Citing civil service concerns, Jersey City Council to vote on repealing rec dept. reorg

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Members of the Jersey City Council grilled Business Administrator Brian Platt yesterday over a reorganization of the rec department, which they will vote on repealing due to a fear of violating the state’s civil service protections for their employees.

At yesterday’s council caucus meeting, Council President Rolando Lavarro and others peppered Platt with questions about the city’s intentions with the new reorg and whether or nor that will lead to layoffs.

He led off the discussion by referencing his summer letter to the New Jersey Civil Service Commission, saying he thinks on the face of it, the ordinance is in violation of their rules and regulations.

“They said they couldn’t necessarily opine on the legality and compliance with regard to civil service, but they also didn’t say that was in compliance with civil service, and they made it very clear to me by telephone that until they received something in writing that they couldn’t necessarily offer a formal opinion,” said Lavarro.

Platt then started to explain some of the reasoning behind the city’s decision, when he was asked outright by Councilman-at-Large Daniel Rivera whether anyone would be losing their jobs, to which Platt quickly replied no.

However, Ward C Councilman Richard Boggiano quickly interjected, “Then why are you asking them to fill out applications?”

Platt also referenced Lavarro’s letter to the state’s civil service commission whereby Lavarro wrote that he was informed by employees who “seemingly are more knowledgable about civil service” and that the city’s approach to the reorganization is in violation of the city’s most basic tenets of civil service.

“I’m one of those employees, it’s not in violation of any tenets of civil service, HR has said the same thing. The only rule is that the city must provide three days for transfers that are lateral transfers,” said Platt.

He continued to defend the city’s position vigorously by noting that there’s nothing, as far as transfers go, that wouldn’t get reviewed by the state’s civil service commission and that there’s no title changes that wouldn’t go to civil service, including a cut in pay or potential layoffs.

“I think that part of the confusion is that Civil Service won’t get notified about any changes until we make the request for the changes, and we haven’t done that yet. No one’s pay is going to get cut, and no one is losing their jobs.

“Everyone has civil service protections, there’s no way we can remove them from employment, there’s no way we can do it,” Platt continued.

Lavarro followed up by saying that he thinks that it is truly cruel to ask people to re-apply for their jobs who have worked for the city for over a decade and who have civil service protections and “they’re not seeing that afforded to them in any way shape or form it appears to me.”

City Attorney Nick Strasser weighed in by saying that Platt’s assessment of the law of civil service is “exactly correct.”

“The old ordinance does not violate civil service, it was a proper exercise of organizing a city department as is the new ordinance as well. Neither ordinance violates any kind of civil service protections for anybody in particular.

“Platt’s assessment of how the policy is being applied and the protections he is describing is actually above and beyond what civil service requires,” said Strasser.

That prompted Lavarro to call on the city’s law department to put something in writing that clearly states the city’s actions are in compliance with civil service guidelines.

“I’m making a request of the law department, which is suggesting that this goes above and beyond in compliance with civil service, I’m asking specifically that the process of informing people that they must apply for a job posting is in compliance.”

Back on July 17th, the city council voted to approve reorganizing the Department of Recreation into the Department of Recreation and Youth Development, with Council President Rolando Lavarro the only no vote because he said at the time that he felt that he didn’t have the information he needed to make a “prudent decision.”

About two months after that was approved, the city’s director of human resources issued a Sept. 25th memo that was posted on the rec department’s office door notifying them that “all current Department of Recreation employees must apply to a job posting..to be considered for a role in the [new] Department of Recreation and Youth Development.”

Apparently, that memo took the council completely by surprise because most of them believed the reorg mostly revolved around a name change and combining rec programs into a new entity.

Lavarro said he was so troubled by the memo and, consequently, the ordinance that the council passed on July 19 that he wrote a letter to the Director of Agency Services with the state’s Civil Service Commission, Kelly Glenn, asking her to provide guidance.

Specifically, he wanted to know whether the memo penned by the director of Human Resources, as well as the ordinance, constitutes a violation of the state’s civil service protections for civil service employees.

Shortly after the council approved the measure, Mayor Steven Fulop touted the changes as a new approach to help children with special needs and also hosted a meeting to solicit community input.

A city spokeswoman declined to comment on the possibility of the council repealing the reorganization.

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