In Los Angeles, the Selection of Civil Service Employees Is Stuck on Stupid

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The City budget for 2011-2012 authorizes 35 agencies to maintain a combined workforce of 32,274 employees. To provide the services residents expect, the City organization hires employees to work in such diverse job classes as?Upholsterer, Secretary, Firearms Examiner, Clerk, Carpenter, Building Inspector, Welder, Water Biologist, Boat Captain, Helicopter Mechanic, Nutritionist, Tree Surgeon, Roofer, Art Instructor, Power Shovel Operator, Tire Repairer, Plumber, Risk Manager, TV Engineer, Delivery Driver, and a thousand other civil service classifications.

Employees currently serving in the 20 classes above are part of the City’s civil service system. But while their duties and responsibilities are incredibly diverse, they were all hired in accordance with a rather simple selection process.

First, they filed a Civil Service application. Then they took, and passed, a general qualifications examination conducted by the Personnel Department. Next, they survived a certification interview conducted by a City department with a vacant position. And based on that interview, they were offered and accepted an appointment. With their appointments, all the employees in those 20 classes became probationary City employees. The only thing remaining for them to do was to pass the working test.

That’s the good news. To this point, the City’s selection process works fairly well. Together, the Personnel Department and the Appointing Authorities do a good job selecting employees for over a thousand separate job classes. With few exceptions, employees selected by this process are qualified to perform their duties and discharge their responsibilities. But, beyond appointment, the civil service system in Los Angeles goes absolutely crazy.

Classified civil service employees are appointed on probation. Under Section 1.26 of the Civil Service Rules, the probationary period must be used as a working test. Like all other tests or testing instruments used in employee selection, probationary ratings must be clearly job-related. They must accurately reflect what probationers do on the job.

It would be legally indefensible to lump all the probationary employees in those 20 classes together, and to report their job performance on the same rating form. But that’s just what the City’s current rating form, PDAS-28, does. Indeed, that foolish form has been prescribed for probationers in more than 1,000 civil service classifications!

Imagine, if you can, rating probationary Power Shovel Operators and Plumbers on “relations with members of the public.” Or rating probationary Tree Surgeons and Welders on “oral communication.” Or rating probationary Tire Repairers and Clerks on “performance in emergency situations.” Can you imagine actually hiring civil service employees on the basis of such an obviously phony working test?

While HRM authorities abhor rating forms like PDAS-28, and while the Courts have repeatedly ruled against such rating schemes, Mayor Villaraigosa and the Council seem to have no problem with its use. Together, those worthies support the continued use of the PDAS form. They know it doesn’t measure job performance. They know it doesn’t give Department Managers any usable information. They know it heightens the City’s risk of costly litigation. And they know that, long haul, it corrupts City Service and cheats the public.

Still, Mayor Villaraigosa and the Council Members won’t even consider replacing PDAS-28 with a valid, state-of-the-art approach to probationary ratings. They just go on trashing the Charter, ignoring EEOC Guidelines, violating civil service rules and driving up the cost of City government.

And they’re doing their dirty work in secret! Why won’t they talk openly about their “project”? If what they want is to permanently dismantle Civil Service, why don’t they put that to a vote of the people?

You can contact Samuel Sperling at samuelmsperling@yahoo.com.

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