Friday November 9, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- The city's Charter Review Study Committee can't guarantee residents will get to vote next year on proposed changes to the 80-year-old charter, the committee said Thursday night.

Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi and the City Council have given the committee, in essence, until September 2013 to complete its thorough review of the charter and recommend potential revisions or wholesale changes of Pittsfield's governing document.

However, a consultant has urged the 11-member ad hoc panel to wrap up its work by April at the latest to ensure enough lead time to prepare charter questions for the 2013 city election.

"I don't think getting on the November ballot is feasible," said committee chairman Edward J. LaPointe. "We all want to finish as soon as we can, but we want it completed right."

Voting on potential charter revisions can take place during the 2014 state election, but it would require state legislative approval and a ballot separate from the one prepared by state election officials. Otherwise, a charter vote would have to wait until the 2015 city election.

Committee member Brad Gordon worries any delay could hurt the charter review process.

"If we wait until the next election cycle, we'll lose momentum with the public and flounder," Gordon said.

The charter review board, assisted by staff from the Center for Public Management at the University of Massa chusetts-Boston, is charged with examining the entire document, seeking the public's input on possible changes and making any recommendations to the council and mayor. Any changes are subject to approval from state lawmakers followed by a citywide vote.

On Thursday night, the committee discussed the merits of a city manager-City Council versus the current mayor-City Council form of government. In citing advantages for both, the committee said a city manager provides continuity and professionalism in handling a city's finances. A mayor is generally someone well known and invested in the community and is directly accountable to the voters, the committee noted.

Diane M. Ferrero suggested a city of Pittsfield's size seems more suited for a city manager, a concept meeting early resistance with some residents.

"When I mentioned it to people they were quite alarmed," Ferrero said. "They felt better about having a council and mayor for better checks and balance."

Consultant Michael Ward noted Massachusetts cities that swapped a mayor for a city manager, felt a drastic change was necessary.

"Many who've gone with a city manager form of government usually were in a crisis, such as Chelsea," he said.

The committee has invited Bianchi and several former Pittsfield mayors to its Nov. 20 meeting to further discuss the future of the city's executive branch, including length of term in office.

"Most mayoral terms are two years, but there's been a trend toward four years," Ward said.

The committee is also reviewing the current makeup of the City Council, an 11-member panel elected every two years.

"I think the number of councilors is appropriate for a city of our size," Ferrero said.

While the committee's review of the city charter is well under way after three meetings, Michael McCarthy cautioned residents against interpreting the group's early discussions as final decisions.

"At this point, we're doing a lot of listening," McCarthy said. "Don't expect any conclusions until we get more information before we deliberate."

To reach Dick Lindsay:
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233.

What's next ...

n The Pittsfield Charter Review Study Committee is scheduled to meet at 5 p.m. Nov. 20 at City Hall.

n The committee has invited Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi and several former Pittsfield mayors to discuss the future of the mayoral form of government in Pittsfield.

n Current city councilors will be asked for their input on the charter at the committee's Dec. 4 meeting.