Proposed Charter change to speed up hiring in Long Beach goes to committee

Officials say the changes could significantly speed up hiring in the city, which has taken an average of seven months to fill vacancies.

Proposed Charter change to speed up hiring in Long Beach goes to committee
The city of Long Beach has long been plagued with an arduous hiring process. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

Long Beach City Council members showed initial support Tuesday for placing a proposed charter amendment before voters this fall that city officials say will speed up the city’s hiring process and help fill vacancies in the city that currently stand at 22%.

Tuesday was the first of several meetings the council and its committees will hold before potentially voting to put the issue on the November ballot. That decision would have to be made by Aug. 6.

The proposed change would merge the city’s Human Resources Department with the Civil Service Department, which has overseen much of the hiring process in the city for decades to help ensure that municipal jobs are filled with the most qualified candidates and not through a spoils system.

Both departments handle hiring for various city positions, with Civil Service handling the recruiting and hiring of classified positions, which make up the bulk of city jobs.

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But city officials have said for months that having the two departments working independently of each other has led to duplicated efforts, frustration and hiring processes that have taken seven months on average to fill vacant positions.

City Manager Tom Modica said that in some extreme cases, positions have stayed open for years but he’s hopeful that the change will condense the timeline to hire people down to about four and a half months.

Modica said changes to the Human Resources hiring practices have resulted in a timeline of just over three months.

“If you choose to put it before the voters, it’s their decision ultimately if this should be approved,” Modica said.

Councilmembers said Tuesday that they supported speeding up the city’s hiring processes with some pointing to last year’s staffing shortage in the refuse collection department that led to some residents’ trash not being picked up on time or at all.

“We’re struggling with vacancies and we need an efficient way to get through the hiring process,” said Councilmember Kristina Duggan. “This is a way that we can immediately address staffing issues in our departments, especially when our residents are missing core services.”

Others said they were interested in seeing how the proposed changes would work but wanted to see the proof. Councilmember Al Austin said that the city would still have work to do to make working for Long Beach more enticing and that would include looking at how the city compensates people.

“Just about every public agency in the state is dealing with these problems, no matter what their system is,” Austin said. “Go across the board, every hiring process is belabored and it takes a long time. I’m not fully convinced that changing the system is going to magically change the process or even the interest in public service.”

Mayor Rex Richardson proposed changing the hiring process during the annual State of the City address in January. He called for quicker hiring but also new preferences for local residents to land jobs.

Those new hiring preferences, which would add points to applicants who live in the city, have graduated from an area university or are currently employed part-time with the city and looking for a full-time position, would also be part of the package of changes being presented to voters in November.

Changing the long-held hiring process sparked outrage among some in the city including the Civil Service Commission, which currently oversees much of the hiring process as well as disciplinary hearings and challenges to the city’s hiring process.

After several contentious meetings where commissioners questioned the need for a charter amendment when they said better communication and more Civil Service staff could achieve the same improvements, the commission voted earlier this year to oppose the charter amendment.

Since then, the city has shored up dissent among city employee labor unions, striking multiple agreements with individual unions that could clear the way for the council to vote on the issue unopposed by its own workers. However, it’s unclear how many labor groups will actively support the amendment if it’s placed on the ballot.

The issue will now go to the council’s Charter Amendment Committee, which will meet June 11, July 16 and Aug. 6, the last day the committee will be able to vote to send the issue to voters.

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.

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