Thursday, April 5, 2012
Several senators oppose SB 2380, ‘spoils system’
By SUE WATSON
Sixteen Democratic senators have signed a statement in opposition to Senate Bill 2380 that would return the state to the spoils system. One of those is Sen. Bill Stone of District 2.
“The state Senate passed a bill to return Mississippi to the spoils system,” he said, “where political officeholders can give government jobs to friends as political favors and to entrench themselves in power. These taxpayer jobs are handed out based on who a person knows, not what a person knows. I think it’s a bad idea, particularly as employees would be affected by changes in the political environment.”
Stone said the premises of the two-year period requested for this to take place is to give agency heads time to organize and streamline their departments. He said some have said they would like to see the legislation made permanent.
“I don’t think it is a good idea,” Stone said. “I don’t believe we want to go back in that direction. The procedures are in place to protect employees from being arbitrarily fired for no reason except for politics.”
The battle against the spoils system was fought 30 years ago, he said, and the state Supreme Court ruled that the state had no justifiable system to guard against discrimination suits and salary abuses. It was during former Gov. Cliff Finch’s administration that the Legislature created the State Personnel Board to ensure that government service jobs were based on merit and objective criteria. The board sets the qualifications for certain jobs, the salary ranges to prevent favoritism, and to prevent a person from being fired for involvement in a political campaign.
Stone said SB 2380 would remove these personnel board policy requirements.
“This is bad policy and ought to be rejected,” Stone said.
Mississippi is one of 47 states that have civil service protections to keep politics out of the hiring and firing process, he said.
“This bill would allow an agency head to fire an employee for no reason and to hire cronies without any competitive process,” the senator said.
Involved are 36,500 state job positions, 28,500 which are service posts and 800 which are non-state service positions. The latter 8,000 posts fall under the “will and pleasure” slots and are filled by appointment and are exempt from State Personnel Board rules, so newly elected officials can implement their own agenda in their office. State service workers at the lower end of the pay scale provide continuity from one administration to the next.
“We need to retain qualified professional staff and should not throw everyone out every four years,” Stone said. “One of the primary reasons for establishing the Personnel Board was to get control of salaries. Without oversight, we will see outrageous salaries handed out to political friends and campaign workers...and basic qualifications to hold a job can be easily circumvented. Mississippi does not need to return to the days of political cronyism to fill the public payroll. We ought to protect and improve the Personnel Board, not abolish it.”
A similar bill in the House of Representatives, HB 1305, died in committee March 6.
House Rep. Tommy Woods said he thinks SB 2380 may be “a pretty good thing to do. We have a lot of overexposure in some agencies.”
Woods said Gov. Phil Bryant has mentioned in a speech allowing some agencies to make adjustments in personnel – to be able to shift employees within an agency to a different position or to reduce personnel within an agency to control spending.
State agencies know “more about what they need than the Personnel Board,” he said.
Stone said he expects the House to pass the bill this Thursday and then Gov. Phil Bryant will have 15 days to sign it into law.
“I think it will pass the House and that the governor will sign it,” said Stone. “He’s been pushing it for years.”
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