Ballot measure planned to change city's civil service system

2014-06-05T17:22:00Z 2014-06-05T22:25:32Z Ballot measure planned to change city's civil service systemJANELLE WETZSTEIN Napa Valley Register

After months of gathering input from top staff and employees, Napa is preparing the first draft of a November ballot measure that will ask voters to alter portions of the city’s charter concerning the Civil Service Commission.

The proposed changes were brought up last year at the behest of the Napa City Council, after City Manager Mike Parness pointed out problems he felt had surfaced in recent years.

“When the Civil Service Commission was first formed, there weren’t any of the employee protections we have in place now,” Parness said Wednesday.

“Since the commission was created, we’ve passed laws that give employees the rights to organize, bargain and challenge their employer. We have the police officer’s bill of rights, the firefighter’s bill of rights and (collectively bargained) contracts that allow for appeals. And yet, our city charter still makes all these references to the role of the commission.”

The cost of the putting the measure on the ballot isn’t known. Additional public meetings on the matter will be held on July 11 and Aug. 5.

Civil service commissions have long been used by charter cities such as Napa as a tool to handle public employee issues. Though a number of charter cities throughout the state still employ civil service commissions, most have undergone significant changes to their scope of authority, according to city staff, yet the role of Napa’s commission hasn’t undergone scrutiny in years.

Parness admitted the city’s entire charter needed to be updated, but said the city is starting small and focusing only on the Civil Service Commission for now.

In November, the city created a task force helmed by facilitator John Glaser to examine the role of the Civil Service Commission. The committee met 12 times over eight months and published recommended changes to the city’s charter in March. Any changes must be approved by voters, causing officials to push to finish the measure in time for the November election.

Napa’s Department of Personnel consists of the five-person Civil Service Commission and a personnel director who is appointed by the commission. The director is hired by the commission, meaning that the city manager has no authority over the personnel director’s employment.

According to the city’s charter, the commission is responsible for reviewing rules, regulations and problems that arise with city staff. The board, which consists of two members appointed by the City Council, two members elected by the employees and one appointed by the other four members, also hears disciplinary appeals and conducts investigations.

Since 2010, when the city created its own Human Resources Department, many of the commission’s duties have been transferred to human resources. Unlike the commission, human resources is accountable to the city manager.

But according to the city’s current charter, the commission still holds the authority to handle some aspects of hiring and promotion, testing of prospective employees and appeals to administrative decisions – some of which is now the purview of the Human Resources Department, Assistant City Manager Nancy Weiss said Thursday.

“Under the proposed changes, the commission would still hear personnel-related appeals and advise the council on personnel policy,” she said during Tuesday’s City Council meeting. “But they wouldn’t appoint the personnel director. That person would be hired by the city, in a process consistent with all other city employees.”

The proposed changes would also demote the personnel director to a personnel manager and remove redundant language from the city charter.

While some consider civil service commissions redundant – a layer of government that is no longer needed because of employee protection laws – others say it remains important.

“If you look at what the City Council did in the 1960s, they basically took the personnel system away from the authority of the city manager,” said Civil Service Commissioner Bill Jabin, a retired Napa police commander who has been critical of the changes since they were suggested. “It was designed so there couldn’t be managerial influence over the personnel system.”

Jabin said that just because other cities don’t adhere to older civil service methods doesn’t mean Napa should follow suit.

“Even if everyone else does it differently, it doesn’t make Napa wrong,” he said. “It makes Napa unique.”

But even Jabin said he would go along with the changes if the unions agreed to every request — a scenario that remains to be worked out between the city and its labor force.

“Our concern is that the devil is in the details,” said Becky Abrams, president of the Napa City Employees Association, which is Napa’s largest employee union. “We are still working to address all of the (employee’s) concerns. These changes are important. Once we make them, it’s not easy to go back. We’re talking about an election.”

Another aspect of Napa’s charter that the ballot measure could change is how the city categorizes its fire and police chiefs, who hold two of the city’s highest-paying positions. Currently, if the city manager chose to terminate either department head, he would first have to plead his case before the Civil Service Commission.

The two chiefs are the only city department leaders who receive such protection, and the charter task force recommended removing it for both positions.

“It’s a very unique structure,” said Parness. “We have outstanding chiefs and the time to deal with this is when you have outstanding chiefs. I’ve been in other cities where there have been issues and dealing with this would have been awkward and difficult.”

Parness pointed out that while there have been no issues with either public safety chief, if a fireable offense did arise, Parness’ actions would be heavily scrutinized by the Napa City Council and the public.

“You don’t make changes to those posts without good a good reason because the chiefs are so visible,” he said. “So their classified status becomes redundant.”

Neither chief commented publicly at Tuesday’s city council meeting, reserving their statements until after more discussions occur with the city. But staff said that the employee groups involved were concerned about making the positions at-will.

Parness stressed that the city is not finished with the ordinance language and said that the coming months would be crucial to ironing out the details. Weiss said Thursday that the city has been unable to find any other cities in the state that allow their police and fire chiefs to be classified employees.

“We’re still in discussions,” Parness said. “We’re going through a meet-and-confer process. No one’s drawn any lines in the sand. We’ve dealt with a majority of issued and I’m hopeful we can bring something to the council in August.”

Copyright 2016 Napa Valley Register. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(17) Comments

  1. napablogger
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    napablogger - June 05, 2014 7:30 pm
    This is something long overdue. All this does---the civil service commission-- is remove responsibility from those who should have it, elected officials and their manager, the city manager Mike Parness. They are the ones who should be responsible for managing city employees. The employees have their unions and they can represent their interests. It is currently a dysfunctional system where too many cooks spoil the broth.
  2. foss valley
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    foss valley - June 05, 2014 7:35 pm
    Does this include changing the city's charter so that fire fighters work shifts in which they don't get to sleep?
  3. fenchel
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    fenchel - June 05, 2014 7:36 pm
    There is absolutely no reason for civil service employees to have a union. One of the main purposes of the civil service commission is to adjudicate personnel issues. Many cities have turned this on their head and their politicians are in cahoots with the unions on salaries, pensions and benefits.
  4. Mashed Potatoes
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    Mashed Potatoes - June 06, 2014 12:18 am
    What would be best would be to establish an elected citizen review committee to manage the FD and PD. This article makes it sound like the FD and PD chiefs are running the city.
    This problem has occurred because the elected officials cannot do their jobs and won't allow the city manager to manage the employees because the council elections are bankrolled by the city employees. You have the inmates running the asylum.
  5. rocketman
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    rocketman - June 06, 2014 6:12 am
    You don't get it. The Civil Service process has NOTHING to do with managing employees. NOTHING!! Michael. please do your homework and then criticize.
  6. rocketman
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    rocketman - June 06, 2014 6:13 am
    So unions?? or Civil Service a stronger system?? Which is it?
  7. rocketman
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    rocketman - June 06, 2014 8:40 am
    Yeah, suggest that to the City Council. ........"the elected officials cannot do their jobs and won't allow the city manager to manage the employees"; but your suggestion is that citizens manage the police and fire departments and not the elected we have citizen inmates running the asylum. Yep, perfect sense.....
  8. Mashed Potatoes
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    Mashed Potatoes - June 06, 2014 12:40 pm
    Rocket man, I know you to be a reasonable person from reading your comments for a long time. Maybe you misunderstood my comment. If Mr. Paleness cannot communicate with nor manage people being paid with city funds there is a serious management problem. I see how serious it is in his attempts to articulate it without starting WW3. If the PD and FD Cannot be managed then that must be changed. My suggestion is to establish a police commission of public members who are not crippled by payoffs and campaign contributions like the present city council members are. Many cities have police commissions, it's nothing new. It's nothing dangerous nor radical...
  9. rocketman
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    rocketman - June 06, 2014 3:44 pm
    Thanks for the complement. I try to be reasonable. The Commission approves promotional lists, hears appeals and generally "oversees" the personnel system in the City. The Personnel Director used to be the Department head of this Department. The Personnel Director, who is primarily responsible for the system can't fight the City Manager on most things UNLESS the City Manager is trying to do something outside of the rules. Believe me the Council does not control the City Manager. It does not happen. The City is a City Manager controlled City. The Council merely advises. Police and Fire Chiefs can do little without the approval of the City Manager. The CM controls ALL of the budgets. Police Commissions are useless. They have neither the experience or understanding of police work. They deal from personal emotion rather than law and reason. The police department manages well.and within the law. The Council has little to do with controlling the PD or FD. The City Manager does.
  10. rocketman
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    rocketman - June 06, 2014 3:47 pm
    The City Manager has already taken "complete control" of the Personnel System thru demoting the Personnel Director to a Manager and hiring a Human Resource Director.
    How would a Police and Fire Commission change anything?? If the present City Council is crippled by payoffs and campaign contributions how is this effecting the running of the police and fire departments. The City Manager controls these two departments, so I don't get your point.
  11. Mashed Potatoes
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    Mashed Potatoes - June 06, 2014 8:38 pm
    The electorate is ultimately responsible and must pay the consequences when graft and corruption usurp their government officials and turn them into dancing bears on a chain. The creation of a greater transparency in the city maze seems necessary. How can the taxpayers otherwise judge this situation that seems so broken? Frankly, the tragic example of Vallejo is very fresh in our minds and concerns.
  12. rocketman
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    rocketman - June 07, 2014 6:30 am
    Well MP, I guess we will agree to disagree. There is no comparison in the problems that are occurring in Vallejo and the perceived problems in Napa. The Vallejo City Council is out of control continuing to blame unions for their inept running of the City finances. The Police Department has been decimated and crime is out of control. (law suits are pending which will be more costs to Vallejo) San Jose is another perfect example. If our electorate is as you describe, then why do people keep voting them in? You talk about greater transparency? Then why would you not support a citizen committee, aka the Civil Service Commission to oversee the most important element of a city, the hiring, promotional and termination portion of the system. So you are in favor of a City Management system, controlled by only the graft and corrupt government officials that will assure a fair and impartial process for the hiring, promotion and firing of employees?? I'm still confused.
  13. Old Time Napkin
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    Old Time Napkin - June 07, 2014 7:42 am
    This is a power grab by the city manager. I'm as conservative as anybody and also anti union, but the decimation of the civil service system is a power grab plain and simple. Most of the comments on here are made by people with no knowledge regarding the history of this system or how it actually functions. This system came into being due to a city manager who had the ultimate power to hire or fire employees. It was a recipe for nepotism, favoritism, and outright discrimination of employees. I was around when this charter amendment was voted on by the citizens and it passed overwhelmingly. I wasn't old enough to vote , but I understood the issue.
    This system has functioned well and all the past City Managers worked within this system. Then along comes the current City Manager who decides he does not like the system. In violation of the charter he changes it and creates a new HR department. Are you going to trust a person who openly violates the city charter and then wants to change it?
  14. Old Time Napkin
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    Old Time Napkin - June 07, 2014 11:01 am
    I have much more than just casual knowledge regarding the Civil Service Commission and those of you that think this has to do with the union are wrong. Just for information this commission over the years has terminated several employees and at least three were police officers. Obviously the union could not save their jobs via this commission. This system makes the personnel director a neutral person who is not under the thumb or direction of the City Manager. It was designed that way so the hiring , promotion or termination is done in a fair and impartial manner. It removes management from "tinkering" with the process in order to get a "favorite' hired or someone terminated just because they may not fit the City Manager's mold.
    Those of you that think the City Manager should have control on personnel issues might want to investigate his past. I believe he left his last job due to bad employee relations. He's also used his power to get his wife a job with the city of American Canyon.
  15. Crosscountrykid
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    Crosscountrykid - June 07, 2014 3:34 pm
    This is an exceedingly complex issue that demands more public discussion before putting it to a public vote. Let's first give this proposal one or two public hearings external to City Council meetings that are hosted by a neutral party. Let's not make a rush to judgement simply get this decision onto the Nov. ballot.
  16. rocketman
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    rocketman - June 07, 2014 4:42 pm
    You are going to hear efficiency and effectiveness, you are going to hear antiquated system. You are going to hear, we can't fire people. You are going to hear that the system is broken. You are going to hear everything needs to be improved. Hopefully you are also going to hear the truth. If you don't, then what good are the public hearings?
  17. Old Time Napkin
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    Old Time Napkin - June 07, 2014 5:00 pm
    CCK, it should absolutely be discussed with the public.. The city is trying to rush it through just like they allowed the City Manager to create a whole new department to bypass the Civil Service Commission. The city attorney, who is on the payroll, gave the council a bunch of "double speak" saying the charter amendment was somewhat unclear and the city manager could create his HR department. The city attorney is not exactly an unbiased party in this instance. This system is a bit complex for the average person who has not worked under this system or knows the history of how and why it was developed. At the time it originally went before the voters it was overwhelming approved. A lot of employees put their careers on the line to put this system before the voters and amend the charter.
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