Provisional appointments to civil service jobs administered by Montgomery County are more than twice the rate of other New York counties, according to a report issued Thursday by the state Civil Service Commission.
The Department of Civil Service announced results of a review of how the personnel office coordinates the merit system that covers more than 1,500 positions serving the county, towns, school districts and special districts in Montgomery County.
The study reviewed several points of the civil service administration, including adopting and enforcing rules, classifying positions, conducting an examination program, ensuring all appointments conform to civil service law and record keeping.
With possible ratings of excellent, very good, good, fair, poor and unsatisfactory, the report describes Montgomery County’s rank as “good.”
On the topic of testing, the report notes that examinations “are not attracting candidates in sufficient numbers to meet the long-term staffing needs of appointing officers.”
A review of lists of people eligible for positions revealed that between April 2004 and March 2007, 55 percent of competitive examinations yielded a list of at least three eligible candidates passing the test.
For 27 promotion exams administered during that time period, only 15 percent yielded at least three candidates, according to the report.
The lack of participation in the civil service exams leads to the need to make “provisional appointments,” which means people who don’t take a civil service exam are being placed in jobs.
The rate at which that is happening in Montgomery County exceeds the average rate of all counties statewide, according to the report.
Thomas DiMezza, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors’ personnel committee, said the county faces low numbers of test takers while at the same time requiring residency for some civil service positions.
The situation results in fewer people available and often, no list of eligible candidates who already took a test and ranked in the top three, DiMezza said.
DiMezza attributes an increase in provisional appointments in 2006 to several moves the county board made that year in the county’s former Montgomery Meadows nursing home.
“We put a lot of people in there provisionally, and they didn’t even have exams for some of those positions,” DiMezza said.
DiMezza said one way the county can address the provisional appointment issue is to expand eligibility outside of the county to include contiguous counties.
A review of the county’s 2006 annual report showed that 67 of 461 positions, or 14.5 percent, were being filled on a provisional basis. This continued a trend for the two years prior, where the rate was 11.9 percent in 2005 and 14.5 percent in 2004, according to the report.
People in provisional appointments are allowed to hold their positions until an exam is given. Provisional appointments can be made permanent as long as their test score ranks in the top three.
State Civil Service spokesman David Ernst said the civil service law is structured to minimize the use of provisional employees. The lack of a competitive exam can limit the potential for getting the best person for the job, Ernst said.
“If you are not selecting a candidate based on a competitive exam, there is at least the concern that you do not have the best possible employee there,” Ernst said.
Another section of the report identifies 15 positions administered by Montgomery County’s personnel office that don’t have one of four classifications: competitive, noncompetitive, exempt or labor.
The classification determines how people are placed in positions and the rights of people in those positions. Incumbents without a classification “are being denied the opportunity to obtain permanent status and the rights that would derive from this status,” the report states.
Workers without a classification forego the ability to reach “tenure” after five years, Ernst said. With tenure, employees can only be dismissed for cause and in a set procedure, Ernst said.
The report states one individual has been working in the county on a provisional basis since 2003. An employee in one of the county’s towns has been in a provisional position since 2000, and another employed by a school district since 1998.
Montgomery County Personnel Officer Richard Baia could not be reached for comment on the report Thursday.
The full report can be found on the state Civil Service Web site at www.cs.state.ny.us/pio/pressreleases.cfm.
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