BY SARAH GREGORY
Civil Service was the focus of discussions on Tuesday afternoon as the Greeneville Board of Mayor and Aldermen continued to work on proposed changes to the Town's charter.
Following their regular meeting in the G. Thomas Love Boardroom at the Greeneville Light & Power System building, the board held the second of three public workshops concerning the proposed changes.
Aldermen took no formal action during the workshop, which served only as a forum for discussion, facilitated by City Administrator Todd Smith.
The audience, comprised primarily of Town department heads, was permitted to address the Mayor and Aldermen to provide input.
THIRD WORKSHOP SCHEDULED
Discussion on more proposed changes to the charter will continue on Tuesday, March 5, in a third public workshop following the 4 p.m. regular meeting of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.
Proposed charter changes to be discussed at that meeting will focus on:
* removing the current First Ward and Second Ward structure or setting redistricting requirements in the Charter;
* moving Election Day to coincide with the County General Election;
* lengthening the term of office for an alderman and the mayor from two years to four years; and,
* addressing the current per-capita restrictions on the numb er of police officers the Town can hire.
PROPOSED CHANGES DISCUSSED
The following text details sections of the charter that were discussed Tuesday. The format includes: how the charter currently reads, proposed changes, and highlights of the discussion related to each one.
* REMOVE RECORDER'S OFFICE FROM CS
The first proposed change discussed Tuesday would remove the Recorder's office from the Greeneville Civil Service system.
The charter currently states:
"One member of the [Civil Service] Board shall be selected by the governing body of the Town of Greeneville; one member shall be selected by the members of the classified service, i.e., members of the Fire Department, members of the Police Department ..., and the Recorder and members of his staff ..."
The proposed change would strike the language referring to the Recorder's office, effectively removing it from the Civil Service system.
Smith noted that, if the Recorder's office is removed from Civil Service classification, several other revisions to the charter's language will need to be made to reflect that, since language referring to Civil Service appears in multiple places throughout the charter.
* CHANGE INTRODUCTORY PERIOD
Another proposed change relates to the introductory period for Civil Service employees and would remove the requirement that the Board of Mayor and Aldermen approve that introductory period.
Currently, the charter reads as follows:
"The provisions of this Act shall apply to all member personnel working on a paid full-time basis in the Fire Department, Police Department, and Recorder's Office in the Town of Greeneville, including also the Recorder and the chief of each department. Provided, however, that initial employment shall be subject to successful completion by the employee of an introductory period ending and signified by majority vote of the Town's governing body at its first regularly scheduled meeting held after the expiration of six months of employment. During the introductory period the employment of such employee shall be at will and may be terminated by majority vote of the Town's governing body. Said introductory period may be extended with the approval of the board. A vote of the governing body to discharge the employee during the introductory period (which vote may also occur prior to the expiration of six months of employment) shall not be subject to review by the board."
The change as proposed would automatically grant full-time status to Civil Service employees who successfully complete the six-month introductory period.
However, Greeneville Fire Department Chief Mark Foulks and Greeneville Police Department Chief Terry Cannon spoke in favor of a longer probationary period.
Foulks pointed out that the training period for new firefighters is 13 weeks, which is approximately half of the six-month probationary period.
That remaining period of time following the completion of training until the end of the six-month probationary period, he says, is simply not enough time to fully evaluate a new employee's performance.
"We just do not have much time to evaluate that employee," Foulks said. "We would like to have this changed in this [the charter], the Cvil Service handbook, and the employee handbook."
Cannon agreed, saying, "it's hard to evaluate someone when they're not working on their own."
He noted that for the first six months of a police officer's career, they are rarely out on the job on their own. After completing police academy, officers work with field training officers for the first several weeks of their new job.
"You just really don't have time to evaluate how they interact with the public, by themselves on their own, and what initiatives they take," Cannon said.
Cannon and Foulks agreed that the six-month introductory period should be extended to one year.
After continued discussion, the consensus of the board of Mayor and Aldermen was that the two chiefs' suggestion of a one-year introductory period should be adopted into the proposed charter change.
*REMOVE MONTHLY MEETING REQUIREMENT
One proposed change would grant the Civil Service Board more flexibility by lifting the requirement that it hold monthly meetings.
The charter currently says:
"The Board shall organize by forthwith electing one of its members as Chairman and shall hold regular meetings at least once a month and such additional meetings as may be required..."
The change would strike the phrase "at least once a month and such additional meetings," thus instructing the Civil Service Board to "hold regular meetings as may be required."
"I don't know if you want to be nailed down to requiring you to meet once a month or not," Smith said to Civil Service Board Chairman Ed Kershaw, who was in attendance.
"There are times when there's really nothing on the agenda and you wouldn't really need it that month," Kershaw replied. "We just haven't had that luxury [of not having an agenda] in about two years."
"Then we need to give them the option," said Alderman Keith Paxton to agreement from other board members.
*ALLOW FOR LARGER APPLICANT POOL,
RECOGNIZE CITY ADMINISTRATOR POSITION
Another proposed change would allow for a larger pool of applicants to fill entry-level Civil Service positions, and recognize the new City Administrator's position.
The charter currently reads:
"Entry-level Positions: Whenever an entry-level position in the classified service becomes vacant, the department head through the governing body of the Town of Greeneville, shall make a requisition upon the Civil Service Board. The list certified by the Civil Service Board to the governing body shall be made up of the top applicants and shall always include the number of positions to be filled in the classified service plus one name. The head of the respective department, with the approval of the governing body, shall appoint from the Civil Service Board certified list the number of individuals requisitioned."
The proposed changes would remove references to the "governing body" and replace them with City Administrator, thus aligning language in the charter pertaining to Civil Service employees with earlier modified language in the charter pertaining to non-Civil Service Town employees.
Another change to the same section would increase the pool of applicants from which new hires may be selected. The language would be altered from "the number of positions to be filled in the classified service plus one," as currently stated, to "three names per open entry-level position to be filled."
FOULKS SUPPORTS THIS CHANGE
Foulks spoke in favor of the change, saying, "It allows us to interview more than just one applicant or two applicants for the position. It gives us a little pool of applicants to interview."
He noted that Civil Service certifications are good for a period of four years and that, under the current structure, interviews are conducted near the beginning of that process.
Foulks said he supports changing that because, when positions become vacant, some applicants on the list of candidates released by the Civil Service Board may not have had an interview in two, three, or four years.
The change for which Foulks advocated would change the process to conduct assessments such as the Civil Service exam and physical fitness testing at the beginning of the application process.
Interviews held at the "back end," are therefore more likely, Foulks says, to be more recent to the time of potential hire.
NEED FOR CIVIL SERVICE REDUCED?
Pat Hardy, municipal management consultant with the University of Tennessee's Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS), was present to speak to the board about Civil Service, answer any questions about the charter, and provide input based on changes that other communities have adopted.
Hardy stated that, because of the change to Greeneville's charter a year ago amending the governmental structure from one of a strong/weak mayor hybrid to one consisting of a council and administrator, the need for Civil Service was not the same as before.
He explained that the previous governmental structure was a more politically driven system that, prior to Civil Service, could be dominated by a culture of "who you know."
Under the new administrator form of government, Hardy said, the system is more dominated by "what you know" in terms of merits and qualifications.
"If you track Cvil Service on up through today, the one characteristic that sticks out about it is that the trend away from it accompanies a change in form of government to a professionally driven system rather than a politically dominated one."
Hardy noted that, of 345 cities in Tennessee, only nine have a Civil Service system of any kind.
"So it's an extraordinarily rare system to have in the first place," he said.
He also pointed out that Greeneville is the smallest city with a population over 10,000 that has Civil service.
"It's very uncommon to have it [Civil Service] extend to folks other than police and fire. Extraordinarily uncommon," Hardy said, referring to Greeneville's inclusion of the Recorder's office in the Civil Service system.
CS BOARD CHAIR COMMENTS
Civil Service Board Chairman Ed Kershaw addressed the board following Hardy's comments to voice some concern about making changes to the curent Civil Service structure.
Kershaw said he felt that the board was "doing things backwards" by considering changes to Civil Service before crafting an alternative policy that would prevent abuse by a corrupted board or corrupted mayor in the future.
"What I think I should be hearing," Kershaw said, "is 'We don't need Civil Service because we've put this internal check and balance in place.'"
"I think you can put a system in place where you don't need Civil Service," he added, "but I think that [internal check and balance] needs to be your starting point -- not get rid of Civil Service, then, after the fact, deal with this potential problem."
"Under our new charter, it takes total board action -- the mayor cannot hire or fire anybody now, period, so that has been erased.
"Does that answer the question?" asked Bryan, referring to the hiring of a City Administrator under the new form of government.
"The difference between Civil Service and [a City Administrator is], you have no authority of Civil Service," Kershaw responded.
He noted that the Board of Mayor and Aldermen does not have the authority to fire the Civil Service Board or instruct it as to how to proceed.
"We're [the Civil Service Board] here as a neutral body to try to do what's best for Greeneville," he added, pointing out that the City Administrator is hired by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.
As discussion progressed, Hardy said that he felt the Town was on the right track by removing offices other than police and fire from Civil Service.
He added that, in the future, policies that serve as the "internal checks and balances" can be developed that may remove the need for Civil Service entirely.
"I think it will always have to be for police and fire employees because those people are so highly trained," said Alderman Sarah Webster.
"I think for the safety of the town we need those two to remain under Civil Service."
"I agree with Ed [Kershaw] in the fact that, we just don't want to do it wrong," said Bryan, noting that additional work sessions may be needed to adopt the right policies.
"We need to make sure -- sometimes you make a correction and, you know, what are the other consequences?"
"That's the reason we decided to be as thorough as we can," agreed Webster, noting the board's decision to work through 2013 to develop the charter changes before sending them to Nashville for approval in the 2014 legislative session.
The group discussed the need to continue development of policies and agreed with a suggestion from Foulks that a "grandfather clause" be added for current employees who were hired under Civil Service, if their offices were removed from Civil Service, such as the Recorder's office.
RECORDER SUSONG COMMENTS
Town Recorder Carol Susong spoke in favor of having the Recorder and staff under the Civil Service system.
She said that the Civil Service Board has been invaluable to her in the hiring of a new accountant and a new clerk.
"They helped me go through the process -- the interview process, and the testing process -- and doing the things that needed to be done to hire, I think, very qualified, very professional people," she said, noting the highly specialized nature of governmental accounting.
"If not that Civil Service process, then what?" she asked.
"I think if we could have some policy or procedure in place, I know my employees would feel more comfortable with being removed from Civil Service protection," Susong stated.
"That said, I don't think any employee in my office -- and me especially -- have any desire to have a big knock-down, throw-down, show down with the board or with Todd [Smith]. We have no desire to go through that," she said, asking that an alternative policy for hiring within her office be formed.
Patsy Fuller, Human Resources Director for the Town, spoke briefly, stating that her office is available and is accustomed to handling grievances and compliance with state and local laws and policies.
"I think the policies we've presented tonight are just a beginning. It's really just one phase of a whole policy," she said, noting that other municipalities make the policies more concrete by passing them in the form of ordinances.
"The key is being consistent," she said.
"I think it's just being a little anxious about the unknown, and everyone just wants to know what's going to happen," said Susong.
MAYOR, ADMINISTRATOR COMMENT
"This is healthy discussion," said Mayor W.T. Daniels, noting that other town offices -- such as Public Works, the Town Environmentalist, and the Town Engineer -- are not classified under civil service.
"I put a lot of importance on those departments, and they don't have this [Civil Service protection]," he added.
Smith responded, "I just want to say that we work with such a professional group."
He commented that he has talked with the employees in the Recorder's office and the Police Department and Fire Department chiefs and assistant chiefs about the proposed changes.
"We've got a strong professional team that's working great. We've got the all-star team in place that's doing the right things," he added.
"Whatever the board decides, we're going to do, and we're going to do it with the best of our effort, and you're going to get the best out of all of us," Smith said.
He reiterated support for a "grandfather clause" to give "some assurance to employees who have been through a great amount of transition over the last several years."