In The News › Workers’ pick for panel opposed; BGR urges council to nix nomination

Aug 18, 2011

Source: The Times-Picayune

Filed under: Civil Service, Orleans Parish

Workers’ pick for panel opposed; BGR urges council to nix nomination

Thursday, August 18, 2011
By Michelle Krupa and Bruce Eggler
The Times-Picayune

As the City Council prepares to decide today which city employee will get a seat on the Civil Service Commission, members are getting conflicting advice from two sources.

A council committee last week recommended that the full body confirm the candidate who led a recent vote by city workers, but the Bureau of Governmental Research on Tuesday urged the council not to approve that candidate, Robert Hagmann, because he works in the Civil Service Department.

Under state law, four of the five members of the commission are nominated by local university presidents, with the fifth representing classified city employees, meaning those not appointed by the mayor. In each case, the council can choose from among three names submitted by the nominating body.

Hagmann got the most votes from his fellow city employees in the recent election, but the council’s Governmental Affairs Committee last week turned the normally pro forma process of forwarding his nomination to the full council into an impromptu job interview for all three top finishers.

One reason might have been that Hagmann, a 23-year city employee who works as a personnel administrator in the Civil Service Department, recently clashed publicly with the Landrieu administration. During a commission discussion of changes the administration wants to make to the city’s “bumping” policy, Hagmann said city workers are “frightened” about what might happen if the policy is changed.

Abolishing the present rule, he said, would be a “step backward from the merit-based system” that’s been in place for more than half a century. “We don’t want to go back to the time of Huey P. Long,” Hagmann said.

Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin labeled Hagmann’s gripes “considerably overstated” and said the administration has no “nefarious” motives to “dismantle protection against political interference.”

Current rules allow an employee whose position is eliminated to take the job of a worker with less seniority in a similar post anywhere else in city government. Landrieu generally wants to restrict bumping to employees within the same department.

Before deciding whether the committee would recommend Hagmann — or back the second- or third-place finisher in the workers’ balloting — Councilman Arnie Fielkow asked each candidate to explain “whether or not you believe that you could keep an objective mind and look at each particular transaction and situation openly, fairly and impartially.”

Hagmann said he thinks civil service rules “ensure the equal balance of power in government.”

“We ensure that all citizens can compete equally and objectively for all city occupations,” he said. “Our role is like a checks and balances on the employment process.”

With those answers perhaps more abstract than Fielkow had sought, the councilman pressed Hagmann on whether he would consider proposed reforms “without a predisposition, and try to be open and fair-minded relative to the reform that might be put in place.”

Hagmann replied that while he believes in a merit-based system that rewards employee performance, he values “getting all the decision-makers and the stakeholders together to work together.”

In the end, Fielkow, Susan Guidry and Kristin Gisleson Palmer deferred to council tradition in supporting Hagmann’s nomination.

“I have made it a practice on these kind of appointments, I support the nominating group and the individual that they would like to put forward,” Fielkow said, though he made a point of urging Hagmann to “adhere to the statements that you made today.”

Added Guidry: “The employees who have chosen to vote have spoken, and Mr. Hagmann obviously is well qualified.”

But the BGR offered a dissenting opinion this week, saying that “appointing a member of the Civil Service Department to the commission is problematic in and of itself.” One of the commission’s jobs, BGR President Janet Howard pointed out in a letter to the council, is to name the department’s director, who in turn supervises all the other employees, including Hagmann.

As a commission member, Hagmann would be “in the curious position” of “overseeing himself” and evaluating recommendations he himself has made as a staff member, while trying to balance conflicting responsibilities to the workers who elected him and to the department that is supposed to balance the interests of the workers, their superiors and their “ultimate constituency,” the citizens of New Orleans.

There is no legal prohibition against a Civil Service Department employee serving on the commission, however, and in fact Hagmann holds the same job that Jerry Davis held when he joined the commission in 2005, said Personnel Director Lisa Hudson, Hagmann’s boss. Hudson added that the tasks associated with the staff position Hagmann holds generally don’t require commission approval.

Aug 18, 2011

Source: The Times-Picayune

Filed under: Civil Service, Orleans Parish

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