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Hillsborough moves to reduce role of Civil Service Board

TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners moved Wednesday to reduce the role of the county’s Civil Service Board in classifying workers and setting pay scales.

The commissioners voted unanimously to present a bill to the county’s local legislative delegation on Dec. 2 that would restructure Civil Service. The proposed changes would allow the 21 public agencies that now use the board’s services to perform those themselves or contract for some or all of them, said County Administrator Mike Merrill.

For instance, Civil Service recruits and tests prospective employees for county agencies. The agency processes about 115,000 job applications and fills 1,300 jobs a year.

“A number of things they do routinely, if the Legislature passes this, any of us could pick or choose from them to continue or not,” Merrill said after the meeting.

If the bill passes, Civil Service would continue its role in refereeing workplace grievances, such as firings, demotions and disciplinary actions, Merrill said.

The state Legislature created the county’s Civil Service board in the 1950s as part of a nationwide movement to provide continuity in government workplaces by protecting workers from wholesale firings after new politicians take power.

But County Administrator Mike Merrill and constitutional officers such as the tax collector and clerk of court say the agency’s complex job classification formulas prevent supervisors from giving workers new duties or raising their pay above a certain grade without permission from the Civil Service Board.

Commissioner Sandy Murman said the proposed changes make sense as public agencies compete with the private sector for the best workers.

“Business is getting better; they come and cherry pick our best workers,” Murman said. “We start this cycle over and over. We need to be able to retain these people and pay them equal to what’s going on in the marketplace.”

Scott Strepina, chairman of the Civil Service Board, defended the agency, comparing it to recent efforts by private corporations to centralize all their “back office” operations such as human resources and accounting. County agencies already have such an operation with highly skilled personnel in Civil Service, Strepina said.

“Opening it up so agencies can opt out of the services provided by the Civil Service Board will shift the work load from a centralized department with the skills and expertise to handle this, out to agencies to develop their own solutions,” Strepina said.

“It will be a great expense to build out these teams, including staffs, managers, etc., to duplicate the benefits provided by civil service,” he said.

County Tax Collector Doug Belden disagreed, saying he knows best what kind of jobs his employees should do and what they should be paid. The Civil Service bureaucracy has hindered his efforts to make the Tax Collector’s Office more efficient while holding on to workers who take as much as a year to train, Belden said.

“I have always taken care of my employees and I think I’ve always looked for ways to do things better, faster and cheaper,” Belden said.

If the Legislature adopts the changes, county agencies could opt out of Civil Service starting in October 2014.

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