Governor Ernie Fletcher’s Communication Office
Governor Fletcher's Monthly Newspaper Column: Merit for Examining State System
A young man with a college degree in hand hits the street looking for his first full time job. This young man walks into a state government agency and is told that in order to be considered for employment he must change his political party affiliation.
It sounds strange, but it’s true.
How do I know? Because that young man was me.
In 1974, I had just graduated from the University of Kentucky with a degree in engineering and sought a job with the Transportation Cabinet. I was told in order to get a job I would have to change my political party affiliation.
I wasn’t hired.
But that story got me thinking…how many qualified people have been turned away from working in state government because of their political affiliation?
When my administration took office, we vowed to level the playing field so the best qualified people could be considered for employment in state government, whether they are Republican, Democrat or Independent.
The first thing we did was eliminate a political patronage system that had been in place for years which its primary purpose was to have a “party boss” in each county decide who would get jobs in state government based on their party affiliation.
When we eliminated the political patronage system of the past, it created a vacuum that is causing us to learn many lessons and explore ways on how we can improve the merit employment system in our commonwealth.
To know what we needed to do we first had to look at the merit law itself.
The merit system itself was created in 1960 at a time when a gallon of gas cost 24 cents, the price of bread was 20 cents a loaf and families were tuning in each week to watch a new program about a sheriff in North Carolina—“The Andy Griffith Show”.
Our state, our country and our world have seen many major changes since 1960--except in the merit law.
The needs of our citizens and how state government serves them have changed. The available workforce has changed. But our merit law has not kept up with the changing times.
The antiquation of our merit system was first looked at 33 years after its creation when, in 1993, then Governor Brereton Jones established a task force to study Kentucky’s merit law and employment system.
Among other things, the task force determined that the merit law was obsolete and ineffective; programs were not reflective of modern practices; statues and regulations were confusing and rigid, thus impeding the ability of our government to recruit, develop and retain a competent and motivated work force.
Twelve years have passed since that report and yet these very problems still exist today—45 years after the merit system was created.
Because many in my administration lacked the knowledge and expertise to manage in our out-of-date merit system, I acknowledge that some mistakes were made. I myself have learned a lot about the merit system and know more about the system now than I did when I took office.
We provided our management team instruction on the merit system and how it worked.
Recently we developed a centralized referral system within our Personnel Cabinet to ensure the large amount of recommendations could be reviewed and directed to the appropriate agency.
And, I appointed a bi-partisan task force to review the merit system as it currently stands, address the 1993 study and make any recommended changes and implementation that are needed to the merit law.
Recent events have put the spotlight on Kentucky’s merit system but I’ve stated my belief many times that the overwhelming majority of state workers, both merit and non-merit, are hard working, well intended and want to do a good job.
That is why for the sake of protecting our merit employees and improving how we serve the commonwealth, it’s time for us to take a hard look on how we can improve Kentucky’s merit system.
Otherwise, like that show about the sheriff in Mayberry, the current problems with the merit system will be constantly in re-runs.