Cleveland voters approve change to civil service hiring rules, in compliance with DOJ consent decree

Cleveland mayor

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Voters in Cleveland adopted a city charter amendment Tuesday, changing the city’s civil service hiring rules in an attempt to boost diversity on the payroll and meet the requirements of a consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice.

The amendment, which passed with 64 percent of the vote, gives the city greater flexibility in choosing candidates for civil service positions.

Previously, the city charter dictated that the person authorized to hire for any classified job must choose one candidate from the top three on an eligibility list, based on interview and test scores. If multiple positions had to be filled, the two remaining on the list were regrouped with the fourth place candidate, another choice was made, and so on.

The charter amendment empowers the city to reach deeper on the list and choose a candidate from the top 10 — a change that city officials and City Council members believe will boost the minority representation among police and fire department rank and file.

In a written statement Wednesday, Mayor Frank Jackson applauded the issue’s passage and said the amendment will help the city create a police force better suited for patrolling the inner-city.

“The passage of this amendment gives the City the ability to select the type of person needed for urban policing and to better reflect the communities in which they serve,” Jackson said.

The charter change is one of a series of reforms to the city’s hiring and promotional practices required by a sweeping agreement with the Justice Department to address the excessive use of force and other misconduct by Cleveland police officers.

Other provisions of the consent decree call for the city to develop a recruitment strategy to attract qualified candidates from a broad cross-section of the community and to publicly report the city’s progress annually.

Safety Director Michael McGrath has said that the changes to the department’s recruitment plan are in the works.

Council members, during a Finance Committee meeting in August, generally agreed that some highly-qualified minority candidates might not perform well on standardized tests, and that deepening the eligibility list would open the door to a more diverse workforce.

But members disagreed on whether that philosophy should also be applied to promotions.

Safety Committee Chairman Matt Zone proposed an amendment to the ordinance to limit its reach only to hiring and to maintain the practice of choosing one candidate from the top three eligible for promotions. He argued that promotions should be reserved for the “most competent and best-prepared,” and that eventually, increasing hiring flexibility would mean a more diverse promotional list, too.

Council adopted Zone’s amendment, but councilmen Brian Cummins and Michael Polensek voted against it, arguing that it would take as many as 15 years to see the increased diversity on the workforce and another decade for those new minority hires to enter the pool of candidates for a promotion.

Councilman Martin Keane pointed out that the city has the power to change its policies on how it screens and selects those candidates for the eligibility lists.