Guerra: There's a part of Proposition 3 no one has even mentioned
By Carlos Guerra
San Antonio Express-News

Web Posted : 11/04/2001 12:00 AM


As the nation debates federalizing airport security, San Antonians are weighing civil service concerns in Proposition 3, which voters will decide Tuesday.

Squabbles over civil service aren't new. They were probably around in 200 B.C. when China instituted the first civil service, and they probably erupted in the 17th century when Prussia's Frederick William brought the concept to Europe.

In the United States, the need for civil service was debated after the Civil War, but it wasn't until 1871 that Congress established the first Civil Service Commission.

It was short-lived and didn't do much because politicians did everything possible to scuttle it.

In fact, civil service didn't really take root in America until the Pendleton Act was passed in 1883 after a disappointed office-seeker assassinated President Garfield.

Since then, arguments about civil service have erupted regularly, and unfortunately, too many have focused on the difficulty of firing government workers.

Civil service rules do require that the basis for firing and documentation be in place before a classified worker is dismissed.

Unfortunately, we tend to ignore or forget another, more important aspect of civil service protections.

The original intent for establishing a federal civil service system — that eventually extended to all the other governmental entities — was to replace corrupt cronyism with a qualifications-based process for hiring government employees.

This is something we shouldn't ignore when we weigh the merits of Proposition 3.

Let's remember that this proposition started out as one that would remove civil service protections for the city's licensed professions because the legal canon of ethics guarantees a client's right to fire counsel at will.

But before the measure was put on the ballot, city staff persuaded the City Council to add the city's seasonal, part-time and temporary workers to the list of workers exempted from these protections.

Staff members made the argument that these workers — almost a third of the city's employees — should be officially declassified so the city could "clean up" its charter and city regulations to reflect what they insisted already exists.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Section 69 of the City Charter orders that "a classified civil service" shall exist for "all appointive offices and employments" of the city and its agencies except those on a list that follows.

Those "specifically engaged for professional, investigative, consultative and other special services" are on that list, but temps aren't — and shouldn't be.

Staff members also asserted that the city's Civil Service Code already exempts these workers, and that isn't the whole truth.

Rule XII, Sec. 5. (a.)(3.) of the code clearly specifies that "no person(s) shall be eligible as a temporary employee in any one or more positions for more than an aggregate period of three months in any fiscal year."

Will we be so cold-hearted that we'll forget that an untold number of "temporary" workers have been wrongfully classified long beyond their three-month period so they could be denied such benefits as health insurance, paid vacation and sick leave?

Ask yourself two questions:

Is it right to institutionalize abuse by making it law? And in doing so, won't we also give City Hall's big shots the power to declare any city job a temporary position — perhaps in perpetuity — that they can give to some crony?

Carlos Guerra's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. To leave him a message, call (210) 250-3545 or e-mail cguerra@express-news.net.

11/04/2001