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Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Editorial: Untie civil service knot

Hillsborough County constitutional officers, the county commission and the county administrator all agree: Civil service is a bureaucratic logjam.

As Clerk of the Circuit Court Pat Frank puts it, “This system can’t deliver. It’s outmoded. It’s not customer friendly. It keeps us from being efficient.”

So local lawmakers had good reason to endorse (by a 12-2 vote) during the local delegation meeting in December a measure that would prune civil service’s tentacles.

Hillsborough is the only county in the state with such an elaborate civil service operation. It covers about 9,500 jobs at 21 agencies. It has 550 job titles and a daunting 150 pages of rules.

County leaders say the agency’s rigid dictates keep agencies from quickly responding to the public needs. Transferring an employee from one section to another or creating a new position can be complicated. Frank points out trainees must reapply for the job after working six months. “There are ridiculous paperwork requirements,” she says.

Tax Collector Doug Belden is equally frustrated that his office can’t move quickly to improve service. Civil service requires, for instance, an existing classification be identified for a position before it is filled.

Employees who leave a county department to work in another Hillsborough agency can even reclaim their old jobs if they fail to succeed in the six-month probationary period.

Legislation sponsored by Republican Rep. Dana Young would end the red tape without undermining workers’ rights. The measure would allow agencies to “opt out” of civil service’s hiring maze but would maintain the Civil Service Board’s authority over grievance hearings. Workers would be assured an independent forum where they can challenge firings, demotions, suspensions or other disciplinary actions.

It is a prudent measure that is being misrepresented by civil service advocates.

Last week, as the Tribune’s Mike Salinero reported, the Civil Service Board’s chief of employee relations, Alma Gonzalez, had to apologize for falsely telling a legislative committee considering the change that the Sheriff’s Office wanted to revise affirmative action policies.

In fact, the Sheriff’s Office has been a strong proponent of the county’s affirmative action efforts, and its leaders were understandably upset by the distortion.

Gonzalez also told members of the House Local and Federal Affairs Committee during a March 12 hearing that county agencies served by civil service were “thrilled with the work we do for them.”

Young, who heard county officials voice their frustrations with civil service at the local delegation meeting, pointedly corrected her.

Young said she had “never seen so much passion” from Democratic and Republican leaders alike.

“These folks want change. They are hamstrung,” Young said.

She read from the last performance audit of the Hillsborough County Civil Service Board that found it “deeply bureaucratic, focused on process more than positive outcomes, and is not meeting the human resource needs of the agencies required to use its services.”

The argument for change is overwhelming. The legislation retains civil service’s protection of workers’ rights, which are also protected by federal law. And it’s important to stress that federal, state and local laws prohibit discrimination. This legislation won’t weaken employee safeguards.

There is no reason to keep county employment hogtied in bureaucratic knots that harm efficiency and service. The Legislature should heed the wishes of the Hillsborough delegation and reform civil service.

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