TAMPA — Hillsborough County Civil Service, which sets workplace rules for local government employees, could be reduced to more of a grievance committee under a proposal that commissioners agreed Wednesday to pursue.
The County Commission voted unanimously to support a proposed bill that would be submitted to the legislative delegation this winter allowing government agencies to opt out of the program.
Currently, the Civil Service Board performs much of the human resources work for county government, constitutional offices such as the tax collector and some independent agencies such as the Tampa Sports Authority. In that role, it publicizes job openings at the county, screens applicants, sets job classifications and establishes pay ranges for 21 separate agencies.
It's the only one of its kind in Florida, created by a special act of the Legislature in 1955.
County officials for years have complained that it adds an unnecessary level of bureaucracy when it comes to hiring employees, promoting the good ones and getting rid of those who don't meet expectations. Commissioner Sandra Murman asked her colleagues to support proposing legislation that would make participation by local governments a choice, at least as it relates to the agency's human resources role.
"We really need to simplify," Murman said. "This is another layer of government that I believe we have outgrown."
Under the proposal, Civil Service would maintain its role of reviewing employee demotions, suspensions and dismissals, something that many government workers value as a layer of protection against getting disciplined for political reasons.
Local government agencies could choose to retain some or all of Civil Service's programs, under a "conceptual outline" of a bill that has been shared with commissioners. Or they could seek bids for parts of the human resources work and allow Civil Service to compete.
Tax Collector Doug Belden, an early participant in talks that began in August to modify Civil Service, said he may ask Civil Service to continue testing applicants for vacancies within his office. But when it comes to setting pay ranges and job duties, he said he believes he should be in charge of that.
"We don't need a regulatory agency," Belden said before the meeting. "We need more of a support agency."
He held up an audit of the agency dating to 1999 that found many problems with Civil Service and noted that there has not been an audit since, despite indications from the earlier one on a need for change.
County Administrator Mike Merrill said Civil Service, under director Dane Petersen, has made many changes that have been helpful in recent years as the county dealt with layoffs and had to move workers into different jobs.
"But I think he's pretty much done everything he can do under the statute and the rules," he said of Peterson before the meeting. "I think the next step is to do what we're proposing to do, which is to let everyone choose what services are valuable to us."
Scott Trepina, chairman of the appointed Civil Service Board, told commissioners he thought the step they were taking bucks a trend in corporate America of consolidating back-office operations. And he said that could drive up the costs of human resources as each agency moves to create its own personnel office.
"This resolution will add additional expenses to the taxpayers of Hillsborough County and bloat the administrative hierarchies of the agencies who decide to opt out," he said.
Merrill and Belden both said they believe it could actually drive down expenses by allowing the county to test the cost of Civil Service against the price of doing the work internally or hiring private companies to, say, handle testing for job candidates.