EDITORIAL: State Senate's hiring practices are too clubby

FresnoJuly 6, 2014 

Gov. Jerry Brown, center, walks with Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, left, and Sen. Mark Leno,D-San Francisco, right, on Thursday, March 24, 2011 in Sacramento.

HECTOR AMEZCUA/THE SACRAMENTO BEE

The California Senate is an exclusive place, but it's not a club. Unfortunately, too many hiring decisions suggest that insiders think it is their private domain.

In a June 29 report, The Sacramento Bee's Laurel Rosenhall found instances of nepotism and cronyism, including hiring of friends and family of Dina Hidalgo, head of human resources for the Senate, and her supervisor, Greg Schmidt, the top Senate administrator.

Other branches of government are subject to the civil service system, which requires that everyone should have equal access to taxpayer-funded jobs. Legislative jobs are rarely advertised.

Hidalgo apparently helped find taxpayer-funded jobs for buddies from her softball team. That is an abuse of the public trust.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, has hired an outside firm to review nepotism allegations. The Senate should make the report public when it is completed.

Responsibility for oversight ultimately rests with the legislative leadership. Incoming President Pro Tem Kevin de León should not let similar missteps take place on his watch.

Legislators have the power to run their affairs as they see fit, within reason. That makes sense. The Legislature is, after all, one of three independent branches of government. Legislators often hire people who worked on their campaigns. That's part of politics.

And professional legislative committee staff members spend years focused on specific areas of the law. They analyze and help write legislation, and set the California Legislature apart from those in most other states.

Connections help some of them get in the door for job interviews. But for the most part, they get and keep their positions because they are skilled, talented and willing to work long hours.

Many of the jobs that are the focus of Rosenhall's reporting are in security, facilities and other duties removed from the direct supervision of politicians. The positions might not to be particularly glamorous, but they come with taxpayer-funded benefits uncommon in private enterprise.

The Democratic-controlled Legislature, which professes to care deeply about the long-term unemployed, veterans and other people in need of a break, should insist that such jobs be widely advertised and open to the public.

It's one thing if someone who runs a business hires a relative, or a softball teammate. But these are tax-funded jobs. At a minimum, anyone who is qualified should get a competitive shot at the positions.

 

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