By Teri Walker –
Saying she’s trying to mirror the private sector, Governor Jan Brewer has signed a law that makes sweeping changes to the state’s personnel policy, modernizing the way state government hires and fires employees.
“The cumbersome rules of our existing personnel system serve only to discourage our best employees and protect the weakest performers,” the governor said in a press release. “With this legislation, we will increase state productivity, eliminate bureaucratic red tape and ultimately save our taxpayers money.”
The new law was a priority for Brewer in the legislative session that ended early this month. Her goal was to incorporate into state government workforce management what she calls “common sense” human resources practices that have been standard in the private sector for years. Brewer says the new policy will improve accountability and performance, and make state employment a more attractive option.
With the new policy, state managers can act more quickly in hiring and firing. It will enable the state to snatch up talented applicants and discipline underperforming employees “without excessive bureaucracy and levels of unnecessary review.” The policy also gives Brewer broader powers to retain or dismiss government department directors.
Opponents of the law argue it would give rise to cronyism, give Brewer too much power, and allow political favoritism to rule personnel decisions. For instance, critics fear, if agency directors should publicly support or volunteer for a candidate or cause the governor doesn’t support, they could be at risk of firing.
The new personnel law does not apply to Department of Safety employees and some other special groups. While nearly 75 percent of the state’s 36,000 non-university employees are covered by the personnel system and have grievance rights, those protections will be lifted over time. Under the new law, most new hires will be “at will” employees, not covered by the state personnel system protections, and can be fired at any time for any legal reason rather than going through an extensive disciplinary process.
The new policy calls for barring fired employees from future state employment and increases the fine for employees knowingly committing a prohibited personnel practice from $5,000 to $10,000.