In The News › New Orleans city employees rise up in defiance of Landrieu’s Civil Service package

Apr 21, 2014

Source: | The Times-Picayune

Filed under: Civil Service, Orleans Parish

New Orleans city employees rise up in defiance of Landrieu’s Civil Service package

By Robert McClendon | The Times-Picayune

April 21, 2014

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu has a fight on his hands.

Dozens of New Orleans city employees, many of them first responders, descended on City Hall on Monday, united in opposition to his proposed civil service overhaul.

They wasted no time in making their opinions known.

As Andy Kopplin, the mayor’s chief administrative officer, opened the meeting with an overview of the mayor’s agenda, he attempted to head off some of the criticism by telling the commission what the overhaul is not.

It is not, he said, an effort to erode protections that civil service employees enjoy. “We are completely dedicated to keeping politics out of the hiring process,” Kopplin said.

As he finished his sentence, derisive laughter and mutters of “yeah right” drowned him out.

The New Orleans Civil Service system, enshrined in the Louisiana Constitution and the city’s charter, was created to keep politics from influencing public employment and to prevent patronage.

The Civil Service Commission presides over the system and has the authority to create and amend rules on hiring, promotions and pay raises. Its five members are nominated by each of the city’s private universities and approved by the City Council. About 85 percent of the city’s 4,362 employees fall under the Civil Service merit system.

According to the Landrieu administration, several civic and business groups, and at least one member of the commission, Edward Paul Cohn, the Civil Service system has become sclerotic, so rigid that managers cannot hire the best people for the job in a timely fashion.

Landrieu’s proposal would expand his and future administrations’ power over hiring, pay and promotions.

Among other provisions, the city would be allowed to hire anyone who met certain minimum education and experience standards, rather than only from the top three candidates, as ranked by the Civil Service, usually by way of a written test.

Similarly, rather than promote in order from a ranked list, the administration could promote anyone who meets the qualifications and passes the test. Employees on special assignment could be given temporary raises.

Representatives from the Business Council of New Orleans, Citizens for 1 Greater New Orleans, the Bureau of Governmental research and the Urban League of Greater New Orleans all endorsed the new rules Monday, calling them necessary to create a modern and flexible civil service.

The bulk of the crowd disagreed.

Police officers, firefighters and other city employees packed the rows of the City Council auditorium, many holding signs decrying the proposed changes as a return to the spoils system of politics. “In Louisiana, Tammany is a parish not a hall,” read one, a reference to New York’s Tammany Hall, an infamous 19th century political organization built on patronage.

The criticism began when the Civil Service Commission’s own staff largely panned rule changes, many of which the staff said were unconstitutional.

The staff was particularly critical of changes that would transfer power to the administration at the expense of “impartial Civil Service oversight.”

“Without controls, (Landrieu’s proposed changes to the pay system) would allow for inequity in pay for employees in the same job classification or performing similar work in other departments,” the staff said in its review.

A lot of people have described the Civil Service as a lock, said one of the staff members, “well there’s an old saying, ‘A lock is what keeps an honest man honest.’”

Kopplin said in an interview that, although the administration made public its proposals April 3, the Civil Service staff did not respond with its concerns until last Thursday.

The city has made some changes to its proposal to accommodate those concerns, but the main pillars of the overhaul, and its implications for the balance of power in public hiring, remain.

Donovan Livaccari, an attorney with the Fraternal Order of Police, a union, said the proposed overhaul “tears at the heart of the civil service system.”

He and others argued that Landrieu’s changes remove any objectively measurable competition from hiring and promotion, violating the spirit with which Civil Service was created. Many said the overhaul wouldn’t stand up in court.

There were so many speakers signed up that not everyone got a turn to voice their opinion. The Rev. Kevin Wildes, the commission’s chairman and president of Loyola University, said that the panel would reconvene so everyone who wanted to would have an opportunity to speak.

The commission cannot vote on the rule changes until after a public comment period of 30 days, starting Monday, the time the package has officially appeared on the agenda. The next regularly scheduled meeting of the commission is set for May 19.

Apr 21, 2014

Source: | The Times-Picayune

Filed under: Civil Service, Orleans Parish

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