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City Council to start discussing charter amendment aimed at speeding up Long Beach's hiring process

Officials say that roughly 22% of city positions are vacant and they blame a hiring process that takes about seven months on average to fill positions.

City Council to start discussing charter amendment aimed at speeding up Long Beach's hiring process
The city of Long Beach has long been plagued with an arduous hiring process. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

The Long Beach City Council will hold the first of a series of meetings that could result in a charter amendment to overhaul the city’s hiring practices, which will come before voters in November as the city seeks to close its large workforce vacancy rate.

Mayor Rex Richardson asked for the city to look at proposed changes during his State of the City address in January where he called for a speeding up of hiring as well as the creation of local preferences that would give residents, area college graduates and others a leg up in the city’s hiring processes.

Tuesday night could mark the beginning of a process that could see the City Council vote to put the issue on the ballot, something that would have to happen by Aug. 6.

Long Beach currently has a 22% vacancy rate across all departments with some seeing as much as 35% of its workforce unfilled, according to the city. City officials have argued over the past few months that creating one hiring department to replace the current model that uses Human Resources and the Civil Service Departments to vet and hire candidates, could speed things up.

Currently, the Civil Service Department approves job listings, administers tests and ranks candidates as part of its duties to help ensure that city hiring is done based on qualifications and not a spoils system. The Civil Service Commission resolves disputes over employee discipline and allegations about unfair hiring practices.

It handles the hiring of classified positions, which make up the majority of city jobs, while Human Resources hires unclassified positions.

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“This structure also frequently results in duplicative efforts between the Civil Service and Human Resources Departments, which leads to inefficient use of staff time and extends already lengthy recruitment timelines to fill critical vacancies,” City Manager Tom Modica wrote in a memo to the council ahead of its May 7 meeting.

Modica and others believe the change could significantly speed up the city’s hiring process, which currently takes an average of seven months to fill classified city positions.

In the memo, Modica said the city would set a goal of hiring most positions within 90 business days or roughly four and a half months.

The new proposed incentives would allow Long Beach residents, graduates of colleges and universities within 10 miles of the city, apprentices and part-time city employees to gain up to 10 additional points on their eligibility scores, which are used to rank candidates before they’re interviewed.

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The city already offers 10 points to veterans and 15 points for disabled veterans and those applicants in the future could qualify for 20 or 25 points total if they satisfy the new proposed preferences.

While a city-funded survey showed broad support for these types of changes, city commissioners and employees within the Civil Service Department have pushed back against the proposal.

The Civil Service Commission held multiple public meetings earlier this year, where contentious exchanges between commissioners and city officials saw each side blame each other for the city’s slow hiring process.

The commission voted unanimously in March to oppose the proposed charter amendment, likening it to a bill of goods being paired with new hiring preferences to make the package more appetizing.

While some of the city’s larger labor unions had also initially opposed the idea of the changes, the city has reached individual agreements with some city employee labor unions to resolve their concerns.

Some of the issues in the letters of agreement entered into by the city with the unions would allow Civil Service employees to transfer to other city departments without loss of pay, seniority or benefits.

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The charter amendment would merge the Civil Service department with the Human Resources department and proposes moving all existing employees into Human Resources. Now, those employees could opt out and move to other departments.

Other changes would give city firefighters their own hearing processes through a hearing officer. According to the proposal, the Civil Service Employee Rights and Appeals Commission, which will replace the current commission if voters approve the changes, would continue to hear and determine appeals of alleged rule violations regarding the city’s hiring process.

Ashley Gunckel, a business representative for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers — the city’s largest employee union — said their letter of agreement included language that ensured the city attorney’s office would oversee investigations into hiring practices and guarantees that none of their members would face layoffs as a result of the charter amendment passing.

“We’ve secured what we feel is important to our members,” Gunckel said.

The council discussion will begin on Tuesday. If it it moves forward, the council’s Charter Amendment Committee will hear the issue again on June 11, July 16 and Aug. 6, when the council could vote to put the issue on the November ballot.

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