A proposal by York County Manager Jim Baker appears to provide a sensible middle ground in the debate over county hiring policies.
The debate was sparked by Councilman Joe Cox, who asserts that the county uses the "good ol' boy network" when hiring employees. According to Cox, friends and relatives of department heads have a distinct advantage when seeking county jobs.
"We give a lot of leeway to our department heads, which plays a little bit to the good ol' boy network: If you know me, you're going to get hired," Cox told fellow councilmen this month. "I would like to see us somehow get away from that."
Cox proposes changing the county's hiring policy to place all hiring authority in the hands of a human resources director who would answer to the council.
But fellow council members dispute Cox's claims of nepotism and favoritism on the part of department heads. Council Chairman Buddy Motz said that, while that may have been the norm a decade ago, it no longer is the case.
Councilman Rick Lee concurs, saying he thinks the county's hiring system has been "very successful."
Baker, who was hired in 2007, has made changes in county hiring policies since coming aboard. Prior to his arrival, the county would advertise for jobs, setting a deadline for applications, but often hiring someone before the deadline passed.
Baker changed the policy to bar any hiring until after the application deadline. Baker wanted to ensure that all applicants were considered before any hiring was done.
Baker also has proposed something of a compromise regarding Cox's complaint. Baker said the county staff is considering asking the council to expand the human resources department so it can play a greater role in the interviewing and hiring process.
We think department heads still should have the authority to hire employees who will serve under them. Ideally, however, department heads should coordinate closely with members of the human relations department regarding the qualifications of applicants.
HR personnel interview people professionally. They also examine resumes and references, and often can provide valuable insights into the relative worthiness of job applicants.
Working together, HR personnel and department heads can compare notes in screening candidates, which enables department heads to make a more informed choice. That process also helps reduce nepotism and favoritism, produce a more diverse county work force and eliminate unqualified applicants.
We agree with Cox that hiring via the good ol' boy network is illegitimate. But taking hiring authority out of the hands of the bosses who must run their departments goes too far.
We think Baker has the right idea in encouraging more involvement by the human resources department while still allowing department heads to make the final decision.