We’ve already covered how Governor Kasich’s budget contains merit-based provisions for public school teachers and how he wants to clone parts of SB 5 into the budget to frustrate the referendum process, but Kasich’s budget also contains a number of provisions that weaken Ohio’s civil service protections.  Kasich’s budget, as it does elsewhere, contains language that gives one of his Cabinet-agency directors unprecedented levels of discretion to circumvent current law.

According to the nonpartisan analysis by the Legislative Service Commission (LSC) of HB 153, Kasich’s biennium budget, the Kasich Administration seeks a number of changes to Ohio’s civil service protection laws.  All of them, of course, seek to make them weaker.   According to LSC, Kasich’s budget would modify civil service by:

  • Granting the Director of the Department of Administrative Services authority to draft rules that would create a process in which the Administration may fill classified civil service positions without conducting a competitive examination for the position in certain circumstances (which are not defined in the bill, but instead, left to the DAS Director to determine on his own);
  • Reducing the minimum amount of notice a classified civil service position with the government is filed by competitive examination from one week down from the current two;
  • Allowing all notices of such examinations or available classified civil service position vacancies accepting applications to be noticed on the DAS’ website only, as opposed to the current requirement that requires posting of such vacancies at courthouse and other public venues;
  • Allowing the Director of DAS to delegate his civil service examination authority to a designee;
  • Removing the Director of DAS’s authority to run equitable programs for the consideration and benefit of any legally blind or deaf applicant;
  • Current law creates a list of the top ten applicants’ test scores and requires that the candidate be selected by that list.  In the event that there isn’t a top ten, then any eligible candidate in the pool may be selection.  Kasich’s budget would change this to allow the government to choose any eligible candidate who scored in the top 25% of the exam.  In the event that there are less than ten people in the top 25%, then any eligible candidate can be hired;
  • Weakening the preference given to veterans’ as well as the bonus they receive on competitive examinations.  Under existing law, a tie in exams scores for ranking between veterans and nonveterans is broken in favor the veteran candidate.  Under Kasich’s budget that is eliminated in favor of giving preferences to whomever filed their application earlier;
  • Promoting in the civil services is based on “merit” and “conduct and capacity in office” but, the government is not required to base promotions based on promotional examination or seniority;
  • Allowing the Director of DAS to create an “experimental” pay schedule that creates financial incentives for certain officers and employees beyond what is currently provided for those position under existing law (and the Director is specifically authorized to do this without complying with Ohio’s Administrative Procedure Act, which requires public notice and comment before a regulation can take effect.)

Civil service is intended to prevent the patronage days of lore in which people got jobs based more on whom they knew rather than merit.  Reading these provisions in their totality, you see that with less minimum notice, a preference for whom files early, and even permitting the process to eliminate competitive examination in certain circumstances (and promotional examinations entirely) leads to wider potential for abuse by the political appointees who are charged with making hiring decisions within Ohio’s civil service system.

Know the right person and they may try to trigger a situation in which you can be hired without an exam.  You can then get promoted and raises without competitive exams, so long as your supervisor likes you and says you’re doing great.  Heck, even when a position is still required to be filled with competitive examinations, knowing when such a position is about to be posted can give you an edge over a veteran, especially if his only access to the Internet is at the local public library!

I don’t know why the Director of DAS needs the ability to delegate his authority over civil service exams, or what the Administration’s possible aim is.  Regardless these kind of policy riders have no business being considered for the first and only time within the entirity of the State’s budget.  They require independent legislative examination separated from the pressing deadline of passing a State budget in June.  They need a heck more consideration than they’ll get if they are only considered within the context of everything else in the budget.

The “top 25% or anyone” rule is a double whammy.  Let’s say 200 pass the exam for a position, and there’s a child of a major campaign donor the Administration would like to hire in a sensitive classified position.  And let’s say that adult child ranked #50 on the eligible list, just making it on the top 25%.  Under existing law, the Administration couldn’t hire that person because they didn’t make the top ten.  Under Kasich’s budget they can pick that person and pass up the 49 other people who tested better.

But let’s say only 39 people passed the exam, and our child of a prominent donor came in at #39.  Under existing law, again, the child can’t be hired because they’ll still be able to rank people in the Top Ten.  But under Kasich’s budget, since there will be less than ten people in the top 25%, the Administration can hire #39.  Either way, the Kasich budget seeks to expand the candidate pool that can still be considered after competitive examination, if not weakening the impact of such testing so much as to render it pointless entirely.  If competitive testing still allows for the Administration to essentially hire whomever they want, regardless of objectively determined merit, then civil service is reduced to nothing more than feel-good window dressing to hide the political considerations that were really driving the hiring/promotion decisions.

In the future, when a child of such a politicially-connected person is hired under Kasich’s budget regime, the instant response will be that the person was hired “in full compliance with Ohio’s civil service laws.”  And that will be both technically true and misleading at the same time because Kasich is creating massive loopholes to render Ohio’s civil service protection laws toothless.

In the end, we have a major weakening of a civil service system that proponents of SB 5 pointed to as sufficient to protect the public from many of the concerns of nepotism and political considerations driving hiring decisions in classified, civil service positions.  SB 5 was just the beginning.  Kasich’s budget is a continuation of his drive to weaken worker protections in Ohio by eroding civil service to the point that it can so easily be circumvented, you might as well call it a repeal.

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