Plan could impact hiring practices

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Blair County has about 80 jobs affected by the State Civil Service Commission requiring applicants to be hired from a list of candidates who have taken a written qualifications examination and passed.

But that hiring process, typically used to hire staff in the Children, Youth & Families office, may change.

Commissioners this week authorized a law firm to include Blair County in developing a plan that could map out the steps to withdraw from the Civil Service hiring process. In its place, the county would have to come up with an alternative plan as to how it will guarantee a fair and impartial hiring process.

About 30 of the state’s 67 counties have exited from their dependence on the civil service system, something Blair County could consider, Human Resources Director Katherine Swigart told commissioners Tuesday.

The benefit, according to Swigart, is that civil service has become a cumbersome system that takes weeks to offer a list of qualified job candidates who may or may not be interested in working for Blair County.

Employees hired through the civil service system, Swigart said, remain subject to rules and regulations that must be filed with the state commission.

“Civil Service has become a labor intensive process that for our use, has outlived its value,” Swigart said.

The County Com­missioners Association of Pennsylvania has been interested in reforms to the civil service system. In a 2017 presentation before the House State Government Committee, CCAP Deputy Director Brinda Penyak told lawmakers that counties have experienced many years of frustration with the civil service system.

“(It) discourages employment by creating difficulties for the interested candidates who will find positions elsewhere, rather than subject themselves to the antiquated processes that most employers have long abandoned,” Penyak said.

Swigart recommended that the county sign a contract with the Pittsburgh area law firm of Cafardi Ferguson Wyrick Weis and Stotler LLC, which is preparing to develop a plan to guide counties interested in exiting from civil service.

Commissioners Terry Tomassetti and Ted Beam Jr. voted in favor of having the firm include Blair County in its effort, with research and compilation to be billed at $190 per hour for work handled by the firm’s partners, $170 per hour for work handled by senior and/or junior associates and $135 per hour for work assigned to paralegals.

The company’s proposal offered no estimate of the projected cost.

The law firm wouldn’t offer one, Swigart said, because at this time, it doesn’t know how much research it is facing or how many counties are going to be interested.

Approving the company’s proposal now, County Administrator Helen Schmitt said, will allow Swigart’s department to begin sharing information with the law firm so that projected costs can be worked into the 2020 budget.

The county’s ability to exit from civil service, Swigart said, will partly depend on its ability to provide an alternative replacement system, a factor linked to the county’s forthcoming job classification and salary study.

While civil service employees who work for the state typically follow a salary schedule based on job skills, Blair County’s salaries are negotiated with employees unions or they are based on amounts approved by the county’s salary board and influenced by annual increases, subject to commissioners’ approval.

The forthcoming job classification and salary study, under preparation by Felice Associates of Greensburg, is expected to be finished by August.

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