Absolute Preferences in Municipal Civil Service Appointments: The Unresolved Conflict With Municipal Discretion

State legislatures have enacted civil service laws applicable to municipalities in order to ensure that local governments provide optimum services to their citizens. To achieve this objective, the laws restrict eligibility for public service positions to persons of proven qualifications. Although these statutes provide general guidelines for municipal employment procedures, final decisions as to the actual hiring of employees are generally left to the municipalities. This practice recognizes the advantages of permitting local officials who are intimately acquainted with the demands of government work in their particular localities to select employees at their own discretion. However, it has been deemed appropriate in certain situations to eliminate choice in the selection process and to entitle persons with specified qualifications to be appointed as a matter of right. These preferences are designed to effectuate objectives supplemental to, or independent of, traditional civil service policies. Although the use of such “absolute preferences” is subject to forceful criticism, this comment is predicated upon the realization that the use of such preferences in one form or another represents an established practice in a majority of the states. This study will attempt to delineate the historical bases and current prevalence of absolute preferences, describe the various types of preferences currently in force, discuss the means available of enforcing them, and suggest revisions necessary to effectuate their objectives.