The Civil Service conundrum
By LeaAnne Klentzman
(writer’s analysis included)
Conundrum is defined as a question or problem having only a conjectural answer; or an intricate and difficult problem. How better to define the looming issues facing the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Civil Service Commission?
Last Tuesday voters across the country headed to the polls and cast their vote; among others, a new sheriff was elected.
What makes this issue different from ever before is that for the first time, ever, an incoming sheriff has to pull together a staff under the guidelines of a Civil Service organization that appears to have overreached the laws of Texas.
The laws governing Civil Service are outlined in the Texas government code Section 158. In that code it specifies that the Civil Service Commission must protect the rights of the sheriff’s employees with due process which is fair and equitable employment. Under Civil Service guidelines the Commission is required to make sure that all non-exempt employees are afforded fair and reasonable promotions based on competitive examinations, seniority, and tenure; fair and reasonable disciplinary actions with a clearly identified grievance procedure, protection of rights during an internal investigation, as well as a clearly defined layoff and dismissal guidelines.
In an emergency meeting, less than 24 hours after a new sheriff was elected, Sheriff Milton Wright approached the Civil Service Commission asking that several existing positions under his direction be upgraded and reclassified without the benefit of the prescribed Civil Service promotional process.
Several attendees spoke in opposition to this move. A representative from the sheriff’s Patrol Division said he had been approached by both association members and non-members asking that he tell the Commission that they opposed these promotions that failed to comply with the rules and the law.
Kent Edwards, Director of Human Resources for Fort Bend County also spoke against the move. As an example he cited one specific promotion saying that if that particular jail deputy was promoted to lieutenant, he would be bypassing over 319 deputies and 49 sergeants that were more qualified and had more seniority and tenure. Edwards asked that the Commission reject the complement of jobs the Sheriff was asking to reclassify and/or promote because it failed to comply with the Civil Service regulations.
The Sheriff told the Commission that he had allowed these eight positions/people to be promoted to “acting” positions and allowed overtime monies to be used to pay their bump in salaries. He was clear that the reclassification/promotions were for specific personnel and not open to the department as a whole. As it became clear that Wright’s request was going down in flames, the Sheriff said he would just pull the request from the agenda; the Commission said, “No”, and went on record rejecting the Sheriff’s request.
Many more issues will face the Civil Service Commission as they work their way through the uncharted waters of the transition from a long term incumbent to Sheriff-elect Troy Nehls. Administrative transitions and change are a challenge, and quite often in politics, even more so.
However in the world of government service there are two career paths; that of the career civil servant (deputy) and that of political appointments (administrators). To take a broader and less painful look into the process, the Commission must remove the local personalities and look to Washington; with every change in a Presidential administration there is a changing of the guard in the West Wing.
Certainly no one would have expected Mitt Romney to keep President Obama’s cabinet members. Likewise, no one would expect Sheriff-elect Troy Nehls to keep Milton Wright’s administration.
However the career Civil Service employees will continue to run the daily operations with only a change in photo on the wall. Thus, when the new Sheriff takes office on January 1, 2013, he will be surrounded by a cabinet of his own choosing who will direct operations, set goals, and continue to serve the community with new policing methods, however the Civil Servants will remain the same.
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