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moiety, at least, of the citizens from any participation in public employment; third, the demoralization of our political methods by the use of the civil service as a means of bribery or reward in party warfare.
The objective point of the several laws enacted to curb these abuses was such a restraint of the appointing power as would prevent, so far as practicable, its exercise for any other purpose than the public interest. These laws have been in operation in the United States service for over fourteen years without amendment and in our State service for nearly the same period without any amendments, except to enforce the provisions of such statutes, to extend them to the service of cities and to confer certain privileges on the veterans of the late war. The rules under which these laws were administered, though originally considered as tentative, were never radically changed. In minor points they have been modified from time to time as experience indicated and they were subject to further modifications as added experience might suggest. The primary principle of these rules was the limitation of appointment to the selection from the three persons standing highest upon an eligible list of those whose relative merit and fitness above a certain minimum standard had been ascertained by an open competitive examination held by the Civil Service Commission. This limitation reduced the opportunities for favoritism to the lowest point deemed possible, since a restriction to the one person standing highest would annul the officer's discretion and responsibility for the appointment, while the three names gave a discretionary range that has by long trial been approved as sufficient, particularly since it was supplemented by appointment for a probationary period only before a permanent tenure was given. This probation was an essential
part of the examination and has in practice shown how satisfactory the antecedent procedure was since the number of those who were dropped from service during or at the end of the probationary period has been so inconsiderable that it may be disregarded. Even if the deficiencies of an appointee were not disclosed until after this period, the power of prompt removal could be exercised.
This system in which the officer had no participation in the examination until the three most eligible candidates were certified to him preserved every element of fair competition and equitable rights, and so was a full compliance with the constitutional provision, which in fact had been framed upon the text and ap proved administration of this very method during an antecedent period of a dozen years. Within this same period there had been criticisms, more or less well founded, regarding the details of the rules or of their administration, such as touching the too scholastic character of the examinations or their failure to test amply practical ability or personal character, etc.—all of which defects could be readily cured. It is an indisputable fact that there was no general public expression of dissatisfaction with the law and the rules as they stood before the enactment of May 15, 1897. The latter statute has been in force in all its features since September 15th last-a period of over six months-during which its practical operation has sustained the validity of many of the adverse criticisms upon it, made in advance.
The new law rests upon that very assumption, that officers will exercise the power of appointment with an eye single to the public welfare, that existed before any civil service laws were enacted and the results of which had made such laws necessary. It in terms differentiates merit and fitness, qualities theretofore
considered as identical or conjoined; but this differentiation might be in itself immaterial, were it not made harmful by the restoration to the appointing officer of exclusive control of the examination for fitness. This is a great retrogression towards the old patronage system, since however high or low may be the marking of a competitor for merit, it can be practically reversed or even nullified by the subsequent marking for fitness, made by the appointing officer. The methods of marking relatively these two factors must be taken into account. In the examinations for merit all the questions propounded to the several candidates are identical, and these, the several answers to them and all other pertinent matters, are of permanent record, and the relative values of the several answers are estimated by persons ignorant of the names of those whose work they thus estimate. In the fitness examinations by appointing officers the record of the methods and of the tests of the several candidates is so exceptional that it may be said there is none kept, and as all the competitors are known to those who relatively mark their fitness, the marking is not impersonal and so is liable to the influences of favor or prejudice. When the merit list, as in most cases, is the result of similar examinations held at many points throughout the State, the call for a fitness examination at a single city-perhaps situated at one end of the State—involving an additional and expensive trip with doubtful chances of benefit, receives only a partial response and gives a great advantage to those living near the particular city. In this respect there is a serious impairment of the equal rights of the competitors. One of the first cases that illustrated the possibilities of the new law was the filling of a vacant clerkship in one of the State offices at the capitol. There were summoned to the fitness examination to be held under the exclusive direction of
this office the 147 persons, scattered about the State, whose names were on the proper merit list. Of these only 14 appeared, among whom was a man who had no expense of travel since he was then and had been for several years employed in the office in question, ostensibly as a laborer, but on duty as a clerk and receiving the pay of a clerk-an abuse that the Civil Service Commission had vainly striven to correct. During this period the laborer had entered several examinations for clerkships, but failed to reach a point where he could be certified for appointment. He was on the eligible list converted into a merit list under the new law in July last, and he stood in order of relative excellence the 112th on that list-in other words there were 111 competitors certified as more meritorious than he. There appeared in answer to the summons only 14 of the 147, and of these the laborer was the 11th in rank. There is no record of the nature of the fitness examination or of its details, but the known results are that all of the fourteen, except the pseudo-laborer, were marked below 35-the minimum point and, therefore, denoted as manifestly unfit-and the lucky man being marked 43.50 received an appointment in the office where he had labored so long in defiance of the spirit of the law at least. This example demonstrates several of the abuses now possible.
There are many other evidences that those that have obtained places on the merit lists decline to attend subsequent fitness examination at a distance, and that such disinclination is increasing. In the first fifty-three fitness examinations only an average of 30 per cent. of those on the merit lists attended, and in the last ten of these only 18 per cent. appeared. Under the previous rules only the three standing highest on the eligible list could be summoned before an appointing officer for his personal inquiry.
As a further illustration, a second case may be quoted where 36 candidates appeared and the 35th one on the merit list was appointed; in a third case where 63 appeared the 52d on the merit list was selected, and many other like cases are recorded. Of course, it is impossible to account (clearly or satisfactorily for these great discrepancies in relative merit and fitness, since we only know how the former was estimated, but grave doubts regarding these estimates of fitness by appointing officers, or what is more general by their delegated subordinates, are suggested by some untoward experiences when the preparation of questions for a merit examination has been committed to the office in which occurs the vacancy to be filled.
Some insight into the character of fitness examinations held by appointing officers may be obtained from the recent report of the New York City Civil Service Commission, where the disclosure of a defiance of all respect for law, fairness and decency is as conspicuous as in many instances it is ludicrous.
It is manifest that in such examinations there is no reality or even semblance of that open fair competition contemplated by the Constitution.
It may be said on the other side that the law is tentative and should have a further trial, but this claim loses its force in view of the fact that the law restores to appointing officers a power the free exercise of which the experience of centuries condemns. If it were not such a question of radical principles but simply of applying such princples there might be good cause for further trial, but modification could at the best only mitigate the present known defects. It has been proposed to raise the standard of the examination to such a degree that only the absolute cream of the competitors would rise above the minimum point, thus re