Editor’s note: On Wednesday, The Lens reported in the story below that the head of the Civil Service Commission is still on the board despite the fact that her term expired three months ago. Throughout, the story implied that this could create legal problems with her subsequent votes.
However, The Lens determined Thursday that a commission policy, the city charter and a state law allow for commission members to continue serving after an expired term. They may do so until their replacement takes office or they are reappointed.
Further, the New Orleans City Council reappointed Michelle Craig to her position during Thursday’s meeting. A representative of the council president was among those who confirmed the policies in response to inquiries from The Lens seeking clarification.
This note is being added to the original story in an effort to prevent the story from being distributed elsewhere without proper explanation. We demand transparency from public officials, and our readers likewise demand transparency from The Lens. Therefore, we do not delete our mistakes; we take responsibility and provide readers with this kind of accounting.
The Lens regrets providing our readers with misleading information and apologizes to Craig.
The chairwoman of the New Orleans Civil Service Commission has overstayed her term by more than three months, The Lens has learned, calling into question key votes in which she participated.
The term of Michelle Craig expired in early August, weeks before she voted in favor or Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s Great Place to Work Initiative — a sprawling and controversial package of changes to rules on how city employees are hired, promoted and evaluated. Although that vote still appears to be valid, Craig’s status raises concerns about related actions taken by the commission, including the hiring of an outside attorney using public money to fight a lawsuit against the Great Place to Work Initiative.
Eric Granderson, Landrieu’s chief liaison to the City Council, said the administration has forwarded a request for Craig’s renomination to the council. That request is going through in a rush, and may be considered by the full council as early as Thursday.
The Civil Service Commission is made up of five members, four nominated by four New Orleans universities and one by city employees. Appointments are made by a City Council vote.
Craig, who was nominated by Dillard University, was appointed in June 2013 to finish out an unexpired term for a commissioner who resigned. Craig’s term ended Aug. 6, weeks before the Aug. 25 vote on the Great Place to Work Initiative.
Craig has since become chairwoman of the commission. She was one of three members to vote in favor of the overhaul, along with Rabbi Edward Cohn and the Rev. Kevin Wildes. Joseph Clark, the employee representative, was opposed, and Ronald McClain abstained. Under the Civil Service Commission’s policies, a majority of members present and voting must vote in favor of changes to Civil Service rules. Without Craig’s vote, the vote is 2-to-1. Since the abstention is not a vote, it would appear to still be valid.
However, that may not be the case with a Sept. 11 vote to hire an outside attorney, using $15,000 of public money, to fight a lawsuit seeking to halt the Great Place to Work Initiative. Craig offered the motion for the vote, more than one month after her term expired. The City Council is scheduled to vote on the allocation at Thursday’s meeting. An amendment added by request of the Landrieu Administration, increases the cap to $30,000.
Craig’s status on the panel also calls into doubt a noncontroversial component of the Great Place to Work Initiative, raising city employees’ minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. That vote was also called by Craig.
The Great Place to Work Initiative, crafted over years by the Landrieu administration, generally gives more leeway to hiring managers — typically political appointees — on personnel decisions and less weight to Civil Service exams and employee status. The city and the commission are facing litigation from employee groups who claim the changes are unconstitutional and undermine the merit-based system the commission was appointed to protect.
Donovan Livaccari, a lawyer for the Fraternal Order of Police, which filed suit shortly after the Great Place to Work Initiative passed, said the oversight on Craig’s term and the rush to renominate her reflect the Landrieu administration’s overall approach to the Civil Service system.
“It appears that the administration has been so dead set on exercising control over the commission,” Livaccari said in an interview. “In their haste to try to impose their new reforms on city employees, they’ve overlooked some serious considerations.”
Livaccari referred legal questions to Claude Schlesinger and Ted Alpaugh, the group’s lead attorneys on the suit. Alpaugh and Schlesinger said it was premature to comment.
The move to request the appointment directly of the full City Council at a regular meeting is unusual. Typically, the council’s Governmental Affairs Committee considers the appointments before forwarding them on to the full council. The next Governmental Affairs Committee is not scheduled until next month. Asked why the appointment might be rushed, Landrieu spokeswoman Garnesha Crawford referred comment to the council.
A city law says that the top nominee is automatically appointed if the Council has not made an appointment within 30 days of receiving a nomination. A letter of nomination was received only this week, after the council finalized its agenda for the Thursday meeting.
The item is not on the agenda, indicating that the council is being asked to suspend normal rules and add it during the Thursday meeting. The Council Clerk’s Office had not yet received any materials on the nomination or a rules suspension request by Wednesday afternoon.
The Civil Service Department, responding to a public-records request, provided a copy of Dillard’s Sept. 16 renomination letter, addressed to Landrieu. The letter contains three names, beginning with Craig’s.