Letter: Civil service doesn’t need to be reformed

Regarding your recent article, “Relegated to park trailer, NOPD brass chafe against boredom, politics:”

Almost as an afterthought, this article sheds some light on the Mitch Landrieu administration’s desire to “reform” civil service. It is important to remember that civil service was the reform.

Civil service was incorporated into the Louisiana Constitution so the people of our state would not be subject to public employment rife with political patronage and discrimination.

The 1st Circuit Court of Appeal sums up civil service: “The fundamental purpose of civil service laws and rules is to establish a merit system for selecting non-policy forming public employees on the basis of merit and providing that they can be discharged only for insubordination, incompetence, or improper conduct, and not for religious or political reasons.

“Civil service is designed to abrogate the ‘spoils’ system under which public employees are not selected for employment and promotion on the basis of merit or qualifications for the position but as rewards for faithful political activity and service, so that the job holders and their families become economic slaves of a particular political organization and have to vote and work for the candidates of their faction regardless of the character or qualifications of the candidates. The routine operation of a civil service system by merit selection, compensation regulation, and tenure protection serves to promote efficiency by abolishing useless and unnecessary jobs, maximizing the resources invested in employees by long service, and determining salary and length of service on the basis of benefits rendered to the people rather than to the victorious party.

“Because of the peculiar history of civil service in Louisiana, the inclusion of detailed provisions on civil service in the Constitution contrary to the principles of a brief charter has been deemed necessary by legal scholars.

“A self-operative merit system established in the Constitution so that it can be repealed or amended only by a vote of the people has been deemed essential to the protection of civil service against repeal or weakening amendments and sabotage by a temporary majority vote of a spoils-minded and partisan legislative faction.”

The idea that the electorate can control political patronage through the polls belies our experience to the contrary. This “real flexibility” sought under the pretext of “reform” is a bid to return to the Huey Long era of Louisiana politics.

The current system may not be perfect. It does not help that the New Orleans Civil Service Department has seen its budget and staff slashed since installation of the current regime. It is, however, a good system that has fairness at its core — fairness for all city employees, people who desire or seek public service and citizens of our city.

I have no doubt the high-ranking officers referenced in this article would have been terminated had it not been for the protection afforded by civil service.

As referenced by the article, this group includes two former assistant superintendents from prior administrations, three former district commanders, a former homicide commander and a former inspections commander. Fortunately, civil service does not allow the current administration to terminate their employment because they find themselves on the outside looking in.

Donovan Livaccari

attorney Fraternal Order of Police

New Orleans