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CSC, Jeanette McPherson force competitive process

By By Suzanne Monk / managing editor
June 16, 2002
There's a right way and a wrong way to create a new job on the city payroll and hire someone to do it. Here's the right way.
Step 1: Ask the Meridian Civil Service Commission if you can create the new position and work with its members and other city officials to develop a job description. Wait for the CSC to approve the new position.
Step 2: Announce the availability of the job and a deadline for applications. This step may also include testing.
Step 3: Submit the resulting list of applicants to the CSC. Wait for the commissioners to approve a list of eligible candidates.
Step 4: Recommend someone on the list to Mayor John Robert Smith. This step is usually taken by a department head but it is optional if you are, in fact, the mayor.
Step 5: The mayor considers the recommendation. He may, or may not, ask the candidate for more information or interview him or her in person. The mayor then officially appoints the new employee.
There is an exception to this procedure. If you feel that no application process is necessary because there are so few people available who have the necessary training, experience or education to fill the position, you may ask the Civil Service Commission to approve what's called a "Section 8.02" waiver.
If the commission approves the waiver, you may recommend your candidate to the mayor directly after Step 1 without a competitive application process.
While it is cumbersome and time-consuming, the idea is to ensure that everyone gets an equal chance to advance and make a better life for themselves and their families.
What happened instead
In the example I'm going to be talking about, that's not what occurred. Here's the wrong way to do it.
Step 1: Call a press conference and announce the creation of a new city position with supervisory responsibilities and a nice salary. Announce the appointment of a person to fill the position at the press conference.
Step 2: Tell the Civil Service Commission about it later. Worry about getting a job description approved some other time. Ask for a Section 8.02 waiver to fiat retroactive approval of what you already did.
This is how the mayor's appointment of Hugh Smith to the position of assistant public works director in charge of the water division was accomplished and that's not Hugh Smith's fault. I'm sure he is a capable person.
But, that's not the point. The point is that the process was subverted. The CSC was cut out of the loop and got the news from the newspaper or television. The commission's attorney, Lawrence Primeaux, objected almost immediately. An appeal from Jeanette McPherson, the city's waste water supervisor, followed.
It took months to straighten out and the end result is that the mayor has to go back to Step 1 and do it right. Here's a timeline of what went wrong.
Jan 21: Press conference
The mayor announced his choices for public works director and two assistant public works directors at a press conference Jan. 21. One assistant would be in charge of the maintenance division, the other in charge of the water division.
The announcements were part of a reorganization of the Public Works Department that came six months after the departure of Benny Wolfe, who resigned as director in July 2001.
One of the two assistant public works director positions the one in charge of water did not exist before the mayor's announcement. At the press conference, the mayor said Hugh Smith would fill that slot.
Jan. 24: CSC reacts
On Jan. 24, Primeaux faxed a letter to city attorney Lee Thaggard. That letter read, in part:
Primeaux asked Gloria Kirby, the CSC's administrative assistant, to place the matter on the agenda for the next meeting of the commission on Feb. 12.
Feb. 11: Mayor writes
the CSC
In a memo to the Civil Service Commission dated Jan. 31, but not received by the CSC until Feb. 11, the mayor outlined the reorganization of the Public Works Department.
A job description for the existing assistant public works director position was attached but there was no job description attached for the newly created assistant's position. In the same memo, the mayor said he intended to select a current city employee for the new job.
Just for the record, the deadline to be placed on the agenda for the CSC's Feb. 12 meeting was Feb. 7.
Feb. 12: CSC action,
McPherson weighs in
The Civil Service Commission announced an investigation into the selection of Hugh Smith as an assistant public works director at its Feb. 12 meeting.
Simultaneously, the commission entertained a complaint from McPherson, who asked the CSC to "look into the legality of this appointment." She said that the position "should have been advertised and tested according to Civil Service rules."
Primeaux advised the board to combine the two enquiries. Several months passed. A public hearing was scheduled at McPherson's request for June 6, and then canceled when city officials, the CSC and McPherson reached an agreement.
June 11: Try again
The CSC ultimately decided to un-do everything that had come before and require that a competitive application process be initiated for the second assistant public works director position.
Step 1 was accomplished Tuesday at a regular meeting of the CSC. Gary Matlock, the city's human resources director, at the direction of Mayor Smith, submitted job descriptions for the two assistant public works director positions one in charge of operations and one in charge of utilities. The second assistant's position will be posted, and applications and testing will proceed.
Steps 2-5 will follow.
A long way to go just to arrive back at the beginning.