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Wednesday, Aug 27, 2014
Editorials

Reform county civil service

Published:

Members of the local legislative delegation and the entire Legislature should have no trouble agreeing on the wisdom of a measure that overhauls an unnecessarily cumbersome Hillsborough County civil service system.

The sensible bill sponsored by Rep. Dana Young and Sen. Jeff Brandes would enable county agencies to opt out of civil service. Many county officials and constitutional officers complain the system wastes time and money.

Civil service covers about 9,500 workers at 21 county agencies. It represents a formidable process, with 550 job classifications and 150 pages of rules.

A key objection is its rigid hiring process.

As Tax Collector Doug Belden points out, the system requires an existing classification be identified for a job before it can be filled. The Civil Service Board must approve such a position before anyone can be recruited.

“We know what our office needs,” Belden says. Yet agencies can’t respond to those needs without complying with the bureaucratic process.

Other rules handcuff county agencies in a way that would never be tolerated in the private sector.

For instance, employees who leave a job in one county department to take a job in another can reclaim their old jobs if they failed to adequately perform the new job during the six-month probation period.

Or consider the red tape Belden describes:

The Tax Collector’s Office hires new customer service representatives as trainees. Once their six-month probation period is successfully completed, they are promoted to regular tax and license customer service representatives.

This should be an easy in-house change, but Belden says the new hires must resubmit an application to civil service so it can process the move.

Such unnecessary busy work would come to an end under the proposed legislation, which, it should be stressed, would not eliminate civil service.

Agencies that want to continue to use the office for recruitment and such tasks could continue to do so.

Most importantly, the legislation maintains the Civil Service Board’s authority over grievance hearings. Workers will continue to have an independent forum where they can contest firings or disciplinary action. Federal laws also provide worker protections.

Warnings that the change would undermine minority hiring ignore the reality that there are federal, state and local laws prohibiting discrimination.

There simply is no reason civil service should retain control over recruitment, screening, job classification and other human resource functions that in most cases could be handled more efficiently and economically by the county agencies.

The Young-Brandes bill would make government more agile and responsive without harming county workers.

It merits lawmakers’ support.

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