A Los Angeles Superior Court judge has ruled that Santa Monica violated its City Charter by not seeking Personnel Board approval each time it allowed outsiders to compete with municipal workers for Civil Service jobs.
Judge Warren Deering's ruling Tuesday was a victory for the 300-member Santa Monica Municipal Employees Assn., which represents nearly one-fourth of the city's Civil Service workers.
Deering upheld the union's claim that Santa Monica's Charter requires the city to get Personnel Board approval whenever it opens competitive examinations for a job to applicants from outside the city.
The union filed suit in August to challenge the city's long-established open-hiring policy. In the suit, union members said the policy gives job opportunities to outsiders that should go to city workers.
Union President Linda Childers said in a statement released Tuesday that she was pleased with the court ruling and she applauded the job opportunities it is expected to offer her union of professional, technical and clerical workers. Women make up 70% of the membership.
"Instead of some secret closed-door meetings among city managers deciding how to fill vacancies, the reasons for filling vacancies in certain ways will have to be in writing and approved by the board," she said.
City Manager John Jalili said that for the past 20 years the city has allowed outsiders to compete for jobs, a practice thought to comply with the Charter. In an opinion issued last year, City Atty. Robert M. Myers said the policy "more than adequately fulfills" the city's legal obligations.
Jalili said opening the selection process to outsiders has provided a larger pool of minority applicants to strengthen the city's affirmative-action program.
And as a result of the city's open-hiring policy, the city has been able to obtain "top-quality applicants," resulting in a high-caliber City Hall staff, he said.
Jalili said the Superior Court ruling might affect the quality of employees in the future, but he said it is too early to gauge the precise impact of last week's decision.
The effect of the ruling will depend on how it is administered by the Personnel Board, he said. The guidelines that the board uses to determine when to allow open examinations will be the critical factor, he said.
"Only one thing is guaranteed, and that is that the hearing process will take longer because it will require the additional (procedure) of a Personnel Board edict," he said. The five-member board, appointed by the City Council, meets once a month.
Childers said the union supports affirmative action and wants the city to get the best person possible for a job, "but it is the role of the Personnel Board to determine whether or not the city should bypass the promotional exam system (in which only city employees are considered)."
The court ruling will assure the intervention of "an independent watchdog board to protect residents and employees against favoritism and arbitrary action by administrators," she said.
Under the Civil Service system, a written examination is used to evaluate job applicants, whether the selection process is limited to city workers or open to the public.
The union lawsuit, filed by attorney Charles Elsesser, claimed that city employees were passed over for promotions because of the city's open-hiring policy.
Elsesser said that in investigating the city's hiring practices he found "numerous instances where the city decided whether or not to give a promotional examination merely on personal, verbal input from department heads or administrators based on their subjective view of whether or not they had current employees they believed were 'suitable' to fill the vacancy."
However, Jalili defended the city's record on job opportunities for municipal employees. In an interview on Thursday, he said that of 345 job openings from July, 1983, to October, 1985, 114 (33%) went to city employees. Of 59 openings for promotions, 47 (80%) were filled by city employees, he added.