PITTSFIELD -- Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi has vowed a separate review of whether the city's police and fire chiefs should remain civil service jobs.
Bianchi said Thursday night he's willing to establish a different panel to deal with controversial, complex issue, thus removing it from debate within the arena of the Pittsfield Charter Review Study Committee.
The mayor's proposal was welcomed by the committee, fearing the matter was starting to hold up the rest of its review, which was expected to wrap up in less than two months.
"We need to move on," said committee member Peter Marchetti. "Let's not be the guinea pigs for the future of civil service."
Civil service isn't mentioned in the current city charter, which only requires the mayor appoint the police and fire chiefs, subject to City Council approval.
Meanwhile Michael J. Wynn, and Robert Czerwinski, the city's acting police and fire chiefs respectively, both told the committee they support -- along with the police officer and firefighter unions -- keeping the positions as mayoral appointments through civil service.
"Personally, based on available information, both should remain in civil service," Wynn said. "This system as it is, if properly managed, can work."
The mayor's promise and the chiefs' remarks followed the committee's two-hour meeting dominated by discussion and debate on the merits of filling the public safety positions from the civil service list.
The civil service
The council last fall charged the committee with the task of thoroughly reviewing the charter, Pittsfield's governing document, which has been virtually unchanged for nearly 80 years.
Bianchi's plan to independently review how the mayor selects the two chiefs comes two weeks after city firefighters announced a plan to force the mayor to pick a permanent fire chief from civil service.
Pittsfield Firefighter's Local 2647 said it was mounting legal action that could require Bianchi to pick a permanent fire chief from among the top three candidates who passed the civil service exam almost a year ago, according to the union president, Tim Bartini. The test was administered shortly after Bianchi took office Jan. 2, 2012.
Czerwinski and two city deputy fire chiefs, Keith Phillips and Bruce Kilmer, are on the list that Bianchi, so far, has chosen to ignore.
"It doesn't have to be the top candidate, but the best qualified person for the community," Czerwinski said.
Czerwinski is the third mayoral appointment to serve as an acting fire chief in the last 10 years -- two of them by former Mayor James M. Ruberto -- in order to bypass civil service.
Ruberto, Bianchi's predecessor, also appointed Wynn as the current acting police chief, over the objections of the city's police officers union.
Two weeks ago, Bianchi called civil service "limiting and archaic," but Thursday night agreed its worth a second look in determining candidates for the chiefs' positions.
"Maybe it can be improved," he said.
Meanwhile, Bianchi doesn't have an active list of civil service candidates from which to pick a permanent police chief, as the list has expired, according to city officials.
The Police Department would like to see a new list developed -- and used -- to ensure the next police chief is chosen without fear of political reprisal from the sitting mayor.
"I have had to make arrests of people with political connections," said Lt. Jeff Bradford. "I need to know I can freely do my job."
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