This post is part of a larger series.
There are some simple managerial reforms that can vastly improve the efficiency of the City government. If the government is not operating as efficiently as possible, then its programs to mitigate poverty and inequality will be inefficient. That is why this is so critical, even though it is much less of a flashy reform. Here are my proposed reforms.
Create a centralized recruiting office
As I discussed in a prior post, the City’s hiring process has several issues. A Pew report found that a significant cause of these issues has been that the City government has no centralized recruiting office. Instead, each department or office is responsible for recruiting candidates. What’s more, they’re also responsible for interviewing and screening candidates, and they often lack the resources or training for this.
My recommendation here is simple—listen to Pew. Create a centralized recruitment and hiring office for all City positions, Civil Service or not. Require that all hiring go through this office. In fact, this doesn’t even need to be a new office, but provisions adding responsibilities to a current office, such as the Office of Human Resources. Currently, there is some movement in this direction with the City’s online job portal, but not all positions are required to go through this. And, when positions are not Civil Service, the applicant is required to contact that department or office directly to respond to the posting.
This reform could come from an executive order, as several of Mayor Kenney’s executive offices have come from, or it could come from law.
Reform Civil Service rules
This also comes from the Pew recommendations, and thankfully some councilmembers have been paying attention to these issues lately. Currently, the Home Rule Charter lists several requirements when hiring Civil Service employees, and Civil Service employees comprise 81% of all City positions. The City can only consider candidates based on a defined points system, and then it can only consider the two highest scoring candidates at a time. Those candidates cannot be removed from consideration except for specific reasons, such as lying on their forms or dropping out by choice. As a result, the median time to hire a City employee from application to selection is 360 days.
We don’t have to do away with the Civil Service system or even radically reform it to improve upon our current system. Simple reforms will help considerably. We can amend the Home Rule Charter to allow for three candidates to be considered, four, or even a wide array of candidates based on score. We can amend the points system so that it favors relevant experience and education more heavily. Finally, we can change the hiring rule that hiring managers must prioritize internal candidates first. These are recommendations that Pew outlines, and we should implement them all. Only the “rule of two” and the hiring practice rule have to be changed through a Home Rule Charter amendment. The others are Civil Service Commission regulations that have to be changed by a vote of its members, who are all appointed by the mayor.
For reference, here are the Home Rule Charter’s regulations for the Civil Service Commission.
Invest in the finance department
Many of the City Controller findings stem from the finance department lacking the resources to effectively track everything the City does. The most egregious example was the almost $1 billion in accounting errors that the City Controllers found in the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, the City’s official annual audit (see my past post for more details).
The finance department currently has a budget of $7.5 million, dipping down from almost $20 million in 2017 due to “solid waste code violation fees, burglar alarm license fees, and false burglar alarm fines.” Regardless of the wild fluctuations, the range of funding we currently have for the finance department is a blip when considered against the total budget—much like the various watchdog departments. Even modest investments in the finance department could have huge returns in transparency and accountability.
Listen to the City Controllers
The City Controllers publish detailed reports each year on every City department and on special issues that they have the resources to audit. However, they have limited power to enforce their recommendations, instead relying on the departments to self-correct or for other watchdog departments to enforce recommendations. One of my proposed reforms in another post involves giving the City Controllers stronger powers, but we should go beyond this for the cases that continually arise. Some issues keep popping up, indicating structural issues, rather than isolated incidents. Therefore, we should amend the underlying structure that has allowed these issues to exist.
Here are the most common issues the City Controllers report:
- Overtime, sick leave, holiday, or other payroll abuse
- Failure to segregate duties for payroll approval and cash reconciliation
- Failure to document payroll and finances
- Failure to establish policies on payroll
- Failure to conduct employee evaluations
These issues apply to almost every department, and to Civil Service and non-Civil Service employees. So, even though the Civil Service Commission regulations protect against many of these abuses, many City employees are not subject to these rules. In these cases, it is up to the individual department to set and enforce its policies. Even for the departments that do fall within Civil Service Commission rules, most have simply been ignoring these regulations and their prescribed punishments for violation. Therefore, broad reforms are necessary that set the rules and impose enforcement for violations.
The only ways to enact reforms that impact all of the City’s employees and officers while imposing serious enforcement options are to pass laws, issue executive orders, or amend the Home Rule Charter. Executive orders are the easiest option, assuming the sitting mayor wants to issue such orders. However, they are also the easiest to overturn, since any new mayor can change executive orders. Amending the Home Rule Charter is the most difficult, since it requires going through City Council and a public referendum. However, this is also the most secure way to ensure lasting change, since it is so difficult to change the Home Rule Charter. Passing a law, of course, requires action by City Council, and sits somewhere in the middle in terms of difficulty to enact and permanence.
As a “best of both worlds” solution, we should pressure the current or next mayor to enact an executive order creating these rules, with punishments attached to each violation. It should also stipulate the resources to be allocated for this so that enforcement is meaningful. This provides the immediate relief needed. After that, we should pressure City Council to pass legislation or submit a Home Rule Charter amendment ballot question so that these regulations are more permanently enshrined in the Philadelphia Code. This process could work very similarly to how the current Office of the Inspector General was created. Former Mayor Nutter created the department through an executive order, and now he and others are advocating for a Home Rule Charter amendment to permanently establish the office.
Here are my recommendations in sum:
- Create a centralized recruiting and hiring office that every City department or office must utilize.
- Reform the Civil Service Commission’s rules to allow for greater flexibility, including:
- Allowing for multiple candidates to be considered for hiring;
- Reforming the points system to place greater emphasis on relevant experience and education; and
- Removing the provision that all hiring must first consider internal promotions.
- Invest more resources in the Office of the Director of Finance.
- Create citywide policies for the following:
- Payroll approval, including segregation of duties;
- Payroll documentation;
- Financial approval;
- Financial documentation; and
- Employee evaluations.
Number one can be implemented by an executive order. Numbers 2.1 and 2.3 have to be done through Home Rule Charter amendments, and 2.2 can be done by the Civil Service Commission, which is appointed by the mayor. Therefore, a mayor who supports Civil Service reform is a necessary part of this broader reform. Number three requires increased budget allocations, which are determined by the mayor and city council in the annual budget. All of number four requires an executive order, legislation, or Home Rule Charter amendments.
So, in sum, most of these reforms have to be driven by the mayor directly. Only a few managerial reforms must come from Home Rule Charter amendments, and all of number four could be achieved through regular legislation or from an executive order. This means that the first necessary step is pressuring the mayor to enact and advocate for these reforms, or electing a mayor who expresses support for these reforms. The rest depends upon a grassroots campaign and awareness around these issue to push for legislation or ballot initiatives.