CH mayor attempts power grab
Mayor Seren recently tried to sneak past Cleveland Heights City Council an “emergency request” to remove police and fire chiefs from the list of classified employees. That removal would deny them protections of civil service status. It would be a naked power grab that city council properly balked at approving too quickly. Hopefully, reasons for the present system will be considered carefully by city council before any changes to it are made.
Civil service resulted from a reform movement in the 1880s, which sought to reduce or eliminate the system of spoils, patronage, and corruption that characterized many governments. It instituted hiring based on merit. This improved the performance of government services. It provided criteria for advancement and regulation of covered employees. Most importantly, it removed politics from the operation of basic municipal services. It was, and is, a successful reform.
In Cleveland Heights, civil service regulates the hiring, promotion, discipline, and dismissal of covered employees. The city's Civil Service Commission has three members, [who serve] six-year terms. It meets as needed. The mayor appoints its members. As a check and balance, the appointees must be confirmed by city council. The commission prepares and administers employment tests and handles disciplinary matters.
Mayor Seren now proposes removing key department leaders from its coverage. He wants police and fire chiefs to serve without civil service protection. He wants [more control over] how they are hired and fired.
Chiefs in direct charge of police, fire, and ambulance employees are not normally considered to be political hires. When covered by civil service protection, they can only be fired for good cause.
Employees without such protection serve at the pleasure of the mayor. That makes them more potentially vulnerable to coercion and intimidation. This is the reason why civil service has been very important in preventing corruption in government. It remains important today.
Government functions best when staffing is based on merit, not on political patronage. Maybe Mayor Seren disagrees. He seems instead to believe that his direct political control of the police and fire departments is essential to his role as an elected official. It is not.
Alan Rapoport, a longtime resident of Cleveland Heights, served on CH City Council (1980–87) and as mayor (1982–87).