Time to rethink Civil Service Board?

Board rehired Clerk of Courts employee who mishandled $1.3M

By Jim Piggott - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Some people in Jacksonville think it may be time to rethink the Civil Service Board and its process after the board overturned a decision to fire a Clerk of Courts employee it said was negligent and incompetent.

Cynthia Gardner, who mishandled $1.3 million for the Clerk of Courts office, was rehired last week after the board ordered her return to work. She promptly retired after that.

The Civil Service Board is needed in Jacksonville because not every employee is in a union. So all employees have the option when they find themselves in trouble to go to mediation or take the civil service route. They can't do both.

Though Gardner was found to be negligent and inefficient, violated work rules, did not obey superiors, and was incompetent and careless with city money, her boss, Clerk of Courts Ronnie Fussell, said he was frustrated because he would have to allow an employee back in an area to handle money even though the board knew she should not. Fussell believes the civil service rules need to be reviewed.

"If you're caught doing something financially wrong, it's a little different than being tardy to work and those kind of things," he said. "So I think in the broader scope of it, I think they can look at."

The Civil Service Board is a nine-member panel -- citizens appointed by the mayor, School Board and JEA. They review appeals by employees who are charged with personnel violations.

In the last five years, 15 employees set for termination came before the board, and the board overturned their terminations and either suspended them or took other action.

Jim Register, the head of the board, couldn't talk about specific cases but said the board is necessary.

"I would tell you that the decisions are made very seriously," Register said. "The information is weighed very soundly. I would take exception to being called out-of-touch with reality."

The Mayor's Office, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and others declined comment about the board and its role.

Political observers say the function is important.

"The civil service generally has protection, are generally a good thing if you want to attract and keep a quality workforce," said George Chandler, a political science professor at the University of North Florida. "There are a lot of criticisms: that old cliche that it's hard to fire a teacher or government worker, in general."

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