City of Madison

Former City of Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz

Former Mayor Dave Cieslewicz's Blog

The Hiring Freeze...and When a Thaw is Appropriate

June 1, 2009 11:37 AM

In response to the tough budget we face, I instituted a hiring freeze last week. I don't particularly like it. Hiring freezes are, by their nature, less than perfect management tools. The fundamental problem with them is that a hiring freeze is based on happenstance. We only review the positions that happen to be open during a given time because of retirements or vacancies or because it's a new position. As a result, a relatively important position might go unfilled while a less significant one might remain filled only because one position became open while another didn't.

But, as imperfect as a hiring freeze is, it's better than the alternative of lay-offs. At least during a hiring freeze no one with a job loses it. I would rather have to disappoint a job seeker, than to force an already employed worker into unemployment.

The way a hiring freeze works is that vacant positions are assumed to be held open until further notice. But City departments can appeal to my office to make hires due to extraordinary circumstances. We have had several requests come through my office already, and I've approved less than half of them.

It's tough to make these decisions. No position is without merit. But while each case is different and demands close scrutiny, as a general rule, I am erring on the side of not filling a position unless a compelling case can be made that the position is vital to the public interest at this moment or would force us to lose revenue if it were not filled.

So, for example, I have approved hiring parking monitors because they produce revenue. Not allowing them to be hired would actually reduce City revenues.

More importantly, I approved a request to hire a librarian at the Meadowridge Library to work with young library visitors this summer. That neighborhood needs to keep young people engaged in positive activities so that we can continue to make progress after some challenging times there. On the other hand, I did not approve filling the currently vacant Preservation Planner position. While I'm a strong supporter of historic preservation in our City, I just can't make a compelling case that leaving that position open until at least the end of the year poses an immediate threat to the public interest.

In order to lend transparency to the process, I've asked my Chief of Staff Janet Piraino to write responses to each request that comes through. Those responses will be public records and will be available to all managers, alders and anyone who wants to see them.

I don't enjoy this. I am not by nature a believer in smaller government just for the sake of smaller government. In fact, I believe that there are many important things that government can and must do for its citizens. But, the economic times demand that we make some sacrifices. So, we'll make some tough choices, we'll tighten our belts, we'll try to be transparent and fair and we'll get through this together.


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