ST. LOUIS — The search for the next director of the St. Louis Personnel Department — a powerful position in city administration that few mayors are lucky enough to fill — is being funded by a corporate group.
At the request of Mayor Tishaura O. Jones’ administration, the Regional Business Council is donating up to $60,000 to St. Louis County Collaborative Strategies Inc. find a pool of candidates to lead the personnel department after the position opened following the sudden retirement of Richard Frank in December.
Frank, who left for health reasons, had held the position since 2004. His retirement gave Jones a rare opportunity within the diffuse power structure of City Hall. He was only the fourth person to lead the department since voters approved the creation of the city’s civil service system in 1941.
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“It’s an important position in the city, and we felt when they said they wanted to do a national search, that they hadn’t done one before, that it was in the interest of the city to look around and get the best talent they can,” said Kathy Osborn, president and CEO of the Regional Business Council.
Osborn said he received a call from Jared Boyd, Jones’ chief of staff, asking if the group, made up of around 100 CEOs from some of the region’s biggest companies, would consider paying for a staffing firm. She couldn’t immediately remember exactly when Boyd had asked.
“I understand this was the first time in a long time that they had a search and wanted to do a national search,” she said. “It made sense to us.”
RBC is also paying the Boulware Group up to $60,000 for an ongoing search for a police chief. The two requests were “completely unrelated” and came at different times, Osborn said. The Regional Business Council stipulated that it would play “no role” in the actual selection of either job, she said.
Interim director’s contract extended
The city’s personnel manager wields considerable influence over hiring and promotions in the city’s civil service system, which 1940s reformers hoped would curb machine politics and reduce employee turnover. patronage jobs at City Hall when a new mayor took office.
Unlike other department heads, the city personnel manager can only be removed after formal charges of wrongdoing. Jones will be able to choose a permanent replacement from a list of three finalists sent to him by the Public Service Commission.
Some city officials and former mayor Francis Slay, the last mayor to appoint a personnel manager, complained that the personnel department holds too much power behind the scenes. Even a member of the Civil Service Commission, who oversees the system and works closely with the chief personnel officer, said the department can make it difficult for a city government to implement its program. Jones last year criticized the search process for the department’s police chief, which initially produced only two internal candidates as finalists, both white men.
The opening of the staff post sparked its own intrigue. Some personnel department employees who were close to Frank were briefly locked out of their offices on December 6, the Monday after the Civil Service Commission appointed Sylvia Donaldson as acting director. Sources said it was related to an internal investigation.
The Civil Service Commission in February approved a Jones-backed change to personnel department rules allowing the mayor to choose an interim personnel director. Jones replaced Donaldson with his own pick, John Moten.
The personnel director serves as chief negotiator with the employee unions, and the influential firefighters’ union quickly pursued the appointment of the acting director, arguing that allowing Jones to select a personnel director violated the charter’s attempt. of the city to isolate the department from political influence.
Moten said at the time of his appointment, he would only serve six months, per city rules. But it is now approaching seven years. The Civil Service Commission quietly extended his term for three months at a closed meeting in August. Moten confirmed his term had been extended for three months at KSDK (Channel 5) last week, saying he would stay to complete the search for the police chief. He did not respond to a request for comment.
Frank is looking for his old job
Even as the national search is underway, Frank is asking to be returned to his old job, according to a copy of a May letter he sent and obtained by the Post-Dispatch. Frank said in the letter to Donaldson that he reapplied for his position in January and asked if he had been added to a re-employment list for the personnel manager.
He said civil service rules only allowed his removal from a re-employment list if it was in the “best interests of municipal service”.
“Which I would find very perplexing since I will be standing on my record of many years as director and a clean audit by the State of Missouri,” Frank wrote. “If in fact my name was taken off, I would like to know who took my name off the re-employment list for the personnel manager, when and why.”
Frank’s letter said he had received “requests” about whether he would return to work. Influential police and fire unions sent him letters asking him to reconsider his retirement, according to copies reviewed by the Post-Dispatch.
“It is not hyperbole to say that the future of the city is hanging in the balance right now and we are deeply concerned that without the checks and balances you have imposed on elected officials and the bureaucracy of city over the years, the scale points to the abuse of power and gross mismanagement of this municipality,” said a letter to Frank from Jay Schroeder, president of the St. Louis Police Officers Association.
Schroeder said on Tuesday his organization was worried about the loss of “continuity” following Frank’s retirement and was still worried about who might become chief personnel officer. A firefighters union official did not respond to a request for comment.
Former municipal employees have the right to request re-employment if they retired in good standing. The personnel manager also has the right to cancel rehire lists. Donaldson, who was acting manager in January, did not respond to a request for comment.
Ministry policy is to produce reuse lists for public inspection. When the Post-Dispatch asked for one for the personnel manager in May, he said he didn’t have one.
Frank, reached last week, declined to comment on the letters.