Saturday December 8, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- City councilors have weighed in on the prospect of adding a city manager-type position to handle the daily business at City Hall.

The councilors took turns at this week’s meeting addressing the Pittsfield Charter Review Study Committee, which is charged with reviewing the city’s 80-year-old charter and recommending changes or revisions.

Support was expressed for some form of city manager or deputy or assistant mayor, with or without changes in the current relative powers of the council or the mayor. A city manager or administrator to handle the day-to-day operations of city departments was seen as allowing the mayor to concentrate on vision and leadership.

Ward 1 Councilor Christine A. Yon said a professional city manager hired by the council, with a mayor who is a member and chairman of the council, is worth considering. Having someone trained in municipal management to handle day-to-day city functions and oversee city departments is a critical need as government grows more complex, she said.

"We need someone with the skills" required, Yon said, adding that the mayor could then concentrate on representing and promoting Pittsfield.

Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan Lothrop said that with more complex city, state and federal governments, and a city budget of more than $130 million, the central issue facing the review committee will be "mayor or city manager?" He said he believes the current mayor/council format must change.

The cost of adding a manager’s salary was an issue, with several councilors also citing the relatively low $87,000 salary for the mayor’s position today.

"Continuity" in city government is a major issue, according to Yon, Ward 6 Councilor John Krol and other speakers. With a manager, they said, department heads and other employees would not have to fear being ousted when a new mayor assumes office -- having been hired by the manager, who in turn would be hired by the council.

However, "We need the mayor to drive the city forward," Krol said.

Councilor at-large Barry J. Clairmont said professional management is needed to "take the politics out of it." Adding a position would cost more but government would be more efficient, which could save the city money, he said

Ward 4 Councilor Christopher J. Connell said he believes "we can accomplish all this in one swoop" without burdening taxpayers by creating a deputy mayor or assistant mayor position at an attractive salary to take over a manager’s role under the current mayoral system.

Most councilors said they favor retaining 11 councilors. Most also favored a four-year term for the mayor’s position, allowing for more time to plan and implement a vision for the city. And some said four-year terms for all councilors or for at-large councilors should be considered, along with the size of the council.

At-large Councilor Churchill Cotton and Ward 2 Councilor Kevin J. Morandi did not favor major changes in the current mayor/council structure.

"If it’s not broken, why fix it?" Morandi said at one point. He added that a manager system "would cost a lot more" and might not provide the checks and balances of the current mayor/council system.

Cotton said he would retain the current mayoral system without a city manager. He said he prefers the current two-year term for councilors but four years for the mayor.

At-Large Councilor Melissa Mazzeo said there should be an effort to make the charter clear and understandable to the average person, rather than primarily to lawyers and those involved in government.

Mazzeo said there should also be clear language concerning when appointees can be named or continue to serve in an "acting" capacity. "We need to define that," she said.

She also supported a continued role for the council in reviewing appointments to city positions. Others favored allowing the mayor to make most or all appointments to allow a team to be assembled or maintained for the administration.

At a Nov. 20 meeting, the review committee heard from Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi and three former city mayors, James M. Ruberto, Gerald S. Doyle Jr. and Edward M. Reilly.

Bianchi said he was not endorsing a city manager concept but thinks it should be explored as a method of depoliticizing the management functions of city government and because of the size of municipal government.

Ruberto, Doyle and Reilly all recommended against a city manager form of government.

After completing its work, the 11-member review committee is expected to offer revisions to the charter document or overall changes, which would go before city voters during a November election next year or in 2014.

Another idea -- that of paying school committee members, which is barred in the current charter -- received overwhelming support from councilors. Most said compensation of about $4,000 per year would be reasonable.