The following excerpts are from Adrian Walker’s column, “Time to Reform Civil Service,” in the May 25 edition of the Boston Globe:
“When Paul Cellucci was running for governor in 1998, those naive in the ways of Beacon Hill assumed he could forget about the support of organized labor, which was so central to the coalition Democrats hoped to revive.
That they were at least partly wrong became obvious a couple of weeks before the election when a group of Republican-friendly public employee unions held a massive rally in support of Cellucci. Those unions understood that their real friend in the race was not Democrat Scott Harshbarger, who talked far too much about reform, but Cellucci, who needed their votes more. As a two-part Globe series this week detailed, the Civil Service Commission – created more than a century ago in a well-meaning bid to remove patronage from government – has instead mutated into a bastion of corruption and undue influence. For powerful unions, especially police unions, this is great news. For the rest of us, it is the state government we’ve gotten used to, but far less than we deserve.
…The sorry state of the commission is a disgrace, but not a surprise. It’s another triumph of politics over government, and another defeat for the “revolution” William F. Weld and Paul Cellucci claimed to bring to the State House when they took office in 1991.
Its defenders will argue that the commission is actually more efficient than it was a year ago. Under Commissioner France A. Lopez, its backlog of cases has been reduced, which the Cellucci administration is quick to trumpet as reform. Complaints that the system is broken are dismissed as mere sour grapes.
…Cutting a backlog is easy, especially compared to dispensing justice. With all due respect to Chairwoman Lopez, she presides over a dysfunctional family of people who shouldn’t be making employment decisions at a gas station.
Daniel J. Harrington made his big move into state politics when he volunteered to be a driver for Weld and Cellucci during the 1990 campaign and was rewarded with a commission seat. Despite an utterly disgraceful record that includes having been removed by Weld, he is back on the commission, abusing witnesses and carrying water for unions. His colleagues – Daniel J. O’Neil, Robert E. Tierney, and Kevin M. Tivnan – aren’t much better. Two of them have long ties to the unions whose members they now judge, and it shows.
Boston attorney Inga Bernstein represents a Lowell police officer who has alleged sexual harassment at the hands of several colleagues following a rally in support of Cellucci’s campaign in 1998. According to the female officer, fellow officers verbally abused her and one exposed himself. After seven of the officers were disciplined by the department, they appealed to the Civil Service Commission. Bernstein’s client appeared as a witness, where she was savaged by Tierney. “Tierney was prepared to pillory my client and anyone who tried to protect her rights,” Bernstein said. “She would not be treated that way in court. I think there’s a lack of respect and the system is abusive of victims in the name of protecting the rights of employees.”
But the Civil Service Commission is not court – far from it. It is a circus that operates under its own rules, leaving appellate courts to clean up its messes. Weld was fond of floating ideas that were headed nowhere, and one of his early ones was eliminating civil service. The Legislature killed the idea at once. Now, the Republicans have come to love civil service because it offers plum rewards for supporters – endorsements and votes. Funny how often revolutionaries come to embrace what they once despised.
This mess is ripe for cleaning up. If Cellucci won’t reform the system, Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly should step in, appoint a panel to study civil service, and push to implement any reforms it recommends. Civil service still has a purpose, but it will never work in the hands of people who show such contempt for the public trust.”