The North Carolina General Assembly’s passage of Senate Bill 9 on Aug. 16 paves a new way for certain city workers in Greensboro and Winston-Salem to contest decisions such as firing or demotion via a civil service board. The omnibus bill included the creation of a civil service board and three other pieces of legislation. 

Reps. Jon Hardister (R-Guilford), Jeff Zenger (R-Forsyth) and Kyle Hall (R-Forsyth/Stokes) sponsored House Bill 470 — the standalone bill containing language pertaining to the civil service board — which was filed in March and sent to the Senate in April, while Senators Gale Adcock (D-Wake) and Sydney Batch (D-Wake) sponsored SB 9.

Because of this new law, workers will be able to request a hearing and go before the five-member board to plead their case. But some workers who pushed for the legislation earlier this year were ultimately left out of the final version at the last moment. 

The civil service board won’t apply to city workers in departments such as solid waste, street maintenance and water — workers who were among the most active in getting the bill passed. Members of Greensboro’s local chapter of the NC Public Service Workers Union spoke out during a city council meeting on April 4 to demand higher wages as well as plead for the implementation of a civil service board.

Now this privilege is only offered to employees from two departments: police and fire.

Who will sit on the board?

The five-member board will have one member elected by fire department employees and another by police department employees. City council members get to pick one member, and the fire chief and police chief select the fourth together. The fifth and final board member is chosen by the mutual agreement of the other four members. If the fifth member is not elected by majority vote of the other four, the city council chooses. Board members serve two-year terms and are eligible for more.

Former city employees are eligible to serve on the board if they haven’t been employed by the city for a minimum of seven years.

Leaders from both cities were unenthused at the prospect that a board could overturn a firing decision, and in May both councils made a statement by voting to oppose it.

Winston-Salem City Council Member Robert C. Clark spoke out against the idea of a civil service board earlier this year, and told TCB that he’s “disappointed that it passed.”

“We’re currently analyzing it, it was changed somewhat from what was introduced earlier,” Clark said, adding, “The city attorney is researching it right now.”

But Clark is rolling with the punches, concluding, “We’ll live with it and make it work.”

A press release from the NC Police Benevolent Association thanked the state’s General Assembly, expressing gratitude that the board would provide an “independent review of officers’ actions.”

“Far too often, decisions made in a matter of seconds to protect themselves and the public are hastily tried not only by public opinion but also within their own department without all of the facts provided,” the statement read. TCB has reported how two people were killed by Greensboro Police Department officers in June.

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