Friday, January 15, 2016

Foxboro Should Pass On Civil Service

GOUVEIA: Foxboro should pass on hiring next police chief through Civil Service

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Posted: Thursday, January 14, 2016 11:15 pm | Updated: 12:01 pm, Fri Jan 15, 2016.
Next month, Foxboro's town meeting will decide if the position of police chief should continue to be governed by the state's Civil Service laws.
Here's hoping they go with the statewide trend and remove the important post from the constricting and political confines of Civil Service. It is a system that served a purpose in years past, but is now little more than an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy that restricts the proper management of municipal departments.
Civil Service was designed as protection for both employees and municipalities many decades ago. It primarily exists today in some police and fire departments. It sets some conditions for employment, and administers tests, which must be passed by those seeking to be hired and promoted.
In the days when such jobs were plum patronage rewards handed out to political supporters, it served to make sure employees and candidates for advancement were qualified by means other than family or political connections. Now, it is a bloated, corrupt and inefficient body that has been rendered almost useless by the progression of both state and federal labor and hiring regulations - not to mention collective bargaining.
To hire a police chief through Civil Service is a laborious task. You have to request an exam be held, which can take up to a year or more. Once the exam is given, you have to wait for a list to be handed down with the names of those who passed.
Cities and towns are then required to take the highest scoring name on the list - unless they give a good reason why they have bypassed the higher-scoring applicants. Sounds fair, right?
But it's not. The conditions that are applied to the tests and the lists are intended and designed to almost guarantee locals get these positions - even if they are less qualified than others who might be working elsewhere. It effectively limits the search to only those within the department, which is both incestuous and against all sound management principles.
That's not to say the best candidate isn't one from inside the department. That is often where the best person for the job is found. And few are opposed to giving every advantage to in-house candidates over "outsiders."
But giving an advantage is one thing, and rigging the game so a town has no other option than to appoint from within is yet another. In short, that is exactly what Civil Service does.
Those in the department, itself, are usually staunch supporters of Civil Service. And why wouldn't they be? It is a tremendous benefit to them personally.
When an opening for chief occurs, and the job is effectively limited to those in the department, it usually elevates several people at a time. A lieutenant might be promoted to chief. A sergeant might then be promoted to lieutenant. A patrolman might then step up to sergeant, and everyone moves up the seniority ladder.
Pay increases are realized, career advancement is achieved and morale is certainly enhanced.
But you could theoretically have a tremendously qualified officer in the next town who would make a great police chief - and you can't hire him or her simply because they currently work elsewhere.
Towns without Civil Service are free to search for the best qualified candidate without being limited by geography. That's how school superintendents, town managers, town administrators, principals and other department heads are hired.
But Civil Service keeps us trapped in an old-fashioned political mindset. Proponents of the system claim it is necessary to keep politics out of the police or fire departments. But that's just not true. It makes the job more political, not less so.
Town meetings often vote to keep Civil Service because they are told it protects citizens. They are told it gives them more control, when it actually allows them less. That plays on their natural distrust of government.
But, think about it. You have two systems for hiring a chief.
In the first, you can advertise and search for the best qualified candidate and hire on your timetable.
In the other, you are forced to only hire people already working for you. And you have to do it the way the system dictates.
Which one of those sounds the most political to you?
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

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