Civil Service regulations required that the department head hire one of the top three people “reachable” on the list. Since the list didn’t come out until about six months after the first applications went in, many people had voluntarily taken themselves off the list; they’d gotten other jobs, moved and left no forwarding address, or whatever. This would shrink the list somewhat.
Let us say that the department head had an employee who was working in a temporary slot but he wanted to keep her. For example, Dave Elleman told me that he had an employee who was a terrible test-taker. Elleman, with the cooperation of Gusty from Personnel, would create temporary positions for her. When the test was given for her position, she would take it, do poorly, not be reachable on the list, and theoretically lose her job to a qualified candidate.
In fact, Elleman and Gusty would create a new temporary job for her and she would continue her employment in the Comptroller’s Office. This went on for years and years. Was she an outstanding employee and the Civil Service system didn’t work for her because of her test-taking problem, or was she an incompetent employee who was buying her job with contributions to the Republican Party? We worked in different units and I didn’t know.
One way for a department head to get the employee he wanted was to wait. Positions had to be filled in ninety days, so if the employer waited a couple months to interview candidates on the list, there was a good chance that all the high-ranking applicants would have taken other jobs and the employer could reach the loser he wanted to hire for political reasons. Another technique for getting past the high-rankers on the list was to do negative interviews, i.e., to do the interview but to make it so nasty that the candidate would refuse the position.
The point and purpose of Civil Service is to get the best qualified employees for government jobs. The taxpayers are paying the salary; they’re supposed to get their money’s worth. In fact, by manipulating the Civil Service system, the county department heads were guaranteeing that losers and dorkheads would get Civil Service jobs based on political contributions and favoritism. The next time you wonder why the government employee with whom you are dealing is such an idiot, ask yourself if the person might have bought their job from the reigning political party.
Every morning around 10:00 a.m. the departmental bosses would meet for coffee in the cafeteria in the Public Safety Building across the street from the courthouse. I would watch the head of Personnel, Ned Gusty, leave the office to attend.
While I worked in Personnel, I took the test for Typist II and placed first on the list of about 260 people. I interviewed for, and accepted, a position in the District Attorney’s Office.
In the District Attorney’s Office, I worked in the Grand Jury Unit, coding new criminal cases onto the computer and typing subpoenas for witnesses. At one point I had a meltdown and went to the unit boss, Norman Mordue, and explained to him about my history of hospitalization for depression, my fiancé’s death, and my need for some time off. Mordue—as all attorneys do—made notes on a legal pad while we talked. I took a few days off and went back to work feeling better.
The District Attorney was Jon Holcombe and he was a son of a bitch. He was merciless in his prosecution of people charged with crimes. He was no more merciful in his dealings with his staff. On one occasion, he called a meeting of the entire staff. When one young attorney failed to show up on time, Holcombe made the entire staff, which was large, sit and wait. When the attorney arrived some ten minutes late, Holcombe publicly shamed him and told him how many minutes of employee-time he had just wasted. The kid didn’t waste the time; Holcombe chose to waste it.
There weren’t enough secretaries to do the work so, instead of going to Ned Gusty and getting approval to hire more secretaries—we were not important—Holcombe would regularly reassign tasks so that the workload got moved around. Every Friday would find a different secretary in tears because she couldn’t do all the work that was demanded of her.
And every morning around 10:00 a.m. the departmental bosses would meet for coffee in the cafeteria in the Public Safety Building across the street from the courthouse. I would watch the District Attorney, Jon Holcombe, leave the office to attend.
One morning in May of 1976 I woke up, turned off the alarm clock, and went back to sleep. I could not bring myself to go to work in Jon Holcombe’s office another day. When the phone rang, I knew it would be the office calling and I ignored it. I got dressed, ate a good breakfast, then went into the office, typed my resignation, left it in the typewriter, picked up my African violet and coffee mug and walked out, thereby ending my career as a Civil Servant.
The Republican Party held two fund raising events each year—a cocktail party in the winter and a clambake in the summer. These were the events to which Civil Servants had an allotment of how many tickets they were to buy. The clambake occurred a few weeks after I resigned. There were two versions of what happened there.
What I heard was that one of the secretaries from the District Attorney’s Office got drunk. She was young, sweet and demure—her typical attire was a gray skirt, pink sweater and string of pearls. In her drunkenness, she accepted a ride home from Jon Holcombe. The clambake was held in the county adjacent to Onondaga. Holcombe raped her once in his car in Madison County and again in Onondaga County. She resigned from her job the next morning and refused to file a rape complaint. She was well-liked by the D.A.’s staff and they were protective of her. That’s the story I heard from sources inside the D.A.’s Office.
What was reported in the newspaper was that Holcombe resigned from office after pleading guilty to one count of misdemeanor driving while intoxicated. The plea was accepted in settlement of an indictment that included two counts of misdemeanor sexual abuse. By pleading to a misdemeanor, Holcombe kept his license to practice law.
So that was Onondaga County—a place where the Republican Party got a son-of-a-bitch and future rapist elected District Attorney.