Having been criticized for approving two changes to the city’s civil service rules in a closed-door session two weeks ago, the Civil Service Commission reconsidered its vote in a public meeting Monday.
Commissioner Ronald McClain said the commission was taking up the issues again “in order to consider whether or not there should be further changes to these two rules after consideration of comments from the public.”
In the end, though, Monday’s do-over made little difference.
The commissioners took comments this time and held the vote in public. But they still refused calls to discuss publicly why they were making the changes, and they ended up voting unanimously to simply ratify the amendments they already had put in place earlier this month.
The two amendments in question — both seemingly minor changes — have to do with Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s Great Place to Work Initiative, the overhaul of civil service hiring and promotion rules that the commission passed in August.
The rules are the subject of a lawsuit against the city filed by police and firefighters unions.
The amendments appear to address some of the complaints those organizations have raised in their legal challenges. But the commission has not revealed what prompted it to amend the newly adopted rules or who proposed the changes.
On Monday, speakers expressed confusion about the intent of the amendments and asked commissioners to explain themselves.
“I still think there is a bit of confusion because it still hasn’t been publicly explained,” said Eric Hessler, an attorney for the Police Association of New Orleans. “I would ask that, before any of these rules be revisited, that it first be further explained.”
Fraternal Order of Police attorney Claude Schlesinger asked that the commissioners explain how the changes would affect classified employees, those protected by civil service rules.
“We would appreciate if you have a dialogue among yourselves about the purpose of these rules,” Schlesinger said.
However, the commissioners remained tight-lipped, taking the public comments in silence and voting unanimously to reaffirm their previous vote.
“In light of the public comments and our position in litigation, I see no reason to further amend (the rules) as they were amended and adopted Nov. 3, 2014,” McClain read from a prepared statement. “Therefore, I move that we ratify, affirm and adopt the amendment of (the rules) as they were submitted for amendment and adoption on Nov. 3, 2014.”
One amendment affects the so-called “rule of three” provision. Before the new rules were adopted in August, department heads and hiring managers were allowed to consider only the top three eligible candidates for a promotion or an open position based on how they scored on an aptitude test. The change made this summer dropped that restriction, allowing managers to consider an unspecified number of eligible candidates.
Landrieu’s administration argued that the previous rule eliminated qualified candidates who might be a better fit for a job based on characteristics other than having the highest test scores, such as additional years of experience. Critics said the change violated the state constitution, and that is one of the issues raised in pending litigation.
The amendment adopted Monday does not bring back the rule of three, though it stipulates that hiring managers must consider at least three candidates for any open position. But it also eliminates language requiring managers to begin at the top of an ordered list when considering candidates for a job or promotion.
The second change reinstates a preference for military veterans when hiring employees back after layoffs and requires managers to take length of service into consideration when making an appointment or considering candidates for promotion.
Both provisions had been deleted in the overhaul, another issue that has come up in litigation.
On a related matter, the Civil Service Commission selected Phelps Dunbar LLP to represent it in the lawsuit.