End unfair protections for state bureaucrats

Dan Lauwers

When the system fails the public, there is no doubt the people responsible should be held accountable. But Michigan’s current civil service rules make it almost impossible to properly discipline state employees who do wrong.

Substandard government workers should never be shielded from prompt discipline and potential termination, especially if their bad decisions negatively impact people’s lives, like in the Flint water crisis or the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans.

The people of Michigan deserve better, and we in the House of Representatives are dedicated to finding a solution.

Today, I am introducing legislation that is part of a comprehensive plan to reform the outdated rules giving all too many public employees a job for life without any accountability. These bills will overhaul the Michigan Civil Service Commission, which is responsible for the complicated and convoluted system of employment rules governing most positions in state government.

In the wake of the Flint water crisis, an investigation revealed extensive misconduct by Michigan Department of Environmental Quality employees, but civil service rules required the state to pay them for months before they were charged criminally. Instead of being fired, the people behind this disaster kept collecting a paycheck and kept their jobs in Lansing overseeing our water. That is unacceptable.

One MDEQ employee was put on leave pending the investigation in January. However, current civil service rules only allowed the state to suspend him without pay for a maximum of five days. As the Detroit News reported, he was on paid leave with a $93,876 salary for nearly three months by the time he was charged criminally. Up until that point, the current rules protected him from being placed on unpaid status.

In situations like this, it’s not uncommon for a criminal investigation to take months, as law enforcement officials work diligently to uncover the facts. But with the Flint crisis, the state had more than enough cause to suspend these employees without pay back in October. Bureaucratic civil service rules prevented that, and instead allowed dangerous and incompetent employees to sit back and collect thousands of dollars in wages from all of us.

While the situation in Flint highlights the need for civil service reform within MDEQ, the legislation we are introducing today is critical for every part of state government. You deserve health officials, tax collectors and food inspectors with the same incentive to work hard that the rest of us have. You deserve state officials who are accountable and held to a higher standard. That is just common sense.

The current law protects bad bureaucrats and gives them a job for life where there is little accountability and no threat of consequences for poor or even negligent performance. In this environment, apathy eventually takes root leading to a demoralized, uncaring and likely unrewarding workplace for all employees.

An overhaul of the civil service rules gives us a better and more responsive government, and a healthier workplace for all.

State Rep. Dan Lauwers, R-Brockway Township, serves the 81st District.