Sunday, June 15, 2008

Civil Service Proposal (more detail)

So, although our opportunity to have anti-nepotism and conflict-of-interest in our County Charter was voted down by Commission, we have a new proposal (a substitute to make us feel better?) to bring City-like civil service protection to our County offices.

If you're not familiar, the city system allows an employee that has passed a probationary period (typically one year) protection against being removed for other than proven cause, and that their advancement be based on 'merit' (although their merit is still measured by the elected office holder).

This works in the city because the directors are appointed, not elected. There are a number of problems applying this policy to Knox County where the office holders are elected. When an office turns over, the new officeholder faces a staff that can't be removed that is arguably politically loyal to his/her opponent. No manager wants to be in that situation, where undermining activities and leaks will affect the function of the office.

Consider the case of our new County Law Director, who wants to bring in a trusted right-hand assistant. To be effective, the new Law Director needs to have someone who knows how he works, and someone he can trust. Being forced to keep the existing chief admin would make a very important office much less effective. It's one of the impacts of elected offices.

This proposal would do nothing to eliminate the propensity for employees to work for their director's campaign (who measures 'merit' for raises, after all??). Existing employees in political machines would be 'grandfathered', and it would create more problems down the road for all of us.

If we apply this proposal to other than fee offices (e.g., Engineering, Health, Libraries, etc)- that's a reasonable consideration. I would still argue that we are putting the cart before the horse- that anti-nepotism and conflict of interest policies are MUCH more important. Let's not imagine this proposal is the cure-all.

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