JUDGES JUST DON'T UNDERSTAND

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0a81/1240510287-corrigan.jpgMayor Frank Jackson says the $900,750 fined levied by an exasperated Common Pleas Court Judge Peter Corrigan against the city for repeatedly ignoring his orders to start honoring the civil service statues will break the bank.

The city just barely broke even for another year after some serious trimming. Now, a professional hatchet man has been hired to trim more, just to stay afloat another year. So you can understand where Old Silver is coming from.

“I am appealing this ruling as it critically impedes our ability to run the city,” says Jackson in a statement.
It’s been 15 years since the city was sued for circumventing its own civil-service guidelines and hiring hundreds of workers on a temporary basis to avoid them having to be tested. Numerous orders have been issued by the court, telling the city to start doing things the right way. Corrigan was the first to really throw the gauntlet down though, penning a searing 15-page diatribe-like ruling against the city’s long history of “cronyism, corruption and political payback.” He also issued the fine, assigned a guardian for civil service functions and halted all new hires, transfers and promotions.

Whoa, big boy! Jackson says the charter change approved by voters last year grandfathers in all existing workers and gives the city a year — instead of the previous charter guideline of 90 days — to get new workers tested. Still, Jackson claims that when he took office, there were 2,400 temporary workers; now there are about 700 — a marked improvement. The Plain Dealer told Corrigan in a Wednesday editorial: Cool it. “It not only endangers the city’s precarious finances,” the paper wrote, “it ignores significant efforts to resolve issues by both the Jackson administration and the voters.”

Here’s the letter Jackson sent to you, dear taxpayer, letting you know for certain that he’s right, as always. The letter nicely rounds up the issue, so we here at Scene don’t have to get all pedantic on your ass. — Dan Harkins

Dear Citizen,

As Mayor, I was elected to lead this city, manage the operations and provide the services our citizens deserve. A dedicated city workforce, not political cronies, performs these services daily. However, a court ruling delivered on April 10 puts several hundred of these city workers at risk of losing their jobs. The City has appealed this ruling and I, as mayor, will fight it.

The ruling stems from a 15-year-old lawsuit brought by the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) because of a 1932 requirement that newly hired employees, or temporary appointments (TAs), must be tested for their positions within 90 days. Over the years, the city has been unable to comply with this onerous testing requirement, causing the number of TAs sometimes to be in the thousands.

When I took office, there were approximately 2,400 TAs. I directed the Civil Service Commission to test as many TAs as possible and update job classifications to meet the current needs of the city. As a result, the number of TAs is down to about 700, of which more than 200 are already in the testing process. Despite our efforts at reducing the list, two additional problems were evident.

First, as long as the 90-day rule was in effect, the city would continue to have difficulties in achieving compliance because of the size of Cleveland’s workforce and the sheer number of job classifications. Therefore, following the best practice models developed elsewhere in the state, the Charter Review Commission recommended expanding the testing period from 90 days to one year. Cleveland voters approved this amendment to the City Charter in November 2008. With the new one-year rule in effect, the City of Cleveland would be in compliance.

The second problem was that, in the process of reducing the number of TAs, we discovered that many employees might be subject to termination if they did not finish in the top three in any given test. I believe that firing hundreds of employees, many of whom belong to CSEA, who have long-since demonstrated they can effectively perform their jobs is not fair. They have done nothing wrong. The
citizens of Cleveland felt the same way and as part of the Charter amendments passed last November, the electorate granted these employees regular status.

In spite of the City’s efforts and the vote of the people of Cleveland, the Court ruled against the city — levying a fine, imposing a hiring freeze and inserting a “special master” to control Civil Service to the satisfaction of the court. This ruling ignores the substantial progress that has been made in testing TAs. It ignores the will of the people; the impact the charter amendments have on Civil Service and employees; and, most importantly, the practical impact on the city’s finances and ability to deliver service.

As I mentioned earlier, the City has appealed the ruling. During this next legal fight, the City will question an inaccurate and biased “update” that a CSEA attorney delivered to the Court a couple of days prior to the Court’s decision. The City will question why we were not offered the opportunity to respond to CSEA’s
update or offer evidence that the list of TAs had become even smaller. In addition, the remedy proposed by the court appears to be virtually verbatim from a previous CSEA submission to the Court; and, it is a remedy that is contrary to all applicable law. This is a particular point of interest given the ruling also alleges “cronyism, corruption and political payback” even though four days of testimony last September failed to produce any evidence of cronyism.

I share this with you to assure you that I will not allow a Court to have veto power over the vote of Cleveland’s electorate. I will not sit idly by while the Court enforces charter provisions that were repealed by Cleveland voters. Moreover, I will not sit back and watch a balanced budget turn into a deficit, see service delivery fail and have residents suffer because of a Court ruling.

Sincerely,
Frank G. Jackson, Mayor
City of Cleveland

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