Thursday, May 24, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: A better way to fill government jobs

One of the biggest challenges for government as the economy picks up is to attract and retain talented workers. Hillsborough County is looking to sharpen its competitive edge by changing its outdated hiring process. A bill in the Florida Legislature would benefit both the county and the public.

Since the 1950s, Hillsborough has hired its workforce through the Civil Service Board. The board posts job openings and screens applicants for 22 county agencies, serving as a human resources department for every local office except the judiciary, the school board and the cities. It also hears workplace grievances, giving workers extra protection beyond due process rights under existing law.

A single portal for hiring may sound convenient, but in reality, civil service has become a clunky process that doesn't ideally serve the agencies or the 9,300 people covered by the board. Agencies lose valuable time by having to undergo a cumbersome routine before filling an open slot. The board's job classifications also do not match the modern workplace. The board has 12 classifications for "storekeeper," 11 for office assistants, 10 for air conditioning mechanics and three for "senior painter." The job categories are so bloated that agency directors lose time by screening applicants themselves who should not have made the short list.

The legislation, HB 683, would allow agencies now covered by civil service to opt out of some or all of its services. Smaller agencies may choose to have civil service continue to perform its full range of human resources functions. Most larger agencies already have in-house human resources departments; they could pick and choose which services to handle and which to farm out. The arrangement would enable agencies to hire more quickly and better tailor job descriptions and qualifications to what these offices actually need.

The move would not open the door to politics or nepotism, as individual agencies have always had final hiring authority. And agencies could not opt out of civil service's grievance process. That means employees will still have civil service protections in matters relating to suspensions, firings and other disciplinary issues. Agencies would have an easier time finding the right person in the job market. And local government would have more flexibility to respond when private companies tried to poach valued public employees.

The bill has bipartisan local support from officials who deal with these personnel issues every day, including Democratic Clerk of Circuit Court Pat Frank and both Democratic members of the county commission. Lawmakers should approve the measure. It is an overdue step in helping these agencies meet the modern-day demands for customer service.

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