Municipal Governments Need To Fire Individuals

Posted in Uncategorized by a1icey on June 13, 2011

A topic that is making the rounds lately is how each state government is making budget cuts this year. There’s an interesting range of options. Some states have gotten a lot of attention for their attempts to curb public employee unions. New York State’s initial strategy was rather more docile – they offered early retirement packages to state employees. Similar problems occur at the local level.

I believe no state is doing what should be done, which is firing ineffective individuals on the government’s payroll. Three examples of where this is could help:

My mother teaches at Aguilar Library in Spanish Harlem. Aguilar Library is a public library that provides adult literacy classes, books, and internet resources, among other things. For the truly desperate, it is a resource for writing job applications, warming up in the winter or finding some peace and quiet. Libraries are a catch-all safety net for the many New York City residents that fall through the cracks. To cut their budget, Aguilar Library remains over-staffed, but decreased the number of hours that they are open. Visitors wait outside for the library to open, with nowhere else to go. Another example: New York County arraignments no longer fulfill the 24-hour turn around requirement because night court has been eliminated. Violations can lead to people being held for up to three days.

I worked in the New York County Supreme Court last summer. I sat in on meetings that discussed the retirement packages and several people I met that summer took advantage of it in the fall. The program had a target percentage participation that applied to every state agency uniformly. The court employees felt that it was disproportionately harming them. The judge I worked for was a Judicial Hearing Officer. This role was created because of enforced retirement ages for judges, so that judges who remained sharp and effective could continue working. This judge had at least double the case load of other judges. He ran trials and then heard 15 or more conferences in the evening. He didn’t take any bullshit and he had seen it all. He was very efficient. This spring, because the retirement incentive program didn’t attract enough participants, they discontinued the role of Judicial Hearing Officer, thus retiring this remarkable and infamous judge. It’s so much easier to let go a category of people than actual individuals.

The third example happened in New Jersey. The teaching unions prefer a “last-in, first-out” approach. A friend working for the last two years at a public school in New Jersey was let go last fall under this policy. She was energetic, empathetic, and a sophisticated person. No doubt she was more effective than some burnt out old-timer. Yet they enforced the rule without exception. New York is in the midst of its own dispute about this issue. People think it is so socially acceptable that they are willing to protest in public in large numbers in support of this rule. No one thinks of the customer in the public sector.

Whether it’s unions or a sheer lack of cajones, these employee reduction practices have to stop. What unites all of these tragic inefficiencies is that people really do not like to fire individuals. Yet it happens all the time in the private sector. I have noticed leadership in public agencies tend to be gentle people, not wanting to rock the boat, and certainly far too empathetic for their own good. Because leadership doesn’t require the profit motive, it doesn’t exactly attract strong personalities. In the private sector this would lead to the use of outside consultancy firms, to avoid doing it yourself.

But the problem with state bureaucracies is that it’s more than not knowing how to fire someone. Within them, you begin to make excuses for the problems, you bond with your co-workers, and you become like a litter of pigs happily suckling at the teat of the state. Unlike other professional roles, government jobs still remain lifetime careers. And those satisfied with and able to tolerate the inefficiencies of the system remain and reinforce it. In the private sector, management has a primary task of firing ineffective employees. If you asked a government employee with management responsibilities whether he considered firing incompetent employees to be part of his job description, I imagine his answer would be “no.”

The only way to solve this problem is to ban any alternatives. Budget cuts should not be effected by cutting hours, reversing recent hiring decisions on a purely chronological basis, or by eliminating titles. Department heads should be replaced with hardasses. Failing that, go the consultancy route. Interview each employee. Encourage people to report absences. Require that percentage cuts be met with individual names, that cannot be linked by any categorical bias.

I know the economy has not hit bottom yet. I know this because the flood of municipal bankruptcies has not begun. The placebo of the minor cuts that have occurred are causing damage to the quality of the workforce, and are pitiful in comparison to the size of the problem. This post is an entirely hypothetical conversation. Not only is it remote that any local government could be forced into this practice, they will go into bankruptcy before any action would be taken at their usual pace.

Edited to add:

Here’s our friend Justin Amash standing up for what’s right, while we are on the topic:

just voted no on the LaTourette of OH Amendment to H R 2055, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations. The amendment strips the underlying bill’s block of an executive order that encourages agencies to use project labor agreements. PLAs typically are union agreements that drive up the price of government contracts and discriminate against nonunion work. It passed 204-203.


One Response

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. a1icey said, on June 13, 2011 at 7:14 pm

    Two criticisms that people have brought up:
    1) This was originally established to prevent mayors coming in and firing everyone and replacing them with their friends. I respond to this by pointing out that now we keep our representatives to a much higher moral standard. We’ve permitted cronyism for the cabinet, because we understand its utility. But in the modern world it’s just not plausible to argue that some guy is going to try to fire all the policemen and replace them with his childhood friends. You don’t even need a union to prevent that.
    2) Someone gave the example of a large law firm that fired all the legal assistants (keeping in place paralegals). They also said they fired by category, starting with secretaries. I understand the point, but remember – i am talking about eliminating everyone with a certain title, not cutting a certain percentage of people with a certain title. These are firing procedures that eliminate any subjective factor.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: