In Los Angeles, the Board of Civil Service Commissioners dates back to 1907. That’s when Civil Service was approved as the employment system for a sprawling 126-year-old Pueblo. Since that time, the board has been a powerful force for good government.
Civil Service was established in Los Angeles because it was needed. It was needed to keep politics out of City employment—to keep unqualified employees off the City payroll—to provide City agencies with a pool of tested candidates from which to fill vacant positions.
To keep politics out of Civil Service, the board built a system of competitive examinations, and declared that appointments to positions in the classified service would follow the Merit Principle. While this didn’t completely eliminate politics at City Hall, it did replace the “Spoils System” in which City jobs were more likely to be based on connections than on competence.
To keep unqualified employees off the public payroll, the board approved Civil Service Rule 1.26. That rule defines probation as the working test, and provides that probationers’ be judged by what they actually do on the job. Regrettably, Rule 1.26 is not enforced; probationers’ performance is measured against an invalid trait list.
And to provide a pool of job-ready employees for City agencies, the board maintains a list of tested candidates (eligibles) for each job class in City Service. Agencies with a vacant position request the board to certify the names of all the eligibles that may be considered for appointment. The agency then conducts a job-specific interview, and appoints the eligible best suited for the available job.
In these important ways, the Board of Civil Service Commissioners has served the people of Los Angeles. But from the beginning, the Civil Service system has been criticized. While no one denies that Civil Service provides a stable, relatively competent workforce, few would describe it as an efficient, cost-effective employment system. It is, in fact, fairly faulted for ignoring the world-wide revolution in human resource management (HRM).
But criticisms such as these do not justify an all-out effort to dismantle the Civil Service system. They surely don’t justify giving the Mayor—a politician—direct, un-checked control of the City’s personnel system. Nor do they justify letting department managers trample Civil Service Rule 1.26.
The simple truth is, there’s no need to subject the City’s Civil Service system to a radical make-over! There is, however, a need—an urgent need—to restore the Board of Civil Service Commissioners to its rightful role in City government. And there is a need to improve the management of employee performance throughout the City organization!
Hey! Councilmembers, are you up to this challenge?