Friday September 21, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- The City Charter is "woefully inadequate" for modern day municipal government, according to a consultant working with a committee formed to review the 80-year-old governing document.

But members of the City Charter Review Study Committee said they weren't yet prepared to completely discard Pittsfield's governing document as they begin their assessment.

The 11-member ad hoc panel gathered on Thursday night for the first time since it was established by the City Council and Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi in mid-August.

During the hour-long meeting at City Hall, Stephen McGoldrick, interim director of the Center for Public Management at University Massachusetts-Boston, encouraged the committee to scrap the current charter, last overhauled in 1932, for a new one.

"It's woefully inadequate and totally disorganized," McGoldrick said. "The mission isn't to revise, but come up with a new charter."

The majority of the committee agreed the charter may be outdated, but it said it still requires a thorough review.

"Because it's 80 years old, we shouldn't just toss it out," said committee member David W. Murphy Jr. "We need to know what have been some of the practical problems with the charter, other than age."

McGoldrick replied, "I can cite 50 different places where this charter conflicts with state law."

The city has hired McGoldrick and the center for Public Management for $30,000 to assist the charter review committee in examining the entire document, seek the public's input on potential changes and make any recommendations to the council and mayor. Any changes are subject to state Legislative approval, followed by a city-wide vote.

While the council and mayor anticipated the committee would complete its review within a year's time, Mc Goldrick suggested a more aggressive time line in order to put any potential changes to a city-wide vote at the November 2013 municipal election. If approved, the revised or new charter would take effect Jan. 1, 2014, except the terms or the duties of elected officials, which would take effect Jan. 1 2016.

Some committee members anticipate proposing some changes or revisions.

"To this point [the charter] has worked well, but we're almost a century from where we were last," said Deborah A. Shadowy.

Bianchi urged the committee to begin with a "blank slate" and recommend what Pittsfield government should be for the 21st century.

"I have faith the changes you recommend will guide the city for years to come," said the mayor.

Meanwhile, the committee Thursday night took its first vote by unanimously choosing Edward J. LaPointe as chairman. LaPointe was not able to attend the meeting. City Clerk Linda M. Tyer, who oversaw the meeting in LaPointe's absence, said the retired judge had told her he would accept the chairmanship, if elected. He's also expected to name a vice chairman at the committee's next meeting in two weeks.

The committee also agreed to regularly meet the first and third Tuesday of each month from 5 to 7 p.m. at City Hall. The panel is also required to hold at least two public hearings regarding the review process and will establish a public comment period for all future meetings.

The committee believes its success will hinge on plenty of input from city residents.

"I believe in public engagement and this [review] will be a good vehicle for it," said committee member Brad Gordon.