In The News › ‘Unsatisfactory’ New Orleans employee isn’t alone: Jarvis DeBerry

Jul 3, 2011

Source: The Times-Picayune

Filed under: City Government, Civil Service, Orleans Parish

‘Unsatisfactory’ New Orleans employee isn’t alone: Jarvis DeBerry

Sunday, July 03, 2011
By Jarvis DeBerry
The Times-Picayune

I want my city government to work and work well. No doubt you want the same. However, if you live in New Orleans, it’s likely that at one point or another you’ve been frustrated by the seeming inability of the city to take care of the simple things: fill an expanding pothole, replace a missing street sign, smooth out an uneven sidewalk.

There are many things to love about New Orleans. That being said, living here requires a tolerance for a near-constant state of disrepair. Some things have been broken for so long that residents may have forgotten that they’re supposed to work.

Hurricane Katrina worsened this problem, but none of us should argue that the storm or the broken levees caused it.

So what did?

Could it be our complementary tolerance for the less-than-stellar municipal employee?

Some people will take automatic offense at that question and consider it an attack on everybody who gets a check from City Hall. It’s not. The city employs thousands. Observe any large group and you’ll find many people who do their jobs remarkably well. You’ll also find employees who make a mess of things or manage to get by week after week without doing much at all.

They’re the human equivalent of a broken streetlight or a leaky fire hydrant. As New Orleanians we encounter them and don’t remember they’re supposed to work.

In March, David Osborne, an outside consultant hired by Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration, said Landrieu had “inherited the least competent city government I’d ever seen in this country…. I just haven’t run into this level of dysfunction before, and I’ve been doing this work for almost 25 years.”

Perhaps the consultant’s most shocking discovery was “secretaries that can’t type.” The Landrieu administration embraced the report and vowed dramatic improvement.

Since then, the administration has proposed doing away with the city’s so-called “bumping rule.” It’s a provision that allows a city employee whose job is being eliminated to bump out a worker with less seniority even if that newer employee works in another department.

The administration argues that the bumping rule is “wasteful and inefficient” and that it forces “square pegs … into round holes.” At a Thursday meeting of the Civil Service Commission, many municipal employees characterized Landrieu’s proposal as a precursor to massive layoffs and as an erosion of their job security.

The commission decided not to vote on the matter before September.

Supporters of bumping correctly point out that the rule is not supposed to allow bad employees to bump out good ones. If there are layoffs, the people with the worst evaluations are supposed to be removed first. Bumping comes into play when there are two people with similar job evaluations and there’s only one job to be had.

OK, you say. If that’s the case, bumping should never have to be triggered. If Osborne is correct that bad employees abound, managers should have plenty of negative employee evaluations to reach for if they’re ever called upon to make cuts.

Except they won’t. According to a letter written to the Civil Service Commission by Janet Howard, president of the Bureau of Governmental Research, of the 4,315 city employees evaluated in 2010, only 31 were found to need improvement.

How many municipal employees got an unsatisfactory rating that year? As it turns out, there was only one.

One. Out of 4,315.

Forget the bumping rule. Our city won’t function as it ought until the city government gets serious about managing its workforce. Serious management means accurate employee evaluations. Serious management means pushing the bad folks out to make room for those who want to do the job.

We are “one team,” the mayor tells us. We have “One fight. One voice. One city.”

On that we all agree. But there’s just no way anybody can convince us that we only have one bad employee.

Jul 3, 2011

Source: The Times-Picayune

Filed under: City Government, Civil Service, Orleans Parish

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