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Q&A: Dedrick Brittenum Jr.

Chairman of the Memphis Civil Service Commission

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Last week, the Civil Service Commission unknowingly raised a few eyebrows. After three police officers were indicted for conspiracy, it was incorrectly reported that one of them -- Patrick Joynt -- had been fired twice by the police department but reinstated by the Civil Service Commission. Joynt might have crashed a number of police cruisers and been in trouble with the department, but he never went before the commission.

Dedrick Brittenum Jr. was appointed to the Civil Service Commission by Dick Hackett and then appointed its chair by Mayor Willie Herenton. We caught up with Brittenum at a preliminary hearing to ask him about the commission and its work.

-- by Mary Cashiola

Flyer: What exactly is the Civil Service Commission?

Brittenum: The history, as I understand it, is that it was a safeguard for employees when there would be a change in administrations due to an election. In other words, if you got a new mayor, there wouldn't be any wholesale termination of employees. As long as they were doing their job, they would have the opportunity to keep it.

Once an employee receives disciplinary action, they have the option of telling the commission they want to appeal. The city has to go forward first and carry the burden of proof to show that the disciplinary action was reasonable. It's sort of a system of checks and balances, so you're not terminating employees for any arbitrary or capricious reason.

do you consider just the facts of the termination or the employee's entire record?

The entire personnel record is considered before the commission, but we usually only deal with the facts submitted by the parties. The city goes first, then the employee has a chance to rebut the evidence and present their side of the case.

From time to time, we have asked for information out of a personnel file that would assist the commission in getting to a decision, but, generally, we just consider the factual information presented. Many times one party or the other will object to the introduction of other factual evidence outside the particular reason why they were disciplined.

Do you ever second-guess yourself after you've made a decision?

I try to walk out of here with it in the past. I don't lose any sleep over it, but yes, they are very tough decisions. Sometimes we have employees who have been here 20, 25 years, and they're losing their means of livelihood.

How many people are on the commission?

We're supposed to have seven and right now we have four with another in the process of being confirmed. The commissioners are laypeople from the community: attorneys, personnel people, citizens who are retired, physicians, people from all walks of life.

The chair would like to see some retired union person who would be interested in serving. We have two slots open, and I think that would be a nice balance.

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