Mayor lobbies Civil Service Commission to change police chief’s exam

Days before Friday’s application deadline, Mayor Judy Kennedy is making a last-ditch effort to persuade the City of Newburgh’s Civil Service Commission to offer a police chief’s test for current employees instead of the open exam scheduled for March 5.

Absent a change, current chief Dan Cameron, who is popular with both officers and residents but has yet to take a chief’s test, has to either take the open exam and be among the top three scorers or face the risk of being replaced by someone else.

In a letter addressed to Commissioners Vera Best, Richard Gadbois and Thomas Murphy, Kennedy claims the rules governing internal exams are “unfair” and discriminate against existing employees.

So far the Commission has no meetings scheduled before the deadline.

In talking with each of you at different times, I have been told that it was not fair to change the rules to fit one candidate. And if the rules were fair, I would agree with that position,” Kennedy wrote.

“However, I make the case that the current rules for the internal promotional test are not only unfair, but in fact, discriminate against qualified internal candidates whether they all want to apply or not.

While the qualifications to take the promotional exam include having two years as deputy chief, Newburgh’s officers are unable to meet that requirement because the city eliminated the position years ago, Kennedy said.

At the same time those lieutenants are assuming duties once assigned to the deputy chief, Kennedy wrote.

“This commission should offer the promotional test to any lieutenant that has been doing deputy work since 2010,” Kennedy wrote. “It is clear that any lieutenant in the City of Newburgh has de facto deputy chief experience and one of them has actual chief experience.”

The Civil Service Commission’s decision to offer an exam open to anyone instead of a promotional exam also drew strong letters from Cameron and City Manager Michael Ciaravino.

Existing state law says that “competitive class” positions like police chief “shall be filled, as far as practicable, by promotion from among persons holding competitive class positions in a lower grade.”

But existing law also gives local civil service boards like Newburgh’s the option of administering an open examination and establishing a list of test takers from which to hire.

The law says those hires “shall be made by the selection of one of the three persons certified by the appropriate civil service commission as standing highest on such eligible list.”

Even if the city opted to give a promotional exam, Cameron still faces another hurdle: The existing minimum qualifications candidates have to meet in order to take the test include five years experience as a lieutenant. Cameron was promoted to that rank in May 2012.

He and Ciaravino both argued that the five-year lieutenant qualification should be reduced to two years.

“I do not pretend to be an expert on civil service law, but I do understand that the purpose of civil service is fairness in hiring practices,” Cameron wrote in his letter. “I believe the opposite is occurring within the civil service commission, and I believe that is blatant.”

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