On the November 26, 2013 City Council meeting agenda was Item 23, an ordinance revising employee unclassified and classified positions as well as a revision of Human Resources Policies 201, 513 and 514. It was an item that council tabled and directed to be brought to a workshop — as well they should have.

As Councilmember Martinez stated there had been no review or discussion of this item prior to its appearance as an ordinance that night. City Manager Brenda Fischer took full responsibility for not bringing it to council prior to the vote. She should have. This ordinance, if approved, will be a blatant and naked accrual of more power to the City Manager and a diminishment of employee rights. Instead of former City Manager Ed Beasley’s “iron fist” we now have current City Manager Brenda Fischer’s “velvet glove.”

If I were a city employee I would be concerned. Currently the “at-will” employees are:

  •  City Manager                        1
  •  City Clerk                             1
  •  City Attorney                        1
  •  City Judge                            1
  •  Assistant City Judges             5 estimated

Under the proposal add:

  • Assistant and Deputy City Manager level positions
  • All department Director/Assistant Department Director level positions
  • All employees, exempt and non-exempt, assigned to positions in the legal department (includes City Attorney’s office and Prosecutor’s office);                            
  •  assigned to positions in the City Clerk’s office;                                        
  •  assigned to positions in the Mayor’s and City Council offices;
  •  and all classified employees in their introductory or probationary period of employment.

Under the current system reflected in the FY 2013 budget there are approximately 9 positions (estimate of number of assistant city judges is 5) that are unclassified and are considered as at-will. Under the proposed “velvet glove” system the number grows to approximately 120 positions. That number does not include “all classified employees in their introductory or probationary period of employment.” My math can be shaky but it appears to be a 1,000% increase planned in the number of at-will employees and that does not include probationary employees.

What are the differences between classified and unclassified employees? The major distinction is that unclassified employees have no right of appeal or right of grievance should they be fired. There does not have to be a “cause” to terminate. Consider them to be contract employees. There is no permanence or stability associated with the job. They are salaried employees who earn no overtime pay. There is no annual merit or “step” increase. Rather increases are based upon performance and productivity.

Retirement “vesting” and benefits can be different between the two systems. Unclassified employees can usually vest in retirement immediately while there is a waiting period for classified employees.

A classified job offers an individual job security and stability. Security at work has been demonstrated to improve and to enhance the individual’s performance. In the private sector companies that offer permanent jobs understand the need of promoting higher levels of job satisfaction to improve workforce performance. A classified employee will generally receive more employment benefits and bonuses like health insurance, pay raises and holiday pay.

There is no right or wrong position on these job classifications. Younger, more mobile workers seem to prefer at will employment while older persons are more comfortable with the security of job stability.

However, this new proposal raises a myriad of questions and concerns:

What about the issue of subjectivity? What if a department head has an assistant department head that does terrific work but their personalities clash? There exists the potential for abuse.

What about public safety? Do department heads and assistant department heads in police and fire become unclassified? If so the estimated number of 120 will grow substantially.

What about those employees currently in their introductory or probationary phases? Did those that already accepted employment from the city choose stability or mobility? If it was stability did they unwittingly forego another opportunity at another city assuming that once they passed their current probation they would have a stable job? In this new proposal once they finish probation after January 2, 2014 do they become at-will, unclassified? If so, over time, every employee will become unclassified. The proposed ordinance specifically states, “Legislative note: The expansion of the unclassified service to include employees hired and or promoted on or after January 2, 2014.”

The ordinance also states, “Unclassified employees are entitled to all regular benefits and leaves unless otherwise provided in the human resources policies and procedures.” How long will it be until unclassified employees see revisions to HR policies and procedures?

Then there is the description of classified service within the ordinance, “The objective of this service is to provide public and management services covered by a fair and nonpolitical system of personnel management for the City of Glendale.” Those seem to be desired outcomes in municipal government. So why the proposed change? It goes on to say, “The unclassified service is made up of employees in positions where administrative necessity dictates that the position be more responsive and accountable to city policy.” Is the unclassified system inherently more subjective and political? Yes.

The City Charter under Article III, Section 3, (3) states the City Manager has the authority to “appoint, and when deemed necessary for the good of the service, lay-off, suspend, transfer, demote or remove all department heads, officers and employees of the City subject to such merit system regulations as the Council may adopt.” However, only classified employees are subject to the merit system and even if the City Manager wished to get rid of a classified person there are protections in place that must demonstrate cause. The council may make all the adjustments it wants to the merit system but they will only apply to classified employees whose numbers in this proposed scenario seem to diminish over time.

Another sentence has been added in this section, “The City Manager delegates the Human Resources & Risk Management Executive Director as the decision making authority with regard to the entire recruitment and selection process.” It is worded carefully for it appears that the HR Director can select candidates for positions but the ultimate hiring and firing will be done by the City Manager.

Why was this proposed? I’ve been told by sources that it was adopted by the City Manager after she had to appear before the Personnel Board in the matter of the Don Bolton termination. A different source suggested Mayor Weiers’ love of all legislative practices and procedures (this model is used by the state legislature) drove this initiative. Weiers has tried to have several state legislative practices adopted but what works at the state level does not always work well at a local level.

What justification is offered by either the City Manager and/or the HR Executive Director for a major change in personnel classification? None — apparently.  In the City Council Report under Purpose and Recommended Action the proposed action is described but its purpose is not.

Why the reluctance to offer the purpose of such a major change? We are certain to hear that this proposed system offers flexibility in a changed work environment. Sounds like double-speak, doesn’t it? Make no mistake. This scheme centralizes power in the City Manager’s office. As elected officials leave so, too, will their staff under this proposed system. It can get really expensive in short order.

It was extremely prudent of council to table this proposal for future discussion at a workshop. The questions are many:

* Why is this major policy change necessary? And do not accept the answer of flexibility.

* Exactly how many employees out of the 1,000 plus will become subject to this policy?

* Will it apply to all new employees throughout the organization after January 2, 2014? From that date forward, once they have finished probation, will they be unclassified?

* How does such a policy change affect future budgets? What is the anticipated cost of moving to such a system? Add 20% to any staff estimate, if they provide one.

* Will department heads and assistant department heads in public safety become unclassified? If not, why not?

* Is the City Auditor and her department employees unclassified? If not, why not?

* Who will have the ultimate authority for hiring and firing unclassified employees?

* And most importantly — What practices will be implemented immediately and prior to a council vote to prevent any potential abuses including that created by subjectivity?


© Joyce Clark, 2013

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