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Civil Service Still Broken

When I ran for state representative in 2004, reform of the civil service system was one of my key themes. There is so much wrong with it. The years pass, and the system is still broken.

The system was originally intended to take patronage and nepotism out of hiring decision. The system is supposed to bring the best applicants into the fire and police departments. It’s supposed to create a pool of qualified candidates that then go through a regular hiring system (interviews, etc.) But, the system has been so warped by arbitrary “preferences” that the candidate’s qualifications (test scores) are almost irrelevant. The best-scoring candidates are routinely pushed out of the hiring pool by lesser-qualified candidates who meet some “preference” criteria. Everyone has to take the exam, but the hiring is driven more by your preference than by your score. MassInc has a fantastic piece by a Civil Service Commissioner that goes into detail explaining how these lesser-qualified candidates get hired.

The current law also discriminates on the basis of age, not merit. How is it possible in today’s Massachusetts that a qualified candidate is simply excluded from consideration because they’re too old?

Today’s Globe has a new reminder of yet another failing of the system: good ‘ol patronage. To recap:

  1. Applicant scores poorly on civil service exam. (633rd on the list).
  2. Applicant calls up Senate President Therese Murray. (” . . . who, said two public officials involved in helping the Hayhursts, told several influential people throughout the process that the Hayhursts were family friends and were deserving of special treatment.”)
  3. Applicant calls up his state rep who activates the Representative Buddy System. (“Representative Stephen Stat Smith of Everett cosponsored the measure. ‘The reason I signed on is, as a new legislator, I’m not really familiar about the process,’ he said. ‘So I looked to some reps who are friends of mine who had some easy things that weren’t going to be controversial, and I just signed on to provide assistance to them and learn more about the process.'”)
  4. Applicant enjoys an 88-minute Senate approval followed by House approval the next time it was in session. Applicant waits for Patrick to not-veto the move.
  5. Applicant passes 632 more-qualified candidates, most of whom will never even get to even interview for the job.

The civil service is just begging for reform. Unfortunately, I think you need to reform the legislature, first.


Pingback from Dan Dunn’s Podium » Town Meeting ‘08 Session 5
Time: May 13, 2008, 3:20 am

[…] by four months. I wonder if he realizes how little his perfect score will help him – once the patronage and preferences are applied. Of course, I’ll still support his wish to apply for the job. The meeting […]