Government & Politics

Live blog Monday: Civil Service Commission to vote on overhaul of personnel rules

The New Orleans Civil Service Commission is set to vote Monday on Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s proposal to overhaul the city’s personnel system. Called the “Great Place to Work Initiative,” the plan is designed to give managers more flexibility in hiring, promoting and evaluating employees.

The meeting will be held in the City Council chambers at 10 a.m. I’ll live-blog it here.

The plan, in the works since early in Landrieu’s first term, has been criticized by several city employee groups. They contend it will weaken the city’s civil service system, which is designed to safeguard against political patronage in personnel decisions.

But Landrieu says the current rules lead to inefficiency in hiring and discipline, stretching the processes out for months. He points to a 2012 survey showing most respondents found the Civil Service system ineffective and inefficient. More importantly, he says, city departments are forced to hire based primarily on Civil Service test scores instead of applicants’ qualifications for a job.

Business groups, including the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Business Council of New Orlean and the River Region, have come out in support of the proposal.

Landrieu formally introduced the Great Place to Work Initiative in April, then submitted a revised version in June. The final package submitted for the Commission vote is yet another revision.

The overhaul stems from a 2012 proposal by a consultant called the Public Strategies Group. The current plan doesn’t go as far as that original proposal, but it does retain some key recommendations.

The most controversial change on the table is the elimination of the “rule of three,” which requires the city’s personnel director to submit only the top three candidates — ranked by exam scores and job status — to managers looking to fill a job. The rule is intended to force managers to fill jobs based on merit rather than favoritism. Under the latest change to this rule, managers would be allowed to choose among all candidates deemed qualified for a position.

Employee groups, including the city’s two largest police associations, the firefighters union and a group called Concerned Classified City Employees, oppose the change.

And in a June letter, the Civil Service Department wrote, “Removal of the ‘Rule of Three’ leaves the system more vulnerable to the possibility of ‘political hiring’ based on who you know and not what you know.” That echoes one of Landrieu’s favorite talking points about his administration’s reforms to the city’s contracting process.

In a recently released report, political consultant Bill Rouselle noted a “high level of distrust” among city employees toward management.

“The general view is that each new Mayor has come into office with his own way of doing things and will seek to hire ‘their’ people, without consideration or appreciation for the services classified employees have continued to perform throughout budget and physical catastrophes,” the report said.

Landrieu’s proposal would allow managers to pay employees whom they judge “superior” more money — when they’re hired and when they get raises — than the city pay plan’s minimum rate, without first getting Commission approval.

The mayor’s plan also would remove the current employee rating system, replacing it with a so-called “performance evaluations system” administered by Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin. Under the current proposal, direct supervisors will do these evaluations, and someone above them will review them for fairness and compliance with the rules.

Landrieu has said that his changes will not affect employees’ disciplinary protections. But that was not clear under the first two versions of his proposal, which said employees could not appeal poor performance evaluations. In the current system, employees can appeal their service rating.

However, in the new proposal up for vote on Monday, evaluations would be subject to review by an appointed panel, the Civil Service Department and ultimately, the Civil Service Commission.

Although the proposal says evaluations are not disciplinary actions, employees who receive poor evaluations will not be eligible for merit pay or a promotion. And new employees who get poor evaluations will not be eligible for permanent status.

Live blog, 10 a.m. Monday

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