Kevin Wildes has more than a full-time job as president of Loyola University, so it’s understandable that he would resign from the Civil Service Commission after completing major reforms to New Orleans’ hiring and employment laws.
He is owed thanks by citizens but also by the workers of the city, present and future, who will have an up-to-date employment system in which to work — and hopefully to advance in pay and accomplishment.
The Jesuit educator served for three years as chairman and shepherded into the statute books the most extensive changes to civil service since the 1970s.
The administration of Mayor Mitch Landrieu, ever ready with a perky label, called the reforms the “Great Place to Work” initiative. While civil service reform was part of that, the city is also working at improving training and other advancement opportunities for workers.
Nevertheless, civil service reform is vital to that process, and it has been the subject of numerous reports over many years from the Bureau of Governmental Research and other experts. Landrieu and City Council candidates in 2010 campaigned on pledges of reforms.
It’s taken a long time to get there, and much back-and-forth among Wildes and his colleagues, city managers led by Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin, and city employees and their representatives. Not everybody was going to be happy, but it cannot be denied that the commission’s product is in line with how many other governments across the country are making changes to civil service organizations.
Adjustments to more than 30 civil service rules will give supervisors greater flexibility in hiring, evaluating, promoting and rewarding employees. The Landrieu changes jettison the old “rule of three,” hallowed by more than a century of practice across the country. A job would go to one of the top three applicants, usually as measured by a civil service test.
The administration has said the rule of three eliminates from consideration qualified candidates who could be a better fit for a job based on characteristics other than having the highest test scores, such as additional years of experience. Education and technical knowledge of specific fields is increasingly vital in private business and civil service in the past has not changed rapidly with workforce demands.
Are these changes proof against favoritism in hiring? We can only point to generations of experience in which City Hall was all too open to politics and even outright corruption. The new rules work as well as the political culture — just as, so often, the old ones worked so badly.
The changes overseen by Wildes may require future adjustment, but there is no way that anyone can argue they are not overdue.