Detroit City Hall jobs up for grabs
The hiring sign is out for the city of Detroit, but some unions and City Council members are worried it will leave some municipal employees on the street.
The city is fielding resumes for hundreds of finance- and technology-related positions that have long been dominated by temporary and contract workers. The hiring push is part of an internal restructuring in a handful of departments; city officials say it will improve efficiency in the wake of Detroit’s historic bankruptcy.
Detroit has more than 9,200 employees overall, excluding contractors. As part of the reorganization, some jobs have been redefined in some agencies. The city also is attempting to pare back the number of contractor jobs in favor of full-time city employees.
The reconfiguration of Detroit’s finance, technology, human resources and planning departments got underway shortly after the city emerged from bankruptcy last winter. The move eliminates existing positions in favor of more than 700 new job classifications with competitive pay.
City officials said Monday said there are about 650 current full-time employees in all of the affected groups; when restructuring is complete, there will be about 760. They were unable to estimate how many current full-time workers could lose their positions because they cannot qualify under new job requirements. However, a higher percentage of internal candidates have been selected over outside applicants for the jobs filled so far.
Chief Financial Officer John Hill’s office began interviewing for new full-time jobs in September. The office received several thousand applications and conducted about 800 preliminary interviews and 200 final interviews. The jobs are slated to be filled by the end of January.
Under the reorganization, city workers whose existing positions are eliminated will vie along with other applicants for jobs that are in new classifications with different requirements.
Some current workers won’t have the necessary skills for the new positions. To help, Hill says the city is embarking on a skills training initiative.
“To the extent that we find individuals who have skills that we can train in a short period of time, we will attempt to do that,” Hill said.
If current workers ultimately can’t find a new municipal position that aligns with their skills, the city will assist them in finding outside employment.
Some city leaders fear some loyal city employees will be shut out of a job in the post-bankruptcy municipal government.
Councilwoman Janee Ayers, during a recent council session, told the administration that the lack of clarity about how many workers could lose their jobs is “disheartening” and “makes me a bit uncomfortable.”
Council Member Scott Benson echoed Ayers’ worries, saying city employees are at a disadvantage because they haven’t been afforded the same training opportunities that may have been presented to outside applicants.
“I want to make sure we are very sensitive to that when we are looking at making changes to current staff based on new standards,” Benson said. “The tie should go to the runner and the runner should be in Detroit. We should not be throwing people overboard when we can keep them onboard our own ship.”
Detroit’s Human Resources Director Denise Starr says her department is heading employee training, an area that she says prior to the restructuring had been neglected for years.
The city’s debt-cutting plan, she said, factored in training needs and earmarked about $1,500 per employee for supervisory training and interpersonal skills. It’s anticipated that the city will need to hire 1,200 to 1,500 employees over the next three to five years.
“One of the great things about the whole restructuring is that it’s been many years since any training has been done in the city,” with the exception of technical training necessary for the city’s bus drivers and public safety workers, Starr said. “In many of the supporting divisions like finance, information technology and human resources there hasn’t been any training whatsoever.”
The reorganization was laid out in a series of orders from Detroit’s ex-emergency manager with an eye toward better aligning city resources and employees with its needs and keeping its financial well-being intact.
“At its core, the (bankruptcy) plan is just the architecture for a restructuring. But ultimately, it is the people on the ground that have to execute on the plan,” former Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr told The Detroit News in a recent interview. “Any process that helps that to occur is a positive step forward.”
The orders, issued a couple of months before Orr’s December 2014 departure, established a Department of Innovation and Technology and centralized financial management structure that granted Chief Financial Officer John Hill oversight of all finances, budgets and grant-related functions within city departments.
In the years leading to its Chapter 9 bankruptcy, Detroit workers endured pay freezes and cuts and employee evaluations were neglected.
As a means of advancement, some took on new titles for which they weren’t necessarily trained. Others, Hill says, had experience without a position to fill.
“Now, as we’re restructuring we’re able to level set all of that,” Hill said. “If you look at the people we’re trying to bring in, it gives us a lot more firepower to be able to tackle all of the major issues that the city is going to have going forward. And we’ll have a lot of them.”
Catherine Phillips, a staff representative for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 25, which represents about 1,500 city workers, says the union has been meeting with the Duggan administration throughout the year over job changes. The number of workers who could be left without a job remains unclear, she said.
Orr’s executive order mandated the reorganization, but Phillips contends it did not require the city to shed employees who have served Detroit for decades. At this point, no layoff notices have gone out, she added.
“There is no appreciation for the people that have been doing the work,” said Phillips, adding the union has an unfair labor practice complaint pending. “It’s just like kick them in the butt and get them out of the way.”
Chief Information Officer Beth Niblock says the restructuring will bring her department from 140 positions to 130 positions. Currently, eight jobs are unfilled and 44 others are filled by contractors, she said.
The first round of technology job postings went out just before Thanksgiving. By early December, the city had received more than 100 resumes. Those jobs should be filled by spring, she said.
The redesign of the city’s Planning and Development and Housing and Revitalization departments will account for close to 60 positions and human resources has about 10 more spots to fill, officials said.
The city isn’t using additional funding for new jobs created through restructuring. The reorganization is contemplated in the city’s bankruptcy plan and Detroit has many budgeted positions that have gone unfilled.
The city’s debt-cutting plan factors in funding over the next 10 years to aid in the process. The plan calls for the CFO operation to increase now and over the next year as it becomes more efficient and implements new systems, Hill says.
In future years, the operation decreases and the expectation is that employees will move into other positions — hopefully within other city departments, he said.
“Our hope is that the skills will be there that will be attractive to other departments as well,” Hill said. “That’s how we’ve designed it.”
Starr says about half of Detroit’s city workers live in the city. To increase that number, the city is offering an incentive to workers and their families: a 50 percent employee discount program for houses purchased through the Detroit Land Bank Authority’s home auction.
So far, Starr said 501 employees or their family members have registered to bid on a home through the discount program. Of those, 81 have successfully bid at the 50 percent discount rate.
The volume of applicants for the finance and technology posts illustrate the growing interest in being part of the city’s rebirth, Hill added.
“They are really motivated to be part of the city,” he said. “Not just coming to work here, but they want to live here.”