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Thursday, December 15, 2005


Ray Thomas

I think that "patronage" works for a limited number of positions, usually at the policy making or managerial level. I am not opposed to patronage for a limited amount of "civil service-type" positions. I do think that for everyone appointed to or awarded a patronage position in public service, their qualifications for the position must be made available to the public and posted on a readily accessible public government website.

I am a "civil service" employee. I would also have no objections to my qualifications being made readily accessible to the public.

Bill Block

Does that mean the qualified road crew applicant gets fired by the succeding oppostion administration to make room for an applicant of their own?

State Employee

As a state merit employee in Missouri, let me give you an example of patronage, Missouri style. Following "bloody Friday", when numerous non-merit persons were fired prior to the new governor's inauguration the following Monday, Tuesday morning a computer/data management professional from the Secretary of State's office and real estate salesperson on the side, replaced the Department of Natural Resources' deputy director of the Water Protection and Soil Conservation Division. In the days that followed, staff were working to help her understand the responsibilities of the division in regulating municipal wastewater treatment and discharge. She asked, "What is effluent?" In wastewater management technology, that is comparable to asking a data management person "What is a laptop?"

She is an extremely bright, professional lady and a lovely person, but--information management to policy/managment level water and environmental regulatory issues? To the lady's credit, she chose to leave that position for one in her own area of expertise. But in the meantime, what a waste of her valuable data management talents and experience, and of DNR staff time helping her understand environmental issues.

Charles Gossett

Actually, as I was reading the article, I said to myself "I have to save this for use the next time I teach public personnel management." I, and a number of colleagues who have worked in the public personnel arena over the years, have come to a similar conclusion...there is more room for patronage in public service than many people would have one believe.

If you think back to Elrod v. Burns, the Cook County Sheriff's Dept. had a system of a certain portion of deputies who were civil service and a certain portion who were the personal and/or political section of the sheriff. And until Burns sued, it was common practice for the newly elected sheriff to replace the politcally appointed deputies. Note that in the case, there was no debate about competence or performance in the organization, just the individual "right" of Deputy Burns not to be fired because he belonged to the wrong political party -- the party that selected him for his job in the first place.

Now there will be some problems that are perhaps underplayed in the article -- if a politician has the ability to consider politics in making hiring decisions there may be pressures to dismiss career employees for reasons that wouldn't lead to dismissal in a system where one could only use merit to hire the replacement (remember, there were no rules about firing in the original Pendleton Act...it took about 30 years for the Lloyd-LaFollette Act to be passed to restrict the ability to fire employees without good cause).

And the other problem might be "burrowing in", i.e., people originally appointed as patronage employees finding career vacancies and using the experience gained in that role to qualify for one of the non-political positions. Washington, DC has a federal government with lots of mid-level officials who got their starts with a campaign or legislative aide position.

But I think the most important contribution of the article was the recognition that there is rarely a single "best qualified" candidate for most jobs. There are people who could do the job well and people who couldn't do the job well at all. The trick is to find and select the former. And if they want to do a really good job in order to make their political superiors look good (and get their patrons re-elected), well, I'm not going to complain.

E. Ziegler

Patronage is bribery, pure and simple. You give me something...like your vote, your financial support, your political loyalty... and I'll give you something back. Like a job. Money.

How is this different from recently discraced Congressman Duke Cunningham? You give me something...campaign contributions, a car, a boat to live on...and I'll give you something back. Like a mega million dollar contract.

Perhaps you can explain the difference.


In my part of the west (Utah) there is patronage in the administration of the governors office and at the higher levels of county and municipal government. However, most rank and file positions from labor through career professional are civil service. (Not all, as the current governor has recently made a large part of the I.T. staff at-will).
Not growing up in a patronage system I find it very difficult to find the benefits. The costs associated with training employees are significant. The development of "institutional memory" is critical to long term success of an organization. And in our state it would be very unlikely for very many democrats to ever get a job in government. And finally, the loyality of the employee should be to the entity and the citizens they serve, not to the elected official or the party. That just doesn't sound like good government to me. In my opinion expanded patronage would work to diminish the quality of work and diversity of ideas offered the public.
The reward for working on a campaign has to be in the satisfaction of being part of the process and knowing your effort has contributed beyond your single vote. Participation in a successful election should not be interpreted as an entitlement. On the other hand and unless you are the candidate, your support in a failed election shouldn't signal a time for a career change.

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