New Jersey’s Civil Service System – Merit, Not Politics
Some complain that civil service hinders efficient government. Managers object that it limits their ability to run their organizations by hiring, firing and imposing discipline as they believe best. Citizens argue it makes it too hard to get rid of “bad apples.” Employees believe it makes promotions and transfers too difficult. Applicants think the system makes it too hard to get hired. All these criticisms are valid, to a point. However, they miss the mark because they focus on the trees but miss the forest. Life is a series of tradeoffs; every decision is a cost/benefit analysis.
New Jersey’s Civil Service System was adopted to combat grave problems with state and local government. New Jersey has a long history of government corruption; it is by no means a new phenomenon. This history includes a “spoils system” which gave election winners the power to award jobs to their supporters, bribery, favoritism, nepotism, cronyism and discrimination in hiring and keeping government jobs. It was a disgrace. New Jersey was – and is – hardly alone in these problems, but New Jersey took it to another level. Without civil service these problems would continue unchecked. It’s not perfect, but New Jersey is a far better place because of civil service.
In 1908, the early Twentieth Century Progressive Movement led New Jersey to adopt its first civil service laws, and to establish the Civil Service Commission to regulate civil service practices. Then, in 1947, a constitutional convention was held at Rutgers University, in which a new Constitution was adopted. The goal of the constitutional convention was to reform many areas of New Jersey’s state and local government. Article VII, section 1 of the New Jersey Constitution of 1947 provided that: