Legislative Committee Hears Strong Police Union Opposition To Governor’s Attack On Civil Service

On Wednesday morning February 24, 2010 the Joint Legislative Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight held a hearing to address the Governor’s improper efforts to stack the Civil Service Commission by eliminating the salary of 3 of the 5 Civil Service Commissioners. The Governor’s plan would completely politicize the Commission by puttng virtually all the power in the chair who is answerable directly to the Governor.

At the hearing there was a tremendous outpouring of opposition to the Governor’s proposal. The hearing room was overflowing with representatives from numerous police organizations clearly leading the opposition to the Governor’s efforts. Tom Nee, President of the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association testified as did Sandull Grace Attorney Susan Horwitz. See her comments below. Also the Massachusetts Coalition of Police was represented by Vice President Kenneth Scanzio and Attorney Tim King.

The Committee members appeared very concerned with the Governor’s proposal and listened to the objections from the police union witnesses. The Committee members heard that the Civil Service Commission needs some fixing but that the Governor’s proposal is not the appropriate action and in fact will only make things worse. It is wrong to politicize an agency whose primary mission and purpose is to keep politics out of public emloyment. The Civil Service Commission is sometimes the only place where employees can turn to insure fair treatment in their employment. The Committee must act within ten days of the hearing and report whether it approves or disapproves such plan and then at least one branch at the general court must vote it’s disapproval by a majority vote in order to prevent the Governor’s plan from taking effect as of March 27,2010.

Please continue to let the Committee know your opposition to this anti union and anti employee plan.

JOINT COMMITTEE ON STATE ADMINISTRATION AND REGULATORY OVERSIGHT

House Staff:
Room 22
State House
Boston, MA 02133
House Staff Telephone: (617) 722-2140

Senate Staff:

Room 413A
State House
Boston, MA 02133
Senate Staff Telephone: (617) 722-1643


Susan’s statement to the¬†Joint Legislative Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight:

My name is Susan Horwitz and I am an attorney representing the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association. I also have been representing individuals before the Civil Service Commission for over 25 years and I previously worked for the Federal government as a personnel officer implementing federal civil service law.

I am here today to ask you to disapprove the Governor’s actions to improperly restructure the Civil Service Commission.

The role of the Civil Service Commission as described in the Statute, Chapter 31, is to enforce the basic Merit Principles as described in the law. The agency is responsible for assuring fair treatment of all applicants and employees in all aspects of personnel administration without regard to political affilation and to assure that all employees are protected against coercion for political purposes and are protected from arbitrary and capricious actions.

The State Courts have further emphasized that the fundamental purpose of the civil service system is to guard against political considerations, favoritism, and bias in government employment decisions and to protect public employees from political control.

I believe that if you take a close look at the Governor’s proposal you will see the irony in his proposal since it does not pass the standard of keeping politics and fairness in the structure of the Civil Service Commission itself. Were the Commission reviewing the personnel actions proposed by the Governor’s proposal it would surely find it in violation of merit principles and in contravention of the essence and purpose of the civil service law and system.

The Commission is designed with 5 commissioners and creates balance by ensuring that at least one member is a representative of labor, 2 representing management and also that no more than 3 commissioners can be from the same political party. Clearly this is designed to create balance and fairness and to assure that the Commission will carry out its role as a fair and neutral agency. It is clear that the Commission must not be influenced by politics and surely should not be restructured for political expedience. The proposed restructure will effectively eliminate the labor member of the Commission and will create a one person commission which will be directly responsive to the Governor since the Governor will determine which Commissioners are paid a salary. What had been an agency which has been and must be independent of executive control would now be entirely under executive control. It is essential that the Civil Service Commission be an independent watchdog to assure fairness in public employment. This proposed new structure effectively eliminates the guarantees of balance between labor and management and between political parties.

The purpose of terms of office is to insulate officials from being removed because those that appear before the agency may dislike decisions made by the agency. This new structure would effectively terminate current commissioners just to satisfy the complaints of those who are not willing to work within a fair and unbiased system.

The Governor’s proposal undermines the principles of the civil service system and politicizes an agency whose purpose is to keep politics out of public employment. The civil service commission is the only place where individual citizens can go to ensure fair treatment in their efforts to obtain public employment and to ensure their fair treatment as public employees.

The effort to rush in these changes is further evidence that there are political motivations to this proposaL. It is wrong to try to make these radical changes without proper review and analysis by the legislature. This proposal does not create efficiency in government it merely politicizes an agency which must be independent in order to carry out its mission.

We therefore ask you to disapprove of this dismantling and politicizing of the Civil Service Commission.

Susan F. Horwitz, Esq

Sandull Grace, PC

44 School St Suite 1100

Boston, MA 02109

617-523-2500

shorwitz@sandulligrace.com

6 thoughts on “Legislative Committee Hears Strong Police Union Opposition To Governor’s Attack On Civil Service”

  1. Thank you and the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association for fighting banding and the changes proposed within civil service which would eliminate the equal treatment of the civil service employee. I am employed by a small police department that does not have the resources or ability to fight civil service and the governor. I really appreciate your effort on our behalf.

    1. Both Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association and Massachusetts Coalition of Police (now representing nearly 4,000 municipal police officers), along with many other police and fire fighter organizations have been spearheading this grassroots opposition to what would amount to the dismantling of the civil service system. Hopefully, the Legislature and the Governor will get the message. Thank you for your support.

      Alan Shapiro

  2. When I took the civil service exam back in 69, I studied the “Red Book” and took the fire fighter exam and passed with a very high mark, which got me a job with the Norwood Fire Dept. Soon after, to balance past racial discrimination, the civil service exams were watered down to High School equalivancy tests (and less) and the passing grades were lowered to unheard of levels to allow minorities to gain hiring balances. This lowered the calibre of entrants into the Fire Service for years to come. I hope that the Civil Service has since come back to its former stature and is helping place dedicated men and women into the civil employments of their choice and not allowing government interference to lower standards as has happened in the past.

    1. Actually, civil service tests were not “watered down” to benefit minorities, they were supposed to have been redesigned so that they measured how well someone would perform as a firefighter, or police officer in the case of police exams. In 1974, the First Circuit Court of Appeals found that the civil service exam then being given did little to measure how someone would fare as a firefighter. The Court noted:

      The test was not professionally developed. The civil service examiner who wrote the latest versions was without professional training in employment or psychological testing, and did not consult with anyone who had such training. No analysis of required job skills was conducted, and the author (who was not skilled in fire fighting) relied on the civil service ‘poster’ setting forth the principal ‘duties’ of a fire fighter, and on the Red Book.

      The Court found that “The test does not examine traits seemingly more relevant to a fire fighter’s performance such as agility, stamina, quick thinking under pressure, poise, mechanical aptitude and the ability to work with others.”

      Some of the questions, such as asking candidates “whether ‘condense’ means ‘(a) conduct (b) expand (c) evaporate (d) contract’ and to recognize that ‘pressurised’ rather than ‘bouyancy’ was misspelled” might be appropriate on a college application but the Court questioned whether answering them correctly would select for better firefighters.

      And, in my favorite part of the decision (since I’m a baseball fan), likened the test to “If the Boston Red Sox recruited players on the basis of their knowledge of baseball history and vocabulary, the team might acquire authorities like John Kieran [a New York Times sportswriter] but who could not bat, pitch or catch.”

      [This case can be found at http://openjurist.org/504/f2d/1017%5D

      The point is that tests that negatively affect a group (women, minorities) are lawful, provided they measure how well the applicants will perform on the job. If they do not correlate with job performance, they are discriminatory and illegal.

      Civil Service should give tests that measure candidates’ skills that are pertinent to the jobs for which they are applying, so that everyone has an even shot based on their skills and abilities, not on their race, gender, or whom they know.

      Alan Shapiro

  3. Attorney Hortwiz – Thank you for your efforts to preserve the Mass. Civil Service Commission. I think that the Governor’s office got the message loud and clear at the recent public hearing. I hope that the administration does not try to retaliate against Commissioner Henderson in other ways now….what a system, where they try to stop a guy’s pay, just because he follows the law!

  4. To Mr. Towne:

    Alan Shapiro is correct about the problems with the pre-1974 examinations. The new examinations were not “watered down” to accommodate minorities. The Department of Personnel Administration (Now the Human Resources Division) was simply required to “validate”, or show the job-relatedness, of the examinations for police officers and firefighters, and had to do so under the Court’s continuing involvement. However, there were times when the passing grades for the examinations were set lower than was traditional, to ensure that there would be enough candidates from each “pool” of candidates. At times, this may have resulted in disparities among appointees’ scores from the different pools. It is my understanding that, at present, the system which existed when I started at the Department of Personnel Administration, which required the merging of candidates’ names from the separate “minority” and “non-minority” lists of candidates for public safety positions, is almost extinct. I have not been with the Division for seven years, but before I left, the use of such lists was under attack in the courts and was clearly becoming anachronistic.

    As to Commissioner Henderson’s situation, I practiced before him before I left HRD, and have done so since leaving. Like all attorneys, we have had spirited disagreements as to the language of Chapter 31, but I have always found him to be scrupulously honest in his dealings with appointing authorities, applicants and employees. I read the Cyrus case with great interest. Although I might, in that case, have sided with the appointing authority on first blush, I did realize the logic of the majority when the statistics were carefully analyzed. Such analysis is not always found in public agency decisions. Many might not have spent the time to root out what ultimately appeared to be clear political favoritism and, possibly, nepotism. I applaud that kind of care in administrative decisions.

    Also, thanks to Susan Horwitz for her work on this legislative action.

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