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Proposal to speed up hiring in Long Beach moves closer to Aug. 6 decision date

The City Council could ask voters to change how the city's hiring process is handled in an attempt to more quickly close a 22% vacancy rate across all city positions.

Proposal to speed up hiring in Long Beach moves closer to Aug. 6 decision date
A person sits outside of Long Beach City Hall in Downtown. Photo by Brandon Richardson

A charter amendment that city officials say will speed up the city’s hiring process moved one step closer to residents getting to vote on the issue after the Long Beach City Council held the first of three required meetings Tuesday before a potential August vote to put it on the November ballot.

City officials launched an effort earlier this year to help close a 22% vacancy across all city department jobs by merging the city’s Civil Service Department with its Human Resources Department to help speed up hiring, which can take an average of seven months, according to the city.

The Civil Service Department has handled most of the city’s hiring for decades and has helped ensure that the city’s merit-based system seeks to hire applicants based on their qualifications rather than who they know.

In addition to merging the two departments, the proposed charter amendment would create new local hiring preferences that would award applicants additional points during the hiring process if they live in the city, graduated from a local university or college or are currently an intern or part-time city employee.

Jason Ruiz has been on strike from the Long Beach Post since March 21, yet he’s still covering city hall without pay. Thank him for his reporting.

Because it will require changing the city’s charter, voters will have to approve the change this November if the council decides to put it on the ballot. The council would have to vote to put it on the ballot by Aug. 6.

“We’re in a real crisis with confidence in public sector employment,” said Mayor Rex Richardson, who asked city officials to look at speeding up hiring.

College officials and some labor groups have backed the proposal because of the potential to speed up the process for residents and students to access city jobs, which can come with good wages and benefits.

But others, including Long Beach’s Civil Service Commission, have opposed the measure, saying that other cities that operate with the hiring model the city hopes to switch to still struggle to fill vacancies.

Henry Corzo, president of the Long Beach Association of Engineering Employees, pointed to the over 20 people who have turned down job offers recently and said that speeding up hiring is only part of the problem.

“This is indicative that the wages, employment conditions and benefits, although they have improved, are still not competitive enough,” Corzo told the council Tuesday. “We need a broader commitment than just a charter amendment to make working for the city more attractive.”

The proposal, which was first pitched by Richardson during his State of the City address in January, set off a series of contentious meetings that saw high-ranking city officials clash with Civil Service staff over the need for the change, and its potential ramifications.

Commissioners alleged putting all hiring processes under Human Resources, which is under the City Manager’s jurisdiction, could lead to a spoils system that the independent Civil Service process has tried to prevent.

City officials say the move is not intended to change the city’s merit-based hiring system but an attempt to reduce the time to hire new employees by cutting down on some of the bureaucracy that can require months to fill most city positions.

The council has signaled support to put the issue on the ballot but it will have to meet two more times before taking that vote. It’s scheduled to hold another hearing on the issue on July 16 and again on Aug. 6 when the council will have to vote in order to give county election officials time to put the question on the ballot for voters.

The Aug. 6 meeting could also see the council place a potential tax increase question on the ballot for residents to decide in November.

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