THE CIVIL Service system governing public employment is sometimes too rigid. But it's also true that flexibility can go too far. Civil Service can be abused by politicians trying to get around rules that hiring be based on merit, determined through examinations.
At City Hall, many years ago, the Civil Service Commission stopped giving written tests for persons seeking appointment as "laborers." It made a certain amount of sense. The real qualifications for laborers -- the sort of workers who used shovels and simple tools -- were a willingness to work and necessary physical strength. Neither can be measured by answering test questions at a desk.
Once the test requirement was gone, however, a practice grew up of occasionally giving the title "laborer" to an office job at City Hall. It was often a signal that the job was meant for someone well-wired but not on a Civil Service eligible list of clerical workers.
In a prior administration, a young man with close ties to Democratic headquarters wore expensive monogrammed shirts to work for his "laborer" job in City Hall.
Later, former Mayor James D. Griffin had his sister on the payroll in a laborer title while she worked as a Parks Department receptionist.
The latest instance involves two employees of the new Bureau of Administrative Adjudication. At first, their jobs had clerical titles, which are subject to testing, but the two are not on an eligible list, because either they failed a test or did not take one. The jobs were recently retitled by Common Council action to become laborer positions. The two can stay as a result. Never mind tests. As it happens, one of the employees has ties to Council Majority Leader Rosemarie LoTempio.
It is hardly the first instance, but that doesn't make it right. City Hall should play square with Civil Service and find a way to confine its no-exam laborer positions to outdoor jobs where labor -- true physical work -- is involved.