Government & Politics

Landrieu proposes far-reaching changes in how city employees are hired and evaluated

Mayor Mitch Landrieu proposed a long-awaited series of changes to the rules governing city employment on Thursday. While Landrieu’s intended headline may have been his plan to raise the minimum wage for city employees to $10.10 per hour, that would have a relatively limited effect, affecting about 194 city workers and costing about $350,000 per year.

His proposed changes to hiring, promotions and rating procedures, however, will affect every current and future city employee covered by the city’s Civil Service system. The mayor touted his plan as a way to make city employment more like it is in the private sector, while maintaining some of the protections of the public sector.

The current system is designed to remove political considerations in employment decisions. It assigns the Civil Service Department — which is overseen by the independent Civil Service Commission rather than the mayor’s office — specific procedures for those decisions.

Landrieu believes the system is outdated and does not allow managers enough flexibility to hire and promote the best candidates. His plan would give much greater discretion to departmental managers — employees who in many cases are mayoral appointees.

Landrieu wants to:

  • Remove the requirement that applicants who score highest on the civil service exam are given first consideration in hiring.

  • Eliminate hiring preferences for laid-off employees and those up for promotion.

  • Allow managers to offer higher starting salaries without seeking approval by the Civil Service Commission.

According to Landrieu, the plan would not remove employee protections related to discipline and terminations. But it would create a new performance rating system. And unlike the current one, low employee ratings would not be subject to appeal.

Landrieu’s plan to overhaul the city’s Civil Service rules, expected since shortly after he took office, were developed over the past two years. He brought in the Minnesota-based consultancy Public Strategies Group, whose senior partner David Osborne said, “I think they inherited the least competent city government I’d ever seen in this country and the most corrupt.”

Rather than hire the company through its normal competitive process, the city pledged $125,000 to create the New Orleans Innovation Fund, housed at Baptist Community Ministries. That organization, not the city, hired Public Strategies Group.

Public Strategies Group’s original proposal would have taken the Civil Service Department out of the recruitment and hiring business altogether, creating a new Human Resources Department under Chief Administrative Officer and Deputy Mayor Andy Kopplin. It would have eliminated examinations for all job-seekers, instead limiting them to top candidates. And it would have reduced disciplinary appeals — often a long, drawn-out process in part due to the Civil Service Department’s small staff — by redefining “discipline.” Demotions, for example, would no longer count, and would not be appealable.

The new plan doesn’t go as far, but it has the same goals and retains some of Public Strategies Group’s proposals.

Hiring and Promotion

The Civil Service Department’s role in hiring and promotions wouldn’t be eliminated, but it would be arguably diminished. Under current rules, the so-called “rule of three” requires the Civil Service Department to offer three eligible names at a time to departments seeking to fill positions. The hierarchy is based on examination score and employment status: Laid-off employees first, followed by those up for promotions, and finally new applicants.

The new plan would require the Civil Service Department to provide a list of all qualified applicants at once, regardless of exam scores and employment or promotion status. Managers no longer would have to consider current and laid-off employees first, though they would be allowed to take those factors into consideration.

Pay Rates

Civil Service rules require departmental managers to seek approval from the Civil Service Commission, the City Council or both if they want to pay a candidate more than the minimum rate for a job. The new rules would allow them to offer higher pay — up to the maximum — after getting approval from Kopplin’s office.

Veteran employees working in the same or similar job would then be eligible for a pay raise, up to the same rate as the new hire — provided they “possess the same qualifications/credentials.”

Job performance

According to Landrieu, the plan would not touch employee protections in disciplinary matters. However, one provision appears to do just that.

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.

The proposed rules must be approved by a vote of the Civil Service Commission, which meets on April 21. The commission will be able to vote on the changes as early as its following meeting, on May 19.

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About Charles Maldonado

Charles Maldonado covers the city of New Orleans and other local government bodies. He previously worked for Gambit, New Orleans’ alternative newsweekly, where he covered city hall, criminal justice and public health. Before moving to New Orleans, he covered state and local government for weekly papers in Nashville and Knoxville, Tenn.

  • nickelndime

    LANDRIEU: Yeah, well that sounds about right. He was re-elected. So now it’s time to flex his political muscles. Is there anything in this city that is “new” other than its name, “New”?

  • nickelndime

    LANDRIEU UP THE TREE – BY ASSOCIATION: Wait, hold on. I am reading further, Baptist Community Ministries. This is the group that pays Brian Riedlinger’s 7-figure salary (which was not to be exposed to public scrutiny) when he was the CEO of the Algiers Charter School Association (ACSA). Is the monkey going up the tree, or is it that the media is exposing the monkey going up the tree?!!

  • Nick Kindel

    So I am currently unemployed and have applied for a number of City jobs through Civil Service. I have to say that the Civil Service system is unlike anything I have seen throughout the country and needs to be reformed. I have applied for jobs at well over 100 municipalities, and only in New Orleans have I been required to: 1) apply in person, 2) submit original copies of my college transcripts, 3) take a civil service test. Even when I graduated college in 2004, I could apply to most jobs online or by email.

    I think that Civil Service does limit too many qualifying candidates from getting to the departments that would hire people and know exactly what skills and backgrounds are need for the job. I apply for a job with the Inspector General and Civil Service determined that I was not qualified even though I spent the past 3 years working for a non-profit that mointored, evaluated, and suggested policy reforms to City Hall. Civil Service did not see this experience as relevant, but I am sure someone in the IG’s Office would if they ever got the chance to see my application.

    Two days ago I took the Civil Service Exam for another job that I applied for (I was deem qualified for this one!). I was confused that people were finishing this 84 question test in under an hour. Then I noticed that for half of the questions, you could see that previous test takers had circled the answers. All Civil Service would need to do is print off a new test booklet, but instead we are selecting the most “qualified” candidates based on a test where it is so easy to cheat.

    I am not sure if the Mayor’s proposed reforms will address all of these issues, but something needs to be done. This may just be an attempt to consolidate in the Mayor’s/CAO’s office, but I am happy that there will be some reforms, because applying for a job with the City of New Orleans is unlike anything I have seen at local governments across the country.