War of words breaks out over plans to make it easier to fire U.S. civil servants

By on 03/06/2016 | Updated on 25/09/2020
Thomas M. Wardrop, chairman of the Michigan Civil Service Commission

The chairman of a U.S. state civil service commission has spoken out against plans by a Republican politicians to pass legislation making it easier to fire state employees.

Republican Dan Lauwers, who sponsors the bill, argues that the state’s “current civil service rules make it almost impossible to properly discipline state employees who do wrong,” in an opinion piece he wrote for Detroit News.

However, Thomas M. Wardrop, chairman of the Michigan Civil Service Commission, accused Lauwers of making “misleading statements justifying his proposal.”

Wardrop dismissed Lauwers’s claim that dismissing civil servants is impossible as incorrect, stating that during his five years at the commission, 2,447 employees had been discharged and that several more would have resigned in lieu of discharge.

In an op-ed published by MLive on Wednesday, he wrote that while he agrees with Lauwers that state agencies and employees must be responsive and meet statutory charges, he also said that “most state civil servants do excellent work for Michigan’€™s citizens and that service should be appreciated”

For those who fall short, he added, civil service rules “allow agencies to manage and discipline their workforce to enforce accountability.”

The current system, he said, is not perfect, but “superior” to the bill’s “flawed and unclear proposal, which would create significant new burdens and inevitably involve years of legal challenges over the limited due process that is provided in the proposed legislation.”

Lauwers referred to government workers’ “bad decisions” leading to the Flint water crisis in which the city’s water supply was severely polluted.

In the wake of the crisis, an investigation revealed extensive misconduct by Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) employees, he said, but civil service rules required the state to pay them for months before they were charged criminally.

He said that “instead of being fired, the people behind this disaster kept collecting a paycheck and kept their jobs in Lansing overseeing our water” and called for the state’s civil service commission to be overhauled.

But Wardrop said that under current commission rules, disciplinary decisions rest with each department, which can remove employees from the payroll by discharge at any time for cause.

After events in Flint, the DEQ accepted one civil servant’€™s resignation, terminated another without criminal charges being filed, and suspended two others without pay after criminal charges, he said adding that “the implication that civil service rules required waiting until after criminal investigations to suspend or discharge an employee is false.”

The bill, which seeks to amend the state constitution “to grant the heads of principal departments the authority to discipline or dismiss employees in the state classified civil service for conduct that directly and negatively impacts the department’s ability to accomplish its statutory duties in a fair, timely, equitable, and transparent manner and to provide for appeals,” is due to undergo its third reading on Monday.

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About Winnie Agbonlahor

Winnie is news editor of Global Government Forum. She previously reported for Civil Service World - the trade magazine for senior UK government officials. Originally from Germany, Winnie first came to the UK in 2006 to study a BA in Journalism & Russian at the University of Sheffield. She is bilingual in English and German, and, after spending an academic year abroad in Russia and reporting for the Moscow Times, Winnie also speaks Russian fluently.

One Comment

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