Thursday, January 21, 2016

Rep. Steineke’s statements on Civil Service changes are dishonest and wildly spun

GOP Assembly member insists that changes are in line with La Follette’s legacy, ignoring historical documents that say otherwise

The drastic changes to Wisconsin’s civil service law are heading to Gov. Scott Walker’s desk following Senate approval of the Assembly-passed bill this week.

Rep. Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna) produced a press release celebrating the changes. But his release is a doozy of a spin, so prepare yourself for a point-by-point breakdown of what he had to say.

“Wisconsin’s civil service laws are overdue for common-sense changes that keep pace with a changing workforce.” This would make sense to anyone reading them. Surely changes, if they’re needed, should be considered.

But the bill that Gov. Walker plans to sign doesn’t make “common-sense changes” to the law -- it dismantles it completely, creating a resume-based hiring plan that allows very little transparency in the state’s hiring process.

The law was put into place more than 100 years ago to prevent politically-charged hiring processes that resume-based plans are inherently known for. The new changes don’t make small changes -- they are a radical departure of what the current law was intended to do.

“The state’s hiring process will be more effective and top-quality employees can receive merit-pay bonuses.” There’s no doubt that the hiring process will be more effective. That isn’t the point of civil service, however -- politically-based hiring is always more effective, because it makes it easier for whoever’s doing the hiring to get the person they want over the person who might be more qualified. In short, the Republicans’ plan may be more effective, but it’s also more biased, and less fair for the applicants overall.

“Employees will clearly know what actions are cause for immediate dismissal, and the appeals process will be streamlined.” This is one of the main arguments in favor of drastically altering the 100-plus year old law. But is it accurate? Scott Walker himself provided an example to the media of two state workers who couldn’t be terminated, even after it was discovered they were using state resources in order to have sexual relations on state time.

Except, the state never seriously attempted to fire those workers in Walker’s example. From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (emphases in bold added):
Faced with explicit evidence that two state railroad commission workers carried out an extramarital sexual relationship in 2011 on state time and property, their superiors opted to give them a reprimand, state records released Thursday show. ...

Gov. Scott Walker cited this incident in September when he called for overhauling Wisconsin's long-standing civil service system, saying these rules had kept state managers from firing two employees who had had sex on state property.

But files released to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel under the open records law show no attempt by an appointee of the Republican governor to fire the two state employees or to give them any form of discipline other than letters of reprimand. On the contrary, the records show that Railroad Commissioner Jeff Plale softened the reprimand letters after the workers objected to an earlier version of them.
There were very few problems with termination prior to this bill, and certainly the example above shows that more options were available to the governor. Civil service may allow state workers to have time to defend their actions, but that process seems fair in my mind, almost judicial in nature. Streamlining the appeals process only makes it more difficult for workers to make their case, allowing the state to fire them easier -- and often less fairly.

“This bill builds off of the foundation established by Governor La Follette back in 1905 when he signed civil service protections into law in order to ensure that the best are serving our state.” That statement would be laughable, were it not so terribly dishonest.

In 1905 when the original civil service law was being debated on, La Follette put his opinion out there (PDF), plain for all to see (emphasis in bold mine):
The fundamental idea of democracy is that all men are equal before the law. What proposition is plainer than that every citizen should have an equal opportunity to aspire to serve the public, and that when he does so aspire the only test applied should be that of merit. Any other test is undemocratic. To say that the test of party service should be applied is just as undemocratic as it would be to apply the test of birth or wealth or religion.
The law passed by the state legislature and signed by La Follette “required that all positions covered under the act should be filled by competitive examination.” Rescinding that provision and saying that it “builds off the foundation established by Governor La Follette,” is like ceding control of American territory to Britain 100 years after the Revolution and saying that George Washington would have wanted it that way. Both statements are absurd.

Rep. Steineke’s assertions in his press release are nothing more than dishonest spin. They ignore the history of Wisconsin and Bob La Follette’s legacy. Much worse, they pretend that he’d be in favor of a resume-based applications process, a method of hiring that he was decidedly against, as shown above.

Gov. Walker’s signature on this bill is inevitable. But whenever he leaves his current position, be it 2018 or later, whoever assumes his office needs to restore the civil service law and put back into place a hiring process that’s fair for all job applicants, not just those with good political connections.

1 comment:

  1. This is merely more punishment of government employees to satisfy the blood lust of his resentful angry voters. He's
    showboating his ability to make public employees jump through whatever hoops he tells them to. During his first election, he made public employees out to be the enemy. This legislation is just a continuation of his use of public employees as whipping boys.