NEW ORLEANS, LA—Today, Mayor Mitch Landrieu joined City employees and civic and business leaders in introducing a package of reforms to make the City of New Orleans a great place to work. Among the changes are several Civil Service rule changes to improve the hiring and evaluation process, improve pay and pay flexibility, increase training opportunities, and allow managers more flexibility in giving performance-based promotions. A core component of the initiative unveiled today is increasing the minimum wage for City employees to $10.10. That move would affect approximately 194 employees and will increase personnel expenditures by about $350,000 annually.
“The City’s personnel system needs updating and modernizing,” said Mayor Landrieu. “New Orleans’ residents are crying out for a more effective government, and the City’s traditional personnel system stands in the way. We must preserve the safeguards that have value, while modernizing what does not. In addition to improving basic human resources processes, I am committed to paying our employees a living wage. Increasing the minimum wage for City employees will ensure that our hard-working employees have a paycheck that better supports their families and provides more economic security.”
The changes unveiled today follow several years of work by the Landrieu Administration to craft common-sense reforms to the civil service system, following a 2010 study by the George Bush School of Government & Public Service at Texas A&M and several reports by the Bureau of Governmental Research (BGR).
In 2012, the City partnered with a group of universities, foundations, and business and community organizations to hire the Public Strategies Group, a national leader in helping public organizations transform their antiquated bureaucracies, to help develop a reform plan.
As part of that process, in 2012, the City conducted an employee and manager survey about the state of human resources at City Hall. The results were concerning. Only 18% of employees agreed “that the current city civil service system is effective;” 58% disagreed. When asked if the system was “efficient,” 17% agreed while 59.5% disagreed. The hiring process received even lower marks. Only 29% of our employees agreed that “poor performance is dealt with effectively on my team.”
Managers and supervisors were equally as harsh as their employees. Only 16% agreed that hiring “occurs quickly enough to meet the needs of my department/office;” 15% said they were “able to hire the best candidates at the appropriate salary to support the needs” of their department or office; and 15% said they were “able to promote qualified employees” when needed. Just 13% agreed that the system “gives [them] the flexibility to create positions of the type and number [they] need,” and a mere 22.5% said that the City’s personnel practices “allow [them] to hire the best candidates for the position.”
In addition to the survey, the Administration held in-depth interviews with more than 75 city employees, managers, and dozens of stakeholders, held representative focus groups, and half a dozen meetings with top Department of Civil Service staff.
Deputy Mayor & Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin said, “While the current system prevents politically-motivated hiring and firing of employees, we heard time and time again that the status quo fails our public servants at ensuring a merit-based employment structure where decisions about hiring, promotion, and pay are made based on the individual employee’s performance. I have worked in State and City government for over 20 years now, and I can say that we have good, hard-working employees and managers. But they are not being given a system that fosters excellence. These changes will make the City of New Orleans a better place to work both as a manager and an employee.”
Civil Service Chair Kevin Wildes said, “The City Civil Service Commission is committed to considering reforms brought before it that ensure merit-based decisions regarding the recruitment, selection, training, evaluation, management and retention of skilled and capable individuals who provide excellent service to the citizens of New Orleans. Our goal for these reforms is to transform the City’s Civil Service Commission into highly effective independent body that manages a system that is more supportive of our employees and eliminates waste and inefficiencies in our human resources processes.”
Making the City of New Orleans a model employee public service organization will require dramatic improvements in five key areas: (1) Better Hiring Techniques; (2) Better Careers; (3) Better Pay; (4) Better Processes; and (5) Better Training.
Better Hiring Techniques
Leave in place the same Civil Service protections against hiring candidates who do not possess the knowledge, skill and ability to perform the work the job requires.
Give more decision making to the managers who know the work requirements best.
Eliminate the falsely objective rankings based on exams. Allow managers to hire the best suited candidate who took the competitive examination and was determined qualified by the Department of Civil Service.
Eliminate the “Rule of Three” that requires managers to hire from one of the top three test takers.
Allow managers to promote employees within their department based on objective measures of performance and qualifications.
Let managers promote employees within their job series without Civil Service approval, as long as the employee is qualified.
Increase the minimum wage for all City employees to $10.10 per hour.
Allow department directors to give pay increases within the already-approved pay range for special assignments without prior approval from Civil Service.
Give all departments an equal percentage (between 0.5 and 5%) for performance based pay increases to employees every year.
Let managers use the full approved salary range for jobs with recruitment challenges or candidates with exceptional qualifications. This requires objective justification and increases in salaries for all existing employees in the same job and same unit in the same situation.
Streamline processes and set meaningful performance goals for the personnel function of City government.
Evaluate the performance of new employees before their job becomes permanent.
Revamp the outdated scantron service rating system to one based on meaningful supervisor/employee feedback and objective, clear performance goals.
Give all employees the right to take at least one training per month, regardless of intent to take a promotional exam.
Improve and modernize training offerings.
Encourage training budgets for every department.
For employees, the recommendations that follow will allow for pay increases and more promotions for those who perform well, higher entrance salaries to make us competitive with other cities, more opportunities for relevant and transferable training, and a fairer and more objective approach to evaluation. They will not weaken any rights to appeal disciplinary actions or termination, but they will reduce the need for unwarranted discipline and create a more productive relationship between employees and supervisors, so fewer appeals drag out for years.
LaTanja Silvester, President of the SEIU Local 21LA said, “On behalf of the hardworking City of New Orleans employees and all working people all across the city, SEIU would like to thank Mayor Landrieu for his leadership and commitment to making New Orleans prosperous for all. We believe that it is crucial to the long-term success and prosperity of the whole city that we support working families in both the public and private sectors. The Mayor's decision to raise the minimum wage for all city employees to $10.10 per hour, will help working families keep up with rising prices on the basic necessities of life is a big step in the right direction.”
For managers, these improvements will give them far more ability to hire, retain, promote and reward high performers, to motivate their employees, and to give actionable performance improvement plans for low performers before turning to termination.
Charlotte Parent, Director of the Health Department said that the current system handcuffs managers in the hiring process. “Under the ‘rule of three,’ hiring managers must normally choose one of three candidates rated most qualified by the Civil Service Department, based on test scores and a precise number of years of work experience. As a manager, I would like to interview and conduct a reference check on these potential employees before having to hire them. It’s a situation that has long needed changing.”
Vic Richard, CEO of the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission said, “We often lose good employees because we cannot raise their pay or promote them. And even more often, we lose good candidates because the civil service approval process is antiquated and hiring often takes six months or longer. These changes will make it easier the Civil Service Department to modernize and for managers across government to hire and retain talent.”
For the public and for communities, businesses, and other stakeholders, in the coming years these reforms should result in better service, a higher quality of life, and the achievement of outcomes residents desire.
Paul H. Flower, Chairman of the Business Council of New Orleans & the River Region said, “The citizens of New Orleans have demanded and received the implementation of best practices in local government programs and management. Modernization of the city’s civil service system is in full accord with the movement towards a more effective government and brings our city in line with other cities across the country. Accordingly, the Business Council of New Orleans and the River Region applauds and fully supports Mayor Landrieu’s decision to follow-through on his commitment to modernize New Orleans’ civil service system.”
And for the City’s elected officials, they should produce a city workforce with higher morale, higher performance, and greater adaptability to change—which should in turn yield a public that is more satisfied with their City government.
City Council President Jacquelyn Brechtel Clarkson said, “To run city government with the best of government and civil service protections and the best of free enterprise applications is masterful!”
Councilmember-at-Large Stacy Head said, “This is a great first step in improving our personnel system. City employees work extremely hard and deserve to be appreciated and rewarded for their commitment to serving the public. I am happy that steps are being made in that direction and that department managers and others will be empowered to make personnel changes when needed, and that employees will have the opportunity to better themselves and to feel the benefits in the workplace and in their pocketbooks.”
District A Councilmember Susan G. Guidry said, “I applaud Mayor Landrieu and his team for putting together this proposed package of reforms to our Civil Service rules. Recently, the City Council passed a resolution calling on Governor Jindal to raise the minimum wage for State employees. It is important that we do the same for the hard-working and dedicated people who work alongside us and serve our city every day.”
District C Councilmember Kristin Gisleson Palmer said, “Today’s announcement marks the many ways City Hall is improving to meet the needs of all of our residents including City employees. Working in local government is an important form of public service that merits fair pay and fair opportunities to be hired and to grow professionally. I applaud the Administration for meeting the challenge of President Obama to raise the minimum wage for all workers. I challenge others throughout the Greater New Orleans area to do the same so all of our residents and families may have access to a better quality of life.”
Both improving the civil service system and increasing the minimum wage for City employees were pledges made by Mayor Landrieu during his recent re-election campaign.
The Forward New Orleans Coalition report called on elected officials [to] support reform of the Civil Service System as an essential element to the City’s transformation to a performance culture, and to act with a sense of urgency to develop a complete reform package for the public and the Civil Service Commission to consider.
The next regular monthly meeting of the City Civil Service Commission is scheduled for Monday, April 21, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. at 1340 Poydras Street, Suite 900, New Orleans, LA 70112.
More information, including the specific rule changes being requested, is available online at www.nola.gov/greatplacetowork.