Massachusetts Chief Human Resources Officer Paul Dietl today held a public hearing on his proposed changes to the Personnel Administrator Rules (PARs)(as previously reported, you can see the proposed changes here. While there was discussion of the other proposed changes, the majority of the hearing, and of the comments, was to the proposal to allow for the banding of scores on police and fire promotional examinations. (You may remember that HRD needs to change its rules before banding based on the injunction Sandulli Grace obtained last spring). The overwhelming message to HRD, delivered by unions, Fire and Police Chiefs, and interested individuals was “DON’T BAND!”
Prior to public comments on banding, HRD testing expert Jay Silva from testing company EB Jacobs gave a description of banding. According to Silva, using banding allows the test givers to eliminate variances in test scores that are not actually reflective of knowledge or ability. According the Silva and HRD, banding is intended to make the process “fairer” for test takers. He concluded that banding ultimately allows the municipality and/or chief to make a decision that allows for a “better fit” for the individual department.
Of course, here in Massachusetts we know that the officer who is a “better fit” will, no doubt, be the officer who is favored by management, or makes the political donation to the appropriate candidate, or…. A “better fit” will not be a better manager, nor does allowing a town to pick the “better fit” comport with the Civil Service mandate of merit based promotional decisionmaking.
Following HRD’s presentation, the public comment period commenced. 100% of the folks who took the time to go to the hearing voiced UNIFORM OPPOSITION to banding. State Senator (and former firefighter) Ken Donnelly spoke eloquently and movingly about how banding will eviscerate the preference for veterans that c. 31 requires. BPPA President Tom Nee spoke about how banding will allow favoritism to overcome objective criteria of merit. MCOP In House Counsel (and Waltham Sgt.) Tim King discussed how banding will undermine confidence in the testing procedure. PFFM President Bob McCarthy spoke passionately about how banding will undermine the authority of fire and police commanders – who make life and death decisions about those who work under them. And the comments continued, from representatives of the IBPO, the MPA, other Fire Departments, and individual officers and test takers – all unified in their opposition to banding. Perhaps most surprising, and heartening, a representative of the Fire Chief’s Association stood to oppose banding – noting that Fire Chiefs do not want discretion when it would undermine confidence in the system.
To their credit, the representatives from HRD, from Chief Dietl to General Counsel John Marra and Deputy General Counsel Michele Heffernan, were respectful and open to all the submissions. They indicated that they will take all of the comments into consideration prior to issuing the final propose rule changes. Those changes will then go to the Civil Service Commission for review, where we will again request to be heard. As always, we’ll keep you posted. (And if you don’t know, you can join our mailing list – just fill in your e-mail address in the box in the upper left corner of this page. By joining, you will get an e-mail every time a new blog entry is posted.)