As Burbank’s Civil Service Board tackles what officials say is a long-overdue discussion on employee nepotism and dating at City Hall, the process has highlighted the board’s relative lack of power compared to similar commissions at other cities.
The board’s discussion of a nepotism policy comes as the city continues to grapple with lawsuits by former and current police officers alleging retaliatory firing and harassment. Now some board members would like to restore their authority to hear and make decisions on employee disciplinary appeals.
“What’s occurred in Burbank over the last 10 to 15 years is a reduction of [the board’s] work load,” said Matt Doyle, a Burbank Civil Service Board member and human resources director for Glendale. “Appeals have gone away from the board to arbitration.”
Glendale has had a nepotism policy in place for at least two decades, Doyle said, and its Civil Service Commission, which was established in the 1930s, makes the ultimate decision if an employee wishes to appeal a disciplinary action.
In Burbank, the majority of the roughly 1,500 city employees who belong to a union have disciplinary concerns vetted by an outside arbitrator, bypassing the Civil Service Board altogether.
The arbitrator’s decision is a recommendation to the city manager, said Judie Wilke, Burbank management services director. The city manager can either uphold or overturn the decision.
Fire is the only group that has a disciplinary appeal or grievance go to the Civil Service Board, she said.
That wasn’t always the case. Through employee contract agreements, some made in the early 90s, “management has essentially negotiated away that particular aspect of the discipline process,” Doyle said.
He and at least one other Civil Service Board member support having the board hear disciplinary appeals again.
“I think it would be a positive turn of events,” Doyle said. “I feel the people making these decisions ought to have some connection or investment in the city, as opposed to an outside arbitrator.”
Los Angeles, Glendale and the county all bring employee disciplinary appeals under the purview of their civil service commissions.
“It’s part of what our roles should be,” said Zizette Mullins, a Burbank Civil Service Board member. “I’m very supportive of one day turning the Civil Service Board in Burbank to be very similar to other cities and have the board become the hearing body for the organization, for the city of Burbank.”
But employee unions generally feel they get a more favorable hearing if the matter is heard by a completely independent third party.
Arbitrators usually have professional backgrounds in mediation, labor relations or human resources. It could also be more expedient, Doyle said, as opposed to attempting to schedule a hearing with an appointed commission.
Councilman Dave Golonski said employee unions pushed for independent arbitration route, “and I can’t say that I blame them.”
At the time of the change, the Civil Service Board, he said, was pushing to get the details of the city’s allegations before the employee had an opportunity to respond.
“The board at the time considered moving forward with procedural changes that management and unions felt would jeopardize the independence of the board, and even in the face of feedback, it didn’t seem willing to change direction,” Golonski said.