The Fort Smith Civil Service Commission came under closer scrutiny by the city’s Board of Directors at a study session on Thursday (July 12), with Board members calling for more human resources training and a mandatory five-day notice for called meetings.
The discussion was, in part, due to a Wednesday (July 11) meeting commission chairperson Chip Sexton called with only two hours notice.
Board members were in agreement the appeals component of the Civil Service Commission was good for department morale, but multiple directors took exception to what they referred to as the lack of a set standard for police hiring in particular. Ward 1 Director Keith Lau said in the recent hastily-called meeting, “There was an interview process where the subject of tattoos came up on a candidate, and it was discussed in an interview.”
Lau continued: “During that candidate interview it was stated, ‘This is our policy, do you have a problem with it?’ And it was, ‘No, that’s fine.’ But then, there was discussion among the commissioners about the severity or weight of that issue, and I have a real problem with that. It had no place. And I don’t know how to get to that point. I believe in the grievance part of the Civil Service Commission. I think that serves its purpose, and it actually helps with morale and impacts the police officer because they are in situations that are extraordinary circumstances. But I would like to eliminate any potential bias towards hiring.”
Pennartz said she was “not sure why that question would even come up” in the interview, adding of the selection process, “It is so important, because the Board as a whole has set a goal for diversity to occur, and when you have a civilian board that makes a final winnowing process of a candidate who’s already passed through the physical test, the written test, the police review board, and comes to the Civil Service Commission and, for some reason, is disallowed because there’s a tattoo maybe, that’s not appropriate.”
Pennartz said attitudes such as this as well as questions about how long a candidate plans to stay with the department, “or, in a female case, if she becomes pregnant later as a police officer — those subjective futuristic assumptions about someone being in the department or not being in the department are not objective criteria during the selection process.”
“I think it’s very important for HR to give additional training to the civil service process,” she added.
There were no representatives from the Commission in attendance at Thursday’s study session, but Robyn Dawson, a former member and candidate for outgoing At-Large Director Pennartz’ position, said there were occasions during her tenure when the Commission provided very little notice.
“The person who sets that (notice) time is the chairman (Sexton), and as a former person on that commission, I would say a lot of training needs to be done.”
Ward 2 Director André Good, who in the past has called for disbanding the Civil Service Commission, suggested as much Thursday night.
“When you have departments such as fire and police that go through processes they have in place and have a Civil Service Commission say, ‘Hm, I don’t think so,’ and pull the rug out from under them — I made several calls to different police chiefs and fire chiefs, and Civil Service Commissions have been abolished in some states and some cities.”
To a suggestion of requiring one commissioner to have formal HR training, Good said he wasn’t sure why that was necessary when the city has an existing HR department.