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Outline reveals details of Brewer personnel plan

A proposal by Gov. Jan Brewer would uncover employees from the state’s merit system, remove terms of office for agency heads, and alter the way employees may appeal disciplinary actions, according to a summary of a 300-page-plus bill that the governor wanted the Legislature to pass this session.

The bullet-point summary was obtained by the Arizona Capitol Times on Monday from a source in the Legislature.

It’s unlikely, however, that legislators would tackle the proposal before they wrap up their work, which is expected to happen as early as Tuesday.

Several senators have publicly and privately balked at the idea of working on a major reform bill this late in the session.

So with the Legislature expected to adjourn sine die by tomorrow, Brewer’s ambitious plan will likely have to wait. Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson said the governor may call for a special session to deal with the plan.

“The governor is intent on getting this done. If not this session, than sometime between now and next year,” Benson said.

Benson did not say when the special session would take place, but presumably it would be in time for the scheduled implementation of the plan on Oct. 1.

Senate President Russell Pearce is supportive of Brewer’s proposal, but said he doesn’t think there is consensus to pass the proposal right now — meaning before the Legislature adjourns for the year.

“All it is,” Pearce said of the bill, “is efficiency in government.”

The bill would allow the state to hire more highly competitive job applicants quicker and to terminate “bad employees” faster, Pearce said.

But Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, said it goes after public employees and further politicizes the bureaucracy.

“Right now we have a merit system that allows protection to make sure that folks are not under the political hammer,” Gallardo said, adding that he fears Brewer’s plan would lead to a situation where “political cronies” fill government positions. 

According to the summary, Brewer’s proposal contains a host of changes affecting state workers, starting with the merit protection that employees have enjoyed for decades.

Under the plan, new hires and supervisors would be uncovered, and current employees would have to forgo merit protection in order to get a salary increase. Employees who voluntarily accept new assignments will also be uncovered.

Meanwhile, state agencies would be prevent seniority or tenure to be considered in the event of layoffs — known as “reductions in force” in government parlance — and eliminate “take in” provisions that facilitate an employee’s transfer to a new agency, if they have taken over the duties of the employee’s original employing agency.

The proposal would also eliminate “terms of office” for heads of state agencies, essentially moving to a system where they serve at the pleasure of the governor.

The plan would also eliminate recruitment provisions that allow some agency heads be chosen through selection committees. State law currently requires search committees to select new directors for the Department of Agriculture, Department of Health Services, Department of Economic Security, Department of Weights and Measures, Department of Revenue and Arizona Department of Administration.

The plan also alters some operations of the State Personnel Board, which hears and reviews appeals filed by permanent employees who have been dismissed, suspended or demoted as a result of a disciplinary action.

Under the plan, the board could no longer modify disciplinary actions on appeal, meaning they could only accept or reject a supervisor’s proposed penalty against an employee.

Under the plan, state employees would no longer be able to appeal disciplinary actions before a superior court on the grounds that they were arbitrary or capricious.

Also, employees would not be able to appeal a suspension to the board unless it is for at least 80 hours, as opposed to the 40-hour benchmark currently in state law.

For the Department of Public Safety and other law enforcement offices certified by the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training board, that benchmark also jumps to 80 hours from just 16.

The Law Enforcement Merit Council, which currently handles law enforcement disciplinary cases, would be replaced by a five-member personnel board. The board would only hear cases involving DPS officers, with the council’s other duties would be shifted to the Arizona Department of Administration.

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