Thursday, April 10, 2014


This is a letter printed in the New Orleans Advocate yesterday from Nick Felton  Walter Powers.  Mr. Felton and Mr. Powers represent the New Orleans Firefighters Association and the Fraternal Order of Police respectively.
On April 3, Mayor (Mitch) Landrieu announced his “reforms” to the civil service system in New Orleans. These “reforms” include the ability to hire and promote who they want. The mayor claims these “reforms” do not impede the civil service director’s ability to set minimum hiring standards, while at the same time, inserting a provision that would require approval of the appointing authority (read: appointee of the mayor) before those minimum hiring standards are put in place. The “reforms” also include raising the minimum wage of about 200 city employees, which was apparently enough to fool some folks into supporting the measure.

The Louisiana Supreme Court said, “In the science of government, experience is always the best teacher. The political drug store is full of panaceas, each with its trade-mark of some school of therapeutics blown in a bottle. In politics there is so often invoked the destructive concept of a practice that to the victor belongs the spoils. It is the “spoil system” that civil service desires to eradicate. If this Court knows what everybody knows, then it has knowledge that political opponents of one administration may be the governing body of the next, and the cranks of the old may become the philosophers of the new; but the value of civil service reform is wholly dependent on whether the law and the evidence, without exception, are fairly and justly applied by the Commissioners, and in the Courts with an even hand freely and fearlessly enforced.” Boucher v. Division of Employment Security, 226 La. 227, 75 So.2d 343 (1954).

The mayor’s plan indicates that test scores for hiring and promotions should not be determining factors, then states that they should be able to eliminate entire pools of certified candidates if those persons are in the bottom half of the test scores. The mayor’s plan repeatedly points to “falsely objective rankings” without providing any support for that contention. Just because you say it over and over doesn’t make it true.

It is not too surprising that some New Orleans city employees are dissatisfied with the Civil Service Department. It is difficult to perform when your department’s budget has been slashed repeatedly and your workforce has been diminished to a shadow of its former strength. There were also comments made by Rabbi Cohn regarding the slow pace of civil service proceedings. To that, we would simply say that Rabbi Cohn’s short tenure on the Civil Service Commission has been hindered recently by counterproductive actions taken by the current administration and its appointees designed only to impede progress.

We will not try to convince anyone that civil service could not be made more efficient or that things couldn’t be done better. We will tell you that these improvements can be made without impacting the foundation of the civil service system that the people of Louisiana felt was so important that civil service was included in the Louisiana Constitution.

The New Orleans Police Department and the New Orleans Fire Department account for nearly half of all classified civil service employees in the city of New Orleans. We stand united in opposition to this “reform.”
Among the most crucial "reforms" Landrieu proposes is removing a significant portion of the employee performance review and  disciplinary process from the purview of the Civil Service Department and placing it in the hands of the Mayor's Chief Administrative Officer.  This alone is cause for concern that the city workforce is being politicized.

But the "reform" further places employees at the subjective mercy of the CAO by altering the process by which their performance is scored and diminishing their standing to appeal capricious disciplinary actions.  
The plan would eliminate service ratings, which now range from “Outstanding” to “Unsatisfactory,” replacing them with a goal-based “performance management system.” Again, Kopplin’s office would be in charge of that system.

In eliminating the ratings, the plan also eliminates an employee’s ability to appeal a poor rating.
That would be unnecessary, according to the proposal, because “written performance feedback under the performance management system is not an adverse action to punish an employee.”

However, it goes on, “once poor work performance has been established” — it doesn’t say how that would be done — that can spur supervisor monitoring and a report to the city’s personnel director. If the personnel director decides that the employee’s work hasn’t improved, then the employee could be disciplined — which he could appeal.

In effect, the new system would push back the point at which an employee can protest a supervisor’s poor view of his work.
Ultimately what this is about is power in the workplace and, by extension, in the city's labor market overall. "Business leaders" around town make it a priority for this reason in particular.
Gregory Rusovich, CEO of Transoceanic Trading and Development Company, rattled off a list of governmental reforms that he said the city has benefited from since the storms — the transformation of the New Orleans Recreation Department into a public-private partnership, the increased transparency in the city contracting processes, the creation of the New Orleans Business Alliance, the proposed civil-service reforms and even the way the city banded together to save the Hornets (now the Pelicans).
Unfortunately, as Felton and Powers state, the Police and Fire are isolated in their opposition to Mayor's scheme. The minimum wage provision they refer to (which is, of course, a nice thing but clearly also a distraction) was apparently enough to bring SEIU on board. I'm less sure about what Civil Service's reason for signing on is but in any case both groups have badly failed to stand up for the people they purport to serve.

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