Bill to modernize state’s personnel laws criticized by SEANC

rchristensen@newsobserver.comMay 8, 2013 

Republicans on Wednesday unveiled a plan for updating state government’s personnel laws, saying it would modernize employer/employee practices, but their proposal was greeted with skepticism by the state’s major employee group.

The new plan, approved by the House Personnel Committee in a largely party-line vote, seeks to streamline grievance procedures, create voluntary separation programs, and shorten the probationary period from two years to one year.

“These changes that are in the bill are really about employees and their needs, while balancing the needs of the state,” said Neal Alexander, the state personnel director, who previously worked for 40 years in human resources for Duke Energy.

He said the bill represents “best practices” in human resources.

But Dana Cope, executive director of the State Employees Association of North Carolina, said he was concerned that the 120,000 state employees covered by the State Personnel Act would have less protection from arbitrary or political firings.

Cope said state employees would lose their right to file grievances in cases of political hirings, and would be unable to remove negative information from their files even when proven untrue.

“Without these provisions, get ready for a return to the Wild West and a return to a system rife for political patronage, cronyism and nepotism,” Cope told the committee.

The Republican legislature had previously increased the number of political patronage positions exempt from SPA civil service protections from 400 under Democratic Bev Perdue to 1,000 under Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. This bill would increase the exempt positions to 1,500.

“Under this deal, it’s not 1,500, it’s the entire class of 120,000 (that would be exempt) because of the way it’s written,” Cope said in an interview.

Under the bill, any employee grievance of political favoritism would be heard by the State Personnel Commission, manned by political appointees of the governor and legislative leadership. It allows the Office of Administrative Hearing to review the cases, but not to hold hearings, like it now does.

That, Cope argues, renders the appeals process, “irrelevant” except for court appeals, which are expensive and take years.

“That is why we can’t support the good things this bill does,” Cope said. “The bad outweighs the good.”

The bill was the product of several weeks of talks with the McCrory administration, the GOP legislature and SEANC.

Rep. Jeff Collins of Rocky Mount, the bill’s chief sponsor, said numerous concessions were made to SEANC. “I think it represents a good compromise bill,” Collins said.

Democrats on the committee asked for the measure to be slowed down and studied. But the bill was passed by an 18-8 vote.

Christensen: 919-829-4532

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