ON ITS WAY OUT: A man enters the public restroom on the 2400 block of Ocean Front Walk on Monday. It is slated to be replaced. (Daniel Archuleta daniela@www.smdp.com)

CITY HALL – Dozens of public speakers and seven City Council members agreed that some as-needed city workers should be brought on as salaried employees.

At the Jan. 13 meeting, Council voted unanimously to create the equivalent of more than 31 new full-time positions to replace work done either by contractors or workers being paid hourly wages.

Debate surrounding contract work arose last year and council asked city officials to review City Hall’s policy for contract labor and for as-needed workers.

Finance Department Director Gigi Decavalles-Hughes said that an investigation found that City Hall followed its own policy for using contractors, rather than hiring new city employees, correctly in all but five instances. Two of those instances were for contracts of more than $100,000.

In response to this discovery, council voted to add the equivalent of six new full-time city workers to replace that contract work in areas like graffiti removal, bus facilities maintenance, and HVAC installation and repairs.

One-time costs for this move will be close to half a million dollars while ongoing costs will total more than $300,000 annually.

A review of as-needed workers found that 25 workers averaging 20 or more hours a week should have been brought on full-time.

In response to the findings, council voted to add the equivalent of 25.7 full-time jobs to replace as-needed beach custodians, parking meter collectors, and rec program customer service workers.

The move will cost more than a million dollars annually.

Most prominent among this group are the beach custodians, who clean the beach and beach bathrooms. Many of these workers showed up to give public testimony and some told stories of working as-needed for nearly two decades.

City officials said there was some discrepancy between the lengths of employment described by the workers during public testimony and the numbers they have on file. They acknowledged that some workers might have previously been labeled as seasonal or have left their temporary city posts for a short time before returning.

Council members were on-board with the idea of adding these workers to full-time positions but did express concern that the nine current beach workers wouldn’t end up getting the permanent jobs.

Because City Hall uses the civil service system, all prospective employees have to take exams, with preference given to those who score highest. This is a practice that’s been in place for years to avoid nepotism.

Some of the beach workers, however, told stories about applying for other city positions, passing the civil service exam, and not being selected.

“The fact that somebody comes back to us 16 years straight and doesn’t get hired when there was an opening is disturbing,” City Councilmember Tony Vazquez said. “The fact that they’re doing the job means that they’ve obviously been performing.”

Director of Human Resources Donna Peter explained that, in those cases, the beach workers were applying for positions that were at higher levels than their current ones and that the beach workers weren’t top-scorers on the exam.

When the position is brought on permanently, Peter said, there will be a new exam created for the beach worker position.

Council members asked if the current city beach workers could be given preference on the new exam, given their years of successful experience on the job.

City Manager Rod Gould explained that they could tailor the test to cover the work that the beach workers are already doing, presumably giving those who have done the job for many years a leg up. The test questions, Gould said, could also focus on rewarding those who have a lot of experience.

Mayor Kevin McKeown defended the civil service system for the fairness it brought to the hiring process.


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