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MUNICIPAL CIVIL SERVICE COMMISSION
REPORT FOR THE YEAR ENDING DECEMBER 31, 1920
January 31, 1921. To the Honorable the State Civil Service Commission, Albany, New York.
GENTLEMEN-We have the honor to submit herewith the report of the Municipal Civil Service Commission for the year 1920. Since the ending of the World War many statutes have been placed on the books dealing with the so-called “veteran preference.” The subject is most delicate and the proper application of the statutes at times difficult. While we were anxious to obey those laws in letter as well as in spirit and to so administer them as to benefit the men and women who did not hesitate to offer their all in response to the country's call, at the same time we did not feel justified in going to extremes and thus weakening, if not destroying, the merit system and the safeguards that were so wisely placed in the way of unjust discrimination and favoritism. Keeping our feet squarely on the ground, and with a single eye to the public good, we feel justified in saying that we have applied and administered these “veteran preferences” laws in such spirit and such manner as to do justice to those deserving men and women without doing violence to the merit system and all that it stands for. In this connection it may be well to call attention to the important case of |Barthelmess, et al. v. Cukor, in which this Commission has been sustained by the courts and which involved the civil service preference to war veterans contained in Chapter 282 of the Laws of 1920. This action was brought to restrain the Commission from placing at the head of the list for promotion to sergeant the name of Patrolman Cooke, a World War veteran, whose place on the list as originally issued was below that of the petitioners. Irrespective of the personal opinion held by the Commissioners as to the desirability of such legislation insofar as the merit system is concerned or its influence or effect thercon, we felt that the law being clear it was our duty to administer it in the spirit evidently contemplated by the lawmakers. We therefore applied that law in that spirit. A recent unanimous decision by the Appellate Division sustained our ruling. The experiment made by the Commission during the past year of giving a ratable quantity to military and naval service in all examinations is amply justified by results. Apart from all considerations of justice its moral effect upon the men is an asset to the community. It affords tangible proof that their services are not forgotten. In a very practical way it gives the lie to the old adage that republics are ungrateful by convincing them that New York at least values the loyalty of its citizens. During the past year the Commission has been confronted with problems new and perplexing in that there was no rule or regulation to fit the case. When the civil service law was enacted and the rules made surely the framers never anticipated the meeting of such problems, as for instance, the operation of buses, ferries and surface railroads by the City. Matters of that kind were not in contemplation then, hence the law and the rules and regulations do not directly cover such situations. On the one hand we were urged that the civil service law and rules apply in all their vigor and that in all these new and novel undertakings of the municipality none but people taken from eligible lists should be employed; on the other hand we were impressed with the argument that some of these ventures were temporary only, in fact were experiments and that it would be impracticable, if not destructive, of the public aims and objects in view to do so. We have met the situation conscientiously and without sacrificing the letter or spirit of civil service we are finding solutions consistent with the interests of the service. The automatic and mandatory salary increases of August 20, 1920, were in many instances wholly inconsistent with our grade lines and would have necessitated thousands of promotion examinations, which might have easily resulted in depriving deserving employees of the benefits of the increase; to meet the situation on August 31st we adopted appropriate resolutions covering the situation, which were duly approved by your Honorable Commission in due course. The establishment of the position of Departmental Examiner or Investigator has now become permanent; it is his duty to examine into and report upon all complaints made by employees or citizens alleging inequalities, violations or favoritism. He acts promptly, efficiently and impartially. The result is most gratifying to all concerned. Until very recently the question of the employment of monitors has been a disturbing element for many years, due largely, we think, to the absence of any rule, regulation or resolution defining the duties of the incumbent. To cure that defect we framed a resolution definitely settling the status of the monitor, which resolution seems to meet with the approval of all concerned. The closing year has been notable for the number of large examinations held and the indications are that the demands upon the Commission in 1921 will even exceed this record. Experience demonstrates that fraud and cheating in examinations are still attempted. Alertness and constant vigilance, however, defeat them every time. Our success along these lines has become a matter of record. We have had occasion from time to time to disqualify candidates in important examinations where fraud and attempts at cheating were brought to light. While in several instances the persons so disqualified threatened legal proceedings, and at least in one instance mandamus proceedings were instituted, in no case was our decision disturbed. One of the most important duties of a Civil Service Commission, as we conceive it, is to provide a definite and equitable system of promotion for intelligent, ambitious employees, and thus encourage them to look upon the public service as a career worthy of their best efforts. Much attention has been given, therefore, to simplifying the method of rating record and seniority so that employees may have a clear understanding of the means employed and their right to protest or appeal to the Commission where favoritism or injustice can be shown. The changes include: Elimination of fixed factor percentages and the substitution of more flexible factor percentages, thereby decreasing the increment between percentages from three to one. A regulation requiring the filing of the total amount of time late and absent of all employees rated higher than standard and the elimination of a specific amount of demerits for a certain amount of time late, substituting therefor a percentage deduction optional with the departmental rating organization. All employees rated standard now filed with the Commission in letter or list form, thereby doing away with individual forms for such employees and the labor necessary in preparing single sheets for at least 60 per cent. of the employees. Employees now permitted to appeal to their rating officer for rating higher than standard and may, upon request, inspect their own and all competitive service ratings. To insure impartial consideration of appeals a complete change has been made in the personnel of the Board of Review that passes upon all appeals for rerating. Hitherto all its members took part in service ratings, the examiner investigating the appeal had a vote in the board and the appellant was required to appear in person. Under the new plan the board is made up of persons who have no direct interest in service ratings, the investigating examiner and the departmental personnel board have no vote on appeals and the appellant makes his or her request in writing. Without any attempt at criticism or complaint, we deem it within the purview of this report to call attention to the growing tendency of appealing to the Legislature in attempts to take employees in some departments, or a group of such employees, from the jurisdiction of those entrusted with the administration of the civil service law. A concrete example is the act of removing the attendants in the Board of Education from the authority of the Civil Service Commission. The Lockwood-Donohue Bill raises a serious question as to what, if any, jurisdiction remains with this Commission in reference to employees of the Department of Education in the City of New York. In order that we may get the proper legal light, we called a conference between the parties interested and then submitted the legal proposition involved to the Corporation Counsel, whose opinion is awaited with a great deal of interest. We view with some concern these inroads upon the legitimate functions of the Civil Service Commission, fearful that they may serve as forerunners of similar backward steps. In previous reports we had occasion to direct attention to the operation of our payroll bureau. We deemed that branch of the Commission one of the most important, for upon its promptness and efficiency depends the comfort of all the employees of the city, and it is with a great deal of pride and gratification that we regard the fact that our payroll bureau, probably for the first time in many years, is operating most successfully and satisfactorily. It is worthy of note that with very few exceptions, whenever any judgment or decision of this Commission has come up for review by the courts it has been sustained. This was especially gratifying in the case of Hart o". Cukor. The