Why in the World Would Anyone Want to Kill Civil Service?

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In Los Angeles, the Board of Civil Service Commissioners dates back to 1907. That’s when a sprawling, 126-year-old Pueblo installed Civil Service as its public employment system. The Board quickly became a powerful force for good government; it proved its value by overcoming three very big challenges.

To keep politics out of City Service, the Board built a system of competitive examinations and declared that appointment 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 appointments were more likely to be based on connections than on competence.

To keep unqualified job-seekers off the City payroll, the Board adopted Civil Service Rule 1.26. That rule defined the probationary period as the working test and provided that probationers must be judged on what they actually do on the job. Regrettably, that rule was not — and is still not — enforced!

And to provide a pool of job-ready employees for City agencies, the Board kept a list of tested candidates for each job class in City Service. Agencies with a vacant position requested the Board to certify the names of all the candidates who could be considered for appointment. The agency would interview them and select the one best suited for the vacant position.

In these basic ways, the Board of Civil Service Commissioners has continued to serve the people of Los Angeles. While no one denies that it provides a reliable, generally competent workforce, some complain that it’s been reluctant to accept new developments in Human Resource Management — that it’s too inefficient.

Criticisms such as these cannot be ignored, but they would surely not justify the current effort to dismantle the system, degrade the Board, and usurp its powers. Nor do the Board’s shortcomings justify giving the City’s most powerful politician direct, unchecked control of the Civil Service! And how could anyone believe the system becomes more effective when Civil Service Rule 1.26 is routinely violated?

The simple truth is, beginning in 1993 the City’s Civil Service system has been under constant attack. A succession of three mayors (Riordan, Hahn, and Villaraigosa) stifled the Board, reduced its role, and grabbed its powers. And by changing the Charter without a vote of the people, they committed a criminal act.

There is an urgent need to restore the Board, to improve HRM throughout City Service. There is also a need to hold the power-grabbing mayors accountable.

You can contact Sam Sperling at samuelmsperling@yahoo.com

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