Butler seeks to cut civil service for some jobs

| Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012, 9:02 p.m.

Citing a case for improved efficiency, Butler County commissioners want to eliminate the civil service system used to screen candidates for human service jobs.

About 100 union and 33 nonunion jobs instead would be part of a merit-based hiring system the county already uses to hire and promote hundreds of employees.

The proposal “represents a sound and more efficient alternative,” said Carmine Scotese, head of the county's human services division.

The three county commissioners voted to ask the state Department of Public Welfare for permission to eliminate the system, which has been in place since 1973.

Affected jobs are in Children and Youth Services, Mental Health/Early Intervention/Intellectual Disabilities, Drug and Alcohol, Office on Aging and Emergency Management.

The welfare department has until mid-December to decide.

The civil service system develops and administers job-specific tests, monitors hiring and investigates employment complaints, conducts hearings and issues rulings.

According to the state Civil Service Commission, 37 state agencies covering nearly 57,000 civil service employees and another 9,000 employees working for 300 local governments use the system.

“We regret any time a client agency chooses not to renew our contract,” state commission spokesman Jack McGettigan said. “We feel we do a very good job providing the services of maintaining and overseeing the merit system for our clients.”

County officials said they must prove to the DPW that employees will be hired and advanced on merit and with open competition, receive adequate compensation and training opportunities, and won't face political influence in the workplace.

They said a merit-based system would attract more applicants and allow them to choose candidates who better fit departmental needs.

The civil service process relies too heavily on standardized written tests, and doesn't allow for much flexibility, they added.

Joyce Ainsworth, Butler County's deputy human services director, said it took the county nine months to hire a deputy administrator for the Office on Aging Department. Applicants had to travel to Harrisburg for testing.

“That was the last straw for us,” Ainsworth said.

The DPW has allowed several other counties to switch to merit-based systems.

Greene County switched about 50 human services employees in July 2011, said Human Resources Director Tracy Zivkovich.

She added civil service wasn't needed to ensure the county followed federal laws.

“In this day and age, we've come a long way,” Zivkovich said. “Our own handbooks and operating policies cover those requirements.”

She said it now takes weeks, instead of months, to hire a Children and Youth caseworker.

“I could have an employee who tests very, very well, and they're at the top of the civil service list, but he's terrible with kids, and I have to put him in a CYS position,” Zivkovich said of the old system.

She said the merit system doesn't increase the possibility of political hires.

Ainsworth said union members will still have a grievance process in place, and qualified veterans will still get preference.

For the nonunion employees, Butler commissioners approved a grievance process covering demotions, suspensions, reduction in pay, complaints about not being hired and allegations of arbitrary or discriminatory firings.

Ainsworth said no one has complained about the proposed changes.

Union representatives for Butler and Greene counties did not return phone messages.

Butler County officials said the move wouldn't save any money.

However, Chief Clerk Bill O'Donnell said paperwork and time spent on hiring would be reduced.

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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