A state appeals court has ruled against a group of city employees attempting to overturn Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s overhaul of the city’s personnel system, called the “Great Place to Work Initiative.” The court found that the group’s argument that the Civil Service Commission, which voted to adopt the overhaul in 2014, has been operating illegally for years and should be dismantled was based on a misinterpretation of the state constitution.

The group, called Concerned Classified City Employees, argued that when the city fell below the population threshold found in the constitutional provision setting up the city’s Civil Service Commission, the five-member commission should have been dissolved.

As The Lens previously reported:

The language in the constitution  applies to ‘each city having a population exceeding four hundred thousand’ or in smaller cities provided a local option election has been held. Without an election, the constitution says, municipalities with populations between 10,000 and 400,000 can opt create their own civil service systems through state statute or local law.

The city’s official 2010 Census population was about 344,000, down from 484,000 in 2000.

Orleans Parish Civil District Court Judge Robin Giarrusso dismissed the case early last year but did not provide her reasoning. The group, represented by Baton Rouge lawyer J. Arthur Smith, appealed, and argued before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal last month.

In an opinion released last week, the appeals panel noted that when the constitution was ratified in 1974, the city’s population was above 400,000. Writing for the panel, Judge Max Tobias wrote that the group’s “proposed interpretation” of the language “leads to an absurd result” that directly contradicts the intended effect of the provision: establishing a stable, permanent Civil Service system for the city of New Orleans. Tobias was a delegate at the state’s Constitutional Convention.

Tobias wrote that debate transcripts from the convention clearly show that the 400,000 number was inserted into the constitution to refer specifically to the city of New Orleans.

The “only reasonable interpretation” of the provision, Tobias wrote, “is that the delegates intended, upon ratification of the Louisiana Constitution of 1974, to permanently establish a Civil Service Commission in the City.”

The group could still appeal to the Louisiana Supreme Court, but that decision has not yet been made, Smith wrote in an email to The Lens.

“We respectfully disagree with the court’s decision and will be discussing further options with our clients,” he wrote.

Charles Maldonado

Charles Maldonado is the editor of The Lens. He previously worked as The Lens' government accountability reporter, covering local politics and criminal justice. Prior to joining The Lens, he worked for...