Topeka Gov. Kathleen Sebelius on Friday denied she wanted to get rid of the civil service system for state employees, but added it was "outmoded" and should be changed.
"There are pieces of the system that need to be updated for a 21st-century work force," Sebelius told reporters.
The governor's handling of the civil service system, which governs pay, benefits and rights for about 35,000 state employees, has been at the center of a heated dispute in recent days.
Sebelius has signed two executive orders concerning state employees: One allows agency chiefs to grant extra pay raises for some employees; the other allows granting unclassified executive employees advance benefits of 30 days sick leave and 12 days vacation leave rather than having to accumulate leave as other state employees are required to do.
The governor has argued that the changes were needed to retain and recruit highly qualified workers.
"The executive orders and the directives are appropriate and help us keep talent in the work force," Sebelius said.
The Kansas Association of Public Employees, which represents about 10,000 state workers, opposed the moves.
Betty Vines, president of the association, has said the executive orders opened the door to old-style cronyism and favoritism.
Thursday, in a private meeting with labor leaders, Sebelius said the civil service system was antiquated and needed to be abolished, Vines said.
Friday, Sebelius denied saying she favored getting rid of the civil service system; Vines stuck by her assertion that the governor said it.
On another front, Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka voiced support for fellow democrat Sebelius in the face of Republican and KAPE criticism regarding the civil service moves. "She's the best governor organized labor ever had," Hensley said.
Regardless of Sebelius' comments at the meeting with labor officials, it is evident from her public comments and executive orders that she wants to make changes to the civil service system.
Kathy Jansen, president of the Kansas University Classified Senate, which has about 1,500 members, agreed with Sebelius that the civil service system needs help.
"The system is broken," Jansen said. "It needs to be changed, and that change needs to be carefully monitored."
KU classified employees have voted to leave the civil service system in favor of one that would be administered at KU. That proposal has been sent to the Kansas Board of Regents for consideration.
Jansen said the main problem with the state's civil service system was that pay raises had not kept up with inflation.
This year, state workers received a 3 percent cost-of-living increase, but it has been several years since the state approved a step increase, which are generally given if an employee does satisfactory work.
But while Jansen said changes must be made to the civil service system, she doubted Sebelius' executive orders would help. The selective raise order allows agencies to fund those raises through savings found within the specific agency.
"It's not very equitable because not every office will have surplus funds to do it," Jansen said. She credited Sebelius with trying to make the system more flexible, but added, "Every time you do a fix to a limping system, you create an inequity somewhere else."
Vines said no system was perfect. "We know there are problems with civil service, but we need to sit down and talk about it," she said.