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Torrance Panel Urges Abolition of Preferential Hiring Practices

October 27, 1985|JULIO MORAN | Times Staff Writer

TORRANCE — Should city employees get first shot at other job openings in the city?

That is the question the City Council will try to answer Tuesday night when it considers a recommendation by the Civil Service Commission to abolish a 12-year-old policy that allows such preference. The city attorney says the policy conflicts with the City Charter and may violate the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The council attempted to resolve the question last week, but because Councilman Bill Applegate was away on personal business, it deadlocked at 3-3 on two options. One was to accept the recommendation and do away with the policy; the other was to table the matter to allow city management and employee unions negotiate the issue.

Applegate said later last week that he would wait until he hears both sides Tuesday before making a decision.

Language in Union Contracts

Councilmen Mark Wirth, Tim Mock and Dan Walker were hesitant to do away with the policy because it is mentioned in contracts signed with seven of the 13 unions representing the city's 1,300 employees.

City Manager LeRoy Jackson said the language in the contracts gives him the option of using the policy or ignoring it. He said that when the city attorney issued his decision last month, he ordered that the policy not be used to avoid potential litigation from job applicants.

The union groups, while agreeing that the contract allows the city manager discretion, support the idea of meeting with the manager before any change of policy is adopted.

"It's in our contract," said Ken Carr, president of the Torrance Municipal Employees, Local 1117, of the state American Federation of State, Municipal and County Employees. The group represents about 420 employees, primarily in crafts and trades. "It was negotiated in, it should be negotiated out."

'Selective Certification'

At issue is a policy, called "selective certification," whereby temporary and permanent city employees are given priority over outside job candidates solely on the basis of being employed by the city, as long as the city employees meet minimum requirements. Under this policy a city employee can score 70 out of 100 on a test and still be ranked ahead of an outside candidate who scores 100. An appointment is made from the top three candidates.

William Ghio, the city Civil Service administrator, said that between August, 1984, and September, 1985, 37 of 219 entry-level job openings were filled by city employees through selective certification.

Ghio said use of the policy benefits temporary employees most and that its elimination would most affect entry-level positions. Ghio said about a third of the city's jobs could be considered entry-level.

He said the policy was adopted in 1973 primarily as a tool to place federally funded job trainees in permanent jobs in the city. With the demise of those programs, Ghio said, the policy is used to improve morale among city employees by promoting from within.

Court Ruled Against It

In ruling that the city's policy is contrary to its Charter, the city attorney cited a 1980 decision by the California 3rd Court of Appeal that said San Jose could not give priority to city employees over other candidates because the city's Charter called for appointments to be made on the basis of "merit and fitness, demonstrated by examination and other evidence of competence." The court also found the city's policy to be "arbitrary and capricious" and to be a denial of equal protection under both the state and federal constitutions.

The Torrance Charter also calls for appointments to be made on the basis of merit and fitness but requires competitive examinations if "practicable."

James Amato, chairman of the Civil Service Commission, said selective certification disregards the merit aspect of the examination process. "A person is granted the right to be considered . . . solely on the basis of being a city employee," he said. " . . . This is arbitrary and capricious and based on unreasonable classification of applicants."

Elizabeth G. Clark of the city attorney's office, however, said that because the Torrance Charter is not as specific as the San Jose Charter in calling for examinations and other evidence of competence, the city can still consider experience with the city in filling job vacancies if it finds it is not "practicable" to give a competitive exam.

'Opportunity for Abuse'

Former Civil Service Commissioner J. A. McGrew noted in his letter of resignation in 1984 that selective certification "appears to offer too much opportunity for abuse of the employee hiring process. . . . These individuals should be determined by the testing process rather than through personal contacts made during temporary employment experience with the city."

Ghio said that in the past some applicants have accepted any temporary job available to position themselves for selective certification when a permanent spot opens.

Ghio said that the Civil Service Commission and employee unions were opposed to selective certification almost from the start. He said the commission has held five hearing on the issue since 1973 and at least three times recommended that the policy be eliminated or modified. The council never took action.

A union official privately said that abolishing the policy is not a major concern but that the unions are pushing for the negotiations in an effort to extract other considerations from the city in exchange for eliminating it from their contracts.

Ghio said that even after the 1980 San Jose decision, no action was taken because records showed a decline in the use of the policy. The use of the policy had gone from 45% in 1978 to 10% in 1982. Since then, it rose to 22% in 1983 and 24% last year.

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