Now that Crestwood’s Civil Service Board has suggested new regulations for city employees, aldermen last week questioned the proposed duties of the advisory board itself.
Aldermen directed the Civil Service Board during a Jan. 30 work session to further review its tasks spelled out in the newly proposed code. Specifically, aldermen questioned how the Civil Service Board should properly carry out a personnel investigation and how much independence its members should have to operate.
The Board of Aldermen and Civil Service Board had scheduled the work session to discuss proposed changes to the city’s civil-service code, which has not been adjusted since 1996.
In Chapter 1, Section 8 of the newly proposed document, the Civil Service Board included duties previously established in Section 18-7 of the city’s municipal code.
Under the tasks included in the newly proposed civil-service code and based on the city’s municipal code, the Civil Service Board “shall have the power and be required to” advise aldermen and the city administrator on personnel, “make any investigation which it may deem desirable” on personnel, report to aldermen at least once per year, approve civil-service rules, hear appeals for disciplinary action, perform other personnel duties that aldermen may require by ordinance and review the classification and pay plan annually.
The proposal also states that the Civil Service Board will meet the first Tuesday in March, June, September and December or as directed by the mayor, Civil Service Board chairman or personnel director.
Attached to these duties previously established in the city’s municipal code, the Civil Service Board has proposed the right to “render decision on grievance appeals.” Because of that proposal, aldermen would be required to amend Section 18-7 of Crestwood’s municipal code.
Given the Civil Service Board’s ability to decide on grievance appeals and advise aldermen on personnel matters, Mayor Roy Robinson last week told members Martha Duchild, Gretchen Huston and Catherine Barnes that even though aldermen have the final decision, the Civil Service Board’s opinion could be used in a legal case.
Before the Civil Service Board can make any recommendation, though, it must conduct a grievance process, which could include an investigation.
Ward 2 Alderman Chris Pickel asked if allowing the Civil Service Board to “make any investigation which it may deem desirable” could be detrimental to the city.
City Administrator Frank Myers agreed with Pickel that the investigation language might need to be further clarified to prevent conceivably unfounded intrusion on city employees and the administration.
“I can see, and I’ve known cases, where a disgruntled employee can really attempt to initiate some kind of a witch hunt,” he said. “I think it’s maybe imperative that we just clarify that a little bit. The role of the Civil Service Board is to review our policies and make sure they’re accurate as disciplinary action and grievance-related issues of civil-service employees come before this board to objectively hear those issues and then render a written opinion regarding that. But I can see where in the wrong set of … maybe that should just be clarified a little bit.”
In response, Civil Service Board members reiterated that aldermen have the final authority on employee decisions and that the Civil Service Board is an advisory body. But they contended that to properly formulate an objective recommendation on personnel, the board itself must be independent.
“As far as taking instructions from the board, we’re an independent body,” Duchild said. “So as soon as you start giving the Civil Service Board instructions, you’re losing the independence. That’s why we’re separate from the Board (of Aldermen), from the city administration. We’re separate.
“We’re an independent body. So that’s why we don’t have the Civil Service Board taking instruction from the Board of Aldermen.”
Myers characterized the Civil Service Board’s duties as essentially a balance between allowing its members the room to investigate personnel administration while also ensuring that it is not abused.
“I think that as the administration administers work rules and personnel policies and so forth that, absence a complaint, for the Civil Service Board to kind of come in and, if you would, do some digging, probing, prodding, looking, that could be a very intrusive kind of impact on the administration,” Myers said. “And I do think there’s some type of parameter. But at the same time, protecting our employees from arbitrary and capricious decisions on the part of the administration. And what the language taken to its extreme — and I’m not saying this board would do that — is it could open the door for the Civil Service Board to be coming and setting up an office and just really watching everything. I’m just saying the extreme of this language could lead to that. And I think that’s what … I hear the concern. Not that that’s what’s going to happen. But the language as it’s written …”
“That (municipal-code) language has been in since the ’50s,” Huston interjected.
“I understand,” Myers said.
“And you’ve never had anybody on the Civil Service Board do that kind of thing,” Huston said. “And I don’t care if you would recommend it to lighten what it could do. I’m not saying that. But is it a realistic thing? It’s never happened and it’s been in 50-something years.”
“I’m just saying I think that’s a concern with such broad language,” Myers said.
“Well, I don’t think as a Civil Service Board that any citizen, at least us, would interpret that as such,” Duchild said. “This isn’t some power board or anything like that. This is basically you’ve got the civil-service rules and regulations. It has the rights and responsibilities of the classified employee only. And we’re here to interpret them. That’s the purpose of the board really.”
Ward 4 Alderman Steve Nieder agreed that the Civil Service Board has the authority to study only civil-service rules and personnel matters and believes its duties in Chapter 1, Section 8 of the proposed code are warranted.
At the same time, aldermen reached a consensus to have the Civil Service Board further review this section in an effort that Ward 1 Alderman Richard Bland referred to as “tightening” its language.
“By and large, I agree that they do need a certain amount of autonomy,” Bland said. “We can’t be looking over the shoulder and instructing and advising in a grievance procedure … I guess maybe what I would like to see, as long as we’re going to change ordinances, advise the board on problems.
“Maybe if we can more narrowly define what problems are there concerning personnel administration in (subsection) A. And then in (subsection) B, it just seems a little broad. To make any investigation which it deems desirable … maybe narrow that scope down a little bit, too …”