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Wednesday, Aug 20, 2014
Editorials

Time to overhaul Civil Service

Published:

Hillsborough County commissioners had good reason to vote unanimously to pursue legislation loosening civil service controls over government workers, and the Civil Service Board should not use county tax dollars to fight the plan.

Hillsborough is the only county in the state with such an elaborate civil service system, and the evidence is strong that a restructuring is in order.

Civil service officials vigorously defend its services, which include recruitment and screening, job classification, and discipline and grievance hearings. Civil service covers 9,500 workers, which it classifies into 550 job titles.

But county agency heads and constitutional officers are persuasive in their complaints that civil service’s cumbersome requirements and duplicative services waste time and money.

The thoughtful legislation devised at the commission’s direction would allow county agencies to opt out of many of the civil service functions and develop, say, their own job classifications and pay scales that better reflect their agency’s specific responsibilities.

The Civil Service Board, funded by the county commission, at its meeting today is scheduled to consider using $75,000 to hire a lobbyist to fight the legislation. Since the board relies on county tax dollars, it would actually be using county dollars to fight the commission’s will, hardly the most diplomatic of tactics. County administrator Mike Merrill understandably does not consider it a legal or appropriate expenditure.

More importantly, hiring an outside lobbyist is no way to build civil service’s credibility. The board’s focus should be on effecting the changes commissioners want.

Board members also should remember no one is talking about getting rid of civil service.

But its extensive reach is no longer necessary or appropriate.

As Tax Collector Doug Belden wrote to the Civil Service Board, its “one-size-fits-all” approach does not recognize the different business needs of the 21 agencies it oversees and prevents government from responding quickly and efficiently to changes in the business climate.

Clerk of the Circuit Court Pat Frank cites the example of the new computerized case management system being phased in at her office that will eliminate paper records. Previously, an employee could work in one department, such as felony crimes, their entire career. Now an employee will need to be far more versatile. The civil service process can’t address such rapid changes.

Most agencies already have human resources departments to handle employee issues, and could easily take on such duties without additional cost.

Significantly, the legislation would preserve civil service’s authority over grievance hearings to ensure workers can contest firings or disciplinary actions.

Moreover, federal law also protects workers.

The proposed legislation would not politicize the workplace or leave workers vulnerable to abuse.

Most agencies probably would still use civil service to compile lists of applicants and conduct testing for job eligibility.

And care would need to be taken that agencies didn’t pay dramatically different salaries for similar jobs.

But a reform of civil service would free Hillsborough from having to maneuver through an arcane job classification system and give it the ability to hire quickly to meet the public’s needs.

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