Hutchin­son’s state hir­ing freeze to thaw

Gover­nor to track jobs, salaries through re­ports

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - BRIAN FANNEY

Poli­cies govern­ing the so-called state hir­ing freeze are chang­ing to give agency heads more dis­cre­tion to fill po­si­tions that be­come va­cant.

Un­der an ex­ec­u­tive or­der signed by Gov. Asa Hutchin­son the day af­ter he took of­fice in Jan­uary 2015, agency heads had to ask per­mis­sion to hire new em­ploy­ees in or­der to fill va­can­cies. How­ever, start­ing Aug. 1, agen­cies will be able to hire em­ploy­ees to va­cant po­si­tions with­out ask­ing be­fore­hand.

The point of the change is to look at state em­ploy­ment more holis­ti­cally, said J.R. Davis, a spokesman for the gover­nor.

“We had the hir­ing freeze, which is one po­si­tion by one po­si­tion, and we’ve kind of kept up with [state em­ploy­ment] through that,” he said. “This will help us re­ally be able to fig­ure out where these changes are tak­ing place, where these in­creases are com­ing from and for us to be able to ad­dress those is­sues.”

Hutchin­son will still keep watch over state em­ploy­ment by giv­ing agen­cies to­tal em­ployee and salary thresh­olds based on agency-re­ported num­bers on Aug. 1. From that point for­ward, he will re­quire the agency heads to sub­mit re­ports on em­ploy­ment ev­ery month. High-pay­ing po­si­tions will re­quire ap­proval from the gover­nor’s of­fice, Davis said.

“Agen­cies can have a lit­tle more dis­cre­tion … so if they ob­vi­ously need to get some­one in or there’s some is­sues, they can go ahead and act within the thresh­olds, but they can’t pass those

thresh­olds,” Davis said. “If they do, they have to go back to the gover­nor and ask for more hires.”

The gover­nor has said the hir­ing freeze re­sulted in about 1,400 po­si­tions go­ing un­filled.

About 31,300 peo­ple work for state agen­cies and an­other 29,600 work for in­sti­tu­tions of higher education, ac­cord­ing to re­ports from the Bureau of Leg­isla­tive Re­search.

State hir­ing prac­tices have elicited frus­tra­tion among some who submitted ideas for gov­ern­ment im­prove­ment to Hutchin­son’s MyIdea web­site, myidea.arkansas.gov.

One per­son, who claimed to be a re­tired state em­ployee, said: “Early re­tire­ment could be of­fered to re­duce the num­ber of em­ploy­ees. Force em­ploy­ees to ac­tu­ally work or be ter­mi­nated. The hir­ing freeze forces su­per­vi­sors to tol­er­ate bad em­ploy­ees be­cause it takes too long to be un­frozen or there usu­ally isn’t a good can­di­date pool.”

Law­mak­ers on the Per­son­nel Sub­com­mit­tee of the

Arkansas Leg­isla­tive Coun­cil said the change was news to them when con­tacted by a reporter, but they liked the plan.

“I think the hir­ing freeze has worked pretty well. I think it’s helped iden­tify ar­eas that are over­staffed,” said Sen. John Cooper, R-Jones­boro, who is co-chair­man of the sub­com­mit­tee. “It sounds like the plan that the gover­nor has go­ing for­ward is re­al­is­tic and well thought out.”

Sen. Joyce El­liott, D-Lit­tle Rock, who is vice chair­man of the sub­com­mit­tee, said she didn’t know of any prob­lems caused by the hir­ing freeze.

“Gen­er­ally when there are is­sues, peo­ple tend to call leg­is­la­tors to com­plain,” she said. “I’ve not got­ten any type of that kind of com­plaint, and I sus­pect be­cause it was soft.”

She said agency heads should be given ad­di­tional dis­cre­tion when hir­ing em­ploy­ees.

“It’s a good thing be­cause at some point if you hire some­body to run an agency they need to be al­lowed to do it,” she said. “If an agency needs to hire some­body for a po­si­tion, they should have some au­ton­omy in mak­ing that de­ci­sion.”

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