Cleveland | City, fire union clash in court over promotions

CLEVELAND -- Civil Service tests are traditionally thought to be a fair and objective way to make government job promotions.

But the city of Cleveland wants to scrap ranked Civil Service test scores as the way to pick top supervisors in the Fire Department.

Friday, with no fanfare, the Civil Service Commission voted to switch the way candidates for assistant chief and battalion chief are evaluated.

There would be no more picking candidates from ranked test scores. Instead candidates would submit resumes. Minimum experience requirements would remain the same.

Finalists would then be screened by firefighting professionals from the city and perhaps outside experts.

The men in these chiefs jobs are the leaders on the scene of fires and explosions.

"It's important to have a rigorous process that gives us the best leadership," firefighters union Secretary Mike Norman said. "We deal with life-and-death situations. It's in the best interest of the firefighters and citizens that we have the best leaders possible."

City Communications Chief Maureen Harper was limited in comments she could make because the matter's being decided in court.

"The Civil Service Commission voted last week and changed that process for a noncompetitive exam. ... There is not the need to be limited by ranked order of the test," she said.

She could not discuss reasons for or possible benefits of the change.

Two years ago Mayor Frank Jackson asked voters for more flexibility in appointing fire command staff. They said no.

This seems an attempt to accomplish the same thing.

There are 25 battalion chiefs and six assistant chiefs. There are five battalion chief vacancies.

A court hearing Thursday produced no decision.

The union sought to block the change.

Judge Hollie Gallagher permitted the city to keep accepting applications until a Saturday deadline, but it cannot process them.

There will be a court hearing April 7 on the issue.

Coincidence or not, the change was enacted the day after the firefighters union resoundingly rejected the city's specifics to implement a merger with EMS.

Norman said there'd been no communication with the union about the switch.

The veteran department is experiencing dramatic change. Issues raised during discovery of shift-change and overtime abuses showed problems with supervision within the department.

Jackson obviously wants leadership more in step with new changes and priorities.

He know appoints the police chief, deputy chiefs and commanders.

Harper said about a third of all top city managerial positions are done without strict reliance on rankings of civil service test scores.


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