the Beacon Journal editorial board

As part of its continuing review of city operations, the Blue Ribbon Task Force appointed by Mayor Dan Horrigan before he took office moved quickly to recommend major changes in how human resources functions are structured. Fast action was needed to get a charter amendment on the March 15 ballot. This week, the City Council rightly recognized the value in modernizing this important part of city government. It voted to put a proposed amendment on the primary ballot.

The task force found confusion and inefficiency in the current setup, the personnel director selected by the Civil Service Commission, which is in turn appointed by the mayor. In recent years, things got more complicated, the previous law director tapped as the acting personnel director.

The review also found human resources responsibilities scattered among various departments, with no one responsible for unclassified employees, who fall outside the jurisdiction of the Civil Service Commission.

The amendment would simplify things by creating a Department of Human Resources, with a human resources director directly appointed by the mayor, lines of responsibility more clearly drawn. The Civil Service Commission, increasingly occupied with day-to-day decisions on personnel, would return to its traditional duties of writing job descriptions, rules and regulations and handling disciplinary matters.

The Department of Human Resources and its director would consolidate important duties. Spelled out in the proposed amendment are critical areas such as employee recruitment, workforce development, benefits administration and health and wellness programs. Pulling those functions together and putting a director in charge promise efficiencies. The move has the potential to help city government deploy talent within its ranks to maximum advantage.

In leaving the core duties of the Civil Service Commission intact, the mayor would recognize its role as an essential buffer, protecting civil servants from political influences. The City Council, meanwhile, would continue to supervise directly the clerk of council.

That supervision is something the council is weighing because the job falls to the City Council president, creating a conflict of interest for the new president, Marilyn Keith, whose husband, Bob, is the council clerk. Pending legislation would shift supervision to the vice president of the council. Disciplinary matters involving the clerk still would be handled by the Civil Service Commission.

Although the task force and the mayor acted quickly, a previous study did recommend updating and consolidating the human resources functions, laying some helpful groundwork. The members of the task force deserve credit for seeing the need to bring key functions more directly under the chief executive’s control.

As the city moves through a transition period, its new mayor deserves the tools to find, develop and supervise a workforce that must deliver services as smoothly as possible. There is no time, or revenue, to waste.