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MUNICIPAL CIVIL SERVICE COMMISSION
REPORT FOR THE YEAR ENDING DECEMBER 31, 1919
January 19, 1920. To the Honorable The State Civil Service Commission, Albany, N. Y. Gentlemen :
We have the honor to submit herewith the report of the Municipal Civil Service Commission for the year 1919.
Continuing the policy definitely outlined at the beginning of this administration of cultivating a better understanding, a closer co-operation with employees of the classified service, this Commission during the past year has eliminated, wherever possible, improper assignments and other violations both of the letter and the spirit of the merit system, which served to foster suspicion and distrust among employees in the past.
This was done largely through the creation of the position of departmental examiner. With such an aid, versed in departmental functions and well equipped to make a survey of the degree of observance paid to the Civil Service Law, the Commission soon uncovered many abuses handed down from former administrations. In fact, as the records show, all the irregularities we have had to deal with came to us as legacies from the past. Many such were found in the Department of Education. Working under the dual authority granted by the City Charter and the State Education law some of the old time officials in making clerical appointments too frequently stressed the state law to evade the jurisdiction of the Municipal Civil Service Commission. Throughout the investigation the Commission and its representative met with hearty and sympathetic support from the members of the Board of Education, but it must be confessed that some of the bureau chiefs did not take kindly to the new order of things.
Early in January an examiner of this Commission was assigned to investigate the extent of civil service violations in that department. It was discovered that, as a result of the pernicious practice mentioned, 150 substitute teachers were assigned to purely clerical duties that should have been done by classified employees of the city. This illegal method of favoritism, extending over a period of years, was found in nearly every bureau. Improper assignments also were discovered in the labor class, particularly in the Bureau of Supplies, where violations were most numerous. Here laborers of more than ordinary intelligence were performing work far above their grade, with no hope held out to them, nor provision made, for promotion. All this had a demoralizing and disheartening effect upon those taken from civil service lists, who saw no hope of advancement while the evil remained unchecked. But it was not only checked but uprooted. Substitute teachers were taken from clerical work, and, where possible, given positions on the teaching staff or placed upon the waiting list. Promotion examinations were ordered by this Commission for the laborers referred to, and for the first time in years worthy employees were given an opportunity to qualify for higher duties and increased compensation. The net results of this enforcement of the law, apart from improvement in morale and in efficiency, were the permanent appointment of 130 persons from the eligible list for second grade clerk, and an actual saving to the city of $37,000 a year.
Administrators of the merit system are alive to the widespread and commendable impulse to recognize in civil service examinations patriotic service rendered during the Great World War. This Commission, we believe, was the first to voluntarily give it a rating. Several popular examinations, notably for patrolman and fireman, have given opportunity to study the application and effect of this rating in competition among a large number of candidates.
Rating for patriotic war service is not confined to men in the army and navy. Service that tends to develop discipline, respect for authority, etc., rendered to any organization or agency of recognized standing, acting in co-operation with the United States Government or of any State or city in time of war, receives 14 of 1% for each period of three months up to a maximum award of 2%. Citizenship and residence in the City of New York also is given a weight, 1 out of 10, in examinations. These experiments, and that is all that is claimed for them at this time, were designed to emphasize, and give recognition to, the duties and obligations no less than the rights of good citizenship. Thus far the results have been gratifying to the Commission, and, apparently, satisfactory to candidates. No complaints nor adverse criticism have been received.
Regulation VIII, exempting candidates from medical and physical examination, recently was waived in favor of several World War veterans who returned home seriously afflicted for life. Among them were a colored man who had lost an eye, and a white man who had lost a leg. They were candidates in the examination for patrolman. Keen and alert mentally both men stood out above the average and each passed a very creditable written examination. The Police Department showed ready sympathy with this act of the Commission by appointing the men. They are assigned to duties where their disabilities will not lessen their usefulness nor impair the efficiency of the force.
We believe the City will gain not lose by this example of helping disabled service men to gain a new start in life. The moral effect cannot be over-estimated. It will hearten the spirits of the men who served their country in its hour of need; it will give tangible expression to the people's gratitude, and, in these critical times, help to solidify the principles of law and order.
Since the extension of the franchise to women and its natural concomitant, equal opportunity with men in the public service, this Commission has aimed to give them the fullest exercise of that right and privilege. Too frequently our aims have been frustrated by the unfair discrimination, though perhaps unintentional, in officials either requesting that only men be certified or in passing over females to reach males lower down on the same certified list. With the support and approval of your body this Commission has put a stop to this flagrant injustice by widening the application of its powers to determine the sex requirements of examinations, and the validity of the reasons assigned by appointing officers when requesting that a certification be made according to sex. In the future before such request. shall be granted the Commission will satisfy itself as to any legal requirement therefore, and make due inquiry into the nature of the duties to be performed, all of which will be set forth in the minutes.
Many complaints have been made that examinations, both entrance and promotional, are far too technical; that they embrace tests not germane to the particular position, and do not tend to bring out the best available material. A careful study of the question has convinced the Commission that there were reasonable grounds for dissatisfaction. We have therefore eliminated from examinations whatever seemed foreign to purpose. This course was not only just to candidates but beneficial to the best interests of the city, as the test of fitness is now based on subjects wholly related to the duties to be performed.
The general salary increases to meet the increased cost of living, granted by Mayor Hylan to all employees last year, are repeated in the Budget for 1920. These increases, in many cases, carried employees over into the next salary grade which, under the rules is permitted only after a promotion examination. Enforcement of this provision would have entailed great hardship upon thousands of deserving employees on the one hand, or put the Commission to enormous expense in the preparation and conduct of innumerable examinations. Had the latter been feasible the time required to complete the task would have deprived employees for many months of this much needed benefit.
The best interests of the service and common justice to employees demanded that the pecuniary relief be made available promptly. This was done by amending the classification and increasing the annual compensation attached to the grades of the several parts or branches of the service affected. Employees may thus receive the salary increase without promotion examination, but the change in their grade is for compensation only, and not for title or duties. The provisions of Clause 4, Rule XI, were waived for a similar purpose. Employees who have served less than one year would not otherwise be entitled to a salary increase.
Public, no less than private, employment has been so profoundly affected by the recent conflict that all pre-war ideas and standards are found to be wholly inapplicable to the demands of the present. This fact is brought home daily to civil service administrators in their capacity as employment agents. Eligible lists prepared before America entered the conflict in 1917 have no value to-day for obvious reasons. Examinations held during the war lacked both the quality and the number of candidates usually found competing for city positions. The City, like all other employers, had to be content with workers not drawn into war activities. Private employers had this advantage however, they were free to compete with the steadily rising scale of wages and thus secure the best employees available. Salary or wage scale of a municipality cannot be made so readily responsive to emergencies of this character. But this Commission can, now that the patriotic men and women have returned to civil life, direct its efforts to the bringing in of new and fresh recruits for the service of the city ; to make