WESTFIELD – The City Council, on the recommendation of the Public Health & Safety Committee, approved a resolution seeking statewide reform of the Civil Service program, seeking to make the state agency more responsive to the needs of communities in the Commonwealth participating in Civil Service.
PH&S Chairman Dan Allie, At-large councilor, composed a letter to Governor Charles Baker seeking a review and reform of the current procedures governing Civil Service.
“The goal should be to hire the best applicants available, who have a strong desire to work in selected municipalities, and to promote those individuals who best fit position,” Allie stated in the resolution letter to Baker.
“The system should not result in delays, obtaining lists and necessary information to make an informed decision,” Allie stated. “Areas of concern (with the current Civil Service system) include testing, providing approved lists and hiring in a timely manner, delays leading to unfilled positions, staffing shortages, overtime, lost funding, other expenses and issues.”
Allie suggested reforms that allow applicants for Civil Service controlled position to identify up to three specific communities and that the names of entry-level candidates should be removed from the Civil Service availability list when they are hired.
Allie also suggested the Civil Service testing should be regularly programmed and that test scores and hiring lists made available soon after the qualifying test is held. Furthermore Allie suggested that the test questions should reflect the needs of specific communities seeking employees.
The resolution letter has signature blocks for Mayor Daniel M. Knapik, Council President Brian Sullivan and Allie as chairman of the PH&S Committee.
Ward 2 Councilor Ralph Figy commended Allie for taking the initiative to seek a resolution for the city’s recent problem in making Civil Service appointments in the Fire Department and resolution of a termination in the Police Department which took the state agency two years to resolve, meaning that a replacement officer could not be hired during that appeal.
“I’s like to thank Councilor Allie for all of the work he has done on this issue,” Figy said.
Allie’s committee conducted an open meeting in March with other members of the City Council, the Law Department, Union officials and members of the public in attendance. That discussion indicated that the council has little authority, if any, to address the Civil Service issue directly.
“Civil service is bent, if not broken,” Allie said at the March meeting. “Parts of it don’t work at all. I’m trying to make suggestions to the state. Any action (through contract negotiations) has to be initiated by the Mayor, but there may be other avenues to address this through our local representatives in the Legislature.”
Allie had suggested that the City Council, through several committees now reviewing the civil service status, focus on change within the Police Department, Fire Department, Department of Public Works and the Westfield Gas & Electric Department.
Any change in job status under Civil Service regulation can only be done by the city’s executive branch through contract negotiation with the unions.
Law Department Supervisor Susan Phillips and Labor Counsel Jeff Krok presented two different avenues of addressing problems some departments have experienced with the civil service process of hiring and promoting individuals.
One avenue of removing positions and employees from civil service is through contract negotiations between the city’s executive branch (the mayor) and the unions representing those employees, Phillips said.
Any agreement between the mayor and the unions would then come to the City Council as a home rule petition to the state Legislature for its approval of changing the civil service status of those positions and employees. Phillips said that in the late 1990s under former City Solicitor Peter Martin that process was used to remove a number of department supervisors from civil service.
“There are really two issues being discussed here. One is removing portions or full departments from civil service,” Phillips said. “The second is changing civil service through the legislative process in Boston.”
Krok said the City Council members should be careful of discussing specifics and what the city would be willing to give the unions in exchange for removing personnel and positions from the civil service process.
“As elected city officials, anything said could be construed as an (contract) offer and if withdrawn, could result in an unfair labor complaint,” Krok said.
Thursday night Allie said the resolution letter to Baker would “avoid a lot of land mines. This is something we can do.”