Monday, August 12, 2013

DENR to see jump in "exempt" jobs

North Carolina's environment secretary, John Skvarla, scrambled late Friday to explain to his staff a big jump in the number whose jobs will be defined as "exempt," meaning they can be fired without cause or appeal.

House Bill 834, now on Gov. Pat McCrory's desk, increases from 1,000 to 1,500 the number of exempt positions in state government. "Exempt" includes managers deemed to be vital to the enterprise, but the term also embraces policy-makers who are supposed to carry out the governor's agenda.

Raleigh's WRAL reported that exempt positions at the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources would rise from 24 under former Gov. Bev Perdue's term to 167 under McCrory -- the biggest jump among the eight departments affected by the bill.

Environmental advocates say the move will force top DENR officials to toe the Republican-dominated legislature's view of regulations as job-killers. The legislature has cut budgeting and moved whole divisions out of DENR.

Skvarla, in an after-hours email Friday to DENR staff members whose jobs will become exempt, called it a "badge of distinction of which you should be proud."

"It was always silly to pretend that only 30 or so people in a department of nearly 4,000 were making managerial decisions," he wrote. "DENR has more than 600 managers, and the majority of those carry the responsibility necessary to operate our agency."

Skvarla says management changes will be based on "competency, efficiency, performance and changing requirements, not based on politics."

The exempt-jobs news came after legislators last month dissolved the Division of Water Quality, which polices water pollution, and rolled it into the Division of Water Resources. The change is expected to trim the combined staff by about 15 percent as top managers adopt a "customer-friendly" regulatory approach.