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South Passaic Daily Voice serves Clifton, Haledon, Hawthorne, Little Falls, North Haledon, Passaic, Paterson, Prospect Park, Totowa, Wayne & Woodland Park

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DV Pilot police & fire

Don’t end Civil Service in New Jersey — fix it

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

P.O. VINCENT KEARNEY : With all the buzz about Governor Christie’s “tool kit,” it’s important to understand that one of its goals is to end the Civil Service system in New Jersey. The result? A total politization of jobs that will make current patronage look minor in comparison. Instead, I propose a plan to reshape the system into a true money-saver that will award jobs based on merit, as it‘s supposed to.

Christie’s proposal would allow government agencies to “opt out” of civil service, as a way of somehow saving money. It will also, in effect, destroy a system designed to hire and promote based on knowledge and skill-based testing, with preferences given to service men and women who fought for our country.

Yet while scrapping Civil Service regulations may save a little time or money in the short term, in the long term it will cost my fellow taxpayers much more as rank and file public jobs in police departments and town halls across the state are turned into patronage mills like the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission.

I’m not saying every town out there that doesn’t currently use Civil Service is a pit of patronage, but many are and it is damn near impossible to get a public job in them without knowing the right people.  Even with Civil Service in effect, patronage can be a problem due to the arcane “rule of three” which allows people to be skipped on employment lists.  It’s not unheard of for a agency that uses civil service to go through the “rule of three” dozens of times on the same list to get to someone they want, denying jobs to otherwise qualified people on the slimmest of pretenses.

I believe the very real risk of the total politicization of public j obs (a prime example of which are recent revelations about the former Sheriff of Middlesex County selling law enforcement jobs to the highest bidder through his ability to appoint investigators outside of Civil Service rules) is far too great versus a possible cost savings that still hasn’t been defined.

Instead of dismantling the Civil Service system, I propose the following 10-step plan to reshape it and address its current flaws:

1) EXPAND Civil Service to classify and cover most management positions (usually unclassified — meaning no tests — and frequently filled via patronage or nepotism).  Lower the salary guide for managers and reduce layers of unclassified management.  Most “six figure” public employees are unclassified managers who have no union contracts setting a pay scale and no right of appeal on such matters.  Only the top level of management shoul d be exempt from competitive testing and other rules.

2) Force all towns, counties, and government agencies in New Jersey to adopt Civil Service.  No opting out.  Everyone plays by the same rules.  Think of the cost savings in centralizing hiring, promotion testing, and disciplinary matters across every government agency in the state.

3) Eliminate the so-called “rule of three.”  Outside of veteran’s preference, the only reason to pass over someone on an entry level or promotion list would be for cause.  Multiple disqualifications for “cause” on the same list would auto matically trigger a review by the Civil Service Commission.

4) Consolidate the thousands of current job titles down to a few hundred to allow more flexibility with employee assignments and easier movement or cross-training of personnel as needs change.

5) Tie raises to performance evaluations (another system in need of overhaul to protect employees from abuse) instead of service time. Continued poor performance reviews (over the course of several years) could be cause for pay reduction, retraining and/or termination without the ability to appeal.  Good performance could be rewarded with better pay, within the limits of the employee’s pay grade.

Sgt. Vincent Kearney, 34, has been in N.J. law enforcement since 2003

6) Allow the easier removal of poorly performing employees (ra
t ed under the reformed evaluation system) when layoffs are in play, instead of being restricted only to seniority.

7) Implement strong anti-nepotism rules, such as precluding family members from supervising each other, doing performance evaluations, or having input on the hiring or promotion of family.

8) Allow classified employees to transfer between departments or agencies at supervisory levels if they are properly qualified.  Currently, such a transfer will knock the employee back to the entry level title.  This often results in less talented people being given supervisor positions because they happen to already be working for an agency or department.

9) Expand the Civil Service Commission to include at one or more members of the public who has never been a government employee of any kind and who will submit to a full background investigation to prove they have no ties to any elected local or state official.

10) Finally, give the civil service law some teeth!  Towns, agencies, or employees who purposely violate civil service rules should be fined significant amounts of money and/or face Official Misconduct charges.  Managers who abuse the discipline process should suffer consequences.  For example, in the extreme case of an employee who is found by the Civil Service Commission to have been improperly terminated, whoever MADE the decision to terminate that employee should then be terminated.

I issue a new challenge: Is there a person in the State Senate or Assembly with the backbone to propose a bill like this and get it on the floor?   We should all send a copy of this proposal to our district representatives and see if any of them will take the ball.  We need to clean up patronage in public employment, not empower it, if we expect the public to regain any trust in our government institutions going forward.

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