City Commission Often Lacks Full Attendance

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Raleigh’s Civil Service Commission is a city employee’s last resort to settle a dispute, but in the past five years, only one meeting featured a full Commission.

The Civil Service Commission is a seven-member board, that includes five Council-appointed members and two employee-elected members.

According to Civil Service Commission meeting minutes dating back to August 2007, only one meeting included a full seven-member board. In four cases, only four members were present.

Some people brought complaints about the Commission to City Councilors last week. A group representing former city employee Shirley Venable said she was unjustly fired from her position as a sanitation worker. Venable claims she spoke out about harassment she received from coworkers and her supervisor after being abused by her husband.

Officially, Venable was fired for making a threat against her supervisor.

As her last attempt to overturn her firing, Venable’s termination case was heard by the Civil Service Commission last fall.

The Commission decided in favor of Venable with a 3 to 2 vote, but four yes votes from the seven-member panel are required to overturn an administrative decision. Two commissioners, Wilbur Dunn and Frank Golden, were absent.

“In Ms. Venable’s case, only five of the seven commissioners heard the case. Of those five, a majority did not agree with the decision the city made,” said Ashaki Binta, representing the United Electrical workers and speaking for Venable during the Council meeting.

From August 2007 to December 2012, the Commission had 18 meetings. Only one of those meetings had all seven members in attendance. According to the meeting minutes, Commissioners Cheryl Grissom and Dunn were absent the most times, with eight unattended meetings.

Grissom has served on the Commission since 2002. Dunn, a retired firefighter, is the employee-elected representative and has been on the Commission since 2003.

City Manager Russell Allen told the Record he didn’t read the meeting reports, so he is unfamiliar with the Commission’s attendance record, but speculated that because the meetings can often last an entire day and require multiple days, scheduling conflicts may arise.

In an email to the Record, Commission Chairman Lacey Reaves wrote he isn’t authorized to comment to the press and referred any questions to the City Attorney’s office.

City Attorney Thomas McCormick echoed Allen’s speculation, saying that as private citizens who aren’t being compensated, it is sometimes difficult to get everyone together to have a full Commission.

Binta also claimed that in the past three years, the Commission has never ruled against the City.

Meeting minutes dating back to 2007 also show that of the decisions made by the Commission, 10 out of 11 were made in favor of the City. Venable’s case is the only case that was decided in an employee’s favor. However, that decision didn’t stand because there were not enough votes.

“What is the purpose of the Civil Service Commission if it’s only going to be a rubber stamp for every management decision that is ever made?” Binta said.

Employees have their cases heard by the Commission after they have exhausted all other administrative means.

“There’s a whole process below anything going to the Civil Service Commission,” Allen said.

Because of this, there are few cases heard by the Commission each year.

Not all kinds of grievances are heard by the Commission. Employees must be able to prove a loss in wages or status.

McCormick said the Commission often hears cases of failure to promote or termination.

City Councilors didn’t comment on Venable’s case, but decided to review the employee grievance and the Civil Service Commission procedures in the Law and Public Safety Committee.

Look at our breakdown of the meetings below, including the attendance record of each commissioner.

One thought on “City Commission Often Lacks Full Attendance

  1. Interesting article. I hope you update with attendance numbers for all seven members of the commission. Is anyone showing up to less than half or two-thirds of the meetings? Then they should probably be off the commission. It would also be interesting to learn if the members with the worst attendance are city-appointed or employee-appointed. Either way, the folks with the worst attendance records should go. Any chance you’ll be posting the numbers?