Judge Blocks 10 New Orleans Police Promotions For Union Challenge

Previously, test scores determined promotion; now its half test scores, half evaluations

A judge temporarily blocked the promotion of 10 New Orleans police officers to the rank of sergeant on Friday, giving a union time to argue that the process gives preference to the politically connected.

Civil District Judge Jennifer Medley signed the order halting the promotions for at least 10 days just minutes before Mayor LaToya Cantrell and Police Superintendent Shaun Ferguson hosted a ceremony honoring the officers. The Police Association of New Orleans wants Medley to bar City Hall from using the same process that produced the promotions list, but Medley won’t rule on that request until hearing oral arguments, which weren’t immediately scheduled.

PANO attorney Eric Hessler said he thinks Medley’s order, as long as it is in effect, renders the promotions invalid.

“It’s not anything against the people picked for promotions; we’re not advocating for or against any candidate,” Hessler said. “We just feel strongly that the process used … violates the state Constitution, and we need a process that is fair to everyone.”

The Police Department would not comment on the case, though it issued a news release Friday afternoon congratulating the officers on their promotions. Neither Cantrell’s staff nor the independent commission governing the Civil Service Department, which administers the municipal workforce, immediately responded to requests for comment.

Since August, police officers seeking to advance in rank have had half their promotional scores calculated by a three-member committee of Police Department brass, taking into account factors such as the officers’ performance evaluations and disciplinary history. A test administered by the Civil Service Department determines the other half of the scores, with the maximum possible points being 200.

Previously, promotions were based strictly on test scores. PANO says that is consistent with the merit-based, apolitical promotions mandated by the Louisiana Constitution.

PANO members this week filed a seven-page lawsuit attacking the new approach, arguing that performance evaluations “are strictly subjective in nature and can be manipulated in either direction depending upon the whims of the evaluator.” So are disciplinary histories, which supervisors can make flattering for certain preferred officers or detrimental for those who aren’t favored, the union’s suit contends.

The changed process stemmed from a policy issued by Cantrell’s top aide, chief administrative officer Gilbert Montano. That policy has never been approved by the independent board that governs the Civil Service Department, the suit said.

The policy’s effects were “dramatic,” said the suit’s lead plaintiffs: Andrew Wiedman, Paul Johnson and Beth Raniff. Under the previous promotional process, Wiedman tied for first, Johnson 16th and Raniff 18th out of more than 60 officers aspiring to become sergeants. The scoring under the new process dropped Wiedman to 24th, Johnson to 34th and Raniff to 36th.

“The criteria implemented and considered by the ‘promotional committee’ are all … subjective, vague and subject to impermissible political manipulation,” their suit argued. “Simply put, such a system provides a simple, convenient and effective [method] of ‘grooming’ a politically favored employee for promotion,”

Friday’s promotion ceremony at Southern University at New Orleans honored Shannon Jones-Brewer, Shumeca Garrison, James Doaty Jr., Travis Tobias Johnson, Aaron Harrelson, Eric Illarmo, Thaddeus Williams, Robyn Scott, Sarah Cherny and Kevin Boswell.

Harrelson was tied for first under the old promotional system, with Jones-Brewer, Williams and Illarmo all finishing within the Top 10.

Police and firefighters have been fighting with City Hall over promotions ever since then-Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration overhauled Civil Service rules in 2014. Dubbed the Great Place To Work Initiative, Landrieu said he wanted to give managers more flexibility in hiring and promotions.

But passed-over police officers and firefighters have since successfully fought to overturn a number of promotions, by broadly arguing that they have been political rather than objective and merit-based.

From www.nola.com

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