Back in 2011, Gov. Scott Walker made it clear that while he wanted to cripple public employee unions through the passage of Act 10, public employees would still have some of the strongest civil service protections in the country. At the time Gov. Walker unambiguously stated civil service laws would not be affected by Act 10, and while that was true then, it appears Walker’s administration is making moves (secretly) to fundamentally change Wisconsin’s civil service laws, and not necessarily for the better.
In an interview, four top appointees of the Republican governor stressed they intended no changes to the core principles of the civil service system: hiring workers based on merit and firing them only for just cause. That system grew out of Progressive-era reforms and sought to stifle Tammany Hall-style patronage in which politicians rewarded their party’s supporters with jobs and left taxpayers with the bill.
Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch said he wants to respond to an aging work force and looming retirements by modernizing a hiring process that can take months of painstaking effort.
“What you have intercepted in those emails is the very first meeting, the very first discussions on a more coordinated basis,” said Huebsch, who was among those trading the emails on possible changes. “For years…it’s been anecdotal but now I said, ‘We really do need to address this.'”
With major civil service rewrites showing up in other states recently, any proposal will receive close scrutiny here. Controversy has surrounded all of Walker’s actions on the state workforce since his 2011 repeal of most collective bargaining for most public workers in Wisconsin.
Per the Journal Sentinel report, Walker administration officials had told the he Milwaukee Journal Sentinel multiple times that they weren’t looking to change the state’s century-old civil service system, but when the newspaper obtained records through Wisconsin’s open records law that showed there had been discussions about changing Wisconsin’s civil service laws, administration officials were forced to acknowledge they had actually had discussions.
The fact that Walker administration officials felt the need to have secret meetings to discuss changes to Wisconsin’s civil service laws – and then felt compelled to lie about those secret meetings – doesn’t bode well for the kinds of changes they want to make. After all, given how virulently anti-worker (not to mention prone to patronage) the Walker administration has proven to be, there can’t be any positives to come from changing Wisconsin’s civil service laws.