Mayor Landrieu wins on civil service overhaul

With signs expressing their feelings, dozens showed up at City Hall Monday to fight against proposed changes to the rules governing city government's personnel system. But in the end, they lost out to Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

The Civil Service Commission which sets policy for the city's Civil Service Department voted to approve a package of changes affecting rules for hiring and promoting workers. But even the director of the department had reservations about some of the changes put forth by the Landrieu administration.

"This is going to open up a door to a problem with uniformity basically," said Civil Service Department Director Lisa Hudson.

But the administration's point person during the meeting said the claims by Hudson and her staff were misleading.

"We do not remove protections from our employees. We maintain a merit system," said Alexander Norton.

In the spring, the mayor unveiled the package of proposed changes. Landrieu said the civil service system which covers the majority of city workers was outdated and holding the city back. But the pushback against the changes continued.

"And we want to urge that this commission not vote for this at all, matter we're proposing, or asking that this commission throw this whole process out," said Randolph Scott, of Concerned Classified City Employees.

Stiff opposition also came from organizations representing New Orleans police and firefighters. A constant area of contention was over the so-called "Rule of Three" which required city department heads to choose among the top three candidates in terms of their performance on the civil service exams and interviews. Now, managers will have more leeway in deciding who gets hired for their departments.

"Civil Service staff will set the bar, say these people are qualified or not, then hiring managers will have the discretion to choose among those qualified candidates to choose the best one of them," said Andy Kopplin, who is the mayor's Chief Administrative Officer and Deputy Mayor.

"It's going to interject political patronage, favoritism and decisions that go beyond competitive testing and merit when it comes to promotions and that's exactly what the civil service system was always designed to protect," said Eric Hessler, an attorney for the Police Association of New Orleans.

"Those lists were adequate, they've done well, they test well. Okay they have a great diversity across the board," said Nick Felton, President of the Fire Fighters Association of New Orleans.

"Sweeping changes that harken back to the era of Huey Long," is also Attorney Donovan Livaccari of the Fraternal Order of Police characterized the changes.

But Landrieu administration officials reject those claims.

"It still would be illegal to use politics for hiring. The civil service protections remain the constitution, they remain in the city charter," stated Kopplin.

Even before the commission voted, there was a stern warning from the FOP.

"If this measure passes before this day is out the Fraternal Order of police will be filing a lawsuit across the street," said Jim Gallagher of FOP to applause.

Still, the administration said the changes are on solid constitutional ground.

In a separate vote, the commission sanctioned the proposal to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour for city government workers. However, that measure will require city council approval.

Copyright 2014 WVUE. All rights reserved