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Editorial: Whittling away the Civil Service Board

September 30, 2011

For one officer, it was self-admitted stupidity when he and two colleagues took a city-owned car to Las Vegas while on duty for nothing put a photo in front of a sign. For that joyride, all three were fired.

But in Glendale, the Civil Service Commission has the authority to hear appeals, and for that one officer, it meant a 4-1 vote to reinstate him — albeit with a 90-day suspension without pay.

In Burbank, these disputes over punishment and workplace feuds are played out behind closed doors in front of an independent arbitrator. City employees have gained this system in contract negotiations, steadily whittling away at the relevance and authority of the Burbank Civil Service Board.

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They may think that this shields them from a board made up of people prone to give more weight to city officials. But in arbitration, there is only one decision maker. In the commission hearing system — the one most widely used in other cities — it’s majority rules, and when it comes to stating your case, doesn’t that give you better odds?

Commissions also provide the added benefit of transparency — as much as there can be with personnel privacy protections — for the public, whose tax dollars, after all, fund the entire structure.

But these are all after-the-fact musings about changes that would have to be won during future employee contract negotiations, and we all know there’s a fat chance of that happening.

It is, however, a glaring example of how negotiations aren’t all about headline-grabbing details like pensions and pay. Changes to the city process can have long-lasting impacts too.

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