Civil service issues vex Jefferson Parish board

Jefferson Parish’s Charter Advisory Board is seeking an opinion from the state Attorney General’s Office on which parish employees should fall under civil service rules.

The advisory board voted to seek that opinion last week and received authorization from the Jefferson Parish Council to proceed on Dec. 12. The board has wrestled with questions about “special, noncompetitive, limited-term employees” for weeks, as it tries to iron out personnel rules in the parish’s new charter.

Chairman Louis Gruntz said that some of those questions are beyond the expertise of the board, and they need some guidance from an outside source.

Jefferson Parish has several positions where employees are appointed by politicians outside of the normal civil service hiring procedures but still enjoy certain civil service benefits. Typically employees are characterized as either “classified,” which means they under civil service rules, or “unclassified.” In addition, there have been questions about employees barred from employment because they could not meet certain civil service standards, but who department heads felt were qualified for their positions.

Gruntz noted that the issue has come up in the Parish Attorney’s Office, and the board is trying to determine if clerks and secretaries in that department should be classified or unclassified employees.

At a recent meeting, Deputy Parish Attorney Ross Buckley Jr. complained that the parish lost out on a top-notch legal secretary because of the testing. Gruntz said it’s unclear if the employees have been hired throughout the years under different guidelines.

“If it was a rule, it was overlooked at the time,” said Gruntz, adding that the board is hoping for an expedited response.

Lauren Call, a personnel technician, said the personnel department thinks that as many employees as possible should be under civil service rules because that provides the best protection for the public.

“We don’t want to see the weakening of the civil service system in any regard,” she said.

The panel also decided to expand the size of the personnel board to five members from three members, and reduced the terms from six years to five years. It also established term limits for board members.

Gruntz said board members would continue to be chosen by the parish president from recommendations submitted by several local universities, although the parish president would now have the power to make one appointment without any other input. All appointments are approved by the Jefferson Parish Council.

Gruntz said the new term lengths and term limits could create a constant rotation on the board but noted that might make it harder to fill slots.

“Personally I was not in favor of the term limits,” he said.

Lauren Call, a personnel technician, said the personnel department would have preferred if all of the board members were nominated by the universities and then presented to the council for a decision. The department did agree on the new size and term limits.

“We felt that seven people deciding on a person is better than one person deciding on a person,’’ she said.