County considers a change in hiring

January 10, 2013

Luzerne County officials are researching the possibility of recruiting human service applicants on their own instead of going through the state civil service system.

The change, which would have to be discussed with employees and approved by the state, could impact future hirings in the Children and Youth, Aging, Mental Health and Developmental Services and Drug and Alcohol departments, officials say.

County Manager Robert Lawton said he instructed county human services administrators to pursue the option after learning about Berks County's switch during a state conference.

The primary advantages of handling the service in-house, according to Lawton: flexibility and speed filling positions.

It's not productive to have a large number of funded but unfilled vacancies, Lawton said.

The Pennsylvania State Civil Service Commission develops and administers job-specific tests and creates listings of qualified candidates for agencies to use in hiring candidates. The commission's merit employment system is used by 37 state agencies and 300 local government offices, according to the state website.

County Councilman Jim Bobeck, who has raised the issue at a council meeting last year, said he supports pursuing the option because county Children and Youth Director Frank Castano has complained it takes too long to fill positions with civil service.

With civil service, it's a lengthy process and very bureaucratic, said Bobeck. It's certainly not user-friendly.

He also believes the requirement to undergo civil service testing – as opposed to simply sending in a résumé in response to a help-wanted ad – discourages viable potential applicants.

County Interim Human Services Director Mary Dysleski stressed research is still in the preliminary stage. County officials must discuss potential changes with employees and their unions and send letters of interest to governing state agencies if they decide to proceed, she said.

To obtain state approval, county officials must prove employees will be selected and promoted through merit and open competition and receive adequate compensation and training opportunities, officials say.

Greene County in Western Pennsylvania stopped using the civil service system in July 2011, which means any vacancies arising in 45 human services positions are recruited, tested and screened in-house, said the county's Human Resources Director Tracy Sheehan Zivkovich.

She cited an administrative assistant position that took six months to fill through civil service because of testing delays.

Our primary reason for leaving civil service was to expedite the hiring process, she said.

Zivkovich said most counties have non-discrimination clauses, applicant testing and evaluation procedures and job classifications – some of the key strengths of civil service.

In today's world, human resources professionals in most counties oversee those systems, and relying on civil service is really a duplication or redundancy that ends up slowing down the hiring process, she said.

She said a vacant caseworker position was recently filled within 10 days.

We had a very good relationship with civil service for many, many years, but it wasn't the best fit for us anymore. There are several other counties discussing leaving, she said.

State civil service spokesman Jack McGettigan said the commission will work with any agencies to try to resolve concerns. Commission services are funded by the state, he said.

We still believe we provide the best service and would be willing to work with any agency to try to assure them of that, McGettigan said.