July 5, 2013 in City

Park Board seeks rule change

Proposal would strip civil service protections from managers
By The Spokesman-Review
 

The push to strip civil service protections from managers is continuing at City Hall.

Later this month, the Spokane City Council will consider a request from the Park Board to divide the Parks and Recreation Department into three departments.

That would give Mayor David Condon the power to hire and fire eight administrators within the parks division, up from two.

The proposal follows the City Council’s April decision, on a 4-3 vote, to create six departments within the police division and seven within the fire division. Doing so potentially gave Condon the power to appoint 30 public safety administrators rather than just four.

All city employees are part of the civil service system except the top two managers of each department and those who work at the Spokane Public Library. Positions within the civil service system are filled through rules and tests, and civil service employees who are disciplined or fired can appeal to the Civil Service Commission, which has the power to place wrongly fired workers back on the payroll.

Civil service systems were created to prevent politicians from hiring their buddies over qualified applicants and from removing good workers to make room for those to whom they owe favors. But some say Spokane’s system offers too much protection, creating an entrenched bureaucracy that too often rejects change.

Currently, only Park Director Leroy Eadie is outside the civil service system in the department because it is run without an assistant director. Under the proposal, the current managers and assistant managers of park operations, recreation and entertainment, and budget and finance could lose civil service protections and be given leadership of separate departments within a Parks and Recreation division.

Eadie said that rules give him enough flexibility to hire the best manager candidates. But he said it’s too difficult to remove managers who aren’t performing well.

“For lack of a better word, this gives us the firing capability as well,” Eadie said.

Critics of stripping managers of civil service protections say the proposals to create departments is a sneaky way around voters who have been strong supporters of civil service. In 1991, 81 percent of voters rejected a request to increase the number of managers without civil service rights from two to three in each department.

The Spokane Firefighters Union filed a lawsuit against the city in May, arguing that the creation of departments was done only to circumvent the City Charter.

The Spokane Park Board was nearly unanimous in its support for the idea. Park Board member Chris Wright cast the lone vote in opposition.

Wright said he agrees it should be easier to hire and fire some top managers, but he doesn’t see a need to increase noncivil-service positions from two to eight.

Park leaders argue that the proposal simply codifies the current structure of the park department.

Eadie said he doesn’t plan to immediately remove assistant managers from the civil service system and that next year only four managers, including himself, would be noncivil service. Condon has stressed that the City Council acts as a check and balance on his selections for department directors. The council, however, does not have a say about who is picked for assistant directors.

Eadie said he expects the City Council to consider the plan July 22.

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