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Mayor releases plan to address historically high city public safety staffing shortages

Published: Feb. 8, 2022 at 9:23 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Mayor Latoya Cantrell says staffing shortages are at historic highs for public safety departments, losing 11-percent of the City’s workforce over the course of the pandemic.

Only 81-percent of the City’s budgeted positions are currently filled. There are 270 NOPD vacancies, 54 at the Juvenile Justice Intervention Center, EMS needs to fill 28 positions and there are 26 mechanics needed to work on all of our emergency vehicles.

These vacancy rates are as high as 52-percent and mainly in high-skill low-wage positions.

“We will certainly feel the impacts of these vacancies if we do not ramp up our efforts to both recruit as well as retain our public safety workers,” Cantrell said.

Cantrell and CAO Gilbert Montaño laid out a plan with a $15 million one-time cost that would largely be seen in 2023.

It looks at bonuses for new and current employees in these public safety departments, including referral bonuses.

It would also include a series of policy changes proposed to the Civil Service Commission, City Council, and State Legislature that could attract qualified applicants and would increase pay and create more equitable pay scales.

Also, changes could make the hiring process more efficient, cutting down the time it takes to fill a position.

“We’re just trying to take out any roadblock that we’ve seen,” Montaño said. “We’re doing everything we can to highlight every piece of the items that really get us across that finish line.”

Another large point, reforming and centralizing human resources under one department with about 25 employees.

Cantrell and Montaño say NOPD in particular hasn’t had HR in two years.

“Although that seems very minutia, it has such an impact of how we’re turning around officers how we’re strategically isolating some of those job fairs,” Montaño said.

The plan’s funding would come from the State legislature or the American Rescue Plan funds, through the City Council.

Some recurring funding could be needed moving forward, depending on what is approved and advanced.

“If everyone who says they care about public safety cares about public safety in action, I think we can get this done. Swiftly,” Cantrell said.

Cantrell said she has been fighting back and forth with the Civil Service Commission and has gone to the “ad nauseam” with pay raise requests, only to be denied.

“It’s not the first time we’ve tried to take this on with the Civil Service Commission, but time and time again, it’s still a significant challenge that we face as an administration, and we need to overcome the barriers that have been presented by our Civil Service Commission working off of 1956 rules.”

The Civil Service Commission Chair, Brittney Richardson sent us this statement in response:

“The Civil Service Commission looks forward to receiving and reviewing the Mayor’s proposals to facilitate the recruitment and retention of City employees, particularly those in difficult-to-fill positions. The Commission and its staff are strongly committed to increasing the pay of City employees and helping to find creative solutions to address the current public safety crisis. However, we are disappointed in many of the Mayor’s comments, in particular, we disagree that countless requests for pay increases have been denied by the Commission. We request that the Mayor point to specific requests, especially for public safety positions.

In an effort to recruit and retain employees, the Commission has consistently demonstrated its commitment to better pay for our workforce. Most recently the Commission worked with the Council and Administration to approve pay increases based on the new $15/hr minimum wage for 224 job classifications, impacting over 1/3 of City employees. In 2021, the Commission approved requests from the Administration for pay increases for an additional 19 job classifications including EMS positions, Police Captain and Major, and Police Human Resource Administrator.

Furthermore, we disagree with the Mayor’s statement that the Commission’s Rules are from 1956. As part of a wholesale reform of Civil Service in 2014, over 30 sections of the Civil Service Rules were substantially amended. These Rule amendments were passed by the Mayor in her role as Councilmember at that time. Fifty-two additional amendments have been made to the Civil Service Rules since the 2014 reforms. While the Commission works to review the Mayor’s proposal, we encourage the administration and Council to also consider allocating funding for merit-based pay increases which are permitted by the Civil Services Rules but have not been funded since 2017.

The five members of the commission, four of whom volunteer, are all citizens of this great City and are impacted by the same issues that its residents face that’s why we volunteer to do this important work. The civil service staff works tirelessly to support the City in its efforts to attract and retain the best talent based on merit. We invite the Mayor to meet with Commission to discuss the perceived challenge of working within the Civil Service system.”

Cantrell says they will submit several proposals for consideration at the upcoming Civil Service Commission meetings. If approved, commissioned police officers could begin receiving retention payments commensurate with the length of service, as well as additional catch-up payments for officers currently serving. Juvenile detention counselors, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), paramedics, and mechanics could receive payments upon approval from the Civil Service Commission, and again after a year of service.

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