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Bill overhauling Hillsborough civil service passes after all

Published May 3, 2014

TALLAHASSEE — Over the objections of Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, the Florida Senate on Friday passed a measure 27-10 allowing Hillsborough County agencies to opt out of using the 63-year-old Civil Service Board for certain services.

A seemingly innocuous bureaucratic bill, HB 683 touched off a bitter standoff between Joyner and other members of the delegation over the merits of the Civil Service Board, which was created in 1951 to ensure fair employment procedures for Hillsborough's governmental agencies.

Many of the county's lawmakers agreed that the Civil Service Board had become too inefficient and costly for many of the county's largest agencies, such as the Sheriff's Office and the clerk of courts. By allowing the agencies to hire employees without the board, the county could save money. Three Democratic agency chiefs and two Republican agency chiefs agreed the measure was a good one.

It passed the House last week 105-3, getting overwhelming support from the Hillsborough delegation, including Democrats like Rep. Mark Danish and Janet Cruz of Tampa and Rep. Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg. Rouson said he'd support the bill because unions were no longer objecting.

But using Senate Rule 4.18 that allows a senator to pull a local bill from consideration, Joyner earlier this week quashed the bill. She said the Civil Service Board, while needing improvement, was too important to tamper with in this way.

The sponsor of HB 683, Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, called Joyner's maneuver undemocratic.

As the Senate's marathon Wednesday session wound down, Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, quickly waived the rules and placed HB 683 back on the Senate's special order calendar, reversing Joyner's ploy.

"I don't quarrel with her right to do what she did, but she did owe her delegation colleagues some notice," Lee said later. "The rules also allow to get the bill back on track, and that's what I did."

Joyner stood by her objections.

"History shows that if people who have total control, and no uniform system of hiring, that they invariably do what they want to do," Joyner told senators before the vote. "The civil service system protects the workers. There may be some merit in this, but I thought it deserved a pause, and that's why I pulled the bill."

Joyner was joined by nine other Democrats in opposing the bill. Lee, John Legg, R-Trinity, and Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg supported it. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, did not vote.

Hillsborough Clerk of the Circuit Court Pat Frank, a Democrat, said Friday the bill will allow the clerk's office to operate with a "free hand" and called the Civil Service Board an obstacle. She said the board forwards job candidates' names, but her office does the hiring. The board slows the process, she said.

"We have to respond to the marketplace. We have to have competent people there, we have to be able to move quickly as things occur," she said.

Frank doesn't think the bill will lead to the hiring of fewer minorities. She said the diversity in her office matches that of the county and that her employees are mostly women.

Hillsborough Tax Collector Doug Belden, a Republican, pointed to the makeup of his office as well. During his 15 years as tax collector, 51 percent of his employees have been minorities, he said. Belden called the bill a "win-win" for employees and taxpayers.

"This will greatly enhance efficiency," he said. "We will be able to get rid of unnecessary bureaucratic paperwork and policy."