01/01/13 835 W, 1 I - + 8 - 9 UPDATED Before The Days of Civil Service Protection

January 1, 2012
Here's the state law (PDF) enacted on March 1, 1935. The passage of the bill ended the practice of patronage hiring for city firemen and policemen. The bill was titled "An Act to Create a Civil Service Commission for the Fire Department and Police Department of the City of Raleigh and to Provide the Necessary Machinery and Rules for the Organization and Operation of Said Civil Service Commission and [Fire and Police] Departments." Among the provisions were:

October 29, 2012
On Saturday, one of my history book activities was researching the biographies of Raleigh's fire chiefs. A couple newspaper articles about Jack Keeter, chief from 1955 to 1973, provide a peek into the hiring and firing practices before the days of civil service protection. ('Tis a timely topic, as the Raleigh Fire Department has been conducting testing of firefighter applicants in recent days and weeks.) Said protection was implemented in 1935, after a bill was introduced into State Senate on April 6, 1933, by Wake County Senator John W. Hinsdale. 

Upon ratification of the legislation, Raleigh firefighters would be hired or fired not on the basis of political patronage, but instead by a (proposed) three-member Civil Service Board. For hiring, competitive exams would be open to all eligible people. (That is, all white persons. The exact language: "all white persons possessing the rights of suffrage and meeting requirements prescribed by the board.) Notices of examinations would be posted two weeks prior. And on the other side, firefighters "liable to dismissal" had the opportunity of a public hearing before the board at least ten days after notice of such charges.

No longer were firefighters subject to being hired or fired, based on the outcomes of elections. Keeter's biography provides some examples. He was worked for auto dealer Carl L. Williamson, after moving to Raleigh in 1928. (Keeter came from Rutherford County to see the State Fair and never left.) When Williamson ran for Public Safety Commissioner (in 1931?), Keeter worked for the campaign. (The Commissioner was one of three who ran the city.) When Williams was elected, he rewarded Keeter with a job in the fire department.

But such political patronage cut both ways. Retired Captain Jack Crabtree-- speaking at the time of Keeter's death in 1978-- recalled in 1933, when Jim Brown defeated former police chief Wynder Bryan for Public Safety Commissioner, eighteen firemen lost their jobs because they supported Bryan. Two of the "lucky ones" were Crabtree and Keeter. The latter was rewarded with a promotion to Lieutenant. (Did every firefighter have to support someone in these races? Was it optional, and you rolled the dice? If your guy one, you'd maybe get favors??)

Two years later, state legislators gave firemen across the state civil service protection. [ Correct year? Did state protection come in a later year? ] Keeter was one of the people instrumental in helping the legislation pass. Raleigh firefighters (and police officers) were hired and fired by the Raleigh Civil Service Commission, a group of five citizens. (Versus the three-person board cited in the original legislation noted above. Need to find a copy of that legislation. Maybe it's available online.)

John Boswell "Jack" Keeter was a member of the department for 41.9 (!) years. That's not the record, mind you. Believe that one goes to Asst. Chief James Burnette with 43.3 years, followed Captain James White with 42.2 years. (There are under dozen members who retired with forty or more years.) He was Fire Chief for eighteen years. That's the longest tenure for any chief of department here. His retirement was mandatory at age 65. [ Insert parargraph(s) about his accomplishments as Fire Chief. We'll cover that another time. Could also have an interesting discussion about the development of testing and promotional processes. ]

He became Mayor Pro Tem and a councilman at large. He served two and a half terms. He died of cancer on December 2, 1978. He was 71. For a month during his hospital stay, firefighters volunteered their time to stay at the hospital overnight, in twelve-hour shifts. His memorial service at Mitchell Funeral Home was standing room only, attended by friends, relatives, current and former city officials, Masons, and a hundred uniformed firefighters from Raleigh and other cities. Doors to the municipal were closed from 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and flags at the city's fourteen fire stations flew at half mast. He was buried at Montlawn. Four years later, the new training center building was named in his honor. The Keeter Training Center.

Forgot to include a couple other details. During the days of political patronage, firefighters would campaign for candidates. It would participate in duties related to the campaign. Perhaps/probably on-duty? Don’t know if this was mandatory or not. Maybe it was highly recommended. If you involve yourself politically, you stood to reap rewards, if your candidate was elected. The civil-service legislation proposed in 1933 Included language about firemen no longer permitted to be engaged in political activities. Beyond voting. Presumably referring to active campaigning, or active campaigning while on duty.
Legeros - 10/29/12 - 09:16

And another detail. This is the reason that a number of firemen from the 20s and 30s have gaps in their employment. They were employed for a couple years, then rehired a couple years later, then retired a couple years after that.

Thinking more about patronage, that probably was the only route to get promoted. If the Public Safety Commissioner was the one who promoted people, you were in good shape if you had supported their campaign.
Legeros - 10/29/12 - 09:20

Mike, do we see this in some respects in Sheriff’s departments? Capt. This supports the incumbent Sheriff while Lt. That supports a challenger. Election results may improve or hurt their individual chances of future promotion (or continued employment). Was is similar in FD then?
Deputy Dawg - 01/01/13 - 10:50

News & Observer story today about county sheriff’s and their ability to fire deputies based on political patronage: http://www.newsobserver.com/latest-news/..
Legeros - 12/07/15 - 08:17

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