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Denver Civil Service Commission director fired after alleging hiring standards were lowered

Denver's Civil Service Commission director fired after saying hiring standards were lowered
Denver's Civil Service Commission director fired after saying hiring standards were lowered 02:51

Niecy Murray, executive director of Denver's Civil Service Commission, was fired by the commission's board of commissioners Tuesday.

In a news conference Tuesday morning, Murray, Denver City Councilwoman Shontel Lewis, Councilwoman Sarah Parady and Councilwoman Serena Gonzalez-Gutierrez, say the Civil Service Commission -- an independent oversight board that oversees hiring, firing, promotions, discipline and other administrative issues for the Denver Police and Fire Departments -- has lowered its hiring standards for officers and firefighters.

"The public's trust is placed in us to ensure standards for safety are being met. The role of Civil Service Commission is far too important to be diminished to one which is strictly performative," Murray said at that news conference.

Niecy Murray, former executive director of Denver's Civil Service Commission, speaks at a news conference on Tuesday, May 28, 2024. CBS

In a joint written statement, Murray went on to say political pressure was making it hard for her to do her job independently.

"The Mayor has made it clear that he will not back off of the staffing numbers he set in his campaign," Murray said. "My job is not to be liked, it is to be sure that the standard The People expect for their first responders be upheld. The current culture emphasizes serving the needs of the men I am meant to help hold accountable over the independence and objectivity of my agency."

The Board of Commissioners told CBS News Colorado Tuesday that Murray was let go. It said it made the decision almost two weeks ago but told Murray on Tuesday.

"On Thursday, May 16, the Board of Commissioners met and decided to release Executive Director Niecy Murray from her position after weeks of deliberation," the board said in its statement. "The President and Vice President of the Board had scheduled a meeting for later in the afternoon today, May 28, to inform Ms. Murray of the decision."

The board disputed Murray's claims and accused her of trying to stop or reverse the board's decision by speaking at that news conference.

"Unfortunately, Ms. Murray's claims to the press this morning appeared to have been a preemptive attempt to block or influence her release. These developments have not deterred us from our course of action, and we have separated Ms. Murray from her position."

The board says an acting director has been appointed and it's begun to look for a new executive director.

The commission comprises five members, who are all civilians. The mayor appoints two members, the city council appoints two others and one member is nominated by the mayor, and then voted on by the city council.

CBS News Colorado reached out to Denver Mayor Mike Johnston's office, which referred us to the Department of Public Safety.

The Department of Public Safety said the hiring process for police officers and firefighters is "extremely long and complicated" and causes about half of them to withdraw their applications. It says sometimes the best candidates withdraw due to "avoidable complications."

The department says that in 2021, for example, it was budgeted for 105 recruits and hired 98; in 2022, it was budgeted for 184 recruits and hired 139; and in 2023, it was budgeted for 188 recruits and only hired 124.

The department also said exams often tested candidates on things they might not learn until they get to the police academy.

"Ensuring Denver is a safe and thriving city is the Department of Public Safety's top priority. We hold our agencies to the highest standards, including a shared priority with the Civil Service Commission to recruit top public safety candidates through a thorough, equitable, and expeditious hiring process," Department of Public Safety Director Armando Saldate said in a statement. "Modernizing the Civil Service Commission process is an essential step in building a diverse, dedicated, and highly skilled public safety workforce, and we must make evidence-based changes to that process to make that vision a reality."

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