The New Rochelle Civil Service Commission, appointed and serving at the whim of Mayor Noam Bramson, has the awesome responsibilty of adopting and enforcing both local and state civil service laws. This process is governed by Article V, section 6 of the NYS Constitution and by section 20(2) of the NYS Civil Service Law. For seemingly many years however, the NR CSC has had free reign to do as they wish–legal or otherwise.
New Rochelle, for example, has a residency rule that governs who can participate in civil service exams. It is contained in section A367-8 of the city’s municipal code. For the most part, it states that job applicants for municipal positions “must be at the time of examination and for at least four months prior thereto a resident of the municipality where the appointment is to be made” or a resident of the adjoining counties. According to section 20(2)and section A367-1 of the city code, to change this rule, which was adopted in 1975, the NR CSC must FIRST hold a public hearing and THEN, if adopted, have it approved by both the mayor and the state CSC.
But the NR CSC has taken it upon themselves to modify the rule without following local or state law. They have tweaked and changed the rule constantly and have posted other erroneous versions of it in civil service job announcements without the proper approvals or the public’s input. They do, for instance, require firefighters and police officers to be residents of the area for 3 months prior to the exam AND to remain residents up through appointment. The NYS Civil Service Commission has determined that this rule is not valid. The wording of the rule, the state concluded, “must comport” to the one in the municipal code A367-8. As such, any candidates who have taken these exams and moved thereafter were, in fact, eligible for appointment.
Jeanett Medina however, the city’s Civil Service Administrator, claims that the NR CSC routinely bumps people off eligibilty lists who move out of the area AFTER the exams. This is a clear cut violation of local law and one can only guess how many potential candidates were illegally disqualified.
The matter was brought to attention of city officials who refused to offer any reason for the discrepancy in the residency rules. The matter was pushed from the mayor to the city manager and dumped back in the hands of the CSC. No one would clarify the rule. The state CSC finally had to be contacted and a complaint lodged before the issue could be resolved.
On January 19, 2011 the issue was raised before the first “so-called” public meeting of the NR CSC. So-called because the meeting was never announced and the public wasn’t invited. Up to now, they have had a habit of meeting behind closed doors and making rules without obtaining the public’s input. Once again, violating the NYS Open Meeting Law.
But back to the issue at hand. The NR CSC sat silently as the problem was brought to their attention. Local and state laws were presented to them as well as emails from the state CSC and state case law. The commission didn’t take the time to look at any of it and never determined if their residency rules were indeed valid.
Federal courts have further debated the issue of residency requirements for civil servants across the country. While they have upheld rules that require civil servants to live in or near the areas they serve, they have struck down “durational” residency rules such as the one in New Rochelle.
The courts concluded that residing in a community AFTER appointment serves a “legitimate state interest.” By living in the immediate area, civil servants can get to work quicker if needed and they can spend their paychecks in the community thereby contributing to the local economy. Conversely, rules that require job applicants only be to residents prior to taken a test or prior to appointment, have been declared invalid because there is no “rational basis” for them and they infringe on a person’s constitutional right to travel. NR residency rules only require an applicant to be a resident prior to examination.
So, is there anything the NR CSC hopes to gain with such residency rules? Apparently not. In a report of the Merit System Administration in the City of New Rochelle conducted in November 2006, the state CSC recommended that the city “take steps to increase the number of candidates participating in competitive examinations so that appointing authorities have a sufficient number of candidates from which to make appointments.” They indicated that the “basic premise of the Civil Service System, embodied in the State Constitution, is that the selection of employess in public service should be based on merit and fitness…Without an adequate number of qualified candidates, it is not a competitive system.”
The state report noted that the city attracts a sufficient number of police and fire candidates, but that all other “appointing authorities are not provided with eligible lists containing a sufficient number of names to provide a choice of at least 3 eligible candidates for making appointments.” The average number of passing candidates other than police or fire, was 7.
Instead of loosing the noose, the NR CSC tightened it, imposing an illegal residency requirement in job announcements for positions such as Housing Inspector.
In this day and age, with the high living expenses in Westchester and the surrounding areas, not to mention New Rochelle, it is difficult, if not impossible, to comply with the city’s ridiculous residency rule. It is perhaps the very reason New Rochelle doesn’t require its employees to live in the area following appointment. City Manager Charles Strome III said it is not the city’s policy to do so because the city doesn’t pay its employees enough to live in the area. Considering the base salary for a NR firefighter is over $78,000 a year, this would imply that all those who earn less than that are not able to live in the area and therefore participate in the civil service exams.
Mr. Strome might note that are large number of people are earning a lot less than city employees and have to live elsewhere. This statement made by the City Manager indicates how discriminatory the city can be when selecting personnel. Add that to the blatant violation of state and local law, and it becomes clear that the NR CSC has little concern with establishing “fair” rules and is more concerned about disqualifing otherwise qualified candidates.
Anyone who wishes to speak out on this topic may do so at the second public meeting of the NR CSC. The meeting will be held at City Hall on February 16, 2011. Please contact Jeanett Medina at (914) 654-2172 for further details.