commission as early as October 15.
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The changes outlined in two draft proposals, prepared over the summer by contracted consulting firm the Public Strategies Group, would give department managers and the city's executive branch more power in hiring, firing and promotions. They would also shrink the size of the Civil Service Department, which now handles recruitment and is tasked with ensuring personnel decisions are made in compliance with civil service rules. Civil Service's recruitment functions would be handed over to the Human Resources Department, which would be within the office of Deputy Mayor and Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin.
Officials for the mayor's office have said that the proposed changes are intended to increase efficiency and allow managers to make decisions based on merit. But Scott believes they will eliminate vital protections established to minimize political patronage.
"I would classify this as a category 5 hurricane," Scott said. "Category 5 is total destruction ... Your merit and tenure would no longer be recognized."
The changes will ultimately have to go before the Commission for a vote, but many see that vote as a foregone conclusion. Wildes, who chairs the Commission, has already been identified as being involved — a leader in fact — in the plan's development.
"Rev. Wildes himself has been a leader in getting this done," Scott said. "That's been reported. He has not denied it."
The group intends to retain an attorney, J. Arthur Smith (who has worked with them before), to fight the proposal, but is short on funds. Members started up a collection tonight, but there were fewer than two dozen people at the meeting. Retired city employee Ronald Coleman said the group should set a goal of $5,000 by the beginning of next week.
"Because time is not on your side," Coleman said.
Several meeting attendees volunteered for various outreach jobs, including media and city employee engagement, as well as passing out fliers in area churches.
"If it's wrong you can fight it, but it costs money," said Tanya Wilson, who works in the Department of Finance. "[Smith] is not going to fight on my pretty smile."