More employees are heading to City Hall in the coming months thanks to new City Manager Rick Cole.
The process to fill some vacant positions, such as a Fire Chief, was on hold pending Cole’s arrival but Cole has also prompted recruitment of several new positions including staffing a communications team and hiring a dedicated airport advisor.
On any given day, City Hall has between 60-90 jobs, ranging from part-time lifeguards and library pages to Department Heads, in some stage of the recruitment process. The city has more than 2,000 full time employees and about 400 part time workers.
Director of Human Resources Donna Peter said Cole’s arrival, seasonal needs and the regular job cycle have increased the workload in her office.
“We’re pretty busy right now,” she said. “Between eighty-five to ninety recruitments are in some stage of the process, whether that’s looking at an oral board, sending names to a department, getting ready to open the process or reviewing job descriptions.”
Two high-level positions at different stages of the hiring process.
Former Chief Scott Ferguson resigned last year to take a job in Murrieta and Dennis Downs has been filling in on an interim basis.
Peter said the City often uses a hiring agency to recruit for department heads and Council has approved a company to work on the search for a fire chief. She said background work is currently underway with the active recruitment expected to start soon.
Hiring for the airport advisor is further along. City Hall kept that recruitment in house and Peter said her office has vetted several candidates from the pool of applicants. She said interviews are now under the control of the City Manager’s office.
City Hall is also in the midst of hiring several positions to staff the newly formed communications division of the City Manger’s office with candidates undergoing the interview process in the coming weeks.
The hiring process in Santa Monica differs based on the job’s status as “classified” or “unclassified” but all hiring processes are defined by municipal code and/or the City Charter.
The City Charter defines who is a classified employee. Through 2006, all city employees were classified but a voter approved charter amendment changed department heads to at-will. The changes also modified the way potential candidates are screened to allow for more choices when filling vacant positions.
In addition to department heads, the entire City Attorney’s office is staffed with unclassified, at-will employees. At-will employees can be terminated more easily and have fewer job projections.
Classified employees are insulated from politics and the subjective nature of working for an administration. They are hired through an in-house process that first screens applicants through the Human Resources department. A panel of subject-matter experts interviews candidates whose resumes passed the HR inspection. Those experts might work for the city, but they are not directly affiliated with the job nor are they associated with the job’s direct supervisor.
The panel ranks employees based on a numeric score and forwards a list of names that can be interviewed for the final position. The direct supervisor only sees that final group of names and Peter said that keeps the process fair.
The City often chooses to use a similar process for hiring unclassified employees but it does not have to do so.
“Sometimes people don’t understand that there is a neutral process,” she said. “That there’s not a preconceived idea of whose going to get the job. Especially for civil service/classified positions, we have to keep the final authority out of the process so there’s not any undue influence on that.”
Neutrality is also a central reason for the existence of the Personnel Board. As part of their work, the 5-member panel (appointed by the council) reviews and rewrites job descriptions. Doing so prevents any one individual from creating specific requirements that could only be met by one candidate.
“That’s very distinct and different to charter cities and classified employees,” said Peter. “To have what you’d perceive as a neutral body looking at job descriptions and qualifications to make sure job descriptions weren’t being written so you could hire a specific individual. It’s to keep the neutrality of the system so you don’t have favoritism and political hirings.”